Houston Texans: Owen Daniels

It takes quickness, good hands and toughness. Good instincts and an intelligent football mind are a must.

It's considered the third receiver, but the intricacies of the slot receiver position are more numerous and more complicated than playing on the outside, where size and speed take a premium.

Having a dedicated slot receiver hasn't been such a big focus for the Texans in the past couple years, so much so that Texans coach Bill O'Brien wasn't so sure there was a true slot receiver on the roster when he looked at it initially. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the Texans targeted the slot 19.1 percent of the time during the past two seasons, and more of those targets went to Andre Johnson than any other player. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham were second and third on the list before Keshawn Martin, who played primarily in the slot.

But it's a position that's going to matter a lot in O'Brien's offense. Consider this: over the past two seasons, the Texans only targeted the slot 214 times total, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Patriots in 2011, the year O'Brien served as their offensive coordinator, targeted the slot 266 times in just one season. Wes Welker had 130 of those targets, catching 92 passes out of the slot.

"It is a totally different position," O'Brien said. "...On the inside I would say it is very important to be quicker than fast sometimes. It’s important to have good hands. It’s important to be a very tough guy, a guy that can block, run for us. Obviously a very smart and instinctive player because it moves a lot faster on the inside with different bracket coverages, one-on-one coverages and different leverages that they see, things that they see at the snap of the ball that maybe they didn’t see when they broke the huddle."

Mike Thomas could be the answer there. The organization has been pleased with Thomas since his arrival as soon as last season ended.

O'Brien was asked last month if he thought Thomas could fill that role, and the answer is that he's certainly among those who could. Thomas received praise from quarterback T.J. Yates for his offseason work.

"I've always been more powerful in the slot just to my strengths, I'm more of slot guy than an outside guy," Thomas said. "I definitely think I'll be out there every blue moon on the outside just to do some different thing. ...Within his offense, I mean, he can pretty much put anybody at any spot. He has that flexibility, so it's good."

Receiver Alan Bonner said he looks to Thomas for advice on the position. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Bonner is enjoying practicing in the slot.

"Takes me back to my college days a little bit, so I can get in the slot and move around," Bonner said. "Gets me a lot of two-way gos so I don’t have to stick to one route."

And of course there's Martin, who is also competing to retain his role as a special teams returner.

"It's definitely tougher than our previous offense, but that's just the way coach O'Brien does it," Martin said. "He gives the receivers options to do things on certain defenses. that should work good for us just beating people. I feel like I fit well, going out there making plays and getting more confidence every day."

RTC: Garrett Graham edition

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
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Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...

Graham
Today, a rundown of yesterday's coverage of Garrett Graham re-signing with Houston.
  • Graham told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that Texans coach Bill O'Brien plans to use him as an H-back.
    This will be the first time Graham has been with the Texans without [Owen] Daniels, who made his first visit to Green Bay. Like Graham, Daniels was a fourth-round pick (2006) from Wisconsin.

    "He's a good friend, and it's [unfortunate] to see him leave," Graham said. "He did a lot of great things for [the Texans]."
  • Graham also spoke with Mark Berman of Houston's Fox 26.
    Graham signed a three-year agreement with the Texans worth $11.25 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed.

    "My wife and I are very excited, very happy to stay in Houston, very thankful to [owner] Bob McNair and [vice-president/general manager] Rick Smith for believing in me," Graham said.

    "Really look forward to working with Coach O'Brien. It feels good they have confidence in me and want me to stay and play here."
  • Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com writes releasing Owen Daniels and keeping Graham was a no-brainer.
    Daniels is 31, coming off a fractured leg that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. Graham is 27, coming off his best season (49 catches, 545 yards, five touchdowns) and has improved every year he's been in the league.

    Graham is just a younger, cheaper version of Daniels, one that's not quite as good yet, but one the Texans locked up for the next three years at a relatively affordable price of $11.25 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed.

    The Texans did take a slight gamble, though. They cut Daniels early and let Graham test the open market, a move that might have been disastrous had Graham found a great deal elsewhere. But he didn't and Houston lucked out.

Where did former Texans go?

March, 12, 2014
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While the Texans didn't sign any players during the first two days of free agency, several of their own who became free agents did.

A rundown:

Mitchell
NT Earl Mitchell -- The Houston native hopped on a flight to South Florida on Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning had signed a four-year deal worth $16 million with $9 million in guarantees with the Miami Dolphins. Mitchell had decided by Monday night that he wasn't coming back to the Texans because another team would pay more.

LB Joe Mays -- After joining the Texans during training camp last season, Mays started in 13 of the 14 games he played. He was particularly important after the Texans lost inside linebacker Brian Cushing. The Texans did not make a run at Mays, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on a two-year deal worth $6 million.

LB Bryan Braman -- He got a recommendation from a former coach in order for the Texans to sign him because of past character concerns that caused the rest of the league to shy away. Braman quickly became a fan favorite in Houston as one of the Texans' top special teams players and never had off-the-field problems. The Texans did not tender Braman, who was to be a restricted free agent if they had. According to a report, they did make him an offer, but he opted to test the market instead. He signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles for $3.15 million with $1 million guaranteed.

NT Terrell McClain -- McClain backed up Mitchell this year and was another of the three pending restricted free agents that the Texans didn't tender. He signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

Meanwhile...

RB Ben Tate -- Visited the Cleveland Browns today.

DE Antonio Smith -- Visited the Washington Redskins on his way to Tennessee.

TE Owen Daniels -- Visited the Green Bay Packers after being released Tuesday.

What went wrong? Tight ends

January, 17, 2014
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A 2-14 season leaves a lot of time for reflection, and I'm here to help you through it.

The Houston Texans had a lot of issues during the 2013 season and we're taking a position-by-position look at what went wrong.

So far we've looked at safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers and outside linebackers.

Today, tight ends.

Daniels
Key players: Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin

What went wrong: Injuries. Sound familiar?

Before Daniels suffered a non-displaced fibula fracture in San Francisco, the Texans led the league in two-tight end sets. Makes sense given the quality of their personnel at the position. Daniels and Graham are both very strong starting caliber tight ends and both finished the season on injured reserve. Griffin was just a notch below them but mostly due to the rookie's lack of experience. The sixth-round pick in last year's draft proved to be one of the better selections the Texans made, especially given where they took him. Daniels is entering a contract year and Graham, of whom the Texans are fond, will become a free agent at the end of the league year in March.

Reason for hope?: There is plenty here as this is a talented group. I'd expect two of the Texans' top three tight ends to return to their 2014 roster. Re-signing Graham might mean saving a bit of cap space by releasing Daniels. But cutting Daniels would only save about 3.5 or the $6.25 million cap hit he's scheduled to cost in 2014. I wrote more about the issue a few weeks ago, with some thoughts from Daniels. I think Daniels' experience, leadership and the fact he's still playing well make him worth keeping around.
Tight end Owen Daniels is not a head-in-the-sand kind of player. He listens, he reads, he knows there's talk about whether or not he'll be back with the Houston Texans next season.

Daniels
"I try not to [think about it]," Daniels said, affably as always. "Obviously it's going to be different but from my perspective, film doesn't lie. I've been doing this a long time. Had gotten off the a good start this year. I think I'm one of the leaders and one of the staples of this team. If they choose to keep me my last year of my contract, which I hope they do, that's great. I'd like to play here and only wear this uniform."

Daniels is right that he had a good start to the year, beginning with two touchdowns in the season opener. He had a non-displaced fibula fracture in Week 5 that kept him out the rest of the season. His backup Garrett Graham played well in the role as No. 1 tight end after Daniels' injury, but Graham's contract is finished in March.

Daniels has one more year on his contract at $4.5 million cash that comes with a $6.25 million cap hit.

The Texans injury situation at tight end has been as messy as many other positions.

Daniels and Graham both finished the season on injured reserve. Rookie Ryan Griffin, whom the Texans selected in the sixth round of April's draft, did great filling in as a pass-catcher as he worked to improve his blocking. By Sunday's game in Nashville, Griffin's backup was Phillip Supernaw, a player signed to the practice squad this month and brought up this week.

Before the injuries mounted at the position, the Texans led the NFL in two-tight end sets. They'll need two players who can handle prominent roles. Griffin's play this season proved he can be one of those guys. As with their running back situation, it would be difficult for the Texans to keep the players who began the 2013 season as their top two tight ends. Another team can afford to pay Graham like a starting tight end.

The highest paid tight end last season was Jared Cook, who got $7.02 million per year, but he was an outlier. Most of the 2013 tight end free agent signees made somewhere between $4 million and $5 million per year. The Texans would only save somewhere around $3.5 million in cap space if they released Daniels.

Daniels will be 31 at the start of the 2014 season and is still a very good player who could be a good influence on Griffin's development. With so many other positions needing work, it makes sense to keep Daniels for the final year of his deal and move forward with him, Griffin and perhaps a rookie.

"You always want to know what your future is holding," Daniels said. "The uncertainty is always weird. When you hear whispers of this and that, that's also kind of weird, too. Not knowing. So I'd like to know basically."

One more week without Owen Daniels

December, 12, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Texans tight end Owen Daniels thought he might be able to return to the Texans for last week's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Daniels
He was wrong, and it's going to be at least another week.

Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips said Thursday that Daniels did not practice again and wouldn't be available for this weekend's game in Indianapolis. Daniels suffered a non-displaced fibula fracture in the Texans' Week 5 game in San Francisco. The team put him on injured reserve designated to return, probably expecting to need him for a playoff run. That meant he couldn't play again for eight weeks.

The Texans now find themselves in a bit of a predicament with only two tight ends available at the moment. Garrett Graham, Daniels' backup, hasn't practiced yet this week with a hamstring injury.

Without Graham, the Texans will rely heavily on rookie tight end Ryan Griffin, a sixth-round draft pick who never seems to leave the field.

"He's done a really good job," Phillips said. "He's a really good pick for us, especially where he was picked. Going to be able to utilize him a lot of different ways. Special teams as well as tight ends."

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.

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.
HOUSTON -- After a perplexing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he gained only one yard on just seven carries, running back Ben Tate was asked if anyone knows why his Houston Texans season has gone as it has.

"Maybe God?" Tate said.

Certainly not anybody in the Texans' locker room. He was asked if "embarrassing" was the right word for where the Texans are right now and he agreed.

Perhaps there's solace for the Texans in the fact they aren't alone in their dramatic tumble.

On Nov. 25, 2012 the leaders of the AFC and NFC were the Texans and the Falcons, both at 10-1. Today is Nov. 25, 2013 and they are both at the bottom of their conferences, both at 2-9.

The Texans are on a nine-game losing streak and the Falcons are on a five-game losing streak. The Texans had to come from behind to win their first two games of the season against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. Then the luck ran out. The return of Ed Reed, who missed those games recovering from hip surgery, coincided with the beginning of the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Their quarterback, Matt Schaub, faltered, setting an NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six with four, and Case Keenum, his successor hasn't been able to play well enough to change things. And while dealing with that, a significant injury avalanche began. One after another, tight end Owen Daniels, strong safety Danieal Manning, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and running back Arian Foster are all on injured reserve. Daniels could come back next week, but in his absence this season was lost.

What happened to the Falcons? I checked in with our Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure:

"I believe injuries are the main reason -- but not the only reason -- for the Falcons' decline this season. Losing top offensive threat Julio Jones (foot surgery) sucked the life out of the offense and allowed opposing defenses to play more honest. And with No. 2 receiver Roddy White battling ankle and hamstring injuries for most of the season, the high-powered Falcons lost that much more steam. Left tackle Sam Baker wasn’t the same player before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's presence was missed as the defensive leader when he was sidelined seven games due to a Lisfranc foot sprain.

"Throw in losing defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the season after Week 2 and the Falcons really never had a chance to get going on either side of the ball. Struggles by the offensive line to keep pressure off Matt Ryan and open holes in the running game have hurt, too. So has the inability for the defensive line to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has contributed to the 18 plays of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons."

Now they're two of three teams with a league-worst 2-9 records, all jockeying for draft position. It's possible that adding a high draft pick to their already-talented rosters puts them in strong positions going forward. But that turnaround will require making the right decisions in the draft and filling the holes this season exposed properly.
Sanders/WattUSA TODAY SportsAce Sanders and the Jaguars' receivers must pick up their play against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

HOUSTON -- Oddly enough, it’s the team with the worse record that enters this game with the better vibes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally won a game two weeks ago, whereas the Houston Texans are trudging through what’s now an eight-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.

For Houston, it’s been a matter of finishing. The Texans have led at halftime in each of their past three games. They regularly gain more yards than their opponents. They just can’t finish with wins, having lost by one, three, three and five points in their past four games.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: So, Mike, do you think the Jaguars have shown signs of improvement lately?

DiRocco: In certain areas, yes. They've been much better against the run since the bye week, holding the Titans to 83 yards and the Cardinals to just 14. Their special teams have improved, too, especially the kickoff-return unit. Since bobbling several kicks against the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Todman is averaging 34.7 yards on his past seven returns. Outside of those two areas, though, improvement is hard to find. The running game is still struggling. Since rushing for 90 yards against San Francisco, the Jaguars have totaled 86 in the past two games. The passing game really misses Justin Blackmon, too, because teams are concentrating on stopping receiver Cecil Shorts, and the rest of the receivers just aren't good enough right now to carry the offense. The pass rush managed three sacks against Arizona but overall has been ineffective. Couple that with a secondary that includes three rookies and you can see why they're struggling against the pass, too.

Speaking of struggling, what has been the biggest reason for the Texans' surprising stumble this season? Is it quarterback play? Injuries?

Ganguli: Special teams, turnover margin, quarterback play, injuries and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball are all to blame. The Texans' kicker, Randy Bullock has really struggled. He made a 51-yarder on Sunday -- his first field goal from 50 yards or longer this season. Overall, he’s made only 65.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The Texans currently have their starting tight end, running back, strong safety and middle linebacker on injured reserve. They might get tight end Owen Daniels back in a couple of weeks, but not having him has been bad. The Texans' offense and special teams have turned the ball over at a high rate -- and that’s not just on former starting quarterback Matt Schaub, though Schaub has been a big factor. Pick-sixes aside, Schaub wasn’t actually playing too poorly before he got benched for Case Keenum. He had one game that was top-to-bottom bad: the Texans’ loss in San Francisco. But a pick-six is such a big play that his really hurt the Texans. That’s not something anyone predicted heading into the season. Well, maybe someone did. Certainly not me.

Speaking of quarterbacks, what did it take for the Jaguars to finally give up on Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Gus Bradley says the team hasn't given up on Gabbert, but it's pretty obvious it has by the fact that Chad Henne is starting even though Gabbert has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been healthy for weeks. It was typical Gabbert when he did play earlier in the season: some really good throws, some terrible throws and a few "what the heck was he thinking?" throws. He just hasn't been consistent enough, and he's had three seasons. The other issue is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season alone he had a sprained ankle early in training camp, fractured his thumb in the preseason, missed two games because of a cut on his hand and left the Week 5 game with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. He also missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a forearm injury.

Tania, what is Schaub's future in Houston? If he's out, are Keenum or T.J. Yates viable long-term solutions or will the Texans go after a quarterback in the draft?

Ganguli: Schaub’s future in Houston is murky at best. He knows that. His teammates know that. As I said earlier, people did not see this coming. The Texans' handling of Yates indicates they don’t think he’s the future. I don’t think it’d be smart to go into next season with only Keenum as a starting option given the unknowns that remain about him. So far, he hasn’t been able to react well to defensive adjustments against him. It’s entirely possible he gets better at that, but I just don’t think you know for sure yet. I could absolutely see the Texans drafting a quarterback. It’ll be a pretty deep class, though there doesn’t seem to be a knockout like Andrew Luck.

Let’s finish up with defense. The lack of a pass rush has been a problem in Jacksonville for so long. Why has it been ineffective?

DiRocco: The bottom line is the players aren't anything but average. It dates back to 2008, when the team drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second to improve the pass rush. They were both busts, and the Jaguars have been chasing those picks ever since. They signed Aaron Kampman to a free-agent contract in 2010, but he arrived coming off a torn ACL, and he went on to suffer another tear, among more injuries. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia in 2012, and he has 4.5 sacks in 15 games with them. Andre Branch, last season's second-round pick, has just three sacks in 23 career games. Upgrading the pass rush will be one of the team's biggest tasks in free agency and the draft this offseason.

This obviously isn't the kind of season the Texans expected. How has the locker room been? Do you get the sense of any problems, and is it a case which another few losses (especially one to the Jaguars) could make things get nasty?

Ganguli: The locker room is frustrated, but right now, the Texans are closing ranks and taking an us-against-the-world mentality. We saw a bit of frustration within the team when Schaub yelled at Andre Johnson on the sideline for stopping his route near the end of the Texans' loss to the Raiders. Johnson yelled back and then walked off the field before the official end of the game. The team didn't need him anymore at that point because Oakland was simply kneeling to the finish, but it was a surprising move from a guy who doesn't normally show his frustration like that. Still, Johnson and Schaub both downplayed the argument, saying they were fine with each other. I thought Johnson's comments on Wednesday supported that. He talked about how "you hate to see" what Schaub has gone through this season, especially given their long history together. This is a pretty good locker room. I think if they were going to turn on each other, they would have had plenty of reasons to do so already.

If you want a clear delineation between wins and losses for the Houston Texans, you can find it in red-zone efficiency.

In the Texans' first two games, their only two wins this season, their offense entered the red zone seven times and scored touchdowns every single time. Since then the Texans have scored touchdowns on only 2 of 12 red-zone trips.

John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information looked into the breakdown of the plays for me.

He found that of the 53 red-zone plays the Texans have run, 28 have been passes and 25 have been runs. Only 10 of those passes have been thrown into the end zone. That means 35.7 percent of the Texans' red-zone pass attempts have been thrown into the end zone, ranking them 19th in the NFL. Only 18.9 percent of the Texans' red-zone plays overall have been passes into the end zone, ranking them 17th in the NFL.

Here's what happened each week:
  • In Baltimore, the Texans' first red-zone trip began with an illegal-substitution penalty on the Ravens that converted a fourth-and-4 and took the Texans to the Ravens' 18-yard line. Then came a 10-yard Arian Foster run, followed by a run for negative yardage and two incomplete passes. Their next red-zone trip also was aided by a Baltimore penalty. Once inside came a 4-yard run, a 3-yard run and then a pass for negative yardage before the field goal.
  • Against the Seahawks, the Texans' first red-zone trip ended in a Matt Schaub interception. Their second resulted in a touchdown and their third a field goal. That field goal came on a drive that began at Seattle's 19-yard line. Schaub threw four passes and completed one of them. Foster ran twice for a total of 7 yards.
  • The one and only red-zone trip against the 49ers ended in a missed 45-yard field goal. The drive had stalled because of a holding penalty on Owen Daniels. That knocked the Texans to a third-and-11. Then Daniels false-started, and the ensuing third-and-16 was too much for Houston to overcome.
  • Of the Texans' six red-zone trips against the Rams, four came when the Texans were already down by 25. Two ended in T.J. Yates interceptions, one ended in a touchdown and the last ended with the end of the game. The Texans' two first-half red-zone trips ended in field goals. The first stalled with a third-down false-start penalty on right tackle Derek Newton, then a 7-yard pass on third-and-9.

Getting there is the first challenge, but the lack of red-zone productivity explains why the Texans' offensive yards per game ranks seventh in the league, but their points per game rank 26th.
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HOUSTON -- For the past month, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been working with the suburb of Pearland, his homeowners' association and other homeowners in his neighborhood to get approval for a gate to add security to the neighborhood.

If he can't get the gate approved, he'll have to move.

Watt isn't a gated-community type of guy. While he strives for greatness on the field, off it he craves normalcy, like the kind he grew up with in the small Milwaukee suburb of Pewaukee, Wis. And while he enjoys the attention from fans and the love Houston has shown him ever since his pick-six against the Bengals in January 2012, that comes with a loss of privacy.

People follow him home, they wait in his driveway, they knock on his door and ask for autographs. This past offseason, Watt installed cameras around his home to add to an existing security system, just in case.

"I've gotten very close with the Pearland Police Department," Watt said during his news conference Wednesday. "Any time there’s an issue, they’re more than willing to help me out." He said it's usually people looking for autographs or pictures. "Nobody’s trying to harm me in any way or say anything bad. It’s usually just me saying, ‘Hey, man, this is my house, this is my personal space. Not right now.’ It’s all positive stuff, and I guess that means I’m playing all right if people want to come and get a picture or something."

Watt told me later that his tone would be very different if he ever felt legitimately threatened. Or if he had a wife and children.

Matt Schaub does have a wife, and three young daughters. This week, following established protocols for NFL players, he contacted the Texans and the NFL's security department because of concerns about the safety of his home.

The NFL's vice president of security, Jeff Miller, told the NFL Network that on Monday afternoon a vehicle pulled into Schaub's driveway and someone yelled obscenities at him.

On Wednesday, Schaub said "there really wasn't an incident" and added that "to my knowledge" a fan did not yell obscenities at him. He said the phrase "to my knowledge" more than once. He said he called the Texans because he had seen people driving by his home and taking pictures. The Houston Police Department later said in a statement on Twitter that the Schaub family filed a report about two trespassers.

"It’s been an ongoing thing," Schaub said about people driving by and taking photos. "Better safe than sorry. My main focus is to make sure that my family is safe and protect my home."

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Gregory BullJ.J. Watt says people follow him home to ask for autographs. "I've gotten very close with the Pearland Police Department," he says.
This kind of uninvited interaction doesn't happen to most Texans players. Running back Arian Foster, linebacker Brian Cushing and tight end Owen Daniels all said they never had Texans fans arrive at their homes.

"Hell no," said Foster, who is married with a baby son and young daughter.

What would he do if one did?

"Texas, man," Foster said, then he paused. "Well within my rights."

"I don't think that guy would be around much longer," said Cushing, who is married with a son who is almost 1 year old.

"If people actually showed up to someone’s house, that’s bush league and childish and it’s pathetic, honestly," Daniels said. "We’re playing a game. It’s our jobs. If that bothers somebody that much -- you don’t hear about that anywhere else in the entire league. You never heard about that anywhere except for here. I heard a story about a player we used to have that had something similar happen at his house."

Daniels, who got married this offseason, said that if someone tried that at his home, the situation might have been different.

"The Schaubs are a very, very nice family," Daniels said. "Everyone’s different. Everyone handles things a different way. Maybe it would be a different story if they showed up at someone else’s house."

He added: "That’s not a challenge or anything."

Privacy can erode for these men with such public jobs. And while most fans can identify the boundary between passion for one's team and invading someone's personal space, Schaub's and Watt's experiences show not all can.

This goes beyond vile Twitter comments and cheering for injuries -- things done by people who seem to forget professional athletes are also human beings. This takes away their ability to get away from work, something fundamentally necessary for most people to function.

"It’s the world we live in," Schaub said. "There are passionate fans out there, for better or worse. I understand that. Our team understands that. You hate for it to come to that because we’re better than that as a society and a community but it’s the nature of what we do. The only thing that can correct that is going out and beating the St. Louis Rams this week."

A football game, or even more broadly, a person's job performance, shouldn't determine how safe their family feels. But this week, that's what happened.

TE Owen Daniels' impact on Texans

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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An injury that was not mentioned Sunday surfaced during Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak's Monday news conference. Texans tight end Owen Daniels has a fibula injury that went through MRIs on Monday.

Monday evening Mark Berman of Fox 26 and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle simultaneously tweeted the Texans are concerned about Daniels' health enough to think he could need to go on injured reserve with a designation to return. They said more would be known about Daniels' status on Tuesday.

The offense has not been its best lately, but when it has succeeded it's often been due to the tight ends.

Six of their eight touchdowns have come on passes to tight ends -- three by Daniels and three by Garrett Graham, who's shown his talent as his role has grown.

Daniels is the Texans' second-leading receiver with 24 catches and third in receiving yards with 252.

For what they like to do, they need two capable tight ends. Houston leads the NFL in two tight-end sets. They've used the formation on 208 snaps this season, more than twice the league average of 96 snaps.

Seven of Houston's touchdowns have come on the formation. However, their yards per attempt are among the lowest in the league. The Texans have used the formation slightly less during the past three games than they did in the first two of the season, which were both wins.

What we could see if Daniels is out for any amount of time is the emergence of Ryan Griffin, the sixth-round draft pick out of Connecticut. He's one of the more successful draft picks out of this year's class, most of which is on IR. Griffin plays with an edge, he has good size and given the opportunity he might continue the Texans' tradition of hitting on tight ends.
HOUSTON -- What Texans coach Gary Kubiak says about injuries is usually a bit different than what appears on the injury report when the Texans have a light practice. That's because according to league policy, if a team does a walk-through, or what Kubiak called a jog-through, it must estimate how much that player would have participated in a full practice.

On Wednesday afternoon, he said Duane Brown (toe) and Brian Cushing (concussion) participated in practice, while Greg Jones, Johnathan Joseph, Owen Daniels and Andre Johnson were rested. Tim Dobbins (hip) and Brandon Brooks (toe) did not practice due to injury.

The official injury report released this evening listed J.J. Watt and Cushing among those who did not practice -- Watt for that Frankenstein gash on his nose that required six stitches during the game, and also because of a groin injury. Darryl Sharpton (foot/hip) and Wade Smith (knee) were also held out.

Kubiak couched his injury announcements during his press conference by saying Wednesday's practice was not very rigorous.

"We might have had 10 or 11 guys who wouldn't have participated had we done something different, so we needed the reps," Kubiak said. "We slowed it down a little bit to make sure we got the teaching. We're back to work."

 

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:30
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Analyzing four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 23-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman had a season full of clutch plays, including this interception in Houston.
Was the play call wrong on the pick-six? The play on which Richard Sherman intercepted Matt Schaub was a short pass on third-and-4 with just under three minutes left in the game. The Texans were up seven points and ran four straight run plays on which Arian Foster had gains of 6, 5, 5 and 1 yard immediately before that play. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said the throw was the wrong call.

"I believe we've got to just run the ball, but we run the plays that are called, and we have to make good decisions," Texans tight end Owen Daniels said.

I say both the play call and the execution were wrong. A run play eats the clock and doesn't have as dramatic a floor as a pass play does. Fumble returns for touchdowns are possible, but much less likely than a pick-six, especially against Seattle's transcendent secondary. If they hadn't picked up the 4 yards necessary, so what? Punt the ball, let your defense do what it did for all but one drive. Further, the Seahawks had that play well-scouted, running it in practice all week. Then again, in the situation in which he found himself, there's no excuse for Schaub to have tried to force the ball to Daniels. Up seven with so little time left in the game, he didn't need the first down. It was a bad throw, too.

Is it time to panic? The panic that followed this game was tremendously predictable. Those panicking should remind themselves that the Texans have played only four games and this most recent loss was to what might be the best team in the NFL.

Wilson vs. blitzes: Russell Wilson has been good against blitzes, but he hadn't faced a team yet this season that brings extra pressure quite as much as the Texans do. Wilson was successful against five or more rushers in his first three games, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. The Texans were much more effective at containing him: He averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt on Sunday in Houston. When Wilson finally got going it was because he used his legs, which he would rather not do.

Rotating guards: The Texans fidgeted with their left guard position on Sunday. Starter Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard/center Ben Jones, who started 10 games at right guard last season. Smith had knee surgery before this season, and last week I asked Kubiak if Smith's knee was still bothering him after he had some rest during the week's practices. Kubiak said it was not, but added that getting Smith ready between games has been a more involved process because of how quickly he returned. Smith didn't appreciate my asking if his knee felt OK. "Why does that matter?" he replied. I said I wondered if the knee was part of why he rotated with Jones and asked what he was told about the rotation. "I felt fine," Smith said, to both questions.

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