The Houston Texans have one of the best stories in the NFL, but no one really cares. Why should they? Frankly, everyone is tired of talking about the Houston Texans, and this year they have many reasons to not talk about them. Tebow mania is sweeping the nation, the elite quarterbacks are pushing the meaning of elite, and the Packers are pursuing perfection. Although the Houston Texans have just clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history, it’s not really much of a story to the national media.
Who Can Blame Them?
The Houston Texans have been everyone’s dark horse pick to make the playoffs more times than the Dallas Cowboys have been the pick to win the Super bowl. The Houston Texans are the Tony Romo of NFL football teams. They show flashes of greatness but always seem to choke whenever they need to rise up the most.
The Houston Texans have never been to the playoffs in their nine-year existence and the best record they have ever had is 9-7. Every year is going to be the year that they finally make it over the hump, and every year they don’t. They don’t get a lot of credit or national publicity and frankly they don’t deserve any. Why would anyone want to jump on a bandwagon that's as ugly and vandalized as the one driven by the Houston Texans?
The reason: These Houston Texans are not the “Same old Texans."
From Old to New
The Houston Texans are in the process of transforming from one of the most under-performing teams in 2010 to one of the most over-performing teams 2011. The credit for the transformation has to be given to Wade Phillips. Wade Phillips has always been known as a great defensive coordinator but no one could have imagined the impact he would have in 2011.
Wade Phillips was assigned with taking over a defense that was historically one of the worst defenses of all time. In 2010, the Houston defense allowed 4,280 passing yards, the seventh most by any team in NFL history. They also became the 10th team all-time to allow an opposing passer rating of over 100 for an entire season. The defense ranked 29th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, 31st in first downs allowed and 31st in passing yards allowed.
Although those numbers sounds pretty bad, they don’t even begin to show how bad and how hard to watch that defense really was. The Texans made rookie quarterbacks look like Tom Brady, including Rusty Smith and Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow looked like John Elway when he played against the Texans last year racking up a career high 308 yards passing. To put that in perspective, Tebow’s second highest yards passing in a single-game in his career is a whopping 205 yards.
Taking over a horrific defense was not the only challenge Wade Phillips faced. He had to take over a 4-3 defense and convert them to a 3-4 defense with a shortened offseason. The lockout prevented Phillips from having valuable training camp time to teach all of his new players the new scheme. He converted Mario Williams, who was a pro bowl defensive end for his whole career, to an outside linebacker in his new scheme. He converted Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith, Brian Cushing, and Glover Quinn to new positions as well. To be fair to Frank Bush, Phillips also took over a defense with new defensive starters in Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, and first round draft pick J.J. Watt.
Phillips took over that historically inept defense and has turned them into one of the best in the league. In 2011, the Texans rank 2nd in yards allowed, 2nd in points allowed, 2nd in sacks, 2nd in interceptions, and rank 3rd in passing yards allowed. Wade has turned the laughingstock of the NFL a year ago into an elite defense in 2011.
The transformed defense has led the Houston Texans this year to the best record in the AFC at 10-3 and their first playoff appearance in franchise history. They are no longer blowing leads in the fourth quarter, they are not tipping Hail Mary passes to the other team, and they are winning on the road. These are not the “Same old Texans." They have won seven games in-a-row, and have done it all with a third string quarterback. That is a great story all by itself, but when you look at what this team has had to overcome along the way, it makes it even better.
Painful but Great Story
The Houston Texans 2011 season has been riddled by injuries from the very beginning but none were more important than the one to Peyton Manning. The Texans have always been stuck in a division with one of the best quarterbacks of all time and now in 2011 they would be able to play a whole season without him leading the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have won seven out of nine division titles and have always had a strangle lock on the division with Peyton Manning at the helm. With Peyton Manning on the sidelines for the 2011 season, the Houston Texans are seizing their opportunity.
Ironically, after catching a huge break in the division by an injury to Peyton Manning to start 2011, injuries have played a major role in trying to keep them from capturing the division. It started as an injury bug in training camp where the Texans had to play some of their preseason games with a fourth string running back but it did not look like that big of a deal. Well, that little injury bug has turned into a huge injury bug infestation that the Texans cannot seem to get rid of.
The Texans have lost Pro Bowlers Mario Williams and Matt Schaub for the season. They also lost their most explosive offensive weapons in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson for a total of eight games. They have yet to play an entire game with their best players on the field and will never be able to this season.
Despite losing their best players on offense and their best player on defense, the Houston Texans are in a position to clinch their division for the first time in franchise history. The key to their success has been their “next man up” approach.
Each time a player has gone down someone has stepped up to replace them. When Mario Williams went down, rookie Brooks Reed stepped up and replaced him. When Arian Foster was out, Ben Tate stepped up and replaced him. A lot of credit should be given to Head Coach Gary Kubiak for holding this team together and keeping them believing in themselves and their “next man up” motto.
Well the next man up last week was T.J. Yates. After Matt Schaub went down for the season with a foot injury, backup quarterback, Matt Leinart followed him to the sidelines by injuring his collarbone. Third string, rookie fifth round draft pick T.J. Yates was asked to start his first game against a playoff caliber Atlanta Falcons and he stepped up to the plate. He was asked to take his team on a 4th quarter comeback and he did it.
He has not looked like Tom Brady but he also does not look like Blaine Gabbert either. He has been able to manage the game, move around in the pocket and throw the ball down field. He is inconsistent at times but shows a lot of poise for a rookie. This is a guy who three weeks ago had never dressed out for a game. Fast forward three weeks and the fifth round rookie out of North Carolina is 2-0 as the starting quarterback of the Houston Texans.
No matter how many times this team steps up, even winning with a third string quarterback, the critics don’t believe it will last. If they are looking at the quarterback and making predictions, then maybe they should stop looking at the quarterback. Look at the makeup of the team and their resilience.
The other story making the Texans take a back seat to the spotlight is Tim Tebow. The story is of an unconventional quarterback that has caught the league by storm and has led his team to an unbelievable turnaround. Critics keep trying to say why he won’t be successful and most recently the argument is sustainability. He can’t continue to run the ball more times than he throws it and throw for less than 50% and continue winning. There is no way this guy can continue to win this way and therefore this style of winning is unsustainable.
The Texans' style of winning has the same critics. The Texans' style is “Next Man Up”. It's a great story but eventually the injuries are going to catch up and it will have to end. Right?
It will be nice to go to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history but they won’t have a shot in the playoffs. Right?
I mean you can’t win in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. Right?
I think “Next Man Up” is one of Houston Texans' styles of winning but people are forgetting about what makes this team good. Their style is built on a good defense coupled with a good running game. Well is that sustainable?
I'll give you three teams and you see if you can guess which teams I am referring to:
Team A: Rookie QB, #4 Ranked Offense in Rush YPG, #2 Ranked Defense in YPG
Team B: Rookie QB, #1 Ranked Offense in Rush YPG, #1 Ranked Defense in YPG
Team C: Rookie QB, #3 Ranked Offense in Rush YPG, #2 Ranked Defense in YPG
Let's take a look at those teams:
Team A: 2008 Baltimore Ravens
Team B: 2009 New York Jets
Team C: 2011 Houston Texans
Mark Sanchez in the 2009 playoffs:
Wild Card Game: 12-15 182 yards 1 TD, Win
Division: 12-23 100 yards 1 TD, 1 Int, Win
AFC Championship: 17-30 257 yards 2 TD, 1 Int, Loss
Joe Flacco in the 2008 playoffs
Wild Card Game: 9-23 135 yards 0 TD, 1 Rush TD, Win
Division: 11-22 161 yards 1 TD, Win
AFC Championship: 13-30 141 yards 0 TD, 3 Int, Loss
The 2009 Jets and 2008 Ravens were both able to make it to the AFC Championship game with rookie quarterbacks. They did not make it to the AFC Championship because of their rookie quarterbacks; they made it there despite their rookie quarterbacks.
So why not Yates?
Is it a good recipe for winning a Super Bowl? No, but it may be a good one for making it to the AFC Championship. But then again those teams did not have T.J. Yates.
Is the Houston Texans' story sustainable?