Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/31/11
Bodies have shuffled in and out of the lineup at such a staccato pace that it's both easy to forget precisely who has played with whom and difficult to set fair expectations of how the Texans could perform in the playoffs. Save for one passing stretch of quarters bridging the second half at Jacksonville in Week 12 and the first half one week later against the Falcons, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and veteran receiver Andre Johnson are largely unfamiliar. That fact cannot be discounted as the Texans (10-5) face the Titans (8-7) in their season finale on Sunday at Reliant Stadium seeking to rediscover absent offensive momentum. For all their valiance in the face of injury adversity and adherence to the noble "next man up" mantra, the Texans have regressed offensively during this second stretch without Johnson. With Matt Schaub calling the signals the Texans managed well sans Johnson during the six-game stint he was sidelined following right hamstring surgery, winning five contests with Johnson inactive as part of their seven-game win streak. Yates, for all his moxie and determination, isn't Schaub. And while Johnson can exercise modesty when analyzing the significance of his role in resuscitating the Texans' offense, the truth is he's been missed. "They won seven games without me. I don't know (if the offense is more confident with me available)," said Johnson, who has been cleared to play against the Titans. "We'll just have to see what happens. I definitely think the guys will feel good with me out on the field, but as far as playing the game, I mean, we've had injuries all year and guys have found a way to step in and make plays and pick up the slack. I would like to be out there and I would think they would like to have me out there." At this juncture, with their offense having stalled in two consecutive losses, the Texans don't need Johnson solely for his production. Johnson can make them whole again, or at least as whole as possible with Schaub on injured reserve and poised to watch the Texans in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs. For all the talk about Sunday offering a meaningless outcome for the Texans, in reality they need to improve upon the product they've put on the field since Johnson was lost again. Over the last three games the Texans have experienced a decrease in total yards and Yates' passing yards with each outing. They posted three field goals after the Colts practically handed them seven points early in Week 16's 19-16 loss in Indianapolis. Johnson can stretch the defense, alleviate pressure on Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter and force the opposition to unclog the box. But his mere presence should help an offense ranked among the best in the NFL before injuries besieged it. "I think you could lose (momentum) in a hurry, you could get it back in a hurry," Texans tight end Owen Daniels said. "Having 'Dre back in there even for a game or however long it may be, just to get him in the mix and bouncing around a little bit is good for us this week and next week." Johnson confessed to not being at his best in Jacksonville. He was pleased with his performance against the Falcons before his left hamstring gave out. Now, with their first playoff appearance just around the corner, the Texans need Johnson to not only help stem the tide of their skid but to regain the self-confidence he needs to return a week later and reclaim his status as one of the best in the NFL at his position. The Texans are better with Johnson contributing on the field. They need a reminder of how effective he'll be with Yates serving as quarterback. "Yeah it's important to Andre because as a player, when you miss that much time -- what's it been, 10 weeks, nine weeks of football -- you don't just hop back out there," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "So he knows he just needs to go out there and get his wind and feel good and get hit again, and all those things that go with playing the game. For us to get to the point where he looks like he's going to be able to go on Sunday, I would say that was a big step forward because we were wondering if that was going to happen. But we got there so that's good." Follow me on Twitter @moisekapenda
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