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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Houston Texans and their high-powered offense seem to be moving along just fine.
But there are signs that the offense could be moving in a direction where it doesn’t rely on 10-year receiving veteran Andre Johnson the way it once did. That’s hard to imagine.
For years, Johnson had been quarterback Matt Schaub’s ultimate security blanket.
Now, however, with one of the best ground attacks in the NFL and the continued development of tight end Owen Daniels the need for Johnson to be the primary play maker has lessened considerably – so far – this season.
Johnson is coming off a stunning one catch performance to the 5-0 Texans 23-17 win over the New York Jets on Monday night. Schaub actually targeted Johnson six times, but Johnson had one bad drop and Antonio Cromartie intercepted another.
Johnson was expected to have a big game with Darrelle Revis sidelined but Cromartie applied great coverage which made it hard for Schaub to get the ball into Johnson.
In the past, Johnson being held to one pass during a game would have meant disaster for the Texans but with Daniels hitting his stride and Foster running wild that hasn’t been the case.
Johnson, who has always been the consummate professional, would never complain but clearly he is frustrated with a lack his lack of production.
“I try to be perfect in everything I do,” said Johnson, who is the second-leading receiver behind Daniels with 17 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns during the first five games. “I know that I’m not perfect. I know there are things that are going to happen when I’m out there on the field playing. Every time I go out there on the field I just try to be perfect.”
If it were one game, this wouldn’t be an issue. But Johnson hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since the season opener against Miami when he caught eight balls for 119 yards and one touchdown.
Since then he has caught three passes in two games, two in another and then there was Monday night’s one catch for 15 yards.
The Texans coaching staff says there isn’t a problem with Johnson, that it has been more circumstances and game strategy than anything. There is a chance Johnson is still suffering from a nagging groin injury or it could also be that he is being paced to avoid another season like last year when Johnson missed several games with two different hamstring injuries and then he was held out of OTA’s and minicamp this spring due to a knee injury.
That could at least explain some of what did or didn’t happen Monday night.
“No, I don’t think there are any concerns,” Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said of the perennial All-Pro receiver. “We didn’t provide as many opportunities probably as we should.
“You have to give credit to Cromartie, too. He did a nice job a couple of times. I don’t think so. I think Andre is still the dynamic player. We’ll still get him the ball and he’s a great part of our offense.”
Head coach Gary Kubiak echoed those sentiments while hinting there is definitely more that can be done to make Johnson a bigger part of the game plan. We might get a chance to see that Sunday night when the Texans take on the Green Bay Packers and their 17th-ranked pass defense at Reliant Stadium.
“We had some opportunities early to make some plays and some things we were trying to do with him; it’s just the ball didn’t end up going there,” Kubiak said when asked about Johnson’s performance on Monday against the Jets. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting him involved. He’s doing a great job, he’s working hard. We moved the heck out of the ball last night. Other guys are making plays because of Andre, I can tell you that, because they’re paying so much attention to him, but still need to get him more involved with what we’re doing, so that’s my responsibility.”
Johnson had little reaction when told Kubiak wants to get him more involved in the offense.
“It’s something you like to hear but I can only do my best with the opportunities that I get,” he said.
Clearly some of the issue is the ability now to spread the ball around. The Texans still don’t have a legitimate No.2 receiving threat but they do have a number of options. Foster has shown an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, Daniels and James Casey are starting to make big plays in the passing game and second-year receiver Lestar Jean should be another receiving target when he returns this week from injury along with rookie Keshawn Martin and veteran Kevin Walter.
Daniels, however, has become the biggest surprise out of that bunch. He has led the Texans in receiving in three of the last four games, catching six passes in wins over Tennessee and Jackson.
“Owen, he’s been himself. That’s what he’s always been, very productive for us, a dependable guy,” Schaub said. “With James coming along the last couple years with his role, we ask him to do a lot whether he’s a tight end, a fullback, he lines up out wide, creates a lot of mismatches for us.
The middle of the field is opening up for Daniels and even Casey because teams are targeting Johnson more. Now perhaps Daniels game-breaking ability will take some of the attention off of Johnson.
Johnson definitely sees the benefits of having more weapons in the passing game to go along with an explosive running game. The only downside is it could come at the expense of his numbers.
“We have a bunch of guys who can step up and make plays,” he said. “We’ve been running the ball real well, especially how we did on Monday. When you’re running the ball, a lot of times you don’t have to throw it.”