A 1-3 finish in the season’s final quarter dropped the Houston Texans from the top seed to the number three seed in the AFC playoffs. Sunday’s 28-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the regular season finale dropped their final record to 12-4, which is what I predicted in my season preview. However, losing three out of four is not the way you want to go into the playoffs.
In those three losses, Houston displayed some trends that they need to correct if they plan to do any damage in the postseason. That postseason journey begins in the wild-card round Saturday at Reliant Stadium vs the Cincinnati Bengals, a rematch of last season’s wild-card game. The Texans would love a repeat of last season to say the least. They had a similar late-season swoon, also going 1-3 in the last quarter, and entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. The Bengals came to town, and the Texans took their stripes, dominating in a 31-10 win.
If the Texans are to do the same in 2013, they have several problems that they have displayed the last month that need to be reversed. They include: offensive line play, third down conversions on offense, pass defense and third down defense. That doesn’t include what was a season-long weakness, kick coverage on special teams. The struggles of the offense was a big reason the Texans slumped down the stretch. They scored only 14, 6, and 16 points in the three losses.
A strength through the first 12 games, the offensive line had problems during the month of December. Matt Schaub was pressured and sacked more, including four times against the Colts. There were also multiple instances when Houston needed to convert on short yardage situations and failed, unable to run the ball as the opposing team’s defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage too often. A unit with three Pro-Bowlers, Chris Myers, Duane Brown, and Wade Smith, will need to play better in January for the offense to get in gear.
The defense has also showed holes recently. The biggest one has been the propensity to give up big plays through the air. Since week 11, the Texans secondary has allowed opponents to complete 60% (9 of 15) of passes thrown more than 30 yards downfield. Out of those 9 completions, 6 went for touchdowns, which was the most allowed on those type of passes by any team in the NFL during that span. The Colts T.Y. Hilton burned them deep 2 times in the last 3 weeks, including the game clinching 70 yard touchdown reception Sunday. With one of the best deep threats in the league in Bengals receiver A.J. Green coming to town, and another matchup with Tom Brady on the horizon shall they advance, this is the most important issue that they need to correct.
Unlike the other problems that reared there heads in the season’s final quarter, the kick coverage issue has been a flaw for the Texans all season long. Houston allowed two 100+ yard touchdowns on kickoff returns this season. The 101 yard score they allowed to Colts returner Deji Karim in the third quarter was a back-breaker, as it swung the momentum to Indy after the Texans had taken their first lead of the game 16-14 Their average of 25.7 yards allowed on kickoffs was sixth worst in the league. Poor play on special teams has cost the Texans 3.1 expected points a game, the most of any team in the NFL.
If Houston expects to advance in the playoffs, they need to correct these issues in a hurry. There is no next week in the postseason, and continued breakdowns in these problem areas will likely lead to a hasty January exit. Can the Texans rebound from their poor December play and return to the form that made them the top AFC team through 16 weeks of the season? That question will be answered beginning Saturday. It’s playoff time in Houston.