Fact: God hates the Houston Texans. Some may call them unfortunate, but I now think there is now enough evidence to suggest there is a Higher Power at work. It would be one thing to simply have a roster decimated by injuries, but the confluence of events that have transpired, leaving the Texans in this shape, is just unfair. It’s one thing to have things perpetually go wrong, but to be built up and have your rivals wither at every turn, at a point when very little can be changed is an act of the great unknown.
Houston has been on the cusp of breaking through for what seems like a decade. But, despite entering each season as the hot AFC sleeper team, they finish with relatively mediocre results. Not good enough to bestow praise on Gary Kubiak and not bad enough to cost him his job. Although the last ranked defense of the 2010 Texans probably should have. Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys did their intrastate rivals a solid and fired head coach Wade Phillips. The Phillips termination was probably a long time coming after three and half Kubiesque seasons. Either way, Phillips has been a bust as the man in charge in New Orleans, Denver, Buffalo and Dallas, but there is nary a negative thing to say about his work as a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
The common perception is that coaches lose their ability to adapt with the times the older they get, but the now 64-year old proved over the last decade that his schemes are still very effective. He took over the Falcons defense in 2002 and San Diego’s in 2004, transforming both from bottom feeders into top-10 units. Even his work on Dallas’ defense was a success, Phillips just struggled with the in-game management and decision making that falls on the head coach. So when Wade took over the reins from former D-Coordinator Frank Bush, the defense was expected to improve, which has been the case. Houston has gone from the NFL’s worst ranked defense to the best, at least in terms of yards allowed.
Now with, not only a competent, but dominating defense, Houston got some even better news. The main cog standing in its way for the last 10 years – Peyton Manning – would miss significant time with a career threatening neck injury. Manning’s absence meant the Texans had an opening to assume the mantle atop the AFC South. The Colts were expected to be bad, but few knew that the loss of their quarterback would turn them into a historically terrible team. With Indianapolis out of the division picture, Houston only needed to best the Titans and Jags to claim its first playoff appearance in franchise history. Thing were made easier when the Titans decided to have a complete makeover in the offseason, firing the longest tenured coach in football and bringing in a new quarterback. Jacksonville took themselves out of the running, cutting pivot David Garrard at the end of the preseason, choosing to roll with the dream team of Luke McCown and unproven rookie Blaine Gabbert under center. It’s like all four teams got together and agreed to fix the division to let the Texans finally reach the postseason. But it just couldn’t be that easy.
Injuries happen to every team, it’s never an excuse. Last season, Green Bay lost offensive lineman, key defenders and player maker Jermichael Finley for the season and still managed to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Wisconsin. Injuries ruin depth, but as long as the key players remain, teams can still prevail. So what happens when you lose your two best offensive players in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson for extended periods? Ben Tate and Jacoby Jones stepped up to fill the void until they returned. When ‘linebacker’ Mario Williams tore his pectoral on October 12, it didn’t faze the Texans, the defense remained as strong as ever. Even when starting quarterback Matt Schaub was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot, the Texans were still the division favorites with Matt Leinart coming in to lead the offense.
Enter Sunday, Houston was sitting in first place in the South at 7-3, the inconsistent Titans are the only team in striking distance for the division at 5-5. Kubiak put Leinart in a position to succeed, making excellent use of his left wrist, pounding the ball up the middle with Foster and limiting Leinart to passes of 15-yards or less. It was all working, just another beat down of the lowly Jaguars, but then it happened. Leinart tried to throw the ball away, took a shot and broke his collarbone, and it became TJ Yates time. Expectations for the Texans have gone all Keyser Soze – just like that, they’re gone.
Yates was Houston’s fifth round pick out of North Carolina in April’s draft. He’s the proud owner of 37 school records including attempts in a game without an inception (46), completions of over 50-yards (8) and passing yards in a single game at Kenan Stadium (411). Also, he once threw 15 passes in an NFL game. That’s all I got.
The Texans were favorites to reach the conference championship game Sunday morning. Now, that talk is long gone and the discussion has shifted to whether they can hold off Tennessee for the division title. Unless you’re a member of Texans management, any sort of projection on Yates’ ability is a hilarious guess. Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that a rookie pivot out of the ACC, who no one has ever heard of, is not going to be good enough to help Houston compete for a Super Bowl, but this is the NFL, giving him no chance is ludicrous. I‘m certain we’ll know in two weeks time if wining with Yates is a possibly, but until then, let him make his starts and enjoy the Brett Favre rumors.
Pat Mayo hosts RotoExperts’ Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8pm ET and The Sunday Scene at 9:30pm ET recapping the day’s NFL action. You may contact Pat @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @thepme.