AFC South: Case Keenum

Texans Camp Report: Day 11

August, 5, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • When practice began, coach Bill O'Brien didn't like how it was going, so he stopped the script and threw the team into something different. A grind-it-out, high-energy, live tackling goal-line drill. "I just put the ball at the 10-yard line and let’s play football, you know," O'Brien said. Immediately the energy at practice jumped. Jonathan Grimes took a handoff from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and scored. A few plays later, nose tackle Jerrell Powe blew up a running play, tackling running back Andre Brown behind the line of scrimmage. "It ended up being a goal-line situation. I thought that got the guys going a little bit and we ended up having a decent practice."
  • Early in practice, the second-team offense incurred O'Brien's wrath after a sloppy series. The entire unit had to run a lap together.
  • Rookie quarterback Tom Savage's reps have increased throughout camp. O'Brien said he is taking developmental reps and has had 130 7-on-7 or team drill reps in 11 practices. Savage's throws in practice have been a mixed bag. But his head is spinning less than it was when he arrived in Houston and that is evident. On one play, undrafted rookie defensive end Julius Warmsley arrived in the backfield in what might have been a sack if he was allowed to touch Savage. Savage coolly found receiver Travis Labhart in the end zone.
  • Backup quarterback Case Keenum is working on feeling more comfortable being uncomfortable. "Does that make sense? Just pushing the limits and trying to find some continuity with the guys you’re playing with. So, it’s getting better. It’s getting better every day. Still making mistakes every day, which you know I don’t like. But I think that’s what makes you better; not making the same mistakes."
  • The Texans have Wednesday off before returning to practice on Thursday and Friday. They'll face the Arizona Cardinals on the road on Saturday.

Texans Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans' training camp.


  • On the field it was DeAndre Hopkins day at Texans' training camp this morning. Every time I looked up, Hopkins was making another leaping catch. One particularly impressive one came during a red-zone drill in which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found Hopkins in the end zone. Hopkins caught the ball with cornerback Brandon Harris draped on him, then held onto it as Harris tried to wrestle it out of Hopkins' gigantic hands as the two of them fell to the ground.
  • And by the way, that red-zone drill was great to watch. Actual hitting! In training camp! "That's how it's supposed to be every day," Kareem Jackson said. "We're supposed to be out here competing as a team. The more we can go full speed and live and compete against each other in game-type situations, it'll only make us better when game time comes."
  • The winner for most entertaining moment of practice goes to an interception by D.J. Swearinger (swag with three g's). He picked off Fitzpatrick during a drill where a line of offensive players stood just behind watching. Swearinger went forward full speed, moved aside the onlookers in his way and ran toward the end zone, high-stepping into it once he got there. By the time he got back to the drill, the offense was already well on its way to its next play.
  • The winner for biggest cheer of the day goes to a Shane Lechler punt that Jadeveon Clowney blocked.
  • Backup quarterback Case Keenum has had good moments during camp, but one thing that's obvious is his first instinct is still to run out of trouble. That's something the Texans' current staff and previous staff tried to fix in his game.
  • Sunday morning's practice will be open to the media but closed to the public. The Texans will start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up around 11 a.m. They'll do their usual afternoon walk-through, too, and that will be closed to fans and media.
You knew when the Houston Texans signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a capable veteran who started last season in Tennessee.

But really, you knew long before that.

As soon as Matt Schaub threw his last pass of the season -- his last interception of the season -- the end to his story in Houston was written. The Matt Schaub era, once brimming with the promise of a fresh, young franchise hoping to establish itself, had ended.

There was just too much baggage between the Texans and Matt Schaub. It was time.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Matt Schaub signed a four-year extension worth $62 million in 2012, but was unable to keep his starting job with the Texans.
This morning, ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Texans are expected to trade Schaub to the Raiders for a late-round pick in this year's draft. The Schaub era ended with 46 wins and 42 losses, 124 touchdown passes and 78 interceptions that included a haunting streak of picks that were returned for touchdowns -- a pick-six in an NFL record four consecutive games. His arm strength showed signs of having weakened at that point, and the psychological impact of those plays was clear. You could see it in the way he pounded his fists on the grass after one pick-six, you could see it in the slump in his shoulders as bad turned to worse in inexplicable fashion. There was no reason to expect the issues Schaub had last season, and yet there they were.

Just two years ago, the Texans anointed Schaub with a four-year extension worth $62 million with $24.75 million guaranteed. The deal became final the day before the 2012 season began and preceded an 11-1 start that made the Texans the hottest team in the NFL for a while.

Schaub was coming off a 2011 season during which he had his lowest completion percentage as a Texan, but he also helped lead the Texans to their first of two division titles. He missed the 2011 playoff run after fracturing his foot but returned healthy enough to inspire the organization's confidence.

When the problems began, things got ugly.

There were cheers at Reliant Stadium as Schaub lay on the grass when he suffered an ankle injury against the St. Louis Rams, the injury that ultimately led to Case Keenum replacing him as the starter. A grocery store near Schaub's neighborhood made a Halloween cake in the shape of a gravestone, marking the death of Schaub's arm. One photo circulated of a car in Houston with a mannequin in a No. 8 jersey protruding out of the trunk, meant to look like Schaub's body stuffed in the back. And, in one of the more bizarre stories from last season, Schaub's family reported trespassers to the police in an incident that was initially reported by a local radio station as having involved angry fans.

The most damning result of the ugliness came on the field the next time the Texans dared play Schaub at home. The boos got so loud the home team had to go to a silent count. His teammates were furious, not just at the tactical disadvantage they faced, but also at the way a man they still respected and liked was being treated.

Schaub, who closed his Twitter account during the season, tried his best to seem unaffected. But he wasn't fooling anybody.

And so, it had to be done.

In the past few weeks, we've talked a lot about the Texans' options at quarterback and whether or not they could find someone better than Schaub. That depends entirely on your definition of better. If you're looking purely at ability and statistics, Schaub was comparable to the quarterbacks who were options for the Texans, including Fitzpatrick. But unemotional analysis isn't enough in this situation.

The Texans are taking Schaub's $10 million salary and roster bonuses off the books for 2014, but will only gain about $4 million in cap space.

What they'll really gain is a much needed fresh start.

What went wrong? Quarterback

January, 24, 2014
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It was a long, sordid journey, but we finally reach the end.

For the past couple of weeks, we've taken a position-by-position look at what went wrong with the Houston Texans this season.

Should you care to relive the disaster that was the Texans' 2013 season, peruse through the rest of the series which has examined safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, cornerbacks and special teams.

Today we reach the most talked-about position this season: quarterback.

Key players: Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates

Schaub
Schaub
What went wrong: Frequently during the offseason between 2012 and 2013 I was told that Matt Schaub was going to surprise me. Inside Reliant Stadium, there was a firm belief that Schaub's 2013 would be better than his 2012 season. He would have better receiving options and better protection, they figured.

As it turned out, Schaub did surprise me. But in a different way.

When Schaub threw his first pick-six of the season, he recovered well. Against the Titans he followed the interception by leading a game-tying drive that preceded an overtime win. The next week he threw another pick-six, this time to the Baltimore Ravens, then one to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and another on his first pass against the San Francisco 49ers. That 49ers game was a complete disaster for Schaub. It was the only game this season when Schaub never looked comfortable. He threw three interceptions and was benched for Yates, his backup for the first six weeks of the season.

When Schaub suffered an ankle and foot injury against the St. Louis Rams in Week 6, Yates came in as his backup and struggled, too. He threw another pick-six, making that five consecutive weeks a Texans quarterback threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Another dubious NFL record. That performance, along with the fact that then-head coach Gary Kubiak felt he had little to lose at that point, led to a shift in the Texans' quarterback landscape. Looking for a spark, Kubiak turned to the spirited first-year player Case Keenum.

(Aside: first-year player is different from rookie. This was Keenum's first year on a 53-man roster).

Keenum provided the occasional glint. He exceeded expectations in his first start against the Kansas City Chiefs when he completed 15 of 25 passes and threw one touchdown pass. His first half was better than his second half, and the game ended shortly after Keenum fumbled as he was sacked. His performance pleased Kubiak enough that Keenum kept the starting job. But from then on, Keenum was more easily solved by opposing defenses with each passing week. It didn't help that he was benched twice during games in hopes that Schaub could come in as a closer.

That situation didn't help Schaub either. His absence from the starting lineup erased any chemistry and timing he had with the receivers. It showed.

Reason for hope?: With the first pick in every round of the draft, if the Texans think there's a quarterback who can be their franchise player, they'll get him. Of course, there is no guarantee they think that guy is there. Even if they do, there is no guarantee he will become a successful franchise quarterback. That's part of the fun, isn't it?
HOUSTON -- He suffered the sprained thumb during one of the four times the Indianapolis Colts sacked him. Texans quarterback Case Keenum isn't exactly sure when or how it happened, but he knows he finished the Dec. 15 game with his thumb not feeling right.

Keenum
Keenum
After missing one game, Keenum was back on the practice field on Thursday, able to grip and throw the ball again.

"I'm preparing to start," Keenum said. "I feel good. I'm ready to go. I just got through with some treatment. I want to win. That's my mindset."

In the grand scheme of this season, winning doesn't do a lot for you. But it's a good attitude for Keenum to have. The desire to win and stay motivated even when nothing can be gained from that is a good thing and will be part of how he's evaluated.

"I love playing," Keenum said. "I love competing. And I love winning. We all do. I have to give my team a better chance to win."

It's not something that would matter for everyone, but with a young player like Keenum, whose development is still in its early stages, attitude matters. It will matter for a few dozen other players on the roster.

Players like rookie Lestar Jean, whose rookie contract is up at the end of this year, cornerback Elbert Mack, who was signed to the active roster on Oct. 16, and linebacker Mike Mohamed, who has played in seven games, mostly on special teams.

Whether they're back with the Texans next season or not, they'll be evaluated in part on how they play Sunday.

Graham out for finale, Keenum possible

December, 26, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Tight end Garrett Graham missed the past two games with a hamstring injury and Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips isn't expecting him to play this weekend in Nashville.

Keenum
Keenum
Quarterback Case Keenum, meanwhile, was able to grip and throw the football on Thursday. Keenum sprained his thumb in Indianapolis and suffered ligament damage, which kept him out of this past Sunday's game. Matt Schaub started in his place, and the Texans lost 37-13.

Phillips said if Keenum is healthy, he will start. Part of figuring out if he's healthy enough will lie in examining how he feels tomorrow after taking his normal Thursday reps today.

"He looked okay," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "Missed some throws, but he looked okay. We'll let it rest at that. See how he responds."

Phillips is also pessimistic about the fate of running back Dennis Johnson, who made his first career start last weekend against the Denver Broncos. Johnson, an undrafted rookie who spent training camp with the Texans, suffered a hip injury. He was cut in September, then returned to the roster in October. It's not surprising he's pessimistic, given that he's been saying all week that Jonathan Grimes, a second-year player signed last week, is going to start in Nashville.

Phillips was asked if he's worried about his depth. He chuckled a bit as he answered.

"Well let's see, we're down to our fifth running back, our third tight end," he said. "Yes, I'm worried about it."
Peyton Manning and Johnathan JosephUSA Today Sports, Icon SMIComing off an unexpected loss, will Peyton Manning's Broncos overlook Johnathan Joseph's Texans?

Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.

"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."

This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.

Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.

On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?

Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.

Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?

Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.

You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?

Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.

An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?

Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.

That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?

Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.

How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?

Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.

RTC: Moon says Schaub needs a change

December, 18, 2013
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Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon thinks Matt Schaub can still be an NFL quarterback; he just needs a change of scenery, Moon tells Nate Griffin of SportsRadio 610. Moon says he isn't sure if Case Keenum can be the Texans' quarterback next season, and he says Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready of next year's class (provided Bridgewater leaves school, of course).

Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com takes a look at some key numbers to come out of the Texans' 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Here's an interesting one: "The Texans have scored three or fewer points nine times (0-9) in their history. They've done it twice this year. The seven other games were from the 2002 and 2003 seasons."

Cornerback Brandon Harris praised defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph's play calling during Sunday's game, writes Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com. Like many of his fellow defensive backs, Harris praised Joseph's ability to improve his own game.

Josh Moyer of ESPN.com says speculation of Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's move to the NFL is premature. CBS reported that the Texans have contacted O'Brien about their coaching job.

Keenum has MRI on right thumb

December, 16, 2013
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HOUSTON -- The line for MRIs was long this morning for the Houston Texans, and one of the players in it was quarterback Case Keenum.

Keenum suffered a sprained thumb against the Indianapolis Colts, Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips said. He said he would know more about Keenum's status for the game once he finds out the results of the MRI.

Keenum
Keenum
It wasn't the only way in which Keenum was beat up in that game, having played his worst game as a pro.

"Sometimes (young quarterbacks) have to hit rock bottom to bounce back up," Phillips said. "Some of them don't bounce back up, and don't end up good quarterbacks. We have to help him."

Phillips said Sunday that he wouldn't be sure exactly what went wrong for Keenum until seeing the film. His post-film assessment Monday afternoon was similar to his postgame assessment. It was just overall a rough day for the quarterback, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 168 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He also fumbled in the end zone when Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis sacked him.

One issue for Keenum early on was recognizing blitzes. He's studying and learning how to do that.

"He saw the blitzes when they were coming," Phillips said. "But seeing blitzes and getting rid of the football is different than just seeing them. That and reading coverages. It's not an easy process, especially for a young quarterback to know. We've just gotta find the things that he really does well and we've gotta stick with those."

Colts' defense has best game in 10 weeks

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts needed something out of their defense. The sporadic play over the past seven weeks wasn’t going to cut it, especially with the playoffs only three weeks away.

It turns out a three-and-out possession on their first defensive series was a sign of things to come for the Colts against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Butler
The Colts held the Texans to 239 yards, sacked quarterback Case Keenum four times, and picked him off twice in their best defensive performance in more than two months in their 25-3 victory.

“We take it upon ourselves as a defense as a whole, because we feed off the front four and they feed off of us covering guys on the back end,” Colts defensive back Darius Butler said. “We had to all come together. Guys executed the calls today, and made plays when we had to.”

The 239 yards given up is the fewest the Colts have allowed since Jacksonville gained 205 yards against them on Sept. 29.

That’s a drastic change defensively for the Colts when you consider that they had given up an average of 31 points and 401 yards per game in the seven games prior to Sunday.

“Yeah, we played good football today,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Kept mental mistakes to a minimum, and just able to get after it good and fast start and maintain it throughout the game.”

The Colts wanted to get back on track defensively for the stretch run of the season, but they also remember what the Texans did to them in the first half of their first meeting in Houston on Nov. 3.

Keenum looked like he was going to be the Texans’ quarterback of the future, and receiver Andre Johnson was going to break all kinds of records in the first half. Keenum threw for 208 yards, and Johnson had seven catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of the game.

It was the complete opposite Sunday.

Butler had both of the interceptions thrown by Keenum, including one where he baited the quarterback into attempting a pass to Johnson. Keenum finished the game 18-of-34 for 168 yards. Johnson had four catches for only 18 yards.

The Colts didn’t allow the Texans into the red zone all game.

“They did a great job,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “They practiced really well. They were bound and determined to make amends for what Andre did to us in the first ballgame down there, specifically in the first half. I’m really proud of the guys in the back end. They stepped up. D-Buts getting two interceptions was huge.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- As soon as the play was over, Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum knew his mistake.

It didn't take a conversation with teammates or coaches. He didn't need anyone else to tell him.

It was late in the third quarter of Sunday's 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Keenum took the snap from the Houston 7-yard line, caught it at about the 3, dropped back and held onto the ball as Texans left tackle Duane Brown blocked one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Brown blocked the ferocious Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis for three full seconds -- an accomplishment against a player of that caliber.

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsCase Keenum needs to improve his decision-making to remain Houston's starter.
"I went through my reads down the field and didn't see anybody open," Keenum said.

So he did something he knew was wrong almost immediately after he did it. He ran to his left.

"You have to step up in the pocket," Keenum said. "You can't just try to escape out this way. It's up towards the line. And that was another bad decision on my part. That one was totally on me."

The result was a complete disaster.

Mathis barreled toward Keenun. He hit him on the fourth second after the snap, popped the ball out into the end zone, and notched a franchise record 16.5 sacks this season. Mathis has the most strip sacks in NFL history. Brown landed on the ball to limit the damage to a safety. They were the final two points scored in the game.

"We have to be in sync," Brown said. "We were out of sync on that play. It was supposed to be a quick throw and it didn’t come out as quickly as it should have. I gotta hold my block longer. We just have to be in sync."

It was an afternoon filled with plays like that one. None so disastrous as a sack-fumble and a safety, but repeatedly Keenum made the wrong decision in the heat of the moment, even though he knew the right one.

"I was bad today," Keenum said, softly delivering a dejected news conference. "My teammates deserve better and my coaches deserve better. There is stuff that they tell me during the week multiple times and something goes in the game and I just make the wrong decision.

"... If someone knew the answer, I would like them to tell me."

Sunday's game in Indianapolis marked Keenum's lowest passer rating of the season at 42.3. He completed just 18 of 34 passes for 168 yards throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. He nearly threw a third that would have been returned for a touchdown had Colts cornerback Darius Butler not dropped it.

Without knowing what he's doing wrong, Keenum would have little hope of fixing it.

That he understands it is a good sign and a direct result of his tireless preparation. He's not shirking his studies at all. But that's not changing what happens on the field each week.

Perhaps it's a matter of getting himself into the right habits and undoing the bad habits that came with the success he had despite them in a college system that didn't require such complicated understanding.

Or maybe it's all too much too soon.

"He's going though a process," receiver Andre Johnson said. "He can't take all the blame. We've all played a part in it. I had two drops today."

Maybe Keenum needs more time and will figure it out eventually. There is no set clock for a quarterback's development. But what's becoming more and more clear is the Texans can't go into next season expecting him to be the starter. They absolutely have to have another option.

The Texans can't win with Keenum playing as he is. And nobody is exactly sure what will change that.

From small-college player to sack leader

December, 15, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The questions surrounding Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis' effectiveness started when his partner in crime for 10 years, Dwight Freeney, went out West to San Diego.

Can Mathis still be a dominating pass-rusher without Freeney?

How much did Freeney help Mathis become a Pro Bowl player?

Mathis started answering those questions when he became just the 30th player in league history to record at least 100 career sacks after he got to Seattle's Russell Wilson in Week 5.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsWith this sack of Case Keenum, Robert Mathis set the single-season and career sack records for the Colts.
Then, in front of a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd, Mathis moved past Freeney in the team's record books.

Mathis became the team's all-time leader for sacks in a single season (16.5) and career (108) when he beat Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown for a sack of quarterback Case Keenum in the third quarter of the Colts' 25-3 victory. It was only fitting that Mathis set the record with one of his trademark strip sacks.

"I enjoyed it to the utmost," Mathis said. "Never take it for granted because it is such an accomplishment. It's just still unbelievable. Just happy to have it."

Mathis needed a bounce-back game after the Cincinnati Bengals shut him down on Dec. 8. It took almost three quarters, but Mathis is too good of a player not to get involved after the Colts' defense was shutting Houston's offense down and already had intercepted two Case Keenum passes in the first half.

The Texans had the ball at their own 7-yard line when Brown kept Mathis away from Keenum for three seconds, but the Colts linebacker wasn't going to be stopped. Mathis got by Brown on the fourth second and ripped the ball out of Keenum's hands. Brown fell on the ball in the end zone. Mathis was given the ball and then acknowledged the crowd for giving him an ovation.

"Duane Brown is a very good O-tackle," Mathis said. "He's a very strong guy. Just had to stay with it and saw the quarterback roll out and was able to get to him. That was about it. Just make a play for the team."

Mathis will have to make room in his locker to put the ball next to the hundred dollar bill he has framed in there signifying his 100th sack.

Sitting at the top of the team's record books signals how far Mathis has come in his career after being told he wasn't talented enough and that he was too small to play in the NFL after coming out Alabama A&M, which was a NCAA Division I-AA school when he played there in 2003.

But Mathis has continued to prove the naysayers wrong. He did it while playing with Freeney, and now he's doing it even more without him.

"He should be, in my opinion and probably everybody else's opinion that's certainly a Colts fan and part of this organization, in the conversation someday to be in the Hall of Fame I would think," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Doing what he's done for as long a period that he's done and the records that he has, who knows? We'll see. He's got my vote. I don't have one, but he's got it anyway."

Mathis doesn't plan on calling it quits anytime soon, so his next possible honor could be defensive player of the year.

That wouldn't be too bad for a player very few thought could give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.

"It's a bit surreal," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. "He's everything you could ask for in a leader, a locker room guy, in a veteran, the example he sets, his work ethic. He's one of those guys that all the great things that happen, he deserves because he puts the work in. He does go the extra mile for it."

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
PM ET
J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans:

Big night for MoJo: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. He ran for 103 yards despite not playing the final 11 minutes of the game because of a right hamstring strain. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones-Drew ran for a 98 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. Jones-Drew, who hurt his hamstring on a 15-yard reception, said his injury was minor and he expects to play in the Jaguars' next game against Buffalo on Dec. 15.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew, D.J. Swearinger, Darryl Sharpton
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew rushed 14 times for 103 yards on Thursday.
More offensive trickery: For the second week in a row, a non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass. This time it was receiver Ace Sanders, who took a lateral from quarterback Chad Henne, rolled to his right, and lofted a pass to running back Jordan Todman for a 21-yard score. While Sanders was talking about the play in the locker room, teammate Cecil Shorts was yelling "Michael Vick" at him from his nearby locker. That was just one instance of ribbing Sanders got from his teammates. "They said, ‘What took you so long to throw it?'" Sanders said. "I said, ‘Hey, we scored.'"

Nimble Henne: Henne actually looked more like Vick than Sanders. OK, that's exaggerating, but Henne did do a nice job of keeping plays alive with his feet and scrambling for positive yardage. He ran four times for a season-high 33 yards, including a 14-yard run. "They played a lot of man coverage and two-man and gave me some lanes up front with the pass rush, so I just took off instead of trying to force the ball downfield when it was covered," said Henne, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. "I just tried to get as much as I could get."

Shredded secondary: The Jaguars limited Texans receiver Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards in the first meeting. Johnson caught 13 passes for 154 yards on Thursday night. He was targeted 21 times. Case Keenum and Matt Schaub combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns and did most of their damage over the middle, which has been a trouble area for the Jaguars all season. Tight end Garrett Graham caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars have improved against the rush since the bye week but have given up an average of 320.6 yards per game passing in the five games since the break, including 419 yards to Arizona's Carson Palmer and 370 yards to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Schaub threw for 198 and Keenum threw for 159.
Andre JohnsonAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackAndre Johnson made history with his 13-catch, 154-yard night. But he couldn't get the Texans a win.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When he caught the pass, that wasn't the end of his work. Andre Johnson kept his eyes open for the right move to make next. He caught the ball from a young, struggling quarterback, scooted several yards to his right, found a hole to run through and gained 6 yards.

It was a play made harder than it should have been, but one Johnson made the best of anyway. In that way, it parallels his career.

On Thursday night, with a 27-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans lost their 11th consecutive game, making it official they would miss the playoffs after winning the AFC South the past two years.

On Thursday night, Johnson became the first receiver in NFL history to have 20 or more games with at least 10 catches and 100 yards. He tied Jerry Rice with 10 games of at least 10 catches and 150 yards. Johnson's 13 catches and 154 yards led the game.

He spoke slowly, softly and deliberately when asked about it, his voice shrugging for him.

"I don’t really think about stuff like that," Johnson said. "To accomplish something that in my book the greatest probably player to ever play the game, to do something he’s done, it’s very humbling. I’m just out here working, trying to do everything I can to help the team."

By halftime, Johnson had only two catches for 14 yards out of the five passes that quarterback Case Keenum threw to him. It was in the second half that things changed for Johnson, even before the spark provided by the return of quarterback Matt Schaub.

"I didn’t do nothing different," Johnson said. "Just had more opportunities and just try to make plays when they came my way."

Keenum targeted Johnson five times in the third quarter before being benched for Schaub. Johnson caught three of those passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 40 percent of Keenum's passes for Johnson were off target.

Schaub, meanwhile, didn't throw any of his passes off target to Johnson. Johnson caught eight of the 11 passes thrown to him by Schaub and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt to Keenum's 5.6 yards per attempt on throws to Johnson.

Johnson was targeted a career-high 21 times Thursday -- the second-most targets for any player in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It makes sense.

"You don’t even have to look at numbers to know that dude’s a special guy," Keenum said. "He cares a lot about this team. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us quite a bit."

Well, he tries. The Texans, who are 2-11 overall, are 1-5 this season in games in which Johnson has had at least 100 yards receiving.

It has been that kind of career for Johnson.

Eight quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Texans since Johnson was drafted. The NFL record he set Thursday speaks to his longevity. That he has done it in the face of so much change at the position getting him the ball speaks to his versatility. He makes the jobs of his quarterbacks easier.

He also has provided a model for young receivers to follow. Those who do, like last year's third-round pick DeVier Posey, who asked for his locker to be put next to Johnson's, benefit from it.

Johnson thought the lean years were behind him, like that 2-14 season in 2005 that led to a No. 1 overall draft pick. But here they are again.

Through it, even amid whispers about his diminishing ability, Johnson has produced.

"He's been a man," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Been a man all year long. Probably has a chance to have his biggest year, I don't know. But he's never changed."

Could be.

Last season, Johnson set a career mark for receiving yards in a season with 1,598. He needs 322 over the next three games to set a new personal best. Next week, he'll face the Indianapolis Colts, against whom he caught nine passes for 229 yards in the teams' first meeting this season.

Last week against the Patriots, Johnson became the second-fastest player in NFL history to catch 900 passes. Only Marvin Harrison did it faster.

None of it means as much to Johnson as a Super Bowl would have this season.

"Just frustration," he said, when asked of his emotions as the Jaguars intercepted a pass to essentially end Thursday's game. "We just want to win. I'm tired of losing."

It has all been much harder than things often are for a player of his caliber.

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