AFC South: Gary Kubiak

Trending up: Houston Texans

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
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When I listed the Houston Texans as trending up in my season-in-review, it produced the following response from one of my esteemed colleagues: "That might be the most ridiculous thing you've ever written." Debatable, given that I once did a post entirely about 90s rap that focused on one-hit wonders such as Vanilla Ice. But I invited the opportunity to explain myself.

After all, the rest of my review of 2013 was decidedly negative. The Texans didn't meet anyone's expectations -- least of all their own -- last season as they hurdled through a nonstop carousel of problems. They finished with the worst record in the NFL and suffered a franchise record 14-game losing streak.

Despite all that, this team is trending up. They made a big change in replacing former coach Gary Kubiak with Bill O'Brien, and his changes have already started taking effect. Absent psychic ability (in which case, please call me) none of us knows how the O'Brien era will go on the field, but the opportunity for positive change is there. Add to that the top pick in the draft, something that partially removes the luck element from that process, and Houston is well positioned for recovery.

Seven other NFL Nation reporters covering non-playoff teams listed their teams as trending up. The eight of us got together and ranked the teams from which one we most expected to make the playoffs next season to which we least expected. As you can see below, I wasn't alone in my optimism about Houston's 2014 season.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three of the Jaguars who participated in this NFL Nation confidential survey are probably a bit disappointed today. The survey asked which NFL coach other than their own they’d most like to play for .

Their choice is unemployed.

Those three players picked Gary Kubiak, who at the time of the survey was still the Houston Texans' coach. He was fired on Dec. 6, one day after the Jaguars beat the Texans for the second time in 2013.

Kubiak received the most votes of any coach among the 10 players surveyed. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin was the only other coach to receive multiple votes. He was named twice. San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, and New England’s Bill Belichick each got one vote.

It’s understandable why Kubiak received more votes than anyone else. He coached a division rival so the players are familiar with him. Several players also are friends with Texans fullback Greg Jones, who spent the first nine season of his career with the Jaguars before signing with Houston as a free agent last March.

Carroll was the coach most named by the 320 players who participated in the survey. He got 72 votes. Tomlin received 44.
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.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
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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.

Texans' 'nightmare' season comes to Indy

December, 12, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts have their fair share of issues that need to be worked out over the final three weeks of the season. But they know they’ll have at least one playoff game.

The same can’t be said for the Houston Texans.

The Texans began the season as Super Bowl contenders in the AFC with Denver and New England. They won their first two games. Then things fell apart. They've lost 11 straight games, benched their starting quarterback and last week fired their head coach.

"It's obviously a nightmare," Texans interim coach Wade Phillips told Indianapolis reporters during his Wednesday conference call. "It's been so many games and so close, and just not being able to make the one or two plays. It's not like we're getting beat by 20 points every game, so it's been very frustrating."

The losing streak and frustration are there, but the Texans indeed aren't getting blown out on a weekly basis. Each of their last seven losses has been by seven points or less.

"It's been tough," veteran receiver Andre Johnson said. "At the same time, we just have to keep a positive attitude and just try to keep moving forward. We put ourselves in this situation."

You would think playing at home against a vulnerable team, one that has lost 11 straight games, would favor the Colts.

That’s not the case, though. Go back to the first meeting between the teams, in Houston in early November, if you need proof. Johnson had 190 yards receiving in the first half and the Texans led 21-3 at halftime before quarterback Andrew Luck threw three touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton in a come-from-behind 27-24 victory.

“Wade’s been in this position before,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Throw the records out. You look at their last six ballgames that they’ve played, they’ve lost those six ballgames by a combined point total of 28 points. And so we’re preparing as if it’s whoever.”
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says he has seen many lists about who's going to replace Texans coach Gary Kubiak and he'd like to cross a few names off the list. McClain says the Texans won't pursue Mike Shanahan, even if he gets fired by the Redskins, nor ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.

Howard Chen of CSN Houston caught up with Klein Kubiak, son of Gary, after his Rice Owls won the Conference USA championship. "That's something my dad's taught me since I was a young kid -- tough times don't last, but tough people do," Klein Kubiak said. "And he's the toughest guy I know. And I know he'll come out on top of this, and I'm just glad to put a smile on his face today."

Will Grubb of Sports Radio 610 argues for the Texans to hire Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. He focuses on the fact that O'Brien is an offensive mind who could help develop a young quarterback.

An interesting look at interim head coaches from Len Pasquarelli of the National Football Post. He notes that of the 64 interim head coaches since 1970, only 22 kept the job on a more permanent basis the following year. Their winning percentage as interims is about .325. From the story: "'You take over a sinking ship and it’s like trying to bale out water with a thimble,' longtime NFL defensive coordinator Rick Venturi, who was 2-17 in two stints as an interim coach, with Indianapolis in 1991 and New Orleans in 1996, described the job to NFP a few years ago. 'It’s really a no-win situation, but you do it out of loyalty to the franchise and because in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, "Well, if I can show them some progress, then maybe they’ll keep me." But it’s pretty much a "Mission Impossible" kind of situation ... and it seems like the owners realize that more now.'"
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.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

With so many people calling for Texans coach Gary Kubiak's job, the Houston Chronicle's John McClain goes hard in the other direction. McClain says it would be "foolish" for owner Bob McNair to clean house a season after his team won back-to-back division championships. He argues that quarterback Case Keenum's best chance at developing into a permanent starter is if he has Kubiak to teach him. Part of his argument is that a new coaching staff would want to draft a quarterback in the first round. Though, a couple weeks ago, McClain did say he expects the Texans will draft a quarterback in the first round.

Texans tight end Owen Daniels is eligible to return for this week's game against the Jaguars, after being placed on short-term injured reserve earlier this season. But Daniels isn't quite ready, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.

The Texans are actually not quite mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt yet. Chris Burke of SI.com explains. It would take the Texans winning out, two teams losing out, four more teams all going 1-3 or worse and two more teams going 2-2 or worse. The two teams that need to lose out are the Ravens and Dolphins. This week the Ravens play the Vikings (3-8-1) and the Dolphins play the Steelers (5-7), so there's a decent chance one of those teams wins and knocks the Texans officially out.

Barry Wilner of the Associated Press takes a look at where teams are now compared to where they were this time last year. He highlights the Texans and Falcons, who are in the opposite situations now.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle says the humane thing would be for Texans owner Bob McNair to fire Gary Kubiak right now. He contends that things won't get better for the Texans, and the only way Kubiak's stock can go is down. "Kubiak doesn't know how to fix the problem," Solomon says.

Another Chronicle columnist calls the loss to the Jaguars the worst game played in Reliant Stadium. He says there's no concrete way to identify one particular game as the worst for a team, but you'll know it when you see it. Harvey adds: "You know if you saw this game, which, considering the number of empty seats, you very well might not have."

The Jaguars intended to turn things around in the second half of the season, and that's just what they did, writes Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press. Case Keenum had his worst game of five starts, she adds.

Keenum accepted a lot of the blame for a loss in which the Texans did not score a touchdown. He had zero passing yards in the first quarter, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. Keenum said he's uncomfortable being hesitant, being off rhythm and not making the right decisions. It would seem he is hesitant, off rhythm and making the wrong decisions because he's uncomfortable. Chicken, egg, etc.

Chris Baldwin of Houston Culture Map, one of Keenum's most vocal media supporters, says that while Keenum had a bad game, this shouldn't be the end of his chance to be the Texans' long-term starter. He includes this quote from Keenum in his story: "I wasn’t trusting what I was seeing and just letting the ball go." It's odd to hear Keenum say those things because he doesn't typically play that way. Perhaps his confidence was shaken by last week's handling.
Andre Johnson and Calais CampbellGetty ImagesAndre Johnson and the Texans visit Calais Campbell's Cardinals without head coach Gary Kubiak.



TEMPE, Ariz. -- Emotions will be at a peak for the Houston Texans when they make a midseason trip to the desert Sunday. They will be without head coach Gary Kubiak, who will be at home recovering from a mini-stroke, but Houston brings the league's top-ranked defense to Arizona in hopes of ending a six-game losing streak.

Awaiting the Texans will be a team with confidence. The Cardinals come off the bye week healthy and rested, having played only one game in 24 days when kickoff arrives. That'll either be a blessing or their demise, as the rust may have set in.

ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss Sunday's matchup.

Weinfuss: What kind of impact will Kubiak's health issue have on the Texans this week and on Sunday?

Ganguli: It was a chaotic, confusing and scary halftime for the Texans when Kubiak collapsed as he left the field Sunday. Kubiak is well liked by his coaches and players, so they'll miss him, but knowing he will make a full recovery will help the team emotionally. On the football side, the biggest change will be on offense. He's handing off offensive play-calling duties to coordinator Rick Dennison, who called the second half from the press box against the Colts. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips takes over as the overall decision-maker. They've tried to let their head coach rest, but they can't keep him from thinking about the team. He calls to check in a fair amount.

Can you give me one player who has been a pleasant surprise and another who has been an unpleasant one for the Cardinals this year?

Weinfuss: It might seem obvious but Tyrann Mathieu has been a pleasant surprise to a lot of people. He not only has earned playing time by making game-changing plays, but he recently has become a starter. I think the Cardinals expected Mathieu to be good eventually, but the fact that he has come on so quickly has been a pleasant surprise for everyone. As for the flip side, tight end Rob Housler has been an unpleasant surprise. After finishing strong last season, Housler's progress was hampered by a severely sprained ankle during training camp. It caused him to miss the first two weeks of the season and he hasn't returned to last season's form.

Does Case Keenum have what it takes to right the ship for the rest of the season?

Ganguli: Keenum is still learning a lot about being a quarterback. Phillips noted Wednesday that it's important for the team to not try to do too much with a young quarterback. He's learning how to read defenses and learning what chances to take and not take. I was always of the minority opinion that the quarterback situation was only part of the problem for the Texans rather than the whole problem. They're still having issues on special teams and defense that they had with Schaub.

It has been a frustrating season for Andre Johnson but he has been part of a lot of bad teams and doesn't complain. Larry Fitzgerald is another elite receiver who has seen some lean years, though he does have a Super Bowl berth while Johnson doesn't. Has Fitzgerald ever shown frustration with his team's situation, or is he also a guy who keeps that to himself?

Weinfuss: Larry Fitzgerald isn't the type of person to air his dirty laundry no matter how bad it gets, such as last season when he caught passes from four quarterbacks. There's no doubt he has been frustrated, especially during the past few seasons when his production has decreased. But Fitzgerald has kept his opinions to himself and I don't see him venting in the locker room. Fitzgerald has been the prototypical team player. He doesn't bash anyone and keeps talking about trying to improve and getting back to the playoffs, even making a run to the Super Bowl again.

Speaking of the playoffs, what do the Texans have to do during the final eight games to make a run to the postseason?

Ganguli: They have to be able to finish and put together a complete game. They've got to stop committing costly penalties. The most recent example was a hold on the return after the Colts' final punt lost them critical yards on a drive that ended with a failed 55-yard field-goal attempt. And speaking of that, kicker Randy Bullock has to improve. Being 2-6 means the margin for error is tiny. The Texans have shown the ability to dominate good teams in spurts (they had double-digit leads over the Seahawks and the Colts and played the 9-0 Chiefs close). But spurts won't get them there.

How do you explain the discrepancy between the Cardinals' road and home records?

Weinfuss: Like a lot of teams, the Cardinals are simply more comfortable at home. Their routines are set, they know what's coming, they know their surroundings. And University of Phoenix Stadium is also a tough place to play because of the noise levels, which the Cards have become accustomed to. Some might scoff at the notion of a true home-field advantage, but the Cardinals have one. As for why they can't win on the road, if I had that answer, I'd be making a lot more money.

Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Texans players would like nothing more than to win one for "Kubes" this weekend, writes Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. Coach Gary Kubiak paid them a visit during practice yesterday.

Greg Bedard of The MMQB rejects the notion that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is having a down season. Bedard's publication created a statistic called pressure points that indicates Watt was the top interior pass-rusher in Week 9.

Another former coach weighs in on the pressures of coaching, this time Brian Billick for NFL.com. Billick writes that Kubiak's and Broncos coach John Fox's situations spotlight the grind of NFL coaching.

Texans interim head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was a bit non-committal on Ed Reed's status as the team's starter when asked about it Thursday, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. Reed didn't start Sunday. Phillips said that who plays the first play of the game depends on the package.

Players enjoyed Gary Kubiak's visit

November, 7, 2013
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HOUSTON -- The offensive linemen noticed as they walked up to the line of scrimmage in the middle of their red zone period.

Kubiak
"There goes Kub!" Wade Smith recalls Duane Brown saying.

They knew coach Gary Kubiak might show up on Thursday or Friday, but he did so stealthily.

"It was a shot of energy," Smith said. "... He basically told us he appreciated all of our text messages and calls. ... He looked good. He looked normal. ... It was good seeing him again."

Kubiak is still going through his recovery process after suffering a "mini-stroke" during halftime of the Texans' Sunday night game, but players enjoyed seeing him even briefly at the end of practice. He told them he missed them, thanked them for their kind words and cracked jokes with them.

"It was a breath of fresh air," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "That takes a lot of the guessing out of it. Everybody was wondering how is he really doing, is it some kind of conspiracy theory? Is he really worse than what they say? He's right there in front of you doing good."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's not just the Houston Texans who'll have to adjust to a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator on Sunday when they play the Arizona Cardinals.

Without head coach Gary Kubiak, who suffered a mini-stroke at halftime of Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Texans aren't the same team. Interim coach Wade Phillips will continue to run the defense from the sideline but now offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will take over the play-calling duties. But it goes beyond the coaching personnel.

"Once you have a different playcaller, that's a change," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "There are no tendencies. You have to throw all of that out the window and just play the offense the way it's designed to be played. Defensively, you play your defense.

"There's nothing that we have on Rick Dennison other than a half of football."

While the Cardinals scrambled to adjust their game plan and watch their game film, the Texans are trying to focus on Sunday. Fortunately for them, Kubiak left the hospital Tuesday morning and returned home, putting their minds at ease for the time being.

But halftime Sunday was nothing short of chaotic.

Phillips, whose coaching resume now includes three stints as an interim coach to complement his three head coaching jobs, said immediately after the Texans' loss that he didn't think halftime had an impact on Houston's second half. But as he spent more time thinking about it, Phillips now believes it did.

"Even I, along with everybody else, was kind of at halftime [wondering] ‘What's going on? What happened? Where is he? Is he OK?'" Phillips said. "We didn't even know those things during the ball game in the second half. You always certainly have concerns for people that you care about and that's one that everybody cares about with our football team, our head coach.

"There were a lot of unknowns. You still have to play football and you have to do what you have to do, but there was certainly kind of a haze there as far as what was going on."

Phillips listed the types of decisions a head coach has to make compared to a coordinator, and it could be overwhelming to someone who hasn't been in that position before. A lot of the decisions made by a head coach are based on situations, Phillips said, and most of those are based on offensive strategy. There's deciding whether to go for it or kick a field goal or punt, when to use time outs, or when to slow down or speed up.

But if there's one person to assume those responsibilities, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt feels comfortable with it being Phillips.

"You never want to be in a situation like this but when you are put in a situation like this, it's good to have a guy who has head coaching experience and a guy like Coach Phillips, who has been around the game for a long time and is knowledgeable and knows how to handle the situation," Watt said.

Watt has texted with Kubiak, who's stayed in touch with Phillips and Dennison.

Even without Kubiak, it's business as usual in Houston. The Texans are trying to snap a six-game losing streak, which means more practice, more film study, trying to find a way to "get the ball rolling," Watt said.

And while the Cardinals are spending their time figuring out a way to defend a Dennison-coached offense, the Texans are just as focused.

"Obviously, you think about your coach and it will always be on your mind but we're professionals," Watt said. "We come in here and we know we have a job to do."
HOUSTON -- As a coach's son, Wade Phillips saw up close the toll coaching can take on a person growing up. He got a personal taste of it when he grew up to coach just like his father. Phillips' coaching career includes three stints as a head coach in Denver, Buffalo and Dallas.

"A lot of stress involved," Phillips said. "It’s not being President, but it’s pretty close as far as everything you do is bad or wrong."

It's not clear whether Texans coach Gary Kubiak's "mini-stroke" was the result of stress, but there's no denying the long hours and stressful situations in which coaches place themselves and find themselves.

"There’s a certain amount you have to do, and there’s a lot of work involved," Phillips said. "So hours are somewhat a factor, but I think it’s certainly just the person himself and how you handle those things."

Even as he recovers, Kubiak has tried to check in more than those around him would like. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has heard from him more than he's responded. Kubiak has ceded overall decision-making to Phillips, but it's not surprising that it's hard for him to unplug. That's not a switch that's easy to turn off.

Pagano on Fox, Kubiak health issues

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
6:45
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's understandable that the subject had Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano pausing between sentences. He was right there with Denver coach John Fox and Houston coach Gary Kubiak last season.

And that's why Fox and Kubiak's recent health issues hit home with Pagano. The Colts coach said he recently reached out to both coaches to let them know that the team's praying for them.

Pagano
Fox had surgery Monday to replace a valve in his heart after he became dizzy while playing golf in North Carolina and was later taken to a hospital during the team's bye week over the weekend. It's unknown when he'll return to coaching the Broncos.

Kubiak collapsed while heading to the locker room at halftime of Sunday's game against the Colts. He was immediately taken to the hospital.

"Hopefully they get things taken care of and get their health back," Pagano said. "We're lucky. We're playing a kid's game. Our players are playing a kid's game, but real life is real life. If you don't have your health, you really don't have nothing."

Pagano missed 12 games last season while he took a leave of absence to battle leukemia.

"I feel very fortunate, obviously to have behind me what I went through," he said. "But the game is the game. When it comes to a guy's health and those things those guys are dealing with now is not easy. This game could be hard on you as we know."

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Gangulia wrote after the game Sunday that Kubiak's departure impacted the players in the second half, which isn't surprising because you're talking about somebody's life in that situation. The Colts outscored the Texans 24-3 in the second half to come from behind and win 27-24.

Bruce Arians filled in while Pagano was out last season, but he missed their playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens after he became ill that morning.

"It's got to affect you," Pagano said about the Texans not having Kubiak in the second half. "It's hard. A tough, tough situation."

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