It sure has been a great week to be a Houston Texans fan. If by “great” you mean “akin to stuffing your hand into a whirring blender.”
I need some venting.
Let’s recap, on Monday the team I hate the most, quarterbacked by my favorite football player of all time, comes into Reliant Stadium challenging the Texans’ manhood. By any measure it’s the most important game in team history. Monday Night Football. National audience. A crucial game to keep pace in the playoff hunt. Against a division rival and Houston’s former team (and one that many traitorous Houstonians inexplicably root for). Led by Vince Young, a player that many in Houston still pine for. If the Texans are ever going to be 100 percent motivated for a game, it will be this one. What happens? They choke. The offense manages a mere 17 points and Kris Brown (rapidly becoming the David Duval of NFL kickers) misses a kick to send it into overtime for the second straight game. The defense actually does a decent job on the Titans, but fail to stop Vince on a late fourth quarter drive from their own 6-yard line, a drive that resulted in the winning field goal from Rob Bironas.
Sunday’s game against the Colts, wasn’t just crucial. It was must-win if Houston had any chance of going to the playoffs. The Texans played like they knew that for the first half. QB Matt Schaub led the offense to four scores on their first four drives to lead 20-7 at the half, and the defense picked off Manning twice. Houston would have been up 28-7 if Andre Johnson hadn’t dropped a touchdown pass and the offense hadn’t stalled out inside the 15. But with the way the offense was moving against a Colts defense missing their key pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney, it looked like it would be a non-issue. So what happened? The Texans SUPER EPIC CHOKED. Here are the team’s first five offensive possessions of the second half : Pick-Punt-Punt-Pick Six-Fumble. Until a garbage time touchdown with 2:52 left the Texans offense netted -7 points and THEN set the Colts up with a 34-yard field for their third touchdown of the second half. So really, -14 points.
To add insult to injury, Vince decided to remind the Texans what they were missing by leading a 99-yard touchdown drive at the buzzer, while throwing for 380 yards.
So here’s my hometown team once again. Facing a meaningless December and looking forward to the NFL Draft. Unacceptable, but not unexpected given the Texans’ culture of failure.
I seriously saw a custom “SageCopter jersey” at a Texans game this season. When one of your fans is willing to plunk down $80 to commemorate one of the most painful moments in franchise history, doesn’t that say something about your team?
Here in Houston, many are calling for head coach Gary Kubiak’s head. I’m inclined to agree with them. When Kubiak was brought in he had a reputation as one of the league’s eminent offensive gurus. He was the architect of Mike Shanahan’s potent offenses in Denver, a cerebral former QB who was a maestro of establishing the running game…no matter the defense his team faced. He inherited a truly awful Texans team that had gone 2-14 and took them to 6-10 in his first year (he didn’t get enough credit for that). The next year the Texans failed to improve, with another 8-8 year. This year, Kubiak’s fourth year is nut-cuttin’ time, as we say in Texas. Matt Schaub has had great talents and has spent three years learning the ins and outs of this offense from Kubiak. Andre Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Steve Slaton was one of the best rookie running backs in the NFL in 08, and is a big-play threat. Most importantly, the Texans offensive line is much improved, led by LT Duane Brown, one of the best young LTs in the AFC. The defense is young but stocked with talent. Playoff contention was expected this year.
Instead…5-6. Most damning to Kubiak, the failures have been mostly offensive, his area of expertise. The Texans defense was extremely putrid and poorly-prepared in the first three games, allowing big play after big play. But since then they’ve been one of the better units in the league. And that’s with Mario Williams having a disappointing season. They held (lowly) Oakland to 6, shut out Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in the second half, and on the road held Cincinnati, Indy, and Buffalo to 17, 17, and 10 points respectively. They shut down the 49ers for the first half, allowed them back in the game in the second half, but still held them to 21. Again, they held Vince Young and Chris Johnson to 20 points, and did a better job against Peyton Manning than the final score indicates, given the scale of the offensive collapse by the Texans.
The 2009 team has been the Bizarro Texans. The defense plays well, the offense falls apart. If the Texans had managed no worse than 21 points per game they’d be 7-4.
Sure, there are things beyond Kubiak’s control: When Owen Daniels went down with an ACL tear against Buffalo, the Texans lost one of the Top 5 tight ends in the NFL. Imagine Colt McCoy without Jordan Shipley. That’s been Schaub these last three games. And everyone is surprised by Kris Brown’s sudden penchant for hooking.
But a lot of problems on that side of the ball you can point your big, fat finger square at the head coach: Schaub has played well at times, made back-breaking mistakes at others. He looked lost in an embarrassing blowout loss to the Jets in their opening game at home. At Arizona the Texans were driving for the winning score when he threw a pick-6. Then came his incredible collapse against Indy. By the way, both pick-6s were the same high floater on a sideline curl route. Fact is, Schaub should be better at this point in his career. He through an interception in the first half against Jacksonville that halted momentum, a heave-ho to Andre who was covered by multiple defenders. His first interception against the Colts on Sunday was the same thing. He shouldn’t be making these dumb mistakes three years in.
Steve Slaton has suffered through one of the worst sophomore slumps I can remember. Apparently failed to wait in line for the fumbleitis vaccine. When a player doesn’t perform, the coaches bear responsibility. Kubiak seems indecisive when it comes to the running game. After running for 126 against the Bills, third-string Ryan Moats hasn’t sniffed the field after a costly fumble at Indy. And yet Chris Brown and Slaton each have made costlier mistakes this season but are continually trotted out.
But I think Kubiak still has a chance to save his job.
Kubiak deserves our patience as the rest of this season plays out. The Texans remaining five games are @Jacksonville, Seattle, @St. Louis, @Miami, and the Patriots. What if the Texans win four of those, which isn’t a stretch. That’s 9-6, probably out of the playoffs, but still over .500. This team is talented enough to win all five, which is 10-6, but likely going fishing, with the teams ahead of them in the wild-card race. Do I think they could? Yes, they’re talented enough. Do I think they will? Well, they love to choke. But it wouldn’t surprise me. If Kubiak finishes over .500 he deserves another year. Even if the Texans go 4-2 and finish 8-8, giving him another off-season and another draft might not be a bad idea.
The Texans’ biggest mistake of the Kubiak Era was not picking Vince. Anyone who wants to argue that is asinine. Mario is a good player, but he was never going to have the impact Vince would’ve. But that ship has sailed. That decision is going to haunt the Texans in their own city and state as long as Vince is playing football. But you can’t blame Kubiak for that decision. That’s on Bob McNair and Charley Casserly picking with their hearts (David Carr) over their head (Vince Young).
The biggest doubt I have about Kubiak is can he craft a winning culture in Houston? The answer so far has been a resounding NO. More often than not he looks like a confused offensive coordinator playing head coach. The Texans are so close. A couple more pieces could put them not just in the playoffs, but at the top of the AFC. The year before the Giants won the Super Bowl, everyone agreed that the team wouldn’t play for Tom Coughlin and he should be canned. Kubiak is on thin ice, a loss in the next three games will be enough to sink him, but as much as I wanted his head to roll after this week, patience might be a virtue.