I don't think it is a stretch to say that this season has been a disappointment for the Houston Texans and their fans.
Before the season started, pundits were picking the Texans as a sleeper team to emerge as a playoff contender. The team had improved in terms of talent and on-field production and was coming off back to back 8-8 seasons. The offense was loaded and dynamic and the defense, led by first time coordinator Frank Bush, promised to be aggressive and hard hitting.
After all the hype, excitement and fanfare, the Texans came out and got thoroughly destroyed by the New York Jets in the season opener. It wasn't just that the Texans lost, it's that they lost the physical challenge and were beaten up at Reliant Stadium by a team with a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach.
I know it's painful, and I don't want to go into a game by game rehashing, but the Texans have been in a position to tie or win every other game this season.
Kris Brown missed potentially game tying field goals against the Colts and Titans on back to back weeks. Chris Brown, brought in for his supposed talents on the goal line, was unable to score to tie games late against Jacksonville and Arizona.
In short, these Browns cost the Texans a chance to tie four games. Granted, these games would only have been tied, but winning even one of these four games would put the Texans at 6-5 and not 5-6.
Winning even one of those games is the difference between realistically being in the playoff hunt at 6-5 and only mathematically in the playoff hunt at 5-6. In short, even one of those games would have been monumentous. Sliding from 5-3 to 5-6 has taken the air out of this season.
What is the problem facing the team?
Is it the offense? Led by Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Steve Slaton, the offense remains strong. Even without stand out tight end Owen Daniels, the Texans have been able to move the ball and put points on the board. The running game hasn't been great, but has been effective at times. Look at the first half of the home game against the Colts: the team was able to run the ball and put up points.
Is the offensive line perfect? No, but it is solid. Tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston have played well. Schaub is facing less pressure in the pocket this season than in seasons past.
Of course, losing both starting guards hurts, but this is the NFL. Every team has injuries. Teams must move on. Chris White and Kasey Studdard have been adequate replacements for life-long Texan Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel.
In my opinion, center Chris Myers is not big enough or strong enough to hold up against elite interior defensive linemen, but so are most centers. There are only a few players in the league who can matchup with monsters such as Shaun Rogers or Kris Jenkins.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has at times played very well. Linebackers Demeco Ryans and Brian Cushing have been great. Cushing should be on the short list of Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates. He makes an impactful play every week and his physical and aggressive style is contagious.
On the line, Mario Williams has not played as well as he did in 2008 and 2007, but his shoulder injury must be worse than either he, or the team is disclosing. He has still played the run well and has been the team's best defensive linemen.
Free agent Antonio Smith might have more personal fouls (3) than sacks (2) on the season, but he hasn't been the only big name player to disappoint on the line.
The light has yet to come on for Amobi Okoye. He may never develop into the elite pass rusher the team hoped for, but he can still turn into an effective and useful defensive tackle. He has shown flashes this season of turning the corner, but must become more consistent.
In the secondary, Bernard Pollard has turned into a top performer. His big hits are only part of the story. He has actually played well in coverage in recent games. Granted, he's not at his best when forced to cover elite slot receivers, but he's in the lineup for thunderous hits and intimidation in the middle of the field.
Eugene Wilson was solid before his season-ending injury. Rookie Glover Quin has been solid, as has Jacques Reeves. Even Brice McCain has played well in limited action.
The only disappointing player in the secondary has been former Pro Bowl cornerback Dunta Robinson. Once famous for bone-crushing hits and blanket coverage, Robinson is now known for wildly flailing at runners as they fly past him and largely ineffective coverage.
If it's not the talent, it must be the coaching, right? In my opinion, a team that is skittish, unable to finish, draws numerous penalties and makes stupid mistakes is a team that lacks leadership from the head coach. If it were up to me, Gary Kubiak would finish the season and then pack his bags.
Firing him now would only lead the team to play out the string and wouldn't solve anything. However, replacing Kubiak with an established and experienced head coach can help put the Texans over the top.
As fellow writer Robert Vega has written, Kubiak does deserve a special place in the hearts of Texan fans for driving the team out of the mediocrity of the David Carr years. Yet his inability to make the Texans anything more than average will, in my opinion, lead to his downfall as the head coach of the Texans.
Fans are still very passionate about the Texans. In those early years, fans knew that the Texans weren't going to compete for the playoffs right away. We were just happy to have a hometown team to root for. We threw our support behind the team even more with the glorious Sunday Night Football upset of the Dallas Cowboys.
It's a good sign that the fans are upset. It shows they care and expect more than just showing up from the Texans. It's time for the Texans to be about more than "wait till next year."
If it's not the offense, if it's not the defense, if it's not the special teams and if it's not the coach, what are we left with in the end? A team that teases and tantalizes but does not deliver in the end. In short, another season of disappointment.
Where does the team go in the future? First, as I've said numerous times, a top flight coach must be hired. Owen Daniels and Demeco Ryans must be signed to long term deals. Ryans is seemingly re-energized playing alongside Cushing and Daniels' absence has been felt despite rookie James Casey's emergence and potential.
A big time corner also must be added to the mix. Dunta Robinson may be an emotional leader of the team, but his inability to play at an even average level is hurting the team.
Bernard Pollard should be locked up in a long term deal. He's been an incredible find for the Texans. A free safety who can play exceptional pass defense is desperately needed, as Eugene Wilson is coming off season-ending injury and has lost a step and John Busing is really more of a special teams player.
The interior of the offensive line and defense line must be improved, as well. A massive defensive tackle to play alongside Mario and Okoye must be signed or drafted. A mauling run blocking guard or two is also required.
It's disheartening to say that the Texans are still loaded with unlocked potential and have the talent to be a playoff-caliber team. It's clear more good players are on the team now than in other seasons. The Texans are no longer an expansion team. There are more good players on this team than bad.
Learning how to finish must be an offseason assignment for the entire team. I don't know if that can be taught by a new head coach, but it's certainly not being taught by the current head coach.
The most disappointing and angering feature of the Texans is that inability to finish. If they simply weren't good enough to be competitive, it would be one thing. But to lose close games to good team, and even to beat good teams on the road, shows me that the Texans are close. Disappointingly close.