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Mario Williams Injury a Crushing Blow to Houston Texans

David AllisonContributor IIOctober 13, 2011

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 09:  Outside linebacker Mario Williams #90 of the  Houston Texans during game action  in the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Reliant Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Texans' season is poised precariously on the precipice. Now that my mandatory alliteration is out of the way, I can continue by establishing (in less flowery prose) the fact that the Texans may be in deep trouble this season with Mario Williams on the sidelines.

With Andre Johnson also battling an injury, the Texans are now heading into a big game against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday without their two best players.

At 3-2, the Texans are tied with the Tennessee Titans for first place in the AFC South. The Titans look to be reinvigorated with the newly energized Matt Hasselbeck under center and a retooled defense playing well. The Texans desperately need to keep pace in the division to avoiding slipping into mediocrity as they have each of the past three seasons.

The Texans have had a different attitude this season, however. Their head coach Gary Kubiak knows that this season is make-or-break for him. If the team doesn't make the playoffs, they will be hugely disappointing.

The Indianapolis Colts have been the bullies in the division, but now they look like the scrawny kid with glasses who has no fight in him (that was me in middle school, by the way).

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a young team led by a rookie quarterback.

The division looked eminently winnable for the Texans as recently as two weeks ago. The season-ending pectoral injury puts all of those high hopes in doubt now for the Texans.

Brooks Reed has a great coiffure, but can that translate to effectiveness on the field?
Brooks Reed has a great coiffure, but can that translate to effectiveness on the field?Bob Levey/Getty Images

Let's explore a few reasons why the Texans may not be able to recover from this devastating blow to their defense.

The Texans defensive depth is thin behind Williams

Rookie linebacker Brooks Reed is taking Mario Williams' spot, and although he performed well against the Oakland Raiders last week, he is not nearly the force that Williams is at that position.

The other Texans linebackers (Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin) are good, but they aren't able to provide the fantastic Pro Bowl-caliber pressure that Williams can. Barwin is excellent dropping back in coverage and Cushing is a good run-stopper, but Williams' power at the point of attack and speed at getting to the quarterback make those guys better.

While Johnathan Joseph has performed very well as a free agent pickup for the Texans at cornerback, he (along with the rest of the secondary group) benefits from the pressure Williams gets on opposing team quarterbacks. I expect the entire defense to suffer from the void left by Williams.

The Texans offense isn't consistent enough to score fistfuls of points week in and week out

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 09: Quarterback Matt Schaub #8 of the Houston Texans throws under pressure from Lamarr Houston #99 of the Oakland Raiders at Reliant Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

With the Texans offense floundering with Andre Johnson on the sidelines, the loss of Williams becomes particularly acute.

The Texans defense is currently ranked No. 7 in the NFL, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had reinvigorated that beleaguered squad. Williams was a key piece, however, and the Texans will regress without Williams keying their pressure.

Quarterback Matt Schaub has a great running game to rely on powered by Arian Foster and Ben Tate. He has an effective tight end in Owen Daniels. Now that they have added Derrick Mason to their receiving corps, they have two guys (Mason and Kevin Walter) who have great hands and run precise routes, but can't always get good separation from cornerbacks.

Jacoby Jones is speedy and strong, but not consistent enough to do what Johnson does. With All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson out for at least two more weeks, their passing offense is at a considerable disadvantage.

With Johnson out, the Texans prolific and super-powered offense will become mortal. With a weakened defense and a less than efficient offense, the Texans will not be able to keep pace with top-tier teams.

The Texans haven't proven that they can win important games and close out the season

The jury is still so far out on the Houston Texans' prospects for getting to the playoffs that the jurors are watching reruns of That '70s Show.

While their path to the playoffs seems utterly free of obstacles now that Peyton Manning is watching games from the sideline, I just don't trust this team to win the games that it needs to down the stretch.

The Texans have shown that they shrink when the lights are brightest and the games are tightest. Epic collapses after promising starts have derailed their seasons since 2007 (the year after Gary Kubiak took the reins of the team from Dom Capers).

While it's certainly too early to write off the Texans for 2011, this story is shaping up to be too familiar. High expectations are giving way to the tough reality that the Texans may just be a mediocre team again this year. The loss of Mario Williams pushes them toward the realm of "ho-hum."