Reporting Mike Meltser
HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The red flags started shooting up all over the city after the Texans beat the Jets to improve to 5-and-0 on the season. Sure, it was the best start in franchise history. But where exactly was Andre Johnson?
He caught only one pass while matched up with Antonio Cromartie, and seemed frustrated by the coverage all night. Spanning four games, Andre was only able to pull down nine receptions. The explanation: teams are rolling coverage towards him, and often using safeties to help out over the top.
Still, having one of your best offensive players be essentially a decoy over a four-game span is not the way you want to succeed in the NFL. At some point, Johnson simply has to get the ball more than James Casey. Why? Because Johnson can make the kind of explosive plays down the field that Casey is probably not capable of.
During the 5-0 week, Gary Kubiak made a point to mention that he has to find ways to get the ball to his franchise’s best-ever player. In the 2 games since those comments, Kubiak has delivered. Total numbers for Johnson: 22 targets, 17 receptions, and 161 yards. He hasn’t caught a touchdown, but a majority of those 17 catches are for first downs.
In the 43-13 win against the Ravens, the Texans went after the obvious mismatch on the field; with Lardarius Webb out for the season, Baltimore’s best cover corner was the shaky Cary Williams. Andre was targeted early and often in the first half, and showed he was capable of consistently moving the chains.
Realistically, Andre probably isn’t quite the same player he was when he was 25 years old, but he still provides a ton to the AFC’s top team. He has a strong frame, runs terrific routes, and is able to box-out cornerbacks to create separation. We’ve seen the kind of production out of him the last few weeks that this team will need in big spots.
Overall, this 2012 Texans season has a lot of hope and a lot of expectation. Rightfully so. But as we saw last season, health is a gigantic factor in what happens in the postseason. The single most important element for this team is to keep No. 8 (Matt Schaub) and No. 80 (Johnson) healthy. With those two on the field, and Wade Phillips calling plays on defense, the Texans can beat anybody, anywhere.