At the midway point of a season that started with such promise, the Texans are 4-4, and were it not for two remarkable second-half comebacks from double-digit deficits at Washington and Kansas City, they could be 2-6.
The Texans' defense, which showed such promise a season ago, has been a major liability. Houston has yet to allow fewer than 363 yards in a single game this season. The secondary again faltered in a 29-23 loss to San Diego on Sunday. Chargers rookie WR Seji Ajirotutu, an undrafted free agent, beat Texans rookie CB Kareem Jackson, Houston's 2010 first-round pick, for a pair of touchdowns, incluiding the decisive score with 5:17 left.
On Monday, head coach Gary Kubiak gave Jackson, who has struggled for the vast majority of the season, a vote of confidence.
"I believe in the kid," Kubiak said. "I'm watching him practice every day. I'm watching him work. I'm watching him do his job in this room and I'm standing behind him and his teammates are standing behind him. You gotta believe in people or you're not going to get anywhere in this business. I believe in the kid."
The PFW spin
Kubiak, as he did Sunday, has repeatedly stated the team will continue to rely on its young players in the secondary. On Monday, he pointed out that the Texans were in three-deep coverage on the 55-yard TD pass Jackson surrendered to Ajirotutu and noted that Jackson should have had some more help. But on the eventual game-winning TD to Ajirotutu, Jackson, covering the slot, was simply beaten in man-to-man coverage off the line of scrimmage. Jackson was also beaten by WR Patrick Crayton on a short pass in the third quarter that ended up turning into a 47-yard gain after Jackson and S Eugene Wilson couldn't bring the receiver down. The play set up a Philip Rivers-to-Randy McMichael 12-yard TD pass that cut the Texans' lead to 23-21 with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
Kubiak's confidence in Jackson is the right approach for the head coach to take. The Texans have made their decision, and if Kubiak is steadfast in his belief Jackson is the right man for the job, he needs to make sure Jackson continues to feel that way, too. However, the two obvious questions going forward are whether Kubiak would ever change his mind about Jackson keeping his job if he continues to surrender big plays, and whether the Texans will have to address the position in the offseason once again.
While the defense didn't play well once again vs. the Chargers, the offense also came up short. A surprise 4th-and-2 QB sneak late in the fourth quarter didn't work — "a bad call by me," Kubiak called it afterward — and WR Andre Johnson dropped a catchable pass that deflected to Chargers S Paul Oliver, who secured the interception, allowing San Diego to close out the win with less than two minutes left. Another tough break came late in the first half, when RB Arian Foster couldn't secure a TD catch, and the Texans had to settle for a field goal to take a 20-14 lead into halftime.
The reality is the Texans' offense has to be extremely sharp to compensate for the defense's problems. To be fair, the defense is without star MLB DeMeco Ryans and key pass-rushing DE Connor Barwin. In Ryans' absence, Brian Cushing has moved to the middle. Also, it should be noted Jackson played pretty well against Indianapolis in Week Eight. He has the ability to improve, and the Texans clearly believe in him.
That said, a good deal of the optimism that surounded the Texans earlier this season is gone, replaced with the cold reality that Houston will have to play much better than it has in the first half of the season to secure that coveted first-ever playoff spot.