The 10 Most Surprising Performances from Houston Texans' 1st Half of the Season

Vanessa de Beaumont@@vanessadebeauContributor INovember 5, 2015

The 10 Most Surprising Performances from Houston Texans' 1st Half of the Season

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Following their bye, the 3-5 Houston Texans, tied for first place in the AFC South, will look to enter the season anew, grasping the reality that they are unbelievably in the hunt for the division crown. While they'll be pushing the reset button, searching for solid areas upon which to build on, it would be wise of them to keep these unexpectedly solid 10 good players in mind

    What about players like J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins, you ask?

    Their names precede them. In many respects, they're doing everything they can and then some, but teams have keyed in on them.

    Without the Texans' reliance on other role players, pulling that attention away, neither star will be able to fully break out.

    Wait—who, then?

    Houston, despite their unfortunate record, does have talent, even in the places many unfamiliar with the team might not think to look in nearly every aspect of the game.

    From defensive backs, such as Quintin Dempts, to offensive linemen, like Ben Jones, all of these players were evaluated based upon their contributions, the strength of their position group and the expectations for them coming into the season.

    Without further ado, these are the 10 men who have stepped in and held down the fort.

Honorable Mention: Jaelen Strong, WR

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Jaelen Strong was nowhere to be found for the early part of the season. Rumors were that he practiced poorly, and, consequently, he sat, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle pointed out.

    Without second and third receivers Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III, however, the Texans were forced to, temporarily, turn to Strong.

    He didn't disappoint. Now, he's back on the bench as Washington proves to be the more consistent option. 

    Explosiveness, however? Strong has it hands down (or up). The Texans may be deferring to the steadier, veteran hands for the moment, but this year's third-round selection may just be the kick-start Houston needs, particularly on offense, which, currently, fellow receiver Hopkins has been saddled with the burden of carrying.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 5, Oct. 8 vs. Indianapolis Colts

    Receptions: two

    Receiving Yards: 53

    Touchdowns: two

    (via ESPN.com)

10. Brian Hoyer, QB

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    So, the Ryan Mallett experiment failed. Badly. He was the flashy, new sports car the Texans, little student drivers, couldn't keep a handle on. 

    The good news is that the Hoyer study, one which firmly buckles Houston into a cozy minivan, has yet to completely backfire!

    In fact, frustrating as it may be to admit, head coach Bill O'Brien may have been correct in selecting the steadier Hoyer from the beginning. Now that he's had an opportunity to settle into the role, without fear of being yanked every other drive, his play has been admirable.

    Hoyer is by no means the future of this team, but with the defense garnering him extra opportunities by forcing turnovers and Hopkins catching nearly everything in the 713 area code, he has the ability to do as former Texan Ryan Fitzpatrick has done with the New York Jets—secure wins in an unglamorous style.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 6, Oct. 18 @ Jacksonville Jaguars

    Passing Yards: 293

    Completion Percentage: 66.7

    Touchdowns: three

    Interceptions: zero

    QB Rating: 119.3

    (via ESPN.com)

9. Whitney Mercilus, OLB

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Hello again, Whitney Mercilus!

    For a little while, it seemed as if Houston's most aptly named defender was MIA, but in the absence of former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, Mercilus came out swinging in Week 8 (and managed to do some pretty decent damage against the Jacksonville Jaguars a couple of weeks ago as well).

    A first-round selection himself, the University of Illinois product has been overlooked in favor of bringing Clowney along, but it seems as if it would be in Houston's best interest to give Mercilus his weak-side position back—where his pass-rushing abilities can shine.

    Superstar J.J. Watt was able to notch a 2.5-sack performance against the Tennessee Titans in large part because of the attention was forcibly drawn away from him.

    By creating opportunities for Watt, the defense on the whole will subsequently get more opportunities, beginning a cycle of never-ending defensive terror—the real key to Houston's success.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 8, Nov. 1 vs. Tennessee Titans

    Tackles: seven

    Sacks: 3.5

    Stuffs: one

    (via ESPN.com)

8. Nick Novak, K

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    It's difficult to get a ton of credit as a kicker. Aside from game-winning field goals, fans are typically more likely to remember the missed attempts than the ones that were made.

    Former Texans kicker Randy Bullock was, in fact, missing a lot of field goals, and, fortunately for Houston, general manager Rick Smith decisively put an end to that relatively early, back in September.

    Novak has thus far proven to be exactly as advertised—a consistent, reliable leg. 

    At 34 years of age, he won't suddenly become the Denver Broncos' Brandon McManus, but he's getting the job done week in and out, and given the inconsistency of much of the team, that's a quality that cannot be overstated.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 5, Oct. 8 vs. Indianapolis Colts

    30-39: one

    40-49: one

    Extra Points: two of two

    Total Points: eight

    (via ESPN.com)

7. Andre Hal, DB

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    The Texans struggle mightily at the safety position. It was obvious even in the summer that the position would be a weak one. Fortunately for them, however, corner Andre Hal's versatile play has lent itself to some success at strong safety.

    The substitution has been a fairly effective one as well as Hal earned himself a starting role three weeks ago for his efforts, solidifying his position with a breakout performance against Jacksonville.

    With players like A.J. Bouye taking steps back from a season ago, another defensive back's emergence is tremendous, particularly for a team that relied heavily upon forced turnovers last season.

    Now that the defensive front is beginning to look more like itself, Houston will need Hal to get back to snatching some errant throws, hopefully getting the defense off the field quickly and allowing the offense to take some extra shots at scoring.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 6, Oct. 18 @ Jacksonville Jaguars

    Tackles: three

    Interceptions: two

    Passes Defensed: two

    Touchdowns: one

    (via ESPN.com)

6. Chris Polk, RB

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Bang-Bang Chicken and Shrimp!

    By now, every NFL fan and fantasy football player is well aware running back Arian Foster is out for the remainder of the season. Backup Alfred Blue seems to have assumed the lead role, but Chris Polk's ability to simply knock down any defenders in his path, particularly after the catch, will continue to make him a valuable asset.

    What will make him invaluable is his talent for knocking down pass-rushers—an area that Blue continues to struggle with. Although Houston's patchwork offensive line has largely held up, allowing quarterback Brian Hoyer an extra second to plant his feet will never hurt.

    The Texans need to regain their rushing identity in order to slow down the pace of games and give their defense a chance to rest. The hard-hitting grit Polk brings is a good place to start.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 4, Oct. 4 @ Atlanta Falcons

    Carries: three

    Rushing Yards: 27

    Receptions: three

    Receiving Yards: 23

    Touchdowns: one

    (via ESPN.com)

5. Keith Mumphery, WR

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Keith Mumphery has yet to score an NFL touchdown, and he only has 129 receiving yards to his name. So why is he important?

    For much of the same reason as the others in this list—his consistency. He's stayed ready.

    With Washington and Shorts missing from the lineup, Mumphery, a rookie fifth-round selection stepped in and made a noble effort throughout his three starts. His style of play isn't flashy, and his talent won't likely ever carry him into WR1 status, but he's a more-than-serviceable young receiver whose poise indicates a high level of maturity.

    Mumphery's assumption of the return specialist duties, too, have fared alright. He's no Jacoby Jones, but he's shown a marked improvement from early on. 

    His versatile, hard-working style of play has and will continue to serve his often shorthanded team well.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 4, Oct. 4 @ Atlanta Falcons

    Receptions: four

    Receiving Yards: 56

    Long: 26

    (via NFL.com)

4. Jared Crick, DE

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    SACKED BY JJ—oh, wait, nope. That's Jared Crick.

    Yes, No. 93 is the poor man's Defensive Player of the Year, but doesn't that also make him the rich man's anyone else?

    Together, the two have combined for 34.5 sacks since the beginning of last season, best among all end-tackle tandems in combined sacks, according to the Sports Xchange (via Football Insiders). Obviously, Watt has been the major contributor to that statistic, but there's no doubt Crick's hard-nosed, gritty work in the trenches has opened up some of Watt's opportunities.

    Crick is much more than a pass-rusher, however. He's a solid, three-down player who also excels at stopping the run. His sure-handed tackling is sorely lacking on a Texans squad that seems to be allowing nearly everyone to blow by it as of late (ex. Falcons and Miami games).

    In order for the team to turn in performances like it did last week, it'll need to take a page out of Crick's book of fundamentals.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 2, Sept. 20 @ Carolina Panthers

    Tackles: seven

    Blocked Kicks: one

    (via ESPN.com)

3. Quintin Demps, S

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Entering the regular season, the Texans' greatest area of weakness was by far the safety position. It arguably remains as such, but ironically, the man they signed rather last-minute, the former-Texan returned to Houston, Quintin Demps, has been the highlight at his role.

    Fans will remember Demps was part of the very successful Glover Quin and Danieal Manning safety group, and for a Houston defense that looks vastly different from those days, the eighth-year player provides an inspiring glimpse back into those productive, winning days.

    With free-agent addition Rahim Moore benched a week ago, per ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli, it's never been more important that Demps step up.

    The Texans offense is still far from being a blue-chip unit, and it'll need all of the extra opportunities it can get—opportunities Demps has proven he can fetch.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 3, Sept. 27 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Tackles: four

    Interceptions: one

    Passes Defensed: one

    (via ESPN.com)

2. Ben Jones, C

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    This summer, the Texans made a bold decision in deciding not to re-sign Pro Bowl center Chris Myers, owner of the franchise record for the most consecutive starts, 153, which is the league's longest active streak.

    Thus far, Ben Jones has done well imitating that kind of consistency, starting every game this season, watching all the other Houston linemen around him pop in an out. Without a doubt, he's been the anchor securing what should be a porous gateway but has in fact been fairly steady.

    Moving forward, there's nothing much Houston can do but give him a pat on the back for his efforts (and perhaps pray for his continued health). If Hoyer is to continue his upward trend of success, the Texans will need the man snapping the ball to him to remain a stalwart presence.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 6, Oct. 18 @ Jacksonville Jaguars

    Sacks Allowed: one

    QB Rating: 119.3

    (via ESPN.com)

1. Kevin Johnson, CB

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Welcome to the NFL, rookie!

    Last Sunday saw the first-round selection snatch his fist career pick, but Texans fans already know that he's been making his presence felt long before now.

    Veteran Jonathan Joseph has looked better and fellow starter Kareem Jackson has been missing time with injuries, leaving plenty of slack, but Kevin Johnson has thus far proven capable of picking it up.  

    To be certain, mistakes have been made. A notorious physical player, Johnson has fetched flags for his hits on occasion and, as every Texans defender did, he looked very silly at times in the rout by the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins.

    Johnson's talent, however, is undeniably present, which bodes exceptionally well for a team known for giving up big downfield plays. The time for him to begin rotating over to some of the league's more skilled receivers could be upon him very soon.

    Best 2015 Single-Game Performance:

    Week 8, Nov. 11 vs. Tennessee Titans

    Tackles: six

    Interceptions: one

    Stuffs: zero

    Passes Defensed: one

    (via ESPN.com)

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