Following a busy offseason with no shortage of changes in terms of personnel, the Houston Texans began their 2011 campaign with a bang, dismantling the Manning-less Indianapolis Colts to the tune of 34-7, scoring all the points in the first half. On the offense, QB Matt Schaub connected with seven different receivers for 220 yards, 95 of them going to Andre Johnson, who also caught the lone TD pass of the game; RB Ben Tate filled in nicely for the injured Arian Foster, converting 24 carries into 116 yards and one score. Jacoby Jones also contributed a TD on a punt return. Despite the lack of practice due to a short offseason, the Texans had no problem adapting to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 system. They troubled Colts’ QB Kerry Collins all game long, highlighted by Mario Williams’ two sacks and a forced fumble.
The Texans brought their stellar defense to South Beach on Week 2, limiting the Miami Dolphins to just 13 points. The pass defense was particularly solid, allowing only 170 yards through the air while also forcing an interception. Offensively, Matt Schaub was his usual consistent self, completing on 75% of his passes for 230 yards, good for a 118.5 QB rating. This game also marked the return of Foster, albeit in a limited role. Tate made the most of his workload as the starter, rushing for over 100 yards for the second week in a row.
Two weeks of excellent defense and consistent offense resulted in a second 2-0 start in two years for the Texans. But a Manning-less Colts and a lackluster Dolphins don’t necessarily spell competitive opponents. On Week 3, however, Houston had a tough task at hand as they traveled to the Superdome to face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. They had plenty of chances to win the game, but the combination of four drives in the red zone turned into three field goals and an interception from the offense and a fourth quarter meltdown by the defense resulted in a heart-breaking 33-40 defeat. The defense managed to sack Brees twice (Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt) and forced two interceptions (Jonathan Joseph, Danieal Manning), but could not hold up late in the game. The offense, aside from an untimely interception thrown by Schaub in the fourth quarter, was prolific, highlighted by Schaub’s 373 yards passing, 3 TDs performance and Andre Johnson’s 7 catches for 128 yards.
2010 NFL-rushing leader Foster had to miss the game in New Orleans as he re-aggravated his hamstring injury but was able to play in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the Texans’ fully healthy squad did not last long as injury bug struck again, this time Andre Johnson’s right hamstring was the victim. On the bright side, Foster immediately made an impact upon his return, rushing for 155 yards and a TD en route to the Texans’ 17-10 upset of the 2010 AFC champion. The defense returned to form, applying constant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger that resulted in five sacks and one interception. They also had two touchdowns called back as a result of some questionable calls by the officials. It was, overall, a convincing victory for the Texans and a nice way to bounce back from last week’s disappointing loss in New Orleans. They improved to 3-1.
One day after the passing of their great owner Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders managed to pull out a wild win against the Texans in Houston. The Texans, again, had plenty of chances to alter the outcome of the game late in the fourth quarter, but a dropped pass by backup FB Lawrence Vickers on a play that would have resulted in a game-tying TD summed up the Texans’ play throughout the game: missed opportunities. Schaub passed for a season-high 417 yards, but threw a red-zone interception on the final play of the game. In the aftermath, not only did the Texans drop to 3-2, they also lost the best pass-rusher, OLB/DE Mario Williams, for the season, as he suffered a torn pectoral muscle.
Week 6 presented a tough matchup for the Texans as they had to travel to M&T Bank Stadium to face the Ravens, whom they lost to in all of their four previous encounters. After the game, they fell to 0-5 all-time against Baltimore and saw their regular season record drop to 3-3. Houston held a brief 14-13 lead in the third quarter but a combination of a stingy Ravens defense and the Texans’ inability to avoid giving up big plays eventually led to a 29-14 defeat. The Texans’ offense was quiet throughout the game, especially in the final 21 minutes when they were held scoreless.
Following a promising start, the Texans dropped back to the line of scrimmage after the first six weeks of regular season, 0.5 game back of the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans. For the most part, the team played well on both sides of the ball and their record could have been much better had it not been for a couple of late game meltdowns. What worried the Houston faithful most, however, was the injuries to their key players and how the loss of the best offensive weapon AND the best playmaker on defense would impact the team’s chances of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Stay tuned to ToroTimes for the next edition of a comprehensive review of the Houston Texans’ historic 2011 season.