Have Opponents Figured Out the Houston Texans?
The Houston Texans currently hold the AFC’s best record at 10-1, also tied for the top record in the NFL. However, as the Texans continue to pile up wins, their opponents continue to bring their “A” game in hopes of playing spoiler and knocking off a legit Super Bowl contender. The past two weeks, the Texans have put together a pair of thrilling, hard fought, close overtime victories, but against poor competition in the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions. This begs the question, are the Texans simply going through a bit of a midseason slump, or have opponents figured out the formula to defeat them?
The answer to this question might be a little bit of both. Coming down the home stretch of the regular season, the Texans are virtually a lock to simply make the playoffs (were one Dolphins loss away from actually clinching Sunday), the AFC South divisional crown seems in hand baring a complete late season collapse, and the Texans are still in great position to take the AFC’s top seed with a one game lead over the second place Baltimore Ravens and tiebreakers with those Ravens and AFC West division leading Denver Broncos.
It would appear the Texans have a little room to slump, maybe due to a lack of motivation. The NFL season is long and the Texans, like most other teams, are pretty banged up. It’s understandable if the Texans didn’t mentally prepare for the Jags or Lions the same way they might for the Ravens or Broncos, especially considering their aforementioned lead in the standings. If this was definitively the case, then there wouldn’t be much worry because fans have seen the Texans turn it on and win almost every big game they’ve played in this season (minus their one loss of course). The game in two weeks against the New England Patriots will confirm or deny the claim that the Texans are simply playing down to their competition due to a lack of motivation.
There is, however, the chance that maybe opponents have simply figured out the Texans. In their loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Texans were exposed in a number of areas. First, if the Texans can’t generate a dynamic pass rush from all over the defense, thus giving the quarterback time to throw, the Texans can be shredded through the air. The past two weeks, the pass rush has all but disappeared, leading to big passing games from Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford.
Second, with all the injuries to their interior defensive players, particularly the inside linebackers, the Texans have become extra susceptible to the inside run game. The Texans haven’t played against a great running back in a couple of weeks, but even during the early season’s stretch of dominating victories, opponents were able to run the ball on the Texans. Next Sunday’s game with the Tennessee Titans and RB Chris Johnson will be a telling test to see where the Texans stand in their run stopping abilities.
Lastly, the Texans have gone through a slight change in their offensive philosophy the past couple of weeks. The team has relied more on drop back passing as opposed to their combination of zone-blockings runs and play-action passes. Through the first nine games of the season, QB Matt Schaub was averaging roughly 31 pass attempts a game. The last two weeks, Schaub has thrown the ball 55 and 48 times, respectively. Granted, the Texans were trailing in both games and needed to resort to more passes, but this is still a telling sign. The Texans have struggled to be as successful on the ground as they’ve been the past two seasons and now appear to be abandoning the run-first mantra, at least for the time being.
The change in offensive game plans has affected the Texans on both sides of the ball. Early in the season, the Texans played defense, ran the football, and controlled the clock and the pace of the game. The Texans haven’t been able to stay in control the past two games, and thus let two inferior teams stay close and threaten for a victory.
Amidst the close games and less than average play the past two weeks, the Texans ultimately still found ways to come from behind and win football games, ugly or not. The silver lining here is that perhaps the Texans do have championship pedigree, something many have questioned throughout this season. The good teams win games even when they’re not at their best, and the Texans demonstrated they can do that.
The remaining five games will go a long way to setting up the Texans for a deep playoff run, hopefully one that runs through Houston. In the meantime, no reason for panic or to assume the Texans aren’t as good as their record implies. The first test will be this Sunday in Tennessee against the Titans.