There’s something special going down in Houston

The Houston Texans have sneaked up along the rails all season and now find themselves the provisional number one seed for the AFC. They might have had some misfortune with injuries but this year could finally be the year they break their playoff duck

What makes the Texans good?

An impressive triple headed run game has served as the basis for the Texans success this season. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both well clear of the 500 yard rushing mark with nine touchdowns on the ground between them. Derrick Ward has also provided productivity from the backfield when required. High productivity in the running game between a number of backs suggests a strong offensive line and the Texans unit certainly fits the bill. The ailing Buccaneers were driven back on nearly every down last Sunday while the line’s ability to block up field has been a major contributing to their success.

What about the three losses?

As has been discussed on many occasions, it takes a very special side to go undefeated in the NFL. So far only the 1972 Dolphins have ever picked up the Vince Lombardi trophy with a 100% record so a few losses here and there are inevitable. The Texans defeats are all perfectly understandable; away defeats in Baltimore and New Orleans and a home loss to a Raiders side mourning the death of Al Davis. Of those three defeats only the loss to the Ravens was by more than a score.

Injuries to Andre Johnson, Daniel Manning, Mario Williams…

When a hamstring injury to Andre Johnson in week 4 ruled the Texans star man out for several weeks I felt certain their charge would stall. An injury to a feared wideout with quality to match their huge reputation would be a big loss to most teams but for the Texans took it in their stride. A team with few receiving standouts have covered the loss of their main target remarkably well. Arian Foster has arrived on screen and option plays while Jacoby Jones has been a solid if unspectacular replacement for Johnson. The losses of Manning and Williams should have crippled the Texans defence yet they still have the second ranked defence in the league in terms of points and pass yardage and lead the league in total defensive yards. A team with this much strength in depth is going to be a real threat.

…Matt Schaub added to the long term injury list

Matt Schaub’s injury had fantasy football fans crying into their cornflakes on Monday morning but Texans fans have less cause for concern. Matt Leinart will be thrown into an offence designed to run the ball. This will take a huge amount of pressure off of him as will Foster’s ability to make plays on screen and swing passes in the backfield. With a bye week upcoming the backup quarterback can get some quality practice time in with his offence, including the returning Andre Johnson. As Carson Palmer showed with the Oakland Raiders, the bye week is the perfect time for a replacement trigger man to swat up on the playbook and get some reps with the starters. That being said the rest of the Texans will need to raise their game if they are to continue their winning run. The switch from a right to a left handed passer places a greater importance on the players watching Leinart’s back. The blindside o-line starters Eric Brisiel and Eric Winston, they need to step up to protect their new main man.  The key to Leinart’s new role is not giving him too much to do too early. During his Cardinals spell Leinart showed very little of the quality that took him to two BCS National title games and a Heisman trophy in college. Given a stronger offence all round, who knows he may step up to the plate, however, he shouldn’t have to. This Texans team have proved they are bigger than one man on many occasions this season, they don’t have to put the game in  Leinart’s hands to win and they won’t.

So how far can they go?

They are currently the number one seed in the AFC but there a lot of quality sides chasing them including the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. If Leinart shows the form that he exhibited at USC then there is no reason why the Texans can’t remain at the top of the pile, if he can’t providing he doesn’t throw pick fests every game and acts as a sensible game manager they will easily make the playoffs as the AFC South winners. It is my feeling that Schaub will be fit for the very end of the season and the playoffs given the comments from the Texans camp. With Schaub, Johnson and Foster all fit, I see no reason why the Texans wouldn’t go all the way to the Superbowl. In week 10 however, there is a lot of football to be played a lot of mistakes, injuries and moments of brilliance ahead. That and after the Eagles season collapsed I’m extremely cautious about making bold predictions!


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