Monday, September 28, 2015

Houston Texans: Tied for First (and Last) in what might be the worst division in the NFL

Contrary to current appearances, someone is going to win the AFC South and make it to the NFL Playoffs.  Who that is might be up for debate, as the pre-season favorite Colts have suddenly looked inept and (at key positions) either incredibly untalented or old, but someone will win despite all of this.

The question that Houstonians have is this: Can it be the Texans?

Not to throw too wet of a blanket on the victory celebration but I doubt it.

Last week we discussed the offense, which played marginally better this week (at least they ran the ball OK) but still has issues scoring points, as Jerome Solomon mentions here. While his piece reads (somewhat) tongue and cheek it is notable that Alfred Blue looked to be much more active and hit the hole much better than in weeks one and two.  Add to that improved play from the O-line and you wind up with an ugly, ugly win.  But a win nevertheless which is good enough to bring the Texans even with the other three teams in the division at 1-2.

My concern this week is with the defense. A defense that was supposed to be dominant has looked less than. The Texans only got no sacks on rookie QB Jameis Winston and the coverage down the field was troublesome, at best.

This is a big problem for a defensive line that contains JJ Watt and Vince Wilfork, with a supposedly "back to healthy" Brian Cushing backing them up at the LB position. In fact, Mr. Watt was held to only 5 tackles, 2 of them solo with only 1 tackle for loss and 3 QB hits. Wilfork? 2 tackles, 0 solo and 0 for a loss. Cushing, supposedly the fiercest tackler on the team, only had 5 tackles, 3 solo and 0 TFL on his stat sheet.  Compare that to Tampa Bay LB Lavonte David, who had 14 tackles, 3 solo and 1 TFL. In fact, the top six tacklers in the game all wore Pewter, Red and Orange uniforms.

For a team built on defense, these are troubling trends. Especially when you consider the Buccaneers have had trouble in the first 2 weeks protecting Winston.

If you're going to have a team, as the Texans appear to, that is going to be offensively challenged and won't be scoring many points, then you had better have a dominant defense in place to counteract that.  The problem is the Texans defense does not look all that dominant to me after three weeks.

While people won't admit it, there is a talent shortage on this defense that is going to rear it's ugly head against teams that are more talented than Tampa Bay.  The LB corps are weak. I've not doubt that Clowney has the physical tools to become a dominant player, but it's certainly not clear that he has the motor to do so. Cushing, for all of the fan hope, appears to be a day late and a dollar short when it comes to reaching plays to make the tackle. If you watch the game he has a tendency to show up one or two steps late.  Mercilus is looking more and more like a bust.  And I hate to say that because I thought he was  good pick when he was drafted.

Among the young guys Benardrick McKinney looks good, but we'll have to see how he develops in the 3-4, which I think his game is unsuited to. Maybe Kevin Johnson improves, and the Texans had better hope so because Joseph is looking older and older by the game.

The defense did do a good job stuffing the run, and they did OK on the passes, but you have to wonder what a fully healthy Mike Adams would have done to them, instead of the still-banged-up, coming-off-an-injury version they saw Sunday.

The good news?  On paper the schedule looked like it was going to bet getting harder over the next couple of weeks.  While I think the Falcons are an improved team and will beat the Texans soundly, the next four weeks, games against the Colts, Jaguars, Dolphins and Titans all appear to be winnable.

Right now, the Texans are 1-2 and tied for first. But they're also 1-2 and tied for last place in an awful division. While I think next week is going to be difficult I think, with Foster coming back, the 1-3 Texans could run off four in a row and find themselves at 5-3, and very much in playoff contention.

Until the 2nd half of the season starts, and the schedule gets noticeably tougher.  At the beginning of the season I thought the Texans would go 6-10.  I'm revising that up slightly to 7-9, but they have to get much better at playing the game of tackle football to get there. 

Trouble spots: The Titans and Jaguars, while possessing the same record as the Texans, are starting to show signs of improvement.  While I realize the New England Patriots housed the Jaguars last week I really don't see that happening again for a while, and the Titans, with Mariota calling signals, are showing some ability.

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