If you're looking for a quantifiable indicator that the Houston Texans are the Dumpster fire that your human eyes seem to be telling you they are, look no further than this headline on ESPN.com previewing the upcoming game this weekend in Jacksonville:
"Texans vs. Jaguars predicted to be the biggest toss-up of the week"
A team that was expecting to be a dark-horse playoff team in the AFC and build upon last season's 9-7 record with a possible run at 10 or 11 wins is now seen as a coin flipper walking into the pussy cat's den that is Jacksonville to take on a 1-4 Jags outfit. The only thing more absurd than that is that calling this game a "toss-up" is probably giving the Texans too much credit at this point.
This past week, Playboy announced that it would no longer carry nude photos in its magazines (which is like a deli saying its ham and cheese will no longer have cheese). It got me and my co-host, Ted Johnson, to reminiscing about the seminal issues of the magazine from our adolescence. I recounted the huge disappointment that the September 1985 issue was. It had Madonna, with her 1985 fastball working, on the cover and the words "MADONNA NUDE." For kids in the MTV generation, this was the holy grail of nakedness.
MADONNA! NUUUUUDDDEE!!! WOO HOOO!!!
Well, as it turned out, the pics on the inside of the mag were from some late-'70s shoot Madonna did when she was still sporting dark hair…dark hair ALL OVER! Like armpits and legs (and other strategic areas). We were totally duped! We wanted "'Like a Virgin' Madonna," and we got some naked hippie who'd never seen a razor before.
I say all this to make this comparison — the 2015 Texans are the "hairy armpit Madonna" issue of Playboy. On the surface, they got us all very excited, but when we started flipping the pages and seeing what was on the inside, it got ugly in a hurry.
Now, let's take a look at this barnburner of a game….
4. Julius Thomas Show
Thomas finally made his Jags debut last week, returning from the hand injury that had hampered him from the start of the season, and he had a modest opening act, with two catches for 20 yards against Tampa Bay. Well, the perfect elixir for any athletic tight end trying to get untracked would seem to be the Texans' linebacking corps in coverage. This feels like one of those games where the Jags will be trumpeting about how Thomas was "money well spent" after this game, especially with quarterback Blake Bortles returning to practice this week, coming off one of his best games as a pro against Tampa Bay. Which brings me to….
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3. Defense, do SOMETHING
If you're looking for one statistic that embodies the Texans' plummet from "frisky fringe playoff team" to "football atrocity," look no further than turnover margin. Last season, the Texans forced a league-high 34 turnovers, many of them of the "very fortuitous bounce" variety. This season, they are dead last in turnover margin at -8. In fact, in part due to a lack of turnovers and in part due to shoddy special teams play, the Texans have yet to start a drive in opposing territory this season. IN FIVE GAMES. Horrible. (God, I need whiskey. RIGHT. NOW.)
2. Arian Foster breakout
In Arian Foster's return against Atlanta two weeks ago, he had a meager eight carries for ten yards. Offensively and defensively, everyone sucked in that game, and they brought Foster down with them. Last week, against the Colts, we saw glimpses of the old Foster, mostly in the passing game (nine catches for 77 yards). If the Texans are going to win on Sunday, this needs to be one of those vintage Foster days, especially against a defense that's banged up and missed 23 tackles last week against Tampa Bay.
1. Clean performance
In the Texans' four losses this season, they've trailed by double digits for a majority of the game clock. Forget about the final margins of these games where they've lost three of them by seven points. These were not see-saw games they wound up losing on the final possessions. These were boat races where the other team ceased caring. All four losses fall into that category, to varying degrees. So how about this, Texans — how about a game where you don't get a ton of needless penalties? Sound good? How about making a play on special teams, and tipping field position? Can we do that? How about opening some holes for the running backs for more than one play in a row? Maybe TWO STRAIGHT impactful gains in the run game, can we do that? Is that too much to ask? Oh, and maybe, I dunno, WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE?!? Can we accomplish these things against the freaking JAGS!?!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.