We all saw the debacle Sunday. This team is in trouble going in to the playoffs, and while the sky is not falling – there are legitimate, reasonable reasons to think the Texans are headed for disappointment come January. Rather than go over that embarrassing loss from Sunday (which I witnessed in person) I’m just going to get to the heart of what the problem with this team is. Though the defense shares plenty of blame in this, for the purposes of this entry I am going to focus on the offensive problems. I may hit on defensive woes later in the week, but that doesn’t do much for my Christmas joy.
The Texans have positioned themselves nicely all season to force the AFC playoff field to go through Houston to get to the Super Bowl. That home-field advantage is something every team strives for, but in recent history it hasn’t been an indicator of who makes it through to the title game.
Whether the Texans secure the home field advantage with a win in Indianapolis next week is becoming less and less relevant with every passing week. I’ll take a team playing their best ball of the season over playing at home in the playoffs every day, and so would everyone else.
So yes, I’d love to see the Texans win Sunday and have the potential to host two playoff games on the way to the Super Bowl, but I’m not nearly as concerned with that as I am concerned with, you know, how badly this team is playing right now. Do you really think it matters if the team we saw against Minnesota (or anytime in the last month or so) plays the Broncos or the Patriots in Houston, Denver, New England, or on Jupiter? The result will be the same no matter what – a serious beatdown.
There’s a lot of talk that places the blame squarely on Matt Schaub’s shoulders for the awful game Sunday, and while he certainly shares in that – he’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem, as it has been most of the season – is the offensive line. The run-blocking is good once in a while, it’s below average most of the time, and it’s absolutely TERRIBLE once in a while – and a LOT more lately.
RT Derek Newton hasn’t been what the Texans had hoped. It doesn’t really matter that he was never supposed to be the starter. Rashad Butler was hurt in the preseason, but by then Newton had already taken the starting job away from Butler. Newton is clearly, at BEST, a swing tackle who just isn’t starting caliber. He’s young and still raw, and sure he can get better – but this team is in win-now mode and can’t wait around for him to become a starting-caliber player. Antoine Caldwell has been awful at right guard, and eventually lost his job to rookie Ben Jones, who has now been splitting time with fellow rookie Brandon Brooks. Left guard Wade Smith is inconsistent, and having his worst season as a Texan. Right now the Texans can only count on two guys on the offensive line with Chris Myers and Duane Brown. After that, it’s just bad. To me it really is that simple.
As far as Schaub goes, he’s certainly not playing well. But he’s not (and never was) the kind of QB who can make plays on his own. He needs the run game to be clicking. He needs to have the legitimate threat of a running game. He needs to have a nice, comfortable pocket from which to throw the ball (which he has had all season). A lot of fans seem to think because he’s a quarterback, that once in a while he should be able to “call up” the abilities of any “style” of quarterback. No, he can’t run. No, he can’t be elusive in the pocket and save a broken play. No, he can’t throw the deep ball well. What he can do, when matched with a coach like Gary Kubiak, is be DEADLY in the intermediate passing game, and KILL teams with in the play action game. He excels at both of those elements, but every game has its own context, and when there is no run game – he won’t be at his best.
The Texans can win with Matt Schaub. But they can’t win with him if there is no running game. When the running game isn’t working, he can’t just suddenly transform himself into a different type of quarterback. That’s why the Texans were able to sign him for what is a fairly reasonable amount of money for a plus NFL quarterback. If he could do all those other things that fans inexplicably expect him to be half the time, he’d be making Drew Brees money.
So yes, he’s got some share of the blame. He’s missed an alarming amount of open guys in the last third of the season, even with an occasional running threat. Sunday he looked so bad at times that I was convinced the receivers were running the wrong routes. My biggest fear about Schaub is that this problem will eat itself. Meaning, Gary Kubiak is already calling games as thought he doesn’t completely trust Schaub as much as he had in the past. If he continues to not make plays, Kubiak may tighten the reins even more. That kind of strategy might work in the regular season, but in the playoffs it will be a disaster.
All of that leads to this. Can the Texans fix this issue now, right before the playoffs start? Of course not. There isn’t an in-season fix for something like this. They are who they are, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win. It doesn’t even mean they can’t win the Super Bowl. But if that’s going to happen, the ONLY way it’s going to happen is with home-field advantage, for other guys on defense not named JJ Watt to start being consistent playmakers, and for the offensive line to at least, improve. They cannot be the dominant running team they were in their current state, but they can be better than what they were against the Vikings. The Texans obviously aren’t as bad as they were against Minnesota, but they’re not as good as they were when they were reeling off big wins early in the season either.
At 12-3, all is certainly not lost. There’s still plenty of reason for excitement, hope, etc. It sound silly to even say that with the record this team has, but there is NO WAY you can ignore how well other teams in the AFC field are playing right now. I’ll take “hot” over “home” every single day… but if the Texans can’t get it together and win in Indianapolis on Sunday, they’ll have neither.