2011 was a make it or break it year for Gary Kubiak and the Houston Texans. Following another disappointing season in 2010, owner Robert McNair reaffirmed his confidence in Kubiak and the direction the Texans were headed, re-signing the coach in the off-season. Kubiak and the Texans did not disappoint, fighting their way to their 1st division title and playoff win in franchise history. However, was there more out there for the Houston Texans? Showcasing a top defense, the league's top rushing attack and a ton of talent returning from injury, the 2012 Texans are loaded with reasons and momentum to propel them to the top of the AFC.
Being ranked 31st out of 32 teams in total defense following the 2010 season, the Texans shifted their focus to revamping their defense. The Texans signed Jonathan Joseph and used their top 5 picks in the 2011 draft on defensive players. However, the biggest acquisition for the Houston Texans was hiring Wade Phillips after their neighbors from the North sent him packing. Turning that defense around is underselling what Phillips was able to do for Kubiak and the Houston Texans. By the end of the 2011 season, the Texans were 4th in total points allowed and 2nd in total defense. Despite losing Mario Williams early in the season to a torn pectoral, rookies JJ Watt and Brooks Reed helped pick up the slack in his absence amassing 11.5 sacks between them. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was Connor Barwin and his team leading 11.5 sacks. Jonathan Joseph consistently locked up one half of the field, leading the defensive backfield as they amassed 17 interceptions. Most impressive of all, though, is the transformation the defense was able to make in the strike shortened offseason. Phillips will have a full year to mold and manipulate the defense in 2012. While re-signing Mario Williams is probably at the forefront of the Texans' off-season plans, they also know in the event they are unable to, the defense can still shine without him. With questions about Peyton Manning and the Colts still looming, the anemic Jacksonville offense and relative unknowns about Chris Johnson and the Titans; the South division is the Texans to lose.
In 2010, a 3rd string running back out of Tennessee burst on to the NFL scene. Gary Kubiak's rush offense (built for a zone blocking scheme) found its perfect match in Arian Foster. Led by all-pro right tackle Eric Winston, the Texans have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. Foster, despite missing time due to a hamstring problem, was able to solidify his place amongst the league's elite. Any questions concerning Foster were silenced as he amassed 1800 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs despite missing 3 games and part of another to injury. "Rookie" Ben Tate proved more than capable of filling in for Foster as he too eclipsed 1000 yards from scrimmage while the star running back healed. And both were able to continue their dominance despite the injury problems at both quarterback and wide receiver. All pro QB Matt Schaub was lost for the season after week 10 and back-up Matt Leinart was unable to make it out of his first game replacing Schaub. Rookie TJ Yates was forced into action and although the offense struggled at times, the Texans were still able to clinch the number 3 seed in the AFC. Also hitting the passing game hard was losing All-pro wide-out Andre Johnson for 9 of the teams 16 games to a hamstring injury and being forced to rely on wideouts Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones. The 2011 Texans reached numerous milestones, but did so without being at full strength for the majority of the season. While health is never assumed, for all intents and purposes, 2012 should be a healthier year. A healthy, already productive offense in both facets of the game despite injuries, will certainly take the Texans further. Against Baltimore, the rushing game excelled and the defense shined, but turnovers and a shaky passing attack hurt the Texans. There is no doubt a healthy Matt Schaub places the Texans in a better position to advance further in the postseason. The Houston Texans offense has spent the past 2 seasons ranked in the top ten and there is little doubt 2012 will be any different.
While the ascension of the Houston Texans always appeared to be on the cusp, Gary Kubiak's team always found itself watching from home when the postseason arrived. Fast starts fizzled too fast and in the end, the defense always seemed to crumble in crunch time. However, in 2011, Kubiak and the Texans placed a new emphasis on defense, solidifying their biggest weakness and in doing so became a complete team. 2011 was a franchise year for the Texans, riding their defense and powerful rushing to a division title. Injuries momentarily slowed the Texans, but 2012 has all the makings for a special year. Sorry Dallas, but the best team in Texas is in Houston. And they will be representing the AFC come February 3rd, 2013.