Expectations soared high for the Houston Texans this offseason, but those dreams of postseason glory were dashed relatively early in the season.
Almost exactly a year ago, the Texans carried an 11-1 record into Gillette Stadium for a prime time showdown with the New England Patriots. They are 4-13 since that game, and are far from the contender we saw dominate foes last season.
That being said, there are plenty of reasons to take this team seriously. Here's an early look at what the Texans bring to the table.
How they got here: After starting the season with a dramatic come-from-behind victory against the San Diego Chargers, the Texans won just one more game before kickstarting a nine-game losing streak that has carried them into their Week 13 matchup with the Patriots. The Texans became the first team in NFL history to have their quarterback throw a pick-six in each of the first six games of the season. Matt Schaub was the quarterback for the first six games before tearing ligaments in his ankle, which brought in T.J. Yates off the bench. Yates was almost equally dreadful to shop, before he was yanked in favor of second-year undrafted free agent quarterback Case Keenum. Aside from the quarterback carousel, the Texans have been dreadful on defense, and despite ranking first in total defense, they rank 26th in scoring. The Texans have been embarrassed on a regular basis this season, but reached the high (or low) of embarrassment with their home loss to the Jaguars, and have now lost each of their past five games by seven points or less.
Key cog, offense -- Andre Johnson, WR: The struggles of the Texans have not stopped Andre Johnson from putting up another monster season. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound wide receiver was drafted in the first round in 2003. Johnson is no longer the downfield threat he once was, with just five receptions on passes traveling 20 yards or more through the air. He's also on pace for seven touchdowns, which would be the most for him in a single season since 2010, but 13.5 yards per reception is his lowest since 2008.
Key cog, defense -- J.J. Watt, DE: JJ Watt didn't reinvent the position of 3-4 defensive end, but he did reset the expectations. Instead of just rushing the passer, we look for those edge defenders to get their hands up to bat down a pass if they are unable to reach the quarterback now more than ever. That is a trend Watt started, with 20 batted passes in 2012, which set an NFL record for a defense of and in a single season. Oh, by the way, he can still rush the passer. He logged 20.5 sacks in 2012, just two short of Michael Strahan's single-season record. He is scary explosive for a man of his size, but it's his strengths at the point of attack that has made him one of the rare game-changing 5-technique defensive ends in the NFL.
X factor -- Case Keenum, QB: There isn't much tape on Case Keenum, but the Patriots have seen plenty of quarterbacks like him this season. He has the mobility to extend plays, but the Texans have yet to really expand the offense to make use of his legs. His stat line is one of the more perplexing for any NFL quarterback; he has eight touchdowns, two interceptions and an 89.6 passer rating, but his team has lost all five games he's started. He has not turned the ball over much, but he has completed 60 percent of his passes just once in those five starts, and his passer rating has progressively declined in recent weeks. We've seen what Keenum can do, but we haven't seen him do it very long.
Stats and notes:
- Notable injuries: The Texans' disappointing season has not come without a fair share of poor injury luck. Defensive back Danieal Manning, linebacker Brian Cushing and running back Arian Foster are all done for the season. Tight end Owen Daniels has been out since Week 5 and is not expected to return until Week 14. Cornerback Kareem Jackson missed Week 12 with a broken rib, and is considered week-to-week.
- The Texans have lost six games by seven points or less, more than any other team in the NFL. They have also run 464 plays while trailing by at least one point, the the third-most in the league behind only the Redskins and the Jaguars.
- Texans linebacker Darryl Sharpton has missed nine tackles, and ranks fifth-worst in Pro Football Focus' tackling efficiency rating among inside linebackers. He also gives up a reception on one in every 7.4 coverage snaps, for the worst rate among inside linebackers.
- As mentioned earlier, the Texans rank first in total defense despite ranking 26th in scoring defense. That could have something to do with their league-leading six pick-sixes, but also because they've turned the ball over at least once in 10 of 11 games this season; that's tied for second-most in the league.
- John McClain of the Houston Chronicle points out that the Texans would be in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race if they could just handle their business at home.
- According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN, Texans coach Gary Kubiak knows that the Texans have been competitive, but not competitive enough to win.
- Texans fans have been perplexed by the team's struggles, but according to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Andre Johnson thinks the explanation is simple: "We suck."
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