Naughty Nurse: Houston Texans health scare

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 26, 2012

Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with all our patients. See each team’s overview here

By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts utility infielder

Oh it was a banner f’n year for the Houston Texans and the old Phillips family. Wade got a carton of cigarettes. Houston legend Bum grabbed him and said, “Hey, smoke up sonny!”
Houston did light up the league in 2011, but it happened in a way you wouldn’t have expected. In their 10th season, the Texans finally made the playoffs by winning the AFC South. They also won their first playoff game.
You could say the celebration started early as longtime nemesis Peyton Manning was derailed for the entire season after multiple neck surgeries. Houston started the year with a 34-7 romping of the Manning-less Colts. It was a passing of the torch in the AFC South.
Jacksonville also short-circuited their season early after releasing the injured David Garrard, and going with a Luke McCown/Blaine Gabbert combo that couldn’t score 20 points on Alabama.
Tennessee was a team no one could figure out in 2011, and Houston’s dominant 41-7 victory in Tennessee in Week 7 established the Texans as the best team in the AFC South.
But it wouldn’t all be easy for the Texans. They earned their record the hard way. Matt Schaub’s season came to an end after 10 starts after suffering a Lisfranc/foot injury. The Texans pulled off the rare feat of advancing in the playoffs after going to a third starting quarterback in the regular season: fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates.
All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson missed nine games because of multiple hamstring injuries. Running back Adrian Foster missed three games due to a hamstring injury as well. Mario Williams was lost for the year after five games due to a torn pectoral muscle. Even defensive coordinator Wade Phillips missed some time late in the season after having gall bladder surgery.
Even with all the injuries, Houston finished No. 1 overall in CHFF’s Quality Stats Power Rankings. They were as balanced as any team in football in 2011. But come playoff time, they needed more from the quarterback in Baltimore, and Yates was unable to deliver.
Now after an off-season of several losses to the roster, the Texans need to continue their dominance in the AFC South as they attempt to make a deeper playoff run in 2012.
The 2011 storyline: Breakthrough in the face of adversity. Despite having an easier road paved for them in the AFC South, the Texans battled through significant injuries to key players to claim their first division title and playoff win in franchise history.

The Vital Signs

Coach (record): Gary Kubiak (47-49 with Houston, 47-49 overall)
2011 record: 10-6 (23.8 PPG – 17.4 PPG)
Record against the spread: 9-5-2
Record vs. Quality Opponents:  4-3 (23.4 PPG – 19.7 PPG)
Record last five seasons: 41-39 (.513)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Defensive Real Quarterback Rating, Defensive Passer Rating (2nd)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Scoreability (17th)
2011 Quality Stat Rankings
1 5 17 11 7 2 9 2 7 2 3 4 7 8
Overall =Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR= Scoreability; Bend= Bendability; RPYPA= Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA= Defensive Real Passing; QBR= Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR= Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR= Offensive Passer Rating; DPR= Defensive Passer Rating; PRD= Passer Rating Differential; OHI= Offensive Hog Index; DHI= Defensive Hog Index; REL= Relativity Index.
Statistical curiosity of 2011: The defense was real, and spectacular. For a franchise that’s never had a defense rank higher than 15th in points allowed, it was quite the change to see what Houston did in 2011.
After fielding one of the worst defenses in the league in 2010, the Texans became one of the best in 2011 under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. As you’ll see with the strengths and weaknesses, the Texans managed to recreate their identity in one year.
Even after losing Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams, the Texans only got better on defense:
With Mario 3-2 19.0 314.0
Without Mario 7-4 16.6 272.8
Houston needed this kind of defensive performance, as their offense was not up to past standards. Including playoffs, the Texans were 11-1 when allowing fewer than 20 points, but 0-6 when allowing 20+ points.
Best game of 2011: 31-10 win vs. Cincinnati (AFC wildcard). The last time the Bengals won a playoff game, it was in the 1990 AFC wildcard over the Houston Oilers, 41-14. In their first ever playoff game, the Texans gained some revenge for the city of Houston with an impressive 31-10 victory. This win even came on the heels of a three-game losing streak to end the regular season. But that last regular season victory was a thrilling comeback in the final seconds in Cincinnati for a 20-19 win. This time the Texans took control much earlier.
Rookie J.J. Watt, also impressive in a Week 16 primetime game against the Colts, made the game-changing play in front of a national audience again when he intercepted rookie Andy Dalton just before halftime, returning the ball 29 yards for a touchdown. Houston led 17-10 at the half. T.J. Yates found Andre Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and Arian Foster (153 yards and 2 TD) closed out the scoring with a 42-yard scoring run. The defense came up with 3 interceptions off Dalton and the Bengals were held scoreless in the second half.
Worst game of 2011: 28-13 loss vs. Carolina (Week 15). Riding a franchise-best seven-game winning streak, the 10-3 Texans hosted the 4-9 Panthers with a chance to still claim home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. A mistake-prone first half led to Carolina leading 21-0 at halftime. As Houston pulled to within 21-13 in the fourth quarter, Carolina quickly answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive for a 28-13 lead. T.J. Yates, struggling in his third career start, was intercepted deep in the red zone, and Carolina ran out the remaining 7:25 on the clock. The 13 points scored and 15-point margin of defeat tie for the worst marks the Texans had in any game in 2011.
Strength: Overall defense
As you’ll see with the strength and weakness for the Texans, a team can change their identity around in a hurry. Once known for a passing game that featured Andre Johnson, and one of the league’s worst defenses, Houston flipped the script last season with the addition of defensive coordinator Phillips.
As Phillips has routinely done as a coordinator, he had an immediate positive impact on what was a miserable defensive performance in 2010. That year the Texans allowed 407 points on defense (30th in the league), ranked 30th in total defense, and opposing passers had a cumulative 100.5 passer rating.
In 2011 the Texans improved to 4th in points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed, and their 69.0 Defensive Passer Rating was the second best in football. Even the run defense finished above average (4th in yards allowed, 11th in yards per carry).
Phillips’ 3-4 scheme was aided by better talent than the previous season’s roster. Connor Barwin, a third-year player that became a first-time starter, led the team with 11.5 sacks. First round pick J.J. Watt was an impactful rookie on the defensive line. Johnathan Joseph was a key addition at CB from the Bengals, and he made the Pro Bowl. Daniel Manning came from Chicago as an upgrade at safety.
Instead of being the team that had to win 35-31 shootouts, the Texans transformed into a run-based team that could rely on the defense to carry them most of the season.
Weakness: Passing game
The truth is Houston had one of the most balanced teams in football last season. Almost by default (and injury), their weakness became the passing game. The defense was better than the offense, and the running game was very good with Arian Foster (1,224 yards, 4.4 YPA) and Ben Tate (942 yards, 5.4 YPA).
But in the passing game, the Texans usually rely on Andre Johnson to have a dominant season, which was impossible in 2011 because of hamstring injuries. Johnson was limited to 492 yards in 7 games. Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter are closer to No. 3 WR’s (at best) than they are starters. TE Owen Daniels led the team with 54 receptions and 677 yards, and Foster was actually second with 53 catches for 617 yards out of the backfield. Free agent veterans like Bryant Johnson and Derrick Mason did not pan out for Houston.
Most crippling to the passing game was the Lisfranc injury Matt Schaub suffered to his foot in his 10th start. And who says Albert Haynesworth didn’t have an impact in Tampa Bay? Schaub missed the rest of the season. Backup Matt Leinart didn’t make it to halftime of his first start, which meant third-string rookie T.J. Yates had to step up.
Yates became the first rookie quarterback since Virgil Carter (1968) to lead a game-winning drive in each of his first two starts. Though he did a respectable job for a fifth-round rookie, Yates could not provide the kind of volume and efficiency that a veteran like Schaub would be capable of.
The Texans averaged 18.9 PPG in the seven starts by Yates (27.3 PPG in Schaub’s 10 starts).
It was never more evident of how the Texans needed more from the quarterback than in the playoff defeat at Baltimore. The defense played very well, Foster had an excellent game, but Yates did not protect the ball or generate enough offense. With four chances to drive for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Yates was 6/12 for 61 yards and 2 interceptions as Houston’s season came to an end with a 20-13 loss.
General off-season strategy/overview: The off-season has not been too kind to the Texans thus far. The Texans have lost the following players:
DE/LB Mario Williams – one of the league’s best pass rushers, the former No. 1 overall pick was unable to negotiate a long-term deal with Houston. With the franchise tag not an option because of the large cap number that would have followed, the Texans almost had to let Williams go. He signed with Buffalo for a contract worth roughly $100M. Houston was very successful without Williams last year, and hope they can continue that success with their young pass rushers. While some may shun this move, we think Houston made the right move by not making Williams the highest paid defensive player in the game, because he does not make the kind of impact worth that contract.
RT Eric Winston – in an attempt to avoid cap hell, the Texans parted ways with their six-year veteran right tackle. Winston started 87 games for the Texans, and the Chiefs landed him.
TE Joel Dreessen – It was actually Dreessen who led the 2011 Texans in touchdown catches with 6. He will now be catching passes from Peyton Manning in Denver. The Texans still have Owen Daniels, who isn’t a pillar of durability, but is the undisputed best TE in Houston.
MLB DeMeco Ryans – perhaps better suited for the 4-3, the Texans decided to trade defensive captain Ryans to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick and a swap of third-round picks. Along with Mario Williams, Ryans was a key pick in the 2006 draft for Houston.
RG Mike Brisiel – he started 13 games at RG last season before being picked up by Oakland, meaning the Texans will be replacing the right side of their offensive line. They did manage to resign standout center Chris Myers.
They also lost CB Jason Allen to the Bengals, and FB Lawrence Vickers went to Dallas.
One big move the Texans did make is resigning Arian Foster to a 5-year deal worth $43.5M. Now if there’s a position you don’t want to spend a lot of money on, it’s running back. Even if he’s one of the league’s best, would Houston really lose much if they had to start Ben Tate? Not likely.
So while it hasn’t been an off-season of any real improvement, Houston is still the class of their division, and we still have the draft next month. Adding a receiver that could start along Johnson would really bolster the passing game. Right now Houston is a bit too dependent on Johnson, and most of the best competition in the NFL includes teams that have multiple receiving threats.
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: Houston is in a very good position in the AFC South for the short-term. Jacksonville and Indianapolis have new coaching staffs, young quarterbacks and are well behind the Texans. The Titans are a confusing team that lost a few starters of their own this off-season. The Texans should have the best quarterback and defense in the division, which are huge indicators for picking a division winner.
Without so many injuries to key players last season, it’s no stretch to say Houston could have found themselves in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. It will be harder to get back to that point in 2012 when the AFC is likely to get stronger with the return of Peyton Manning to Denver, and likely better seasons for Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
But if Schaub, who is entering the final year of his contract, can return to his past level of performance while the defense remains elite, then the Texans are a lock for the AFC South and at least one home playoff game. And once you get into the tournament, anything can happen. The New York Giants have written the book on that.

However, Houston can't get complacent, because all it could take is a quick learning curve for Andrew Luck and one good off-season for a team like the Colts to be right back at the top of the AFC South. This is Houston's time, but they have to hit big on a player or two in this draft to extend their run.

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