Texans setting sights higher in 2012

The Texans’ 2011 season ended two games short of Super Bowl XLVI, with a seven-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens sending them home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Despite the lingering disappointment from that narrow loss and the what-ifs that came with it, optimism abounds for what’s ahead in 2012.

“We expect nothing less but a Super Bowl,” defensive end said last week after playing in the Pro Bowl. “That’s what we want to aim our eyes at. We’ve already made division champs. We’ve already made it to the playoffs. You could shoot nothing more than for a Super Bowl. If you’re shooting anything less than that, you’re cheating yourself.”

The Texans were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL this season before quarterback suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 10. They ranked fifth in scoring (27.3 points per game) and second in scoring defense (16.6 points per game) through 10 games. For much of the season, even for several weeks after Schaub’s injury, they were the only team in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in yards on offense and defense.

Even with a litany of injuries to key players, the Texans won the AFC South title and trounced the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 in the first round of the playoffs.

“It was just a building step,” Pro Bowl center said. “Obviously, we wanted to be able to make it as far as we could and went to the second round even with all the adversity that we had. It’s just a path that we want to take and keep growing. Now, the expectations aren’t just playoffs anymore. It’s bigger and better things – AFC Championship and Super Bowl.”

One of the reasons the Texans have such high hopes for next season is because of their defense, which will return every end-of-season starter in 2012 and should only get better with a first full offseason under coordinator Wade Phillips.

A majority of the Texans’ defensive players made a pact to stay in Houston and train together this offseason instead of going their separate ways.

“We want to gel a little bit in the offseason and get everyone there so we can work and push each other,” cornerback said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, pushing each other, and that’s what gets you over the top. Competition is always a good thing, and I think we have that on our team. I received a lot of texts from a lot of guys (during the Pro Bowl week); even texted me just cracking little jokes.

“Being around those guys on a day-to-day basis, it’s like a brotherhood. I can’t wait to get back with those guys because I came on a short time (in free agency last year), and at the end, I kind of was like, ‘This is family.’”

Smith, Myers and Joseph were the Texans’ only three Pro Bowlers this season. That number should significantly increase a year from now, but the Texans hope to be otherwise occupied.

As much as the Texans’ coaches appreciated their week in Hawaii, which they earned by being the highest-seeded team in the AFC to lose in the Divisional Round, they have their sights set on getting to a slightly more important game next February.

“I’ll take it one time; I don’t want to do it again, though,” special teams coordinator Joe Marciano said after the Pro Bowl. “Hopefully, we’ll be going a little further and we don’t have to come back here anymore.

“There’s so much promise we’re going to take the next step. We’re gonna take the next step. The guys know it. We know it. I know it. Fans know it. Coaches know it. Players know it. We’re gonna do it.”


Bye Week Review: Dominant running game leads offense

Ten games into the 2011 season, the Texans’ offense could easily be defined by injuries to its marquee players. Instead, the story has been how well the offense has performed despite those injuries.

Lose 2010 NFL rushing leader to a hamstring injury for two of the first three games? No problem. The Texans went 2-1, averaging 400.7 yards and 30.0 points per game.

Lose All-Pro wide receiver to a hamstring injury for six games from Weeks 5-10? Meh. The Texans went 4-2, averaging 407.0 yards and 27.7 points.

Lose quarterback to a foot injury in Week 10? How the Texans respond with under center remains to be seen. But if the way they’ve overcome adversity all season long is any indication, they should be just fine.

Foster, Johnson and Schaub have played together for a grand total of three-and-a-half quarters this season, but the Texans rank eighth in offense (396.2 yards/game) and fifth in scoring (27.3). The catalyst has been their third-ranked running game (158.1). Foster and both rank in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards, and the Texans lead the NFL in average time of possession (33:51).

Schaub’s completion percentage (61.0) is down from his career average, but he ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating (96.8) and second in yards per attempt (8.49, a career-high). He has thrown 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Texans are optimistic that Leinart can play with similar efficiency.

Tight end leads the team with 478 yards on 37 catches. Foster is right behind him with 445 yards on 31 catches. Johnson, in less than four games, has 25 catches for 352 yards. Six different Texans players – Daniels, tight end , Foster, Johnson and wide receivers and – have two or more receiving touchdowns.

On to the HoustonTexans.com Bye Week Offensive Awards:

MVP: Arian Foster

Foster has been nothing short of sensational since overcoming his hamstring injury. He has topped 100 yards rushing and/or receiving in six of seven games, which includes three 100-yard receiving games. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October after piling up 809 yards from scrimmage, third-most in October in NFL history. At his current per-game pace, he’s on track for 1,295 rushing yards, 779 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns despite missing two-and-a-half games at the start of the season.

Unsung hero: Offensive line

The driving force behind the Texans’ dominant running game is an offensive line that runs like a well-oiled machine. Center , tackles and and guards and have started every game this season. Myers was named a team captain at midseason but declined to wear the “C” patch because he didn’t want the attention. That epitomizes this cohesive group that revels in anonymity as it springs gaping holes for Foster and Tate. None of the Texans’ linemen have ever been selected to a Pro Bowl, but that’s bound to change if the final six games of the season are anything like the first 10.

Breakout player: Ben Tate

After missing his rookie season with an ankle injury, Tate wasted no time in showing why the Texans used a second-round pick on him last year. Stepping in for Foster, he ran for 100 yards in both of the first two games of the season, becoming the 11th player in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back 100-yard games. He has two 100-yard games since Foster’s return, providing power, explosion and big-play ability off the bench. Tate ranks 10th in the league in rushing (686 yards), fourth in yards per carry (5.6) and second in runs of 10 yards or more (27).

Top individual performance: Arian Foster at Tennessee (Week 7)

All Foster did against the Titans was rush for 115 yards on 25 carries (4.6 average), catch five passes for 119 yards and score three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with 100 yards rushing and receiving and three touchdowns in one game. His career-long 78-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put the Texans up 17-0. He followed that with two rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Texans cruised to a 41-7 victory.

Top team performance: At Tennessee (Week 7)

In the most lopsided victory in team history, the Texans put up their most yards (518) and points (41) of the season. Foster and Tate both had 100 rushing yards. The Texans controlled the clock for 37:58. Schaub was 18-of-23 passing for 296 and two touchdowns with a career-high 147.7 rating. Seven different receivers caught a pass. The Texans scored on five consecutive possessions after punting on their first two.

Injury to watch: Matt Schaub (foot)

The Texans will know next week whether Schaub has a chance to return this season. He’ll visit doctors from Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis to see if he can avoid having season-ending surgery. Either way, his injury puts the spotlight squarely on Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and 2006 first-round pick who hasn’t started a game since 2009. Leinart has not thrown a pass in his two seasons in Houston, but the Texans’ play-action-heavy offense suits his skill set. Texans coaches and players are confident he can pick up where Schaub left off and keep the team marching toward the playoffs.