The news out of Texans camp Thursday was bittersweet, at best.
Five-time All-Pro receiver had a procedure performed Wednesday that should speed up the healing process with his injured hamstring and all went well. But any way you chalk it up, the Texans are about to be without their go-to playmaker for a while.
Three. Four. Five weeks. Who can really say?
But in the meantime, the 3-1 Texans are trying to hold things together and win some football games without him.
“That’s a big part of our game so we are going to miss 80,” said receiver Jacoby Jones, who moves into Johnson’s spot at wideout in his absence. “Those are big shoes to fill but everybody has got to step up and play their role.”
Filling that void will be much easier said than done. The Texans did okay in Sunday’s 17=10 win over the Steelers once Johnson went down with the hamstring injury in the second quarter. Technically, they scored 10 points without him, though Johnson did get them into decent range on his final play on a 13-yard reception that moved the offense to the Pittsburgh 37.
Running back Arian Foster played well in his first full game back this season from a hamstring injury, carrying the ball 30 times for 155 yards and coming up with the game-clinching 42-yard touchdown run.
Finishing a game without your best player is one thing. Going from wire-to-wire with the player Matt Schaub goes to most often when it’s time to make something happen is completely different. The plan right now is to plug in Jones in Johnson’s spot and work receivers Kevin Walter, David Anderson and newcomer Bryant Johnson into the receiver rotation.
These guys are bodies, but not even collectively do they come close to amounting to the production and consistent big-play ability of Johnson.
That leaves the burden of the offense on the shoulders of tight end Owen Daniels and Foster. Both had productive outings last Sunday against the Steelers. Both are bound to find it more difficult this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders with more defenders around the line of scrimmage and the safeties cheating up without the worry of a prove deep threat.
“We’re probably going to get played a little differently,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak acknowledged Wednesday. “When Andre’s on your team, everybody tries to take him away. We get played a little different than most teams. That could change again this week.
“Like I said, we can’t replace Andre. We’ve got to, as a group, try to replace all the production that he has on the field. That means everybody’s got to pick it up. If we are a good football team across the board then we will have a chance to prove it. We’ll be missing a heck of a player and we’ve just got to step up.”
To a man, every Texan says he’s up for the challenge. It’s not like the Texans haven’t had to live without Johnson before. They went 2-1 during a three-game stretch without him last season, which included 31-24 win over the Raiders.
Jones filled in nicely for Johnson then and all indications are that the fifth-year player is even better this season. But to this point, Jones, whom the Texans quickly moved to retain as a free agent this summer, is still an emerging talent.
Time will quickly tell how ready he really is with the hard-hitting Raiders (2-2) coming into Reliant Stadium on Sunday afternoon looking to make a statement.
“Pressure is what you make it,” said Jones, who was held without a catch against the Steelers but he has seven receptions for 91 yards on the season. “ If you take it as pressure then it will be pressure. If you just go about your day and still play football you will be alright.”
Johnson’s loss won’t just be felt on the offensive side of the football. The Texans defense will also have to be tuned into the fact that the offense isn’t at full strength which means any points allowed can be hard to make up.
Realistically with Johnson stretching opposing defenses to the max, allowing more room for Daniels and Foster to work has meant the Texans can outscore people. The margin for error will be much smaller now on both sides of the football.
“It’s a team game so everybody has got to step it up a little bit more missing a guy like that,” said inside linebacker Brian Cushing. “He’s a integral part of the whole team. When somebody like that goes down then everybody else has to step up.”