Since Gary Kubiak became the Houston Texans head coach in 2006, their offense has consistently featured the tight end. This season was no different, as the Texans led the NFL in snaps out of the two tight end formation. This was despite losing former backup TE Joel Dreesen to free agency prior to the season. Owen Daniels made the Pro Bowl for the second time and Garrett Graham stepped into Dreesen’s role to become a capable number two tight end.
That enabled the Texans to continue to employ their two tight end formations that worked well with their play-action, bootleg and roll outs. Add in multidimensional FB James Casey, who also played tight end, and Houston was stacked at the position in 2012. Houston’s two tight end sets are basically three tight end sets when Casey is lined up at fullback with Daniels and Graham on the field.
Daniels had the second best season of his career, and the best one since his first Pro Bowl selection in 2008. The seventh year veteran finished with 62 catches for 716 yards and led the team with a career best six receiving touchdowns. Those numbers were not far off from his 2008 numbers of 70 catches and 862 yards.
Graham, in his third season in the league, showed that he was ready for the job in his first season of extensive playing time. He finished with a career best 28 catches, 263 yards and three touchdowns. Casey also had career highs of 34 catches, 330 yards and three touchdowns in his FB/TE/H-Back hybrid role in 2012. The Texans receiving options in the flats and middle of the field were plentiful, as the trio combined for 12 of the 22 receiving touchdowns for the Houston offense.
They were often a security blanket for Matt Schaub, who sometimes may have looked for them too often. Both of Schaub’s interceptions in the playoffs came on passes where he tried to get the ball to Casey when he was tightly covered. It was no surprise that the tight ends were big contributors in Houston’s two post-season games. Daniels and Graham, both University of Wisconsin products coincidentally, were keys to the Texans beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round.
The pair of Badgers accounted 41 percent of Schaub’s completions in the win. Daniels had his best game of the season. He led the Texans with nine catches for 91 yards and Graham contributed three catches for 29 yards, including the biggest catch of the game. His seven yard grab on third down and two in the fourth quarter sealed the game, allowing Houston to run out the clock and win 19-13. Graham held onto the ball despite a viscous helmet to helmet hit where he sustained a slight concussion.
Graham’s best game of the season and his career came in the wild 43-37 overtime win vs the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had eight catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Graham was instrumental in the Texans comeback, scoring both touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 34 after the Texans fell behind 34-20 early in the fourth.
Although receiving is the strength of Daniels, Graham and Casey, all three were adept at blocking in the run game as well. Casey made tremendous strides in that department in his first season as the starting fullback. It was a productive season for the Houston tight ends, and they will continue to be an important aspect of the Texans offense in 2013.