As we count down the final remaining hours of 2011 I thought it would be befitting to reflect on the tremendous things that have happened to the Houston Texans this season. This will, for more reasons than one, be a season to remember for the team and fans alike. From the NFL lockout earlier this year to the clinching of the AFC South championship there have been numerous events this season that have made it the best season in Texans history. So, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the top five things that made 2011 a year to remember for the Texans.
5. The Two-Headed Rushing Monster
Coming into the 2011 season there seemed to be a question mark lingering over Coach Gary Kubiak’s head when it came to the running back position. It was not a question as to whether or not he would have enough personnel to add valuable depth at the position, rather it was what each player was capable of and what to do with the wealth of talent that he had.
Flash back to September 12, 2010. This had been a day of revelation for Coach Kubiak when his mostly untested “rookie” running back, Arian Foster, took over for the ailing Steve Slaton. At the end of the game against the Indianapolis Colts Coach Kubiak had found the future of the Houston Texans run game after watching Foster rush for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Foster would go on to finish last year with 1,616 rushing yards, 604 receiving yards, 18 TDs, and a Pro Bowl appearance.
Fast forward to the beginning of this season and you now have an established, well-accomplished running back followed by yet another
untested “rookie” in Ben Tate. However, much like Foster, Tate would prove to be anything but unprepared. As we near the end of the season Tate currently has 845 rushing yards on 159 attempts. This gives him a 5.3 yards/per carry average which is the best in the franchise’s history for running backs.
Now here we are nearing the end of this season and we have Ben Tate (845 rushing yards, three TDs) and Arian Foster (1,224 rushing yards, 617 receiving yards, and 12 TDs). They are the most prolific running back tandem in the NFL and have helped carry the team on their shoulders during the games in which star WR Andre Johnson was missing.
4. NFL Draft and Off-Season Acquisitions
Going into this year’s off-season and draft the Texans had one thing on their mind – defense. After finishing the 2010 season near the bottom of the statistical trash heap they knew that they needed some serious help to sure up the defense. Besides the inaugural 2002 draft this year’s class of rookies has quite possibly made the greatest overall impact of any of the Texans drafts. Granted, it could be argued that players like LB Jason Babin or DE Mario Williams had made greater contributions to the team but I am talking about the cumulative draft class for the team.
When Super Mario went down early this season the Texans looked to rookie acquisition Brooks Reed to fill his shoes. Six sacks, 29 tackles, and an innumerable amount of QB pressures later, Reed has proven that he was a great selection in the second round for the Texans. Additionally, rookie DE J.J. Watt has managed to rack up 5.5 sacks, 48 tackles, and 4 passes deflected. He has continuously brought pressure on the weak side and is a
large contributor to disrupting the pass plays of many opposing quarterbacks.
Perhaps the greatest acquisition, though, is fifth round pick QB T.J. Yates. Sure, he has not contributed in a way that would want to make you compare his value to that of Reed or Yates but the fact remains that he has taken over as the commanding general for the Texans offense. When the team lost its first, and then second, quarterback, it was Yates who was handed the keys to the offense. No other player on the team has been subjected to as much pressure and risen to the occasion with as much poise as Yates has.
Besides the draft the Texans made two huge additions to the team when they acquired FS Danieal Manning and CB Johnathan Joseph. Initially the Texans had entertained the thought of pursuing CB Nnamdi Asomugha. After his price-tag continued to grow they opted to go for their next option in Joseph. When the dust settles at the end of the season it will be very apparent that the Texans got the better end of that deal. Joseph currently has 44 tackles, 15 passes deflected, four INTs, and a forced fumble – he also has an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Asomugha, on the other hand, has 37 tackles, five passes deflected, three INTs, no forced fumbles and no invitation to the Pro Bowl.
Meanwhile, Manning has contributed great depth at the free-safety position opposite Glover Quin. This season Manning has amassed 55 tackles, four passes deflected, and two INTs. Statistically, this could end up being his best season as he missed three games this season and still managed his phenomenal stats.
Overall, the draft and acquisition of both Joseph and Manning helped resurrect the Texans defense. They have gone from the bottom of the trash heap to being the number two defense in the NFL, seemingly overnight. However, their humongous amount of success could not have happened if not for the person coming in at number three on the top five list.
3. Adding Wade Phillips as the Defensive Coordinator
Finishing a season with a defense ranked 31st of 32 teams never bodes well for a team’s coaches. When all was said-and-done Defensive Coordinator Frank Bush was packing his bags and the Texans began their search for a new coach.
Enter Wade Phillips…
Phillips had suffered a less than stellar season with the Dallas Cowboys and saw his head-coaching position lost to Jason Garrett. This was a good thing for the Texans as owner Bob McNair already had a well-established relationship with Wade’s father Bum. Mr. McNair began meeting with Wade and before long the Texans had their new defensive coordinator.
The first thing that Phillips did when he took over was switch the Texans back to a base 3-4 defense. With athletes like Brian Cushing, Mario Williams, and Connor Barwin, he noted, the new defense would do great things for this team. He was right!
After 16 weeks of NFL football this season it is being said that Phillips’ acquisition by the Texans might just be the best off-season move of any team in the league. His impact on this team has been so great, in fact, that during his two-week medical leave you would have thought that we had reverted to the 2010 defense. The man knows how to work magic when it comes to the defense of a team and his magic deserves the most credit when talking about the Texans winning the AFC South this season.
2. Overcoming Injuries on Both Sides of the Ball
Every team in the NFL suffers injuries throughout the course of a season. Most of them, however, never suffer the amount of injuries that the Texans have suffered – to their key starters. Since the beginning of the season the Texans have had to play some games without WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster, OLB Mario Williams, QB Matt Schaub, QB Matt Leinart, P Brett Hartmann, FS Danieal Manning, and G Mike Brisiel. Each of these players was a starter (with the exception of Leinart who became a starter because of Schaub’s injury) on the Texans roster.
Because of the numerous injuries, which must have seemed insurmountable at many times, the Texans have lived and died by the mantra of “next man up”. OLB Brooks Reed replaced Mario Williams, QB T.J. Yates replaced both Schaub and Leinart, RB Ben Tate filled in for Foster, and numerous signings have helped fill in other holes throughout the season. Most seasons prior to this year the Texans would have curled up into the fetal position and died a slow death if faced with this much adversity. Not this year though…
The Texans have, for all the right reasons, become one of the best teams in the NFL. Granted, they have stumbled a few times, they do not have the record of some of the top teams (Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots) but they have a winning record. Not only that but they have a winning record with three rookie starters and without some of the biggest names in the NFL. Most teams who might have suffered these same losses would not fare nearly as well (Indianapolis Colts) as the Texans have this season. They have overcome, they have excelled, and they have a trip to the playoffs!
1. Winning the AFC South for the First Time in the Franchise’s History
How much more of a Cinderella story could you want from the Texans? They have overcome major injuries, are led offensively by a fifth-round rookie, and are going to the playoffs for the first time in the team’s history. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the rookie QB clinched the division on the final drive of a game away from home?
It was almost 10 years in the making but the Texans clinched the AFC South when two things happened. First, QB T.J. Yates threw a six-yard game-winning pass to WR Kevin Walter, on the final drive of the game, to seal the win over the Cincinnati Bengals and secondly, the New Orleans Saints held off the visiting Tennessee Titans. The atmosphere in Houston became so jubilant that it felt as if the entire city were going to start dancing in the streets…and rightly so. This was the franchise’s first time to clinch the AFC South and secure a trip to the playoffs.
Ironically, the playoffs would not even be a consideration for the Texans if not for the two-headed rushing monster, 2011 draft and off-season acquisitions, the addition of Wade Phillips, and the team’s ability to overcome injuries this season. The team finally found the secret formula to winning and have held tight to that formula. They are going to the playoffs and, with the return of WR Andre Johnson and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, could end up surprising a few teams in the post-season.
2012 begins in two-and-a-half hours for me and I cannot wait to see what it holds in store for the Texans. This year’s playoffs will be even more exciting for me because my team will be there. This fall, when the new season begins, the Texans will be the AFC South team to beat. What the rest of the year will hold in store for team remains yet to be seen…but we only hope!