Houston Texans: 5 Obstacles to an AFC South Crown
Yes, the experts always seem to say that this is the year that the Texans bust out, and they always seem to end up with egg on their face, but this year is different.
An actual achieved defensive coordinator, a good draft and just an overall different attitude makes this the best Texans team to ever step foot on the field in their ten years of existence.
But there is still that dark cloud that hangs over every Texans fan who has themselves prepared internally for another possible Texans collapse.
They started 3-1 last year before going 3-9 the rest of the way. So no one is printing their playoff tickets yet.
They're still the favorite, for sure. But there are a handful of things that could keep them looking up in the AFC South at the end of the season. Let's take a look at a few of them now.
If the Andre Johnson Injury Is Serious
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When Andre Johnson crumbled to the ground completely untouched last Sunday and immediately clutched the back of his leg in pain, the city of Houston fell as silent as Reliant Stadium did.
I've never seen a guy fall to the ground like that, and it wasn't even a season-ending injury. However, team officials continue to insist that it is a hamstring injury and not as serious as it looked when he hit the ground.
While most Texans fans are elated at this news, I'm still hesitant. Gary Kubiak said in his press conference on Monday that Andre would "miss some time," but that the team was getting a second opinion on the severity of his hamstring injury.
Who gets good news from an MRI and then says they're going to go get a second opinion? No one. Which is why the news today about him having a procedure to help with the healing is still a bit confusing.
If Andre Johnson misses only three weeks, according to MyFoxHouston, this team is fortunate.
But if he misses a prolonged amount of time, the Texans offense suffers immensely without him. Their offensive performance once he left the game last Sunday evidenced just how much a difference one man can make.
If the Tennessee Titans Are Better Than We Thought
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Everyone looked at the teams in the AFC South outside of Houston and pointed out serious reasons why they wouldn't be a threat to the Texans in 2011.
The Colts lost arguably the best quarterback in the game, and we have seen how they have been effected by it.
The Jags cut David Garrard and decided to go young with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert as they start their rebuilding project, and the Titans were a mess of a team with Chris Johnson and little else.
I will be the first to admit that I had little confidence in Matt Hasselbeck having anything left in the tank for another season. Sure, his team went to the playoffs last year with him at the helm. But he hasn't thrown for more touchdowns than interceptions since 2007, and he isn't getting any younger.
Well, no one told Hasselbeck this apparently. He has a cool quarterback rating of 104.7 so far this season and has thrown for eight touchdowns and only three interceptions. He's also eighth in the entire NFL in yards passing.
If there is a fountain of youth, he has obviously found it.
The Titans are 3-1, and Chris Johnson has barely gotten going yet. Sure, wins over the Browns and Broncos shouldn't be taken too seriously. But their handling of maybe the AFC's best team in Baltimore in Week 2 certainly raised an eyebrow or two.
The head-to-head matchups with Tennessee are going to be huge this season.
If the Texans Believe Their Own Hype
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For the first time that I can remember, the national media outlets are giving the Texans coverage and respect. NFL Network and even the Northeast biased sports giant ESPN has been talking about them after their impressive win over the Steelers.
Almost every power ranking available out there has the Texans in the top ten and are beginning to talk about them claiming a top seed in the 2011 playoffs.
While that's great, it can be a poison pill. Flying under the radar is great, because a team can keep that chip on their shoulder and want to prove their critics wrong. However, with great expectations comes great pressure, and we have yet to see how this team handles those sorts of expectations.
While I think Gary Kubiak is becoming a better coach, I'm not sure how he will handle this situation. It's on him to keep the egos on this team in check and keep their eyes on the prize.
The last thing Houston needs to do is get cocky and drop a couple of games that it can't afford to lose.
If the Defensive Transition Starts to Regress
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Thus far, the defensive transition from 4-3 to Wade Phillips' 3-4 looks to be a runaway success. Other than getting torched in one quarter in New Orleans against probably the best offense in the league, the defense has looked looked stout and intimidating.
They're getting to the quarterback, turning the ball over and getting stops when the team needs them most.
But, after just four games, it is far too early to think that the defense should no longer be a concern at all. Now that the opposition has some film on the shiny new Texans' defense, adjustments will be made and holes will be found.
Fortunately, the team seems to finally be acknowledging the fact that Kareem Jackson was a mistake and he isn't cut out to be a starter or every down-type corner. This was evidenced by how much better the secondary played on Sunday against the Steelers with Jason Allen starting in his place.
Through four games, the Texans defense is ranked 10th in the league. If they can keep that up, great.
The offense can be good enough to win a big chunk of games with that kind of defense backing them up. But it's still far too early to think there won't be any regression.
If a Culture of Losing Is Too Much To Overcome
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I'm not one of those that believe in this one, but it comes up enough that I have to mention it here.
After nearly a decade of failing and underachieving, to say that a franchise is snake-bit and has a culture of losing isn't really a stretch. However, I just don't think the young guys on this team, who haven't been here for all of that, are affected by this.
I seriously doubt J.J. Watt or Ben Tate feel like they can't achieve big things in the NFL simply because the Texans are destined to fail and remain a cursed organization.
The rationalization in that just sounds folly to my ears.
But if I'm wrong, and that's always possible, this might be the biggest hurdle this team has to get over. They've had fast starts to an NFL season before and ended up picking in the Top 10 in the draft.
So to shed that loser label, you've got to get it done on the field.
Unlike years past where the team just wasn't as good as the rest of the division, they have no excuse this season. The board is set and the pieces are moving.
It's time to go for the checkmate.