It’s hard to imagine the Houston Texans players and coaching staff hoping for a better first quarter of the 2012 season than what they got. I guess they could have won all four games by 20 points or more? Because other than a late comeback attempt by the Denver Broncos, the Texans have annihilated all competition on their way to a perfect 4-0 start. A start that is only shared by two other teams in the league, both residing in the NFC.
At this point, regardless of who they have played, Houston is the clear favorite in the AFC to represent the conference in the Super Bowl this season. What can’t they do? They can run, they can pass and their defense is the type of defense that dynasties are built upon.
But we don’t want to pull a Michael Vick and call them a dynasty in the making before they’ve ever won more than one playoff game. Instead, let’s take a look at each unit and how they would be graded for the first quarter of the 2012 season alone.
The Texans offense is currently ranked 14th in the league with 370.2 yards per game. You’d think it would be better with all the weapons they have, but the truth is that they have taken their foot off the gas in every game this season after opening up leads of 20 points or more in all four contests thus far. So I’ll grade on how they’re playing before the game has become a laugher.
Matt Schaub appears to have taken that step into the upper-third of NFL quarterbacks this year and he is making all of the necessary throws to move the chains and put points on the board. His quarterback rating is a cool 105.3, which is good for third in the NFL behind Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. He’s thrown 7 touchdowns against only 1 interception and is completing his pass attempts at a sterling 67 percent clip. His yards per game would be higher, if not for, one, having big leads in each game and, two, having a stud running back duo behind him.
Said running back tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate have combined for 497 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. Not that bad, but many have expected better. Again, when you have a big lead and you’re simply chewing up the clock, you aren’t going to see a lot of 6 to 8 yard runs per attempt. Also with Houston losing 40 percent of their offensive line from last year, they knew there would be adjustments to make. The right side, anchored by young, inexperienced linemen combos, has had a difficult time opening any running lanes on that side of the field and it has prevented a lot of the highlight reel runs we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Arian Foster.
On the receiving end, Schaub is doing a great job at spreading the ball around. No one guy is jumping off the stats page at you, but the usual suspects like Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are making all the clutch grabs to prolong a drive and make guys miss to put it in the end zone. With a core of young receivers spread around the veterans, this is a group who is much better than the casual NFL fan gives credit for.
What else can you say about the Texans defense this far into the season? Other than garbage time numbers by Peyton Manning being thrown up against them, they’ve put the clamps on everyone so far. Dallas is still ranked above them for tops in the NFL, but they’ve yet to play their fourth game to make a true comparison.
The biggest stand out player so far has without a doubt been the emergence of J.J. Watt. This guy looks like the second coming of Howie Long out there. He’s all over the field and seems to be at the end of every big play on defense. Whether it’s swatting passes, stripping the ball and causing a turnover or just flat out being a terror on opposing quarterbacks, he has transformed into a legitimate NFL defensive player of the year contender through the first quarter of the season.
The biggest surprise has been the play of the Texans secondary. Danieal Manning and Glover Quin have become a top 5 safety tandem in the league and Johnathan Joseph is the current best lockdown corner in the NFL with Darelle Revis done for the season. But the surprising turn around of the much maligned Kareem Jackson has been incredible. Usually picked on by the opposing quarterback, Jackson is making plays and even jumped a slant for a pick six yesterday, a play he usually gets burned on.
In the end, it’s amazing what a good coaching job can do for an NFL defense, and Wade Phillips is one of the all time greats and this unit is helping him build upon that legacy.
Here lies the only real net negative I have for this team so far. Trindon Holliday makes it easy for fans to fall in love with him because he’s so damn fast, but he just isn’t a football player. It isn’t just his size, it’s what he has going on between the ears. He consistently makes bad decisions and is currently 35th in the league in return yards and average. Not good for a guy taking up a roster spot for a luxury position.
As far as everyone else, it’s hard to complain. Donnie Jones has been a pleasant surprise with his 48 yards per punt average and Shayne Graham is just doing what he has done for so long in knocking down field goals. Bryan Braman is becoming a special teams demon on kicks and seems to be in on every tackle.
Like I said in the opening, it’s hard to find anything to really complain about on this team. Sure, no team is perfect and there is a legitimate question about the competition they’ve beat up on. But you can only play who is in front of you and Houston has been crushing the opposition by huge margins. That is the difference between a good team and a great one.
With Green Bay and Baltimore coming to town over the second quarter of the season, we’ll get an opportunity to see how they do against some tougher competition. Then, perhaps, the few skeptics they have left will fall in line.