Technically they haven't reached their half way point with seven games played, but with the bye week, I thought this would be the perfect time to look back over what they've accomplished so far. Coming into the season opinions varied on how far the Texans would go this season, but I think what they've done so far has exceeded even the most optimistic fans. When I made my preseason predictions, I believed the Texans would go 11-5 and be 5-2 at this point in the season; they've exceeded my expectations. That doesn't mean that things have gone perfect or that they're a lock to make a Super Bowl run, as the Packers made painfully obvious, but I think fans should be pleased with what they've seen from the Texans so far.
They've shown flashes of the offense we expected to see this season but they've been inconsistent through most of the first seven games. The main issue has been the run game and the yards per carry number of Arian Foster. They've put up the quantity in terms of total yards, but they've haven't shown the explosiveness that we're used to seeing from the Texans rushing attack. The Texans rank 6th in rushing yards and 1st in rushing touchdowns but just 17th in yards per carry. Through seven games Foster is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, his previous low for a season was 4.4. Also concerning in regards to Foster is the number of carries he's received. Through seven games Foster has carried the ball 168 times, 21 more times than the player with the second most carries (Marshawn Lynch). At his current pace, Foster is on track to carry the ball 384 times, the highest total since Larry Johnson carried the ball 416 times in 2006. There is a reason why most teams have gone to a running back by committee; they want to keep their backs fresh for the playoffs and perhaps add a year or two onto their career. Foster is carrying the ball at a concerning pace, made worse by the fact that quite a few of his carries have come with the Texans owning a big lead late in the game. Why Kubiak would risk injury to not just Arian Foster but also Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub who have also been left in and have a track record of injury problems is mind boggling.
Andre Johnson is having a down year by his standards but other receiving targets have stepped up their game, most notably Owen Daniels. Currently Johnson is on pace for 77 catches and 1,014 yards which would be his lowest total in a full 16 game season since his rookie year. Those numbers aren't bad, we're just used to seeing him put up All-Pro stats. Owen Daniels has picked up the slack nicely and is currently on pace for 75 catches, 950 yards, and nine touchdowns; all of which would be career highs. If Daniels keeps up this pace, he'll make the Pro-Bowl for the second time in his career.
The defense has carried the team for most of the season, but if I had to find an issue to nitpick on, it'd be the pass rush. I know that sounds odd considering that J.J. Watt leads the NFL in sacks, but that's the issue, he's been the only guy providing consistent pressure. Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed have combined for only 3.5 sacks and Antonio Smith had only one sack until he got to Joe Flacco twice in garbage time in the game against the Ravens. The Texans rank fifth in sacks, but the consistent pressure that gives opposing quarterbacks happy feet hasn't seemed to be there with the exception of last week. It was nice to see first round rookie Whitney Mercilus get into the game and provide some energy to the defense against Baltimore, hopefully he gets more playing time. The Texans have several guys who were expected to reach double digit sacks, they'll need everyone besides Watt to step it up.
In pass coverage, there's been very little to complain about outside of the Packers game. One of the most encouraging signs has been that opposing teams are no longer targeting Kareem Jackson all game long. Jackson has received a lot of criticism since the Texans drafted him in the first round several years ago, but he's clearly taken a step forward and is playing a lot better. One thing I would like to see them do is give Johnathan Joseph a day off in their upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills. Joseph has struggled a bit, though he played well against Baltimore, with a groin injury so why not give him an extended rest to hopefully get back to 100% because the Texans can beat the Bills at home even without him on the field. The Texans will obviously be making a big push for home field advantage during the second half of the season, but when facing an opponent they should blow out, they should consider giving guys like Joseph and maybe one or two other banged up players a rest. When they face the Jaguars and Colts at home, if a guy is questionable, why risk it, let him sit one out and be ready for the playoffs.
Special Teams: B
Kicker Shayne Graham has done all they've asked him to do and more by making 13 of 14 field goal attempts and every extra point kick. Another new face, punter Donnie Jones has also been solid. The weak spots on this unit have been in returning kicks where they rank last in the league in yards per return and in return coverage where they've given up a couple of returns for touchdowns. Not sure what can or will be done about the return coverage, but putting in Keshawn Martin as their kick and punt returner over the cut Trindon Holliday I think will pay off.