A 10-point bye report on the Houston Texans:
Major issue: Pass defense. The Texans are allowing 306.2 passing yards per game, 15.4 more than the second-worst pass defense in the NFL. It’s a combination of an inexperienced secondary, an insufficient pass rush and the shape of some games. But it has to improve dramatically.
Scoring: Houston has staged two excellent comebacks in wins at Washington and over Kansas City. The Texans have scored 30 points or more in all four of their wins, and that trend will likely have to continue because of that porous defense.
Blocking and protection: The offensive line will get a boost with the return of left tackle Duane Brown, who played pretty well before missing four games due to a PED-related suspension. The group has been better than it was a year ago, and running back Arian Foster has certainly helped with his decisive style. But Matt Schaub is getting chased around too much. Sixteen sacks are too many.
Star performance: Foster’s the league’s top rusher and therefore has gotten himself into this category. Despite an ankle injury that cost him a game and limited him in others, Andre Johnson has an excellent 14.6-yard average. Mario Williams has five sacks and has rushed well in spurts, but sometimes you wonder if injuries slow him.
Health: Connor Barwin was a big loss, and no secondary pass-rusher has emerged. Far bigger is that the team is now moving forward without DeMeco Ryans, the productive middle linebacker who is very much the heart and soul of the defense.
Biggest microscope: Several guys on defense, like Kareem Jackson, are under it. But we’ll go broader. Bernard Pollard helped the Texans cure major run defense woes early last season. No equivalent is walking through that door, so coordinator Frank Bush needs to figure out ways to slow teams down.
APB: Steve Slaton’s been average on kickoff returns at best, and the idea that he’d be a great third-down change-up hasn’t really materialized with Foster taking the vast bulk of the work and Derrick Ward drawing Gary Kubiak’s praise. Slaton’s a good pass-catcher who’s caught all of three this season and isn’t factoring in.
Consistency meter: The Texans have followed up big wins at Washington and at Oakland with monster home duds against Dallas and the Giants. The rest of the division is 4-1 against the NFC East. (Not 4-0 as I originally wrote.)
Odd numbers: The team has outscored opponents 58-27 in the second quarter, but has outscored them 103-75 in second halves … A minus-6 sack differential is the worst in the NFL … Nine rushes of 20+ yards are the second-most in the league, with six from Foster … Eleven pass plays of 30-plus allowed are the most in the league.
Outlook upon return: The giant rematch with the Colts is a week from Monday night, with the Chargers and trips to Jacksonville and the Jets in line after that. Going 2-2 in that four-game span might rate as OK.