The Houston Texans started the season with guarded expectations. On paper all the pieces for a franchise-first playoff run seemed to be in place. Then came the injuries. Arian Foster went down in preseason with a hamstring problem and missed the first two weeks. Andre Johnson's hamstring kept him out for six weeks. and then Mario Williams, Houston's best linebacker, went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Still, Foster returned and Matt Schaub expertly guided the team to a 7-3 record and a commanding two game lead in the AFC South. Then Schaub was lost for the year when he injured his foot against Tampa Bay. Then the following week in Jacksonville, backup Matt Leinart went down in the first quarter leaving the team with third string rookie backup TJ Yates. With playoff contending Atlanta coming to town last week, surely this would be the moment when the mountain of injuries finally caught up with Houston and the collapse would begin.
The Texans responded with a dominant defensive performance and a ball-control running attack and held on for a 17-10 victory. They come into Cincinnati this week bruised, but unbowed, still in the driver's seat for the AFC South title and fighting for the AFC's top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
At the helm during all of this has been Gary Kubiak, the one time mastermind of John Elway's Denver offenses, who entered this season with a playoffs or bust mandate from ownership. Kubiak began this season with only one winning season during his six year tenure and no playoff appearances. Many felt a change was needed in order for the Texans to become a playoff contender.
The Texans' success has been due in large part to Kubiak returning to his Denver roots when the team rode a stingy defense and a strong running game led by Terrell Davis. The Texans' defense, upgraded in the off season through free agency, especially in the secondary with the acquisition of free agents Johnathan Joseph and Daneiel Manning.
Schaub was no Elway, but he was expecting to have a breakout season. While Schaub's quarterbacking was impressive, it's been the NFL's third ranked rushing attack that has driven the Texans. With Foster out, Ben Tate has stepped in and carried the load when needed. Tate has rushed for 753 yards this season and leads the team with a 5.5 yards per carry average. Despite injury, Foster is on pace for another 1000 yard season with 916 yards and eight touchdowns. Foster is also the second leading receiver on the team with 41 catches and over 500 yards.
The Texans have been the models for adaptation and overcoming obstacles. They've brought in veterans Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia to tutor and back up Yates, but he'll start again this weekend against the Bengals.
Andre Johnson injured his other hamstring last week and is questionable for Sunday. Houston had to sign Matt Turk this week to punt because Brett Hartmann tore his ACL. The hits just keep on coming. Anyone expecting the Texans to collapse this season shouldn't hold their breath. Gary Kubiak has a team built to stay.
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