Are Texans elite minus two best players?

Without two of his team's best players, Arian Foster may have to shoulder more of the load. Troy Taormina/US Presswire

New players marvel at just how fast the NFL is.

But it's not just the speed of receivers and defensive backs that’s alarming. It’s the pace at which things can change.

On Oct. 2 -- a mere 11 days ago -- the Texans were 3-1 and just about everybody was high on them. Today they are 3-2 and heading into what could qualify as an impossible mission: Go to Baltimore without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams and beat the Ravens.

Just how much less threatening are the Texans without their best player on each side of the ball?

Significantly, just as any team would be with the equivalent subtractions.

“I certainly like guys like Connor Barwin, J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith, but they were all better because of the attention that Mario got,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He’s very clearly the top threat when designing pass protection against Houston.

“The same can pretty much be said for Johnson. He just demands so much respect from the opponent and still produces. I expect the tight ends and Arian Foster out of the backfield to be featured more, as they were against Oakland. The Texans will try to become more run-heavy. But if I am the opponent, I am forcing Matt Schaub to win through the air now.

“And I don’t love that for Houston. I am high on the tight ends and Foster as receivers, but not the receivers to really help the cause. To me, these injuries push the Texans from contenders to a team that should still win a weak division, but will be a quick out in the playoffs. Schaub just isn’t that type of quarterback.”

Schaub can move the Texans’ offense like a Secret Service detail moves the president.

But the offense can grind to a halt with an untimely three-and-out. And in the clutch, there are still questions. Will he throw an overtime pick-six like he did the last time the Texans faced Baltimore? Will the clock in his head prompt him to throw the interception that ended last week’s game against Oakland rather than get rid of the ball quickly to get one more snap?

More falls on Schaub when Johnson’s not his primary target and when Williams isn’t helping get the ball back for the offense in favorable spots at favorable times. Like most quarterbacks, Schaub’s better when less is on his plate, not more.

As for the two big absences, I often argue after a free-agent departure or an injury that the guys who are in the huddle aren't concerned about who’s not there with them.

Former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, now of ESPN.com, agrees.

“My take typically is that guys are much more interested in their own situation and their own performance,” Tucker said. “For example: Bummer that Andre and Mario can't play, but I would be much more worried about Haloti Ngata.

“The key is that [coach] Gary Kubiak and the team leaders make it very clear that they don't have any built-in excuses since Mario and Andre are out. Sometimes teams feel like they have that crutch or reason for failure if things go poorly. The Packers, Patriots and others have proven there are no excuses.”

Foster falls in line with that.

He hates to talk about would-haves, could-haves, or ifs and he won’t stand for the Texans participating in any of that no matter how much of it is coming from the outside in light of the injuries to Johnson and Williams.

“Everyone kind of writes us off,” Foster said. “That’s all right. All we need is for the people in this locker room to believe in us, that’s what we’re going to continue to do. Hopefully we play the way we’re capable of playing and come out of there with a W.”

Receiver Jacoby Jones was targeted 11 times by Schaub last week, including on that final pick, and he had just one catch.

Schaub's maddening inconsistency and inability to deliver when most needed helped prompt two moves this week: The Texans traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Jets for WR Derrick Mason and brought back Trindon Holliday to take over return duties, including punt returns, which were handled by Jones.

Without Johnson or a big-play receiver in his place, will Foster head to Maryland thinking about needing to do more in order for the Texans to win?

“Andre is a big part of what we do,” Foster said. “You have to understand he’s gone and the slack has to be picked up somewhere. But you don’t necessarily have to put it on your shoulders.

"If the coaches feel like that’s something I need to do, that I need to up my production in any form or fashion, I’ll do that.”

Other guys will need to do it too or Monday we’ll be talking about an average 3-3 team that’s heading to Tennessee for a big division game and another chance to slip.