Talk about one of the worst months of football that anyone in Houston could imagine, the Houston Texans have raised doubts on how good this team really is. At times, it looks like they can’t get out of their own way or they forgot what made them successful the first 12 games of the season.
With the home-field advantage gone and the Cincinnati Bengals coming to town, the Texans have no time to dwell on December and have to regroup and put their best foot forward. Fans have been pointing fingers at certain players and coaches and despite this being a team game, there is a group of Texans that this playoff run will depend on.
Time to Step Up
Put into a curious position with limited time, Harris was plugged into the nickel corner position for the injured Brice McCain. Harris has been physical in the slot but has been playing like a rookie. At times, he looks over matched and to make matters worse he has been a flag magnet. Still trying to learn the game, Harris will have to get ready for a quick, in space Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. Expect Harris to be tested often, and his ability to help take away the middle of the field will be key for the defensive success. With Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph playing at a high level, Harris will be in a big position to make his mark.
Big expectations and three sacks later in 16 games, Barwin has a chance to salvage what has been a disappointing season. The Texans are going to need to dial up a pass rush off the edge and it starts with last year’s sack machine, who posted 11.5 sacks. Barwin has shown he can make it happen off the edge, but with a stagnant pass rush the soon to be free agent could be playing for his future here in Houston. If he can generate any hits or pressures, it could lead to controlling the air attack of the Bengals and putting the Texans in position to win.
Wade Smith, Ben Jones, Brandon Brooks, Derek Newton
This is pretty much the entire offensive line but the Texans’ guard play and right tackle play have left something to be desired. The veteran Smith and rookie Jones have been overpowered by bigger defensive lineman and with Geno Atkins coming to town, they hold a big key on how successful the Texans will be offensively. The Bengals’ defensive line can cause fits and Newton better be ready for some Michael Johnson, who is another stout pass rusher. There has not been a front four that have been as disruptive as the 2012 Bengals and it might be a long day if the offensive line can’t get a push or protect Matt Schaub.
Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Barrett Ruud
With Darryl Sharpton out for the remainder of the season, it will be up to this patch work inside line backing group to stop the ground attack and control Jermaine Gresham across the middle. All three will play and all have their deficiencies, and expect them to be tested in space. Teams in the second half of the season found out how vulnerable the Texans are, especially in coverage. They can play the run well in between the tackles, but when trying to run sideline to sideline they lack in closing speed. Expect James and Dobbins to be the starters on Saturday, only if Dobbins’ shoulder injury can clear up. This defense has been decent against the run, but them as a group being able to put together defensive stops could be a huge life for a struggling defense.
Look no further than Houston’s own public enemy #1, Matt Schaub. Schaub had a December, much like the Texans, to forget. In the month, Schaub had a 82.2 quarterback rating with a 63.3 completion percentage and 3 TDs to 3 interceptions. Also, the Texans were 2-5 in the month which didn’t help the quest to have home field advantage in the playoffs. This team is only as good as Schaub goes, and he has to get out of locking in on Andre Johnson and spread the ball around. He has to get Owen Daniels back involved into the offense, which will alleviate Schaub from making some pressure packed throws. It will be up to Schaub to prove his doubters wrong and that he belongs in the playoffs. This is his time to prove he belongs and it starts on Saturday.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter. He is the Editor of State of the Texans.