January 5, 2016
Backing the Right Playoff QB
by Bob Hulsey
It's difficult to believe that the Houston Texans - *this* Houston Texans - would be the one to overtake the Indianapolis Colts and win the AFC South, but they have done it, even without an elite (some would say even without an average) quarterback at the helm, without Arian Foster running the ball and without Andre Johnson catching it.
The quarterbacking, in particular, has been chaotic over most of the 9-7 season. Is Bryan Hoyer even the best choice to start the playoffs? If you were to treat quarterbacks like winning and losing pitchers in baseball, this would be how the, um, pitchers would look:
Brian Hoyer (4-5)
T.J. Yates (2-0)
Brandon Weeden (2-0)
Ryan Mallett (1-2)
Weeden's QB rating (107.7) is bettern than Hoyer's (91.4). His yards-per-attempt (7.3) is slightly higher too (7.1).
If you take a look at the key wins the team has had - Cincinnati, New York Jets, New Orleans, Indianapolis - Hoyer was the "winning pitcher" in only one of those games. Yates won two of them and Weeden won the jinx-breaker at Indy. On the flip side, the team lost blowouts to the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins and the Patriots. The starter in each of those? Yep - Brian Hoyer.
Limiting mistakes and taking advantage of opportunities will be the way the offense contributes. The defense is what wins games for Houston and winning ugly seems to be Bill O'Brien's modus operandi.
Improved play by the inside linebackers and the secondary (especially while Rahim Moore and Kareem Jackson sat out with injuries) solidified the defense and turned them from road kill to downright stingy. If they can produce an early turnover and convert it to points, they can control games.
December has also seen DeAndre Hopkins step up his game despite all the quarterback changes. Can you imagine what D-Hop might have done with a running threat and a talented QB running the show? Too often, he has been the only real weapon defenses had to worry about.
The good news for the Texans is that every AFC team has holes going into the playoffs. Some will rely on back-up quarterbacks. Some will be missing their best runners. Some have watched injuries decimate a critical position. The Texans have somehow managed an almost complete overhaul while posting a winning record in four of the past five seasons.
For a team that started the season 1-4, it is hard to fathom they are in the playoffs at all but, since they've made it, they might as well try for an upset or two before their season comes to a close. Nobody will be predicting it, just as nobody saw an 8-3 surge to get them into the postseason.
Kansas City toppled Houston, 27-20, in the season's first week in a game not any closer than the Texans' safeties got to Travis Kelce that day. Jamaal Charles won't be there and Houston's defensive schemes have changed since then. Hoyer got benched for Mallett who led the comeback attempt. Will the blazing hot Chiefs enter overconfident or will they steamroll the Texans yet again? Bill O'Brien seems to be the master of "winning ugly" and that's what it will probably take to advance - a low-scoring slugfest decided on a few key turnovers.
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