They are barely alive in the playoff picture, and in a season where many expected them to take a big step, it’ll take a four-game winning streak just to match last season’s 9-7 record.
The Houston Texans will have a full stadium decked out in red Monday night, but will they show America anything different?
They are a team stuck in neutral, unable to move forward. Gary Kubiak is under fire, and it’s nothing compared to what his defensive coordinator, Frank Bush, is facing. But they only have so much to work with on an architecturally flawed defensive roster, and the offense is hardly without issues.
The Texans are well-rested, coming off a Thursday night game. With the national spotlight shining, any team is eager to improve perception.
“I know when you win in the limelight in this league, you get the national scene talking about you and that gives the city momentum,” said Arian Foster, the league’s leading running back. “It gives your team momentum and it kind of just gets the ball rolling for you. We need a win regardless of what day we’re playing on. But since it’s a national spotlight, it would be great for us to start a winning streak on Monday.”
As we await kickoff of Ravens-Texans, let’s look at a few key issues from a Houston perspective.
Playing a full game is a big issue for the Texans, who are way too streaky. In their seven losses, the Texans have been outscored 115-49 in the first half.
Some wins have featured impressive rallies, but playing from behind on a regular basis is no way to live in the NFL.
The Texans rank seventh in the NFL in total offense, averaging 373 net yards of offense per game.
But they rank 27th in the NFL in first-half offensive production, averaging only 145.3 yards. Houston ranks first in second-half offensive production, averaging 227.8 yards. The 82.5-yard improvement after halftime is the league’s biggest.
Foster has 16 touchdowns in 18 career games. A dozen of those touchdowns have come after intermission.
Are the Texans’ plans good enough at the start of games? It doesn’t seem like it.
“[The Ravens] are coming to impose their will on you,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “They are a confident bunch. They have swag. They have everything that you’ll ask in a team. I think they know and understand that wherever they go, they are going to punch first and they are going to try to finish that fight.
“That’s where we want to be. That’s where we need to be. We have the talent. We have the players to go out here and play. The big thing with us is that we have to play for 60 minutes and we have to punch somebody in the mouth and keep punching them.”
DeMeco Ryans is a top middle linebacker who’s been missed between the lines and beyond. The team has struggled to fill in for one of its top players, who tore his left Achilles tendon in late October.
The best player on defense, Mario Williams, is playing hurt again with a groin issue and doesn’t have the personality to lead. Tight end Owen Daniels has been in and out of the lineup with hamstring issues a year removed from a major knee injury. Linebacker Brian Cushing hasn't been the same as he was during his defensive-rookie-of-the-year season. Pollard is a great talker whose play doesn’t always match his chatter.
Kubiak talked about missing Ryans and Daniels recently.
“Those guys are leaders,” he said. “You’re talking about two Pro Bowl players. That tells you what they stand for and they’re guys that everybody goes to. When you’re struggling, those are the guys you go lean on. Growing up and knowing they are not there and somebody else finding a way to do it, that’s part of being a team too.”
It’s a department in which the Texans need more.
The Texans had other things fall into place to make a run at the division but have failed to hold up their end. They finally have a year in which they don’t have to post a spectacular record to contend with the Colts, and they’ve struggled. Jacksonville leads the division and plays a giant game in Indianapolis next week.
Houston split the season series with Indy, the team they’ve been trying to catch, but the Texans has missed out on a big chance.
“There’s been an opportunity all year,” Kubiak said. “We get off to a good start as a football team. After six weeks, I think we were 4-2. We’ve lost some really tough games, late in games, here over the course of the last four or five weeks. That’s part of this league. You find a way to win those games, and you seize opportunities. You find a way not to win them, then you’re in a tough, tough position, which we’re in right now.
“The task gets even tougher with [Baltimore] coming in -- a great football team. We’re going to have to find a way to play our football for four quarters, and not two, not three, but we’ve got to find a way to do it for four quarters. That’s our challenge right now. That’s what we need to be concerned with.”