The beginning to the Houston Texans season has been perfect in the win-loss department, but not perfect overall. They’re a team that is finally gaining national recognition as a legit Super Bowl contender and in many cases, the best team in the NFL through four weeks. But as anybody can tell you, it’s not about where you are as a team in September and early October, but rather how well you’re playing come December and January. So let’s take a look back at the good and bad of the first quarter of the Texans season and what they need to improve upon as they progress through the rest of the regular season.
When talking about the Texans, you have to start with the defense. Through four games, the unit is ranked third in total defense across the league and has been largely dominant. DE J.J. Watt has been the standout star, currently leading the NFL in sacks with 7.5 and earning himself the nickname “J.J. Swatt” for his repeated efforts batting down passes at the line of scrimmage, several of which have resulted in INTs for teammates. In the defense’s second year under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the entire unit has seemingly meshed extremely well. Many of the usual suspects are playing outstanding, including DE Antonio Smith, ILB Brian Cushing, and CB Johnathan Joseph. However, the Texans have several other (embattled) players that have stepped up their play and contributed big time, especially in the secondary with CB Kareem Jackson and FS Glover Quin. The most telling statistic to offer is the Texans’ league leading third-down conversion percentage of 25%. In a nutshell, when the opposing offense is faced with a situation to pick up a first down or punt, the Texans’ D is getting themselves off the field three out of four times.
Offensively, QB Matt Schaub has been tremendous, picking up where he left off last season before his foot injury. Schaub has been largely mistake free, not throwing any INTs and has been the offensive leader and game manager necessary for this offense. Furthermore, his 105.3 QB rating is good for third in the NFL. Most importantly, Schaub has thus far stayed healthy, as has WR Andre Johnson, who has also bounced back from last season’s myriad of injuries to perform at a high level. TEs Owen Daniels and James Casey have also been solid targets for Schaub in the early going, as has veteran WR Kevin Walter.
Lastly, the running back duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate have continued their solid play, which allows the Texans to employ a balanced offensive attack that keeps opposing defenses on their heels. Foster is fourth in the NFL with 380 rushing yards to go along with nine catches for 44 yards and five total TDs. Tate has added 117 rushing yards, nine catches for 48 yards, and two touchdowns.
Most of the bad has come on the offensive side of the football, particularly on the offensive line. The inconsistent play up front has stalled many Texans’ offensive drives, primarily in the run game where they’re allowing defenders to burst through the line and make plays in the backfield. Many knew there would be an adjustment period heading into the season with new starters at RG and RT in Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, but veteran starters LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, and C Chris Myers have all had their negative moments as well. The positive here is that for the most part, they’ve done a good job protecting Schaub in the pass game (although play-action bootlegs tend to limit sacks).
The Texans’ ability to remain a balanced offense and stick to their offensive gameplan is an indication that the coaching staff still has faith that the O-line will eventually mesh and get it together. But in the meantime, sticking with the balanced attack is having an adverse effect on Foster, who is on pace to accumulate over 400 carries and is averaging a career low 3.7 yards per carry (nearly a 4.7 YPC career average entering this season). The 400 carry mark has typically been a dangerous limit for RBs where should they rack up that many touches in a season, they see their future production plummet and find themselves out of the league shortly thereafter.
Another negative thus far for the Texans is the lack of impact by some of their younger players. It’s early in the season and many of these players still have plenty of time to improve and work themselves into more meaningful playtime. However, by this point one would expect guys like WR Keyshawn Martin, WR Lestar Jean, and OLB Whitney Mercilus to be making more of a weekly impact than they have thus far. That’s not to put down all the team’s young players, as G Ben Jones has played solid when getting some playing time rotating with Caldwell.
Defensively, there isn’t much negativity to point out. Allowing 141 rushing yards to Chris Johnson, who came into the game with a total of 45 yards in three games, is a bit of a blip, but otherwise there hasn’t been much to complain about.
Obviously consistent play along the offensive line. They’ve done well protecting Schaub but if the Texans are going to be serious Super Bowl contenders, they need to sure up their bread and butter run game. This will directly affect the over-usage of Foster as he’ll be able to produce at the same level with fewer touches. Also, the Texans need to use Tate more than they currently are, which becomes easier if the O-line is playing better.
Additionally, one of the young offensive weapons on the outside needs to emerge as the season moves along. Either Martin, Jean, or DeVier Posey is needed to add an extra dimension to the Texans offense. Nothing against Walter, who has unquestionably played well through four games, but he isn’t the explosive playmaker the Texans need opposite Johnson. It’s apparent opposing defenses are making run stopping their priority against the Texans O, and if the Texans are to take advantage of that through the air, they need one of these youngsters to explode. If they Texans can find one more wideout to stretch the field, it could loosen opposing defenses and help the run game.
On the defensive side of the ball, there aren’t any apparent improvements necessary except maybe sure up a little against the run. With that being said, the defense hasn’t really been tested in the first quarter of the season. You can’t fault the D for their schedule, but with teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, and New England Patriots on the horizon, the defense cannot get comfortable and overconfident.
Lastly, there have been questions regarding the Texans’ killer instinct and their ability to close out games. Against the only team with a .500 record they’ve faced this season, the Denver Broncos, the Texans obtained their weekly 20-point lead, but were unable to hold onto it and almost lost the entire lead altogether. There was not one area of the team at extra fault, it was a team effort in taking their foot off the pedal. Against the likes of the other AFC powerhouses like the Ravens and Patriots, if the Texans relax for even a minute, it could spell disaster and result in a tick mark in the loss column.
Having started the season 4-0, the Texans have played almost as well as anybody can expect. But no NFL team is perfect and the true champions of the league improve throughout a season. With a tougher schedule ahead, it will be exciting to see how the Texans match up with some of the NFL’s elite.
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