By TPR Staff

Much like the other number one seed, the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans are pretty much an afterthought to the national pundits as far as contenders to play for the Lombardi Trophy in early February go. And after the way the last month has went for them, there certainly is sound logic for why that won’t happen.

In the best season in the history of their franchise, Houston busted through the gate with the best record in the NFL for the majority of the season. In fact, sitting at 12-3 with one game left to play is hardly a reason to feel disheartened. But things feel like the other shoe is beginning to dropping two of their last three by a combined 45 points.

Earlier in the season, Houston was called the most balanced team in the league by most analysts out there. They could run, they could pass and they could hit you in the mouth on defense. But ever since the injury to team captain and all-pro linebacker Brian Cushing, the once stout Houston defense has fallen further and further into decline each week.

Injuries happen and championship teams find a way to over come them. Winning eight of their eleven games since Cushing’s injury would tell you that they’ve done that. But upon further analysis, if J.J. Watt wasn’t having one of the most amazing season’s in history for a player at his position, this defense can at times feel like Watt and just ten other guys out there. He has single handedly won games for them with big time stops on critical third downs and caused turnovers at key moments.

The problem with the offense has been that if they can’t run the ball, they flounder. Matt Schaub is a good and sometimes great NFL quarterback, but he isn’t the kind of guy who is going to pull a Brady or Brees kind of act to win you a game by himself. He just isn’t that type of guy. He’s a system guy that is perfect for Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, but if that system isn’t working with the run, he struggles mightily.

So what must change for them to win the whole thing? First, they must be able to run the ball. If Arian Foster can’t get loose and enable Schaub to run the play action bootleg that he does so well, the Houston offense is a disaster. Next, they need their defense to play like a top ten defense. They proved in earlier weeks that they can win in a shootout if they’re not down huge points early. But they can’t afford to get behind big like they did with New England and Green Bay.

With a victory in Indianapolis this weekend, Houston would ensure that the road to New Orleans must go through Houston first. Even after a disappointing game last week, Reliant Stadium is loud and a very tough place to come into and win easily. The only team I really see coming into that building and winning is the Patriots, which are a disastrous match up for them. I feel confident in their chances against the field with home advantage, even against Peyton and the Broncos.

I said at the beginning of the season that I felt Houston was still one strong draft away from being a Super Bowl team and I’m feeling that more and more each Sunday. They have the feel of a team that is starting to fall apart at the worst time and I have zero confidence in their coach, who has some of the worst clock management I’ve ever witnessed. His playcalling and sense of urgency are a head scratcher sometimes and I question his fire more often than not.

Can Houston prove me wrong? Absolutely. They’re a talented team with three of the best players at their position in the league with Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and Arian Foster. They haven’t played a convincing game since October and yet they still find ways to win. If they can somehow put it back together, they could absolutely be in New Orleans come February. But I’m still thinking they’re a year away.

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