The Houston Texans will be at the midpoint of their season following their Sunday Night Football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium. Although it will only be halfway over, the Texans will be playing for their season in front of a prime time national television audience. Yes, you read that correctly. The two time defending AFC South champion Texans are facing a must-win situation in Week 9. Lose and the second half of the 2013 campaign will be for evaluation purposes for 2014 only.
At 2-5 and mired in a disastrous five game losing streak, Houston have reduced their margin for error to somewhere between slim and none. If they want to have a shot to reach the goals that they set out to accomplish this season, the streak must end against the Colts. A loss, and the season that was labeled with the mantra “Super Bowl or Bust,” will essentially be a bust before Thanksgiving.
Few could have predicted that the Texans would be faced with such dire straits halfway through the season, but that is the harsh reality for Houston. Everything that can go wrong for a football team has for the Texans doing this five game slide. From getting blown out twice, to a mountain of turnovers that included setting a dubious NFL record for most consecutive games throwing a pick six with four, to blowing 20 point second half lead in losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Texans have also been ravaged by injury during the streak, which culminated with the captain of the defense Brian Cushing being lost for the season due to a gruesome knee injury for the second year in a row. Cushing went down with a torn MCL and broken leg in Week 7. He went down in Week 6 last season with a torn ACL in the same knee. It will be a challenge for the defense, ranked first in the league in total defense, to maintain that status without their captain and leader. They suffered a significant drop-off after losing Cushing in 2012. They are also playing without Danieal Manning, who was lost for the season in Week 6 with a broken leg as well.
The offense has also not been immune to the injury bug during the losing streak. LT Duane Brown and RG Brandon Brooks missed games with foot injuries. Running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate both sustained injuries during the Week 7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Foster left the game after just four carries with a hamstring injury, while Tate suffered four cracked ribs. The other injury that occurred on the offensive side of the ball was to a struggling Matt Schaub, who was knocked out of the Week 6 loss to the St. Louis Rams with an ankle injury.
That opened the door for Case Keenum to make his first career start in the hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Keenum was impressive in the 17-16 loss to the only undefeated team in the NFL; so much so that head coach Gary Kubiak named him the starter for Sunday night’s crucial contest. This was despite the fact that Schaub had fully recovered over the bye and is now healthy. Based on Keenum’s performance in his NFL debut, and Schaub’s struggles during the streak, it was the best decision he could make. The University of Houston product, Keenum making his regular season home debut on NBC Sunday Night Football makes for a nice storyline.
Which all brings us to this week, where the Texans will attempt to beat the Colts and save the 2013 season. Indianapolis comes to town at 5-2 and in first place in the AFC South. If the two time defending division champion Texans have any designs on making it three in a row, they must win this game. A loss would leave them four games behind Indy with eight games to go, thus virtually ending their reign and tossing dirt on the hole they have dug for their playoff prospects. It would relegate their postseason chances to chasing the last wild-card spot that will be left in the AFC. This game will essentially render one of two things for Houston. A win will set them up for a playoff run in the second half of the season, while a loss will likely leave them playing for pride come December.