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This is the part of the football season where we really see what type of franchise head coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have built here.
Adversity has hit the Texans in this make-or-break season. Outside linebacker Mario Williams is done for the year after tearing a pectoral muscle during Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. Play-maker and team leader Andre Johnson is still on the mend from a minor hamstring surgery last week.
Johnson could return this week, next week or the following week. What we’ve learned about hamstring injuries from running back Arian Foster in recent weeks is you just don’t know until you know.
But there is no denying that these last two key injuries to two of the most important players on respective sides of the football will have a way of either galvanizing this team or become the precursor for the pink slip distribution that will hit Kubiak and Smith’s offices first.
Kubiak and Smith are officially on the clock and how they handle things in the next few weeks will be telling. And let’s be honest, they are going to have to show much more imagination than did during Sunday’s 25-20 colossal collapse against the Raiders.
Kubiak has to make sure the Texans are truly ready to fill the void left by two giants as they head into Baltimore this week with the distinct possibility of leaving with three losses in their four games. Even though it’s early, sitting at 3-3 wouldn’t bode well for the playoff chances we took for granted a few weeks ago.
That means that Jacoby Jones has to become a better route runner and more reliable receiver overnight. Or just as impossible, somehow a combination of Kevin Walter, Bryant Johnson and Jones will have to develop the knack for consistently making the impossible play on deep balls from Matt Schaub that Johnson has made seem routine.
Walter showed some promise during a couple nice catches Sunday, but the Texans are in need of consistency and routine.
Defensively, either rookie Brooks Reed or Connor Barwin is going to have to step up and become the difference making presence that Williams has been.
But at some point we have to realistic and that is we are expecting the impossible to happen in a short amount of time. If it were just pure production we were asking to replace that would be one thing. But there are certain intangibles that won’t show up on the box score that must be replaced.
On paper it doesn’t seem impossible to make up for Johnson’s catches or the sack per game Williams was averaging.
“We have a lot of things to look at right now,” Kubiak said Monday. “We’ve got some challenges from a management standpoint, me and Rick and Bob as we sit here and have to juggle some things as we move forward with some of these injuries and some of these things going on. That’s another challenge as we move into the week.”
What is going to be hard to atone for is how Johnson and Williams allow the coaches to play chess to create for others around them. For instance, Johnson’s deep-threat playmaking ability pulls a safety out of the box which makes it easier for Foster charging out of the backfield and it creates less clutter in the middle of the field so that tight end Owen Daniels can make those big catches.
Do we really think it’s a coincidence that the Texans averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on Sunday? Or do we really believe the Raiders run defense is not that good? Not likely.
Johnson was out of the equation which made it easier for the Raiders to take away things.
The same theory applies on the defensive side. Williams is still a work in progress as a first-year weakside outside linebacker. But his reputation as a tenacious pass rusher still warrants double teams that have benefitted Barwin on the opposite side and as well as defensive Antonio Smith and even inside linebacker Brian Cushing.
The numbers game will be squarely in the opposing offenses favor until someone proves they are deserving of a double team and even a spy in the backfield.
Some are arguing that the loss of Johnson is harder on the Texans than Williams. That’s hard and maybe impossible to argue either way. The good thing is Johnson will be back soon. Williams won’t.
“I feel so bad for Mario because he’s such a heck of a player and for what we are doing to me it was really going to blossom his career from now on,” Kubiak said. “I think he had really taken to the position he was playing, he was improving every day in practice, he was improving every game and really enjoying it. I’ve never seen him to upbeat about what was going on and to lose him on a freak play. It doesn’t look like much at all.
“I’m disappointed for Mario. Obviously, it’s tough on the team. We’re missing a great player.”
Now it’s time to see Kubiak and Smith both work their magic. The first option is to make it work with the players on the current 53-man roster or to even take a look at players on the practice squad. The final option is comb the wires for available free agents who are willing to come for little money.
Either way, we are about to find out what Kubiak and Smith are really about real soon.