The Houston Texans hit the halfway point of the 2012 season on top of the AFC, the same spot that they were at the quarter pole. With a 7-1 record, they have a 1 game lead and the head to head tiebreaker on the conference’s second place team, the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens. It is the best first half in franchise history, besting the 5-3 mark last season and in 2009.
Houston has a 1.5 game lead in the AFC South over the surprising 6-3 Indianapolis Colts. They played two fellow first place teams in the first half, winning both of those contests. In week 3 the Texans traveled to Denver and defeated the AFC West leading Denver Broncos 31-25. Their most impressive and decisive victory of the season occurred in week 7 when they pummeled the AFC North leading Ravens 43-13 at Reliant Stadium. Their only loss was to the Green Bay Packers in week 6.
The Texans accomplished many firsts in the season’s first half. They include beating the Ravens for the first time ever, beating Peyton Manning on the road for the first time, and winning a nationally televised prime-time game on the road. That is a feat that they will look to duplicate tonight, as they open the season’s second half with a showdown in the Windy City vs the 7-1 Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football.That will be a battle of the two stingiest scoring defenses in the NFL. The Bears are second in points allowed with 120, while Houston is 3rd with 137.
In defensive coordinator’s Wade Phillips second season, the ‘Bulls on Parade’ has led the way for the Texans once again. After finishing second in the league in total defense in 2011, the Texans sit third at mid-season, allowing 285.6 ypg. They are second in rush defense at 81.9 ypg and fourth in pass defense at 203.8 ypg. They lead the NFL with 58 passes defensed and are the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. They have held the opponent to 14 or fewer points in five out of eight games.
Among an excellent first half for the defense were some impressive first half performances from an individual standpoint. That group has been led by J.J. Watt, who is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Watt leads the league with 10.5 sacks and at only the halfway point has become the 11th player to record at least 10 sacks and 10 passes defensed in a single season.
The defense did take a hit when they lost captain and leading tackler Brian Cushing to a torn ACL in Week 5. Tim Dobbins has played well in his place at inside linebacker. After being shut out for the season’s first six games, outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus have sacks and momentum changing plays in the last two games. The defense is tied for third in the league with 25 sacks.
On offense, Houston has been led by the steady play of Matt Schaub, the running of Arian Foster, and the receiving prowess of Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. They rank 14th in total offense at 371.8 ypg and have displayed balance that have allowed them to thrive in the play-action game. Every game the Texans have hit a big play on play-action or a bootleg, although everyone knows that they are going to run those plays.
The main reason is because defenses must respect the running game that is ranked 8th in the league at 138 ypg. The 1-2 running back punch of Foster and Ben Tate hasn’t been as dynamic as last season due to the fact that Tate has been banged up much of the first half. Foster has carried the load with 770 rushing yards on a league high 192 attempts and a NFL best 10 rushing touchdowns. He has reached the end zone in eleven consecutive games dating back to last season.
Schaub has rebounded nicely from his linsfranc injury last season, and has put up 1,918 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. That is a big part of the reason that the Texans have only turned the ball over six times in eight games and have a +8 turnover ratio. Johnson and Daniels, not surprisingly, lead the team in receiving. Johnson has 42 catches for 562 yards while OD has 37 catches for 478 yards and a team leading five scores.
The Texans are set up nicely to earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The second half schedule is challenging, with 5 road games to 3 home contests. If they can duplicate their same level of play that they demonstrated in the season’s first half, there is no reason that they can’t finish with the #1 seed in the conference and bring the road to New Orleans through Reliant Stadium.