November 6, 2016
First Place Texans Hit the Road
by Bob Hulsey
The bye week came for the Texans at an opportune time to heal their wounds and defend their division lead in the AFC South. The good news is the team possesses a 5-3 record and wins over the second-place teams, the Titans and Colts. The bad news is the Texans will be at home only once in the next five games, and they are winless so far away from the cozy NRG Stadium surroundings. At the halfway point, the Texans are 5-0 at home and a woeful 0-3 on the road.
The season's second half begins with a division game at Jacksonville which may be their best remaining chance to claim a road win. The following Monday will be a date with the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City. Playing that game in the Houston time zone away from the Black Hole would seem to be a break, but the Raiders have been more successful outside of California than inside it this season. After a home date with the San Diego Chargers, the Texans will enter December with road games in Green Bay and Indianapolis.
Just as last year, the defense is leading the way although J.J. Watt and Kevin Johnson are lost for the season with surgeries. The Texans are fifth in the league in total defense. Houston is 11th in points allowed with 20.9 points per game, but they are 31st in points scored per game at 17.1.
The Texans are transitioning their offense to work tight ends more into the passing game after an early reliance on outside receivers. Quarterback Brock Osweiler ranks 46th in the league with a 73.1 quarterback rating but has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. Adding left tackle Duane Brown back to the lineup has helped solidify what has been a shaky line. Conversely, right tackle Derek Newton will miss the rest of the season after suffering injuries to both knees in the loss to Denver.
Workhorse Lamar Miller ranks fourth in rushing yards at 637 yards (4.2 yards per carry) but has shared time with Alfred Blue as the season has progressed. Deandre Hopkins leads the receivers in passing yardage but is just 34th in the league (10.9 yards per catch).
Special teams have been solid if unspectacular. A touchdown return by Will Fuller in the punting game was a pleasant surprise, but he is not being used regularly in that role. Perhaps he will be back there more often as the games become more important.
No doubt the Texans benefit from being in a weak division, but they aren't letting that stop them from aiming for their fourth playoff berth in the last six years.
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