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Sunday, January 1, 2012
Three things we learned about the Texans

By Paul Kuharsky

James Casey
Versatile James Casey, left, and the Texans showed off their depth Sunday against the Titans.
HOUSTON -- The Texans sought to restore order and momentum in their season finale, while avoiding any more of the injury misfortune that’s beset them all season long.

Despite suffering a 23-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium, the team seemed to achieve those goals and is now ready to turn to its first postseason. As the No. 3 seed, the Texans will host the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Nobody’s disappointed,” said receiver Andre Johnson, who estimated he played 15 snaps as he worked back from a hamstring injury. “Of course we wanted to win the game. We didn’t come out on top, but there is next week. Some teams don’t have next week. We have next week.”

“Those first couple drives, we kind of had that swagger back a little bit,” said quarterback T.J. Yates, who left the game with a bruise of his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter. “Everybody was aggressive, flying around, very talkative on the sideline. It felt like we were back to normal out there.”

A postseason appearance is definitely not normal for the Texans. Houston has an NFL playoff game for the first time since 1993.

Here are some things we learned along the way on Week 17’s game between the division’s two best teams:

Texans fullback James Casey remains a weapon: He’s not your standard fullback. The converted tight end started the Texans' first five games, then missed a couple with a chest injury and never got back ahead of the more traditional Lawrence Vickers.

But Casey’s really more of a pass-catcher than a blocker by nature, and the Titans did poorly in figuring out how to stop him from getting free for seven receptions on seven targets for a team-high 91 yards.

Casey helped get the Texans in range for one of Neil Rackers’ field goals with a brilliant catch, keeping the ball in the air with a left-handed tip before diving to collect it.

“We were lining up in different formations with different personnel, and as a defense it’s kind of hard to understand exactly what we’re going to do,” Casey said. “Because we’re not just doing base things. We’re motioning all over the place. They don’t know if I’m fullback or tight end. It’s tough sometimes for them to set their blitzes or their coverage. Hopefully you can get guys out of spots, out of gaps in the run game and out of their zones in the pass game and try to take advantage of that.”

Next week, with Johnson playing full time and Owen Daniels and Arian Foster back in the lineup, odds are Casey qualifies as only the fourth- or fifth-best receiving option when he’s on the field.

“James has some crazy hands,” Johnson said. “He’s probably the guy I’ve seen make the most one-handed catches. His hands are very, very good, I think he has the best hands on this team. I don’t know who has the best in the league, but I think he’s right up there.”

The Texans are quite deep: Typically a team that scratches key starters like Foster, Daniels and cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a game that doesn’t have great meaning, is willing to yield some. Especially if it doesn’t jump out to a lead.

And the Texans have proven all season they have quality depth, as they’ve replaced defensive end Mario Williams, quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, punter Brett Hartmann and linebacker Daryl Sharpton, and played stretches without Johnson, safety Danieal Manning and guard Mike Brisiel.

Sunday as they rested some guys and pulled others early, they called on even more depth.

Beyond Casey, the Texans got solid contributions from a lot of role players like receiver Bryant Johnson, running back Derrick Ward and linebackers Tim Dobbins and Bryan Braman, along with quarterback Jake Delhomme.

“It says we have quality players all across this locker room,” Foster said. “We have guys that can play.”

Said Titans receiver Nate Washington: “This is a new Texans team that they take pride in. Even their backups come in there and they are playing hard. They’re going to make plays. We have to find a better way to close out those games.”

One piece of depth they were missing: a center behind Chris Myers who could make a quality shotgun snap in the clutch. The Texans could have won it with a 2-point conversion at the end, but guard Thomas Austin put the shotgun snap over Delhomme’s head at the end of the game. Kubiak said Austin had snapped enough that it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Kubiak understands a “meaningless” game: He’s never been a playoff head coach before, but he’s been part of a lot of good teams. That’s why he didn’t hesitate after Bryant Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 14 second left to keep his offense on the field for a 2-point try.

Even after Joel Dreessen’s false start, Kubiak stuck with it.

He wanted a win, sure, but he wanted overtime even less.

It was a smart call and the right call, even if Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan didn’t agree.

“I understand they want to get the game over with, but after they false started and they still went for 2, I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “That’s a slap in the face. But they botched the snap, so whatever.”