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The New Normal

The Texans start operating like a bona fide NFL team.

Mario Williams is now playing outside linebacker and looks about as comfortable as an elephant on roller skates. When he's been at his best, not surprisingly, is when he's been asked to just make a beeline for the quarterback. When he's been at his worst is when he's been asked to do, well, "linebacker" things like cover and run in space. Right about now, he's basically a much, much bigger version of Santiago from Season 2 of Friday Night Lights (minus the felonies and thug-life homeboys).

Brian Cushing still looks like the non-superhero version that we saw last year. If rookie-year Cushing was Superman, this 2010-11 edition of Cushing is Clark Kent, the version that got the shit kicked out of him in the diner by that trucker after he gave up his super powers to marry Lois Lane. (This is still the most far-fetched storyline in the history of modern film, by the way — a man giving up every super power under the sun to marry Margot Kidder. This made me root for Zod in Superman II. I'm just sayin'.)

DeMeco Ryans is coming off of a gruesome Achilles injury that ended his 2010 season after six games. If you're looking for little indicators of how ready he is to go full bore in 2011, just know that one of the big topics out at training camp this summer has been the fact that DeMeco's right calf looks like it belongs to an NFL linebacker (which is good) and his left calf looks like it belongs to a ­Kenyan marathon runner (not so good). I'd like to say that we've seen him play this preseason and not to worry, but we've seen very little of him during 2011 training camp because of an elbow injury.

Behind Wade Phillips's seemingly blank stare is a delicate genius.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Behind Wade Phillips's seemingly blank stare is a delicate genius.
4,000 yards is fine, but Texan fans will only be fist pumping if Schaub leads them to the playoffs.
Aaron M. Sprecher
4,000 yards is fine, but Texan fans will only be fist pumping if Schaub leads them to the playoffs.

So you have all of these issues along with the usual things that come up during the course of an NFL regular season (suspensions, injuries, bad decisions), and yet I think I believe in the Texans.

Maybe Kubiak is rubbing off on me.

The Pendergast Method

So now it's on to the 2011 season. If indeed the Texans are going to make the playoffs, I will once again go with 10-6 as the target. Unlike last season, when the schedule included five of the six teams that the Texans had never beaten in their then eight years in the league, this year's schedule sets up much easier. It has only one of those teams (Baltimore in Week 6), and includes out-of-division games with the Raiders, Dolphins, Browns, Bengals and Panthers.

In short, if the Texans were a college team, their strength of schedule would be somewhere around that of a solid ACC team.

Being a Texans believer in 2010 involved a lot of blind faith, but there was logic in picking them to go 10-6 because you could see a progression. 6-10, 8-8, 8-8, 9-7. 10-6 was indeed the next logical stop. But somewhere between Seyi Ajirotutu morphing into John Jefferson and Mike Thomas catching that Hail Mary, logic went to go get a beer. And one beer turned into several beers which turned into 6-10. 

So now the Texans have put me back in a spot where calling for 10-6 in 2011 looks even more myopic. As General Hummel said to the American government in The Rock, "Damn you, for forcing me into this position, Kubiak!" (Suspend disbelief for a second that Gary Kubiak is the President of the United States. Thank you.)

In breaking down the schedule, we reprise a little thing that I call the Pendergast Bucket Theory, wherein I categorize each game, putting them into three probability buckets. They are as follows:

Must wins: These are games that, to have any chance of making the playoffs, the Texans have to cash in on. Worst case, you can have one mulligan. (It's the NFL. Bad weeks happen. That needs to be factored in.) But lose two of these games, and you're probably not a double-digit win team.

Coin flippers: Games that could go either way and will likely be played within one score. To make the playoffs, the Texans need to win more of these games than they lose.

Steals: Road games in which the Texans will likely be an underdog of five points or more against teams that they've historically struggled with (Indianapolis), match up poorly with (Baltimore) or that they have to play in a hostile environment in potentially adverse conditions (New Orleans, although the only adverse condition would be the smell of vomit from the French Quarter). If you're going to be a playoff team, as a rule, none of your home games can qualify for this category, and you probably need to win at least one of these along the way.

So where do the games on the 2011 slate stack up in the Pendergast Bucket Theory? Well, I'll tell you:

Must wins, 7: vs Oakland, vs Jacksonville, vs Cleveland, @ Jacksonville, @ Cincinnati, vs Carolina, vs Tennessee

Coin flippers, 6: vs Indianapolis, @ Miami, vs Pittsburgh, @ Tennessee, @ Tampa Bay, vs Atlanta

Steals, 3: @ New Orleans, @ Baltimore, @ Indianapolis

As a point of reference, how did the Pendergast Bucket Theory fare in 2010? Well, in terms of a gauge for what went wrong, it wasn't bad. Here's where I slotted the games on last year's schedule before the season started:

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6 comments
HECTEC
HECTEC

I dont think this article was long enough. On a sidenote, David Carr's wife attends Texans preseason games? with Dan Pastorini?

todd DeMoss
todd DeMoss

as the Lord can attest, from what I witnessed last night, Olsen's hamstring was the least of her worries in terms of what may torn, indeed.

The OSD
The OSD

Is it just me, or does the picture of Mario look like he is a 12 year old girl who just won tickets to a Justin Bieber concert? Great read Sean. Nice pull with the Superman II diner scene.

PeterJakes
PeterJakes

In all fairness, Bree Olson has a very nice hamstring.

Jared
Jared

The annual preseason hype around the Texans might be getting old for some, but I say this: at least there IS legitimate reason to be hyped again, and coming off a 6-10 disaster, that wouldn't normally be easy to say. And unlike last year's "blind faith" experiment, the hype is MUCH more deserved this time around. It's just a matter of taking the sense of urgency that was blatantly obvious this offseason and translating it to the field. This team has 11-12 win talent, but still has a lot to prove.

Of all the must-wins I see them needing the mulligan on, I think @JAX is the one. In fact, I'd switch the Tennessee road game with the Jacksonville road game on the list of coin-flippers. The Titans are better (way better), but EverBank is a haunted house from the deepest bowels of hell from which the Texans never seem to get out alive. And Jake Locker isn't as good as Blaine Gabbert.

I think they win 3 of the coin-flippers, and I do think they'll get a steal or two. Not necessarily because I think they're better than those teams, but even last year, when they lost all 3 steal games, they could have easily won two of them were it not for the horrendous pass defense, which is largely fixed. 11-5 is my overall prediction (with a few bottles of Jack stashed in a special palce just in case).

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

If Foster stays healthy, and Kubiak actually uses him for a whole game, I think this may be the year we finally make it to the playoffs. I think everyone knows Kubiak did a horrible job of game management last year. That being said, I have to think there is some kind of personal issue going on between he and Foster. Like the way Tate looked in preseason as a second option.

By the way, did anyone notice if Dan Pastorini is still sitting next to David Carr's wife during every preseason game? I probably would have played poorly here like Carr if I saw that notorious p-hound sitting next to my wife every time I took to the field.

 
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