The Houston Texans hit the quarter mark of the 2012 season in an unprecedented position as the top team in the NFL. The Texans, along with the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals, were the only teams to start the season at 4-0. It is the Texans best start in franchise history, as their longest previous undefeated run to start the season had been 2-0.
Houston and Atlanta remain the last two unbeaten teams after the Cardinals were upset by the St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football. The numbers mirror how truly dominant the Texans have been through 1/4 of the season. They are the AFC’s last unbeaten team. They have outscored its opponents 126-56, which is a league high 70 point scoring differential and the highest total for any team at this point since the 2009 New Orleans Saints team that went on to win the Super Bowl.
They are ranked number one in the following power rankings: AP Pro32, RantSports, ESPN, NFL, CBS, and just about every other pro football outlet. The Texans have a 2.5 game lead in the AFC South, have more wins than the rest of the division combined, and may very well be on the way to clinching the division by Thanksgiving. How have the Texans gotten off to such a great start? Well, take a diverse multi-faceted offense, a relentless, dominating defense, solid play on special teams and you get a Houston team that is steamrolling its opposition.
Perhaps the biggest factor to Houston’s fast start has been health. Their star players have stayed on the field thus far after a 2011 season in which the Texans were severely hit with the injury bug. That starts with quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub has come back nicely from last years’ lisfranc injury that ended his season. He was rewarded with a 5 year, $60 million contract extension just before the start of the regular season, and has played at a high level in 2012.
Schaub has started 83-124 for a 66.9% completion rate, with 953 yards, 7 TDs, and 1 interception for a QB rating of 105.3. Included in those numbers was a 4 touchdown game week 3 in Denver, where he got up from several hard and a couple of illegal hits to lead Houston to the 31-25 win over the Denver Broncos.
Schaub’s top target, Andre Johnson has also gotten off to a fine start after an injury plagued 2011. Johnson has 16 receptions for a team leading 268 yards and 2 TDs. He is second on the team in receptions to TE Owen Daniels, who has 19 catches and 2 scoring grabs as well.
The offensive line has also had a hand in the success of the passing game. They are coming off of a game where they were recognized with the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award by John Madden for its Week 4 performance against the Tennessee Titans. They have allowed just 3 sacks on the season, the fewest in the NFL.
The passing game may be flourishing, but what makes the Texans offense diverse is the running game. Houston is still a run first team, as evidenced by the fact that they are the only AFC team that is running the ball more than they are passing it. The Texans have 148 rushing attempts, compared to 124 pass attempts on the season.
Arian Foster has been the bell cow and workhorse of the Texans running game. He leads the league with 103 carries through four games, which puts him on a pace for 412 carries this season. That would be the second most in one season in NFL history. Foster has handled the heavy workload fine thus far, rushing for 380 yards and a league best tying 4 touchdowns. He became the Texans all-time leading rusher in the Week 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Last season, the Houston defense finished #2 in the NFL. The only way to improve on that standing in 2012 was to become the top ranked unit in the league. Through 1/4 of the season, The ‘Bulls on Parade’ defense has done just that, ranking #1 in total defense. They are allowing a league best 273 yards per game and have given up a NFL low 56 points, an average of 14 points per game which is also tops in the league.
The ringleader has been J.J. Watt, who on Thursday was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for his play in September. His 7.5 sacks lead the league, and if he keeps up this astonishing pace he will finish the season with 30 sacks, which would smash Michael Strahan’s all-time record of 22.5.
LB Brian Cushing leads the team in tackles with 24. With he and Watt playing at such a high level, the defense has not missed Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans much, if at all. If there is one area the defense would like to improve in, it would be the run defense. Presently, that is their lowest defensive ranking and even that is a not so shabby 11th at 90.2 rushing yards per game. That may be low by the standards that they set last season, but 21 other teams would gladly trade spots with them.
The secondary has also been bullish on offenses. Led by the excellent play of Glover Quin and Danieal Manning at safety, Houston ranks 2nd in pass defense, allowing only 182.8 yards per game. The play of the defensive backs has been well-rounded. CB Johnathan Joseph leads the secondary in tackles and the other corner, Kareem Jackson, leads the team in interceptions with 2.
The Texans will be in the national spotlight the next two weeks as the competition in the second quarter of the season will ratchet up a notch. They travel to ‘The Big Apple’ to face the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, then return home to battle reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night’s Football Night in America.
Following that game will be a match-up at Reliant Stadium with the team that knocked Houston out of the playoffs last season, the Baltimore Ravens. The bye week will follow and will be much needed if that game is anything like the physical affair between these two in the post-season. The schedule gets tougher but if the Texans maintain their level of play that they have demonstrated thus far, there is no reason that they won’t be in the same position at mid-season. That is as the most complete, well-rounded, and top team in the NFL.