Among the numerous statistical conundrums that define the 2013 Houston Texans, perhaps the one most often mentioned is the fact that the Texans' defense somehow ranks first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game.
Out of respect before each game and then perhaps to inflate their own accomplishment of defeating the Texans after the game, the Texans' opponents will often construe that stat to mean the Texans have the "best defense in football."
We -- me, you and even said opponents -- know that's not the case. For a variety of reasons, there exists a stark dichotomy between the Texans' yardage defense (1st in the league) and their points allowed defense (27th in the league).
Reasons abound. There are the slew of pick-sixes thrown by the offense slightly inflating the points-allowed numbers, there is the awful red zone defense that allows touchdowns at an alarming rate, and there is the fact that in the blowout losses, opponents have essentially volunteered to go three and out just to finish the game and go home.
And then there's special teams. The "empty" yards, the silent killer of every seemingly benign box score.
The Texans' special teams are horrific. They've failed the rest of the team in some way in every game this season, and several games the past few seasons. Sunday's game against the Colts was true to this form.
On Sunday night, the Texans rushed for more than twice the yardage that the Colts did, threw for nearly 100 yards more, didn't turn the ball over once, gave up only one sack and won the time-of-possession battle by a 36:12 to 23:48 count.
And still they lost 27-24. Why?
Well, for a handful of reasons, some tactical and some likely emotional, but probably the biggest on-field reason was the continued fatal performance of the special teams units. And it wasn't just one component of special teams; there were leaks springing everywhere. Kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt team, punt return, placekicking.
How bad was it? Well, by my count there were 31 total special teams plays. Four of those were PAT kicks, so since those are virtually never botched, we will remove those from the mix. So 27 special teams plays altogether. The breakdown goes like this: Houston field goal attempts: 4 Indianapolis field goal attempts: 3 Houston kickoffs: 5 Houston kick returns: 6 Houston punts: 4 Houston punt returns: 5
Of these 27 plays, here are the plays that I would categorize as decidedly negative because of the Texans' inability to execute, in chronological order:
8. 2nd quarter, 8:41 remaining, Randy Bullock missed field goal 49 yards This was the kick that knuckled like an oblong Whiffle ball and almost snuck inside the left upright. A field goal here would have given the Texans a three-score lead for the first time since the Week 15 win over these Colts last season at home.
7. 2nd quarter, 5:15 remaining, Shane Lechler 57-yard punt, T.Y. Hilton 34-yard return to the Indianapolis 47-yard line This was just a straight lateral sprint by Hilton as he let half the Texans' punt coverage unit overrun the play and he took it back to midfield. This field position led to the Colts' first points of the game, a 30-yard field goal.
6. 3rd quarter, 15:00 remaining, David Reed returns opening kickoff of second half 39 yards to Indianapolis 42-yard line The first play with no Gary Kubiak on the sideline looked a lot like many of the plays with Kubiak on the sideline. A harbinger of things to come, this return led to another Colts field goal.
5. 3rd quarter, 11:54 remaining, Keshawn Martin 22-yard kickoff return to the Houston 13-yard line No Texans game is complete without Martin taking a kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone and barely getting past the 10-yard line. The Texans were able to overcome the hole Martin put them in enough to get a 43-yard field goal from Bullock, his only make of the night.
4. 4th quarter, 10:53 remaining, Randy Bullock missed field goal 43 yards Bullock missed this one wide right, and it hurt. This would have made the score 27-12. Instead, the Colts got the ball back and two plays later cut the lead to 24-19.
3. 4th quarter, 6:21 remaining, Shane Lechler 19-yard punt It's hard to get mad at Lechler, who's been one of the Texans' three most valuable players this season (along with J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson), but the one time the Texans needed a boomer to stem the Colts' momentum, they got the worst punt of Lechler's career.
2. 4th quarter, 0:58 remaining, Elbert Mack holding penalty, negating a Martin return into Colts territory and putting the Texans at their own 33-yard line with under a minute remaining and no timeouts left The Texans' final drive was set up to be a rushed affair already what with their massive mismanagement of the clock prior to the two-minute warning, but this didn't help either.
1. 4th quarter, 0:05 remaining, Randy Bullock missed field goal 55 yards And with this Shayne Graham, Neil Rackers and something called a Justin Medlock packed their bags for Houston.
That's eight plays out of 27 that were anywhere from decidedly negative to cataclysmically negative, almost a third! Keep in mind this doesn't include a punt block by Bryan Braman that you could tell via replay was a blatant roughing of the punter, and a fumble by Martin that was recovered by Indy but was somehow overturned when the ref was able to discern a phantom touching of the ball by a Colts player who was grazing the out-of-bounds chalk.
I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the full participation of each special teams unit in the second half:
Kickoff coverage? Check.
Kickoff return? Check.
Place kicking? Check.
Punt unit? Check.
Punt return? Check.
The symmetry would be funny if it weren't so masochistic.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
And it's not hard to find the empty yards we discussed earlier either. Shanked punts, long returns allowed, multiple drives ending in with no points because of Bullock's erratic leg. This is how you dominate the yardage battle, but lose on the scoreboard.
In a season where the Texans had Super Bowl aspirations and they wondered just how close they were to teams like the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, they find themselves with just three teams between them and the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
I have to imagine that special teams coach Joe Marciano brings in the most kick ass donut and kolache spread for the rest of the coaches and the entire front office every day. It's as logical an explanation as any for how he hasn't been cut loose yet.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.