Texans report card shows progress, problems
HOUSTON -- The only grade the Houston Texans care about is their 3-5 midseason record.
There's no doubting the second-year franchise is much better than last year, but it's also a much different team. Last year's defense-dominated club now is driven by offense. And a team that couldn't prevent sacks in 2002 can't seem to sack anyone this time around.
Without further adieu, here's a position-by-position midseason report card:
QUARTERBACK -- David Carr played just six full games before twisting his right ankle at Indianapolis. He mostly played well before the injury, leading one of the AFC's top-rated offenses.
Points were hard to muster, though, and his 75.7 quarterback rating is nothing to write home about. He's faced some tough defenses, but Carr needs to keep improving.
Journeyman Tony Banks, pressed into action because of Carr's injury, played mistake-free in the Texans' 14-10 victory over Carolina on Sunday.
RUNNING BACK -- Stacey Mack signed with Houston to fulfill his dream of showing he can be an every-down back after spending five years in Fred Taylor's shadow at Jacksonville. The Texans' dream was to have a rusher who could take pressure off Carr and produce more than the James Allen/Jonathan Wells tandem a year ago.
Mack is back on the bench in his familiar short-yardage role. The Texans did get their wish with the emergence of fourth-round draft pick Domanick Davis, who put together back-to-back 100-yard games in his first two starts and was headed for a third when a sore chest sidelined him Sunday.
If Davis stays healthy and keeps producing, this grade will be much higher at year's end.
RECEIVERS -- Defenses are making life tougher for rookie Andre Johnson after a fast start. Marked improvement by Jabar Gaffney has given foes more to worry about, and Corey Bradford has become a deep threat.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- General manager Charley Casserly went back to the drawing board and it has paid off. Free agents Zach Wiegert, Greg Randall and Todd Washington have won starting jobs, center Steve McKinney has remained solid and left tackle Chester Pitts has improved dramatically protecting Carr's back.
The result? Carr and Banks have been sacked 12 times, compared to 45 for Carr at the midpoint last year.
Wiegert especially has paved the way for an improved rushing attack. The group is still prone to pre-snap penalties, however.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- The three-man line has been decimated this year. Nose guard Seth Payne was gone for the season with a Week 2 knee injury and Pro Bowl end Gary Walker was sidelined by a sore shoulder and now is out with severe turf toe.
Jerry Deloach and preseason backup Corey Sears have started every game, and a parade of castoffs and free agent pickups has filled in. Of that group, only Sears has a sack and Deloach is fourth on the team in tackles.
LINEBACKERS -- The linebacking corps is the heart of the 3-4 defense, with the inside guys (Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman) assigned mainly to stop the run and the outside guys (Charlie Clemons and Kailee Wong) often free to rush the quarterback.
Clemons has not impressed and has battled a variety of injuries. Signed to replace Jeff Posey and his team-leading eight sacks, Clemons has no sacks. Wong has just one sack to go with 11 pressures.
Sharper and Foreman lead the Texans in tackles, as they should.
Injuries have struck here, too, as Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn missed two games -- both losses -- with a strained groin.
The group appears to be in line for a reprieve in the second half. The Texans don't face a prolific passing attack until the Colts visit Houston to end the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- Weirdly, the broken right hand Domanick Davis suffered in training camp allowed the emergence of 5-foot-6 kick returner J.J. Moses. His stats aren't eye-popping, but he has made several clutch returns and is bound to break one for a score.
Coverage teams have been solid, even though they did joined the many teams giving up TDs to record-setting Kansas City return man Dante Hall. Chad Stanley remains one of the league's most accurate punters. He has placed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line while kicking just one ball into the end zone.
Kicker Kris Brown has performed well, going 8-for-11 and 6-for-6 inside the 40-yard line. It's not his fault he hasn't had a single attempt in the last three games.
FIRST-HALF MVP -- The offensive linemen were the goats of 2002 and have emerged as the early heroes of 2003. The protection of Carr is one thing, but they also have held their blocks and opened rushing lanes.
The bulk of the Texans' rushing yards, 504 on 133 carries, has been to the middle or to the middle-right. The primary run-blocker there has been Wiegert, who was particularly spectacular in Week 7 when he drove his man into the end zone on a 15-yard Davis TD run.
Wiegert is the first-half most valuable player, with Pitts getting honorable mention.
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