The Houston Texans dropped their last game against the Panthers, and with it came a much needed knock back down to reality for Texans fans who were ready to buy Super Bowl tickets. Houston achieved its first playoff berth by tackling each game one at a time, and will have to continue to do so as the season wears on. With as many injuries as its sustained, however, doing so will require an especially inspired effort from the few players the Texans have left.
OLB Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed
When Mario Williams suffered a season ending pectoral injury after only the Texan’s fifth game, few thought the linebacking corps would be able to pick up Williams’ record setting pace. But instead of regressing, the Texans defense got even better, really fast, and it has been largely due to the outside linebacker duo of Reed and Connor Barwin stepping up their games. The two have combined for 14.5 sacks (six for Reed and 10.5 for Barwin) in 11 games. Barwin even recorded a sack against the elusive Cam Newton. To secure home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Texans will need their ferocious OLB duo to rattle the Colt’s Dan Orlovsky and Tennessee’s Matt Hasslebeck in their final two games. It’s a task they can absolutely handle, but it’s imperative that they are at the center of the defensive charge.
RB Ben Tate
Speaking of the injury bug, guess who the next player bit was? Backup running back Ben Tate has been phenomenal this season, serving as the bruising complement back to the speedy Arian Foster. However, Tate was listed as limited with a hamstring injury for Monday's practice. The coaches expect him to play Thursday against the Colts, and they better hope he does. With a rookie quarterback, the Texans offense depends disproportionately on the run game and Foster can’t take all the touches. Foster has also had troubles holding on to the ball as of late which has opened the door for more Tate touches. He was held to just 26 yards against the Panthers, but is averaging a respectable 65 yards a game given his limited touches. This perfect complement back will have to play like a starter every snap he is in for the Texans to make noise in the playoffs.
G Antoine Caldwell
Much of the Texan’s success this season can be attributed to the play of the offensive line. But as the story has gone for most of the season, the line hasn’t been without injury. With guard Mike Brisiel out, Antoine Caldwell was the next man up. He started against the Panthers, a game where the line gave up two sacks, but he played well for the most part. He has three years of NFL experience, and played for a college coach (Nick Saban) who knows a thing or two about building NFL-caliber offensive lineman. All he has to do is protect the rookie T.J. Yates and make room for his running backs, but who knows if the extra load will be too much to handle. If he proves to be a weak link on the line, it could spell trouble come playoff time. Teams are blitzing the young Yates to test him, so Caldwell will have to play his assignments perfectly to give him time to throw.
TE Owen Daniels
Well, let’s start with what we all should have just assumed was going to happen. Daniels is hurt. He tweaked his knee against the Panthers and could be out against the Colts Thursday night. The injury doesn’t look season ending, which is important for T.J. Yates. Daniels has emerged as his favorite target, as Yates is prone to send him the ball on crossing routes. He’s got 53 receptions for 637 yards and three touchdowns on the year. He had a100 yards receiving against the Bengals two games ago and possesses that “big play” ability to move the chains. If Daniels not there against the Colts, it’s no big deal. But if he isn’t healthy come playoffs, the Texans will be missing a key component to their offense that has provided them a key receiving threat all season.
Photos by Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan staff