Why The Texans Losing Owen Daniels Isn't As Bad As You Think
For most teams, a season-ending injury to arguably the NFL's best receiving tight end would be considered a devastating loss.
But to the Texans, the absence of Owen Daniels may not be all that significant.
Sure, Sunday's come-from-behind, 31-10 romp over Buffalo was tempered with news of Daniels' apparent torn ACL. Yet, at the same time, it's hard to overlook how the Texans (5-3) still managed to post a 21-point road victory - all without Daniels and after handing the Bills (3-5) three moronic turnovers in the first quarter.
Somehow, these Texans appear to have enough talent to survive and flourish - even in spite of the trademark brainfarts and bad luck of the Gary Kubiak era.
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"Through adversity, teams get stronger, or they can go the other way," said Kubiak, according to a post-game quotes release from the team. "They went and regrouped and played a tremendous second half."
The offense didn't skip a beat without Daniels, largely because they had a stable of suitable replacements. While Daniels is listed as a tight end, the Texans have had their most success this season when spreading the field and using him as a virtual wide receiver - where his productivity and skills are still good, but certainly replaceable.
In addition, it could be argued that the Texans' most successful run plays this year (before Sunday) also came out of the spread, when defenses were so concerned with the pass that Steve Slaton and Ryan Moats slithered through gaps.
So what does that mean, in the context of losing Daniels? Well, what makes Daniels unique is his receiving skill-set in a tight end's body. But with the way he was used by the Texans this season, his size and ability to block were often irrelevant.
That also makes him easier to replace. Sure, the Texans have underrated veteran tight end Joel Dreessen as well as former Rice standout James Casey, who caught two passes on Sunday in Daniels' absence and will undoubtedly play on a more frequent basis.
But because of how Daniels was used, the Texans should be able to fill his role in a number of sets with the diminutive, sure-handed David Anderson, as well as the explosive Jacoby Jones.
Anderson had three catches for 51 yards Sunday, including a 27-yard catch-and-run to bail the Texans out on a crucial third-and-long in the second quarter when the offense was struggling. Meanwhile, Jones picked up 17 yards on a reverse on the opening drive, then hauled in a 36-yard pass in the third quarter to set up a field goal.
Believe it or not, these aren't the Houston Texans of their entire existence. This group appears to have the depth to survive the adversity of an NFL season. When Daniels went down, Anderson, Jones and Casey all stepped into increased roles on the road and succeeded. When Slaton gave away his league-leading fifth fumble, Moats came in and rushed 23 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
It seems likely that Slaton will get another chance in Sunday's huge game against the undefeated Colts, based largely on his big-play ability. But if he falters, the Texans learned Sunday that they have a very suitable alternative in Moats.
Truth be told, Slaton's biggest success in 2009 hasn't been as a running back, where he's carried for only 3.1 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. It's been as a receiver, where he's had more than 300 yards and three touchdowns on nearly 11 yards per catch.
So if his fumbles prove too problematic to remain an every-down back, Kubiak could potentially toy with Slaton as a slot receiver - much the way New Orleans uses Reggie Bush, and perhaps picking up some of the slack in the absence of Daniels.
Even so, Daniels' 40 catches, 519 yards and five touchdowns in seven games will certainly be missed. But for once, the Texans are bigger than merely a collection of individual star pieces.
This is a cohesive and dynamic offensive unit, whose 439 yards without Daniels on Sunday pushed the season average to 374 yards per game, ranking eighth in the league.
Behind that and a rapidly improving defense, the Texans now have a winning record at the halfway point for the first time in franchise history. More impressively, the Texans can finally say as late as November that if the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs.
Let that sink in, and enjoy it. For once, the Texans have a group worthy of getting the benefit of the doubt.