Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Power Rankings: Preseason: 19. This week: 13.
Where they stand: The Texas, at 5-3, were two games over .500 at the midpoint of the season for the first time in their history. But Sunday’s penalty-riddled loss at Indianapolis knocked them back a bit. Still, they are in position to post a mark better than 8-8 for the first time and could earn a spot in the AFC’s playoff field.
While they need better offensive balance, Matt Schaub’s been outstanding leading the NFL’s third-ranked passing offense. And after a shaky start, the defense has improved. Narrow losses to division foes Jacksonville and Indianapolis could be ones the Texans are left to regret the most.
Disappointments: Running back Steve Slaton was electric as a rookie and seemed to be a solution to run-game woes. But he’s regressed with a rushing average of 3.1 yards a carry and major fumbles that got him benched early in a game in Buffalo and still have him playing a reduced role.
Chris Brown, who was supposed to fill the role of the big complementary running back, proved he’s not the right man to get the ball when the team needs a tough yard. That wasn’t his strength when he was with the Titans, either.
Surprises: Since Gary Kubiak became coach in 2006, the Texans have rolled through starting strong safeties and always seemed unsettled at the spot with unreliable positioning and unsure tackling. But Kansas City castaway Bernard Pollard, with an endorsement from Houston’s new defensive back coach David Gibbs, was signed. His insertion into the lineup has coincided with a real defensive renaissance.
Outlook: Injuries have hurt, with starting guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel and standout tight end Owen Daniels all lost for the season. Even without them, the Texans have enough firepower to be a factor in the AFC wild card race. But after the sloppy showing in Indianapolis, where the Texans still could have forced overtime but for a missed 42-yard field goal by Kris Brown at the end, there is still a sense from the outside that there is something missing.
If they can figure out what it is and add it, the Texans finally might fulfill their expectations.