HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans began the 2014 season needing to learn.
The players needed to learn new schemes. The coaches needed to learn what worked and didn't work with their players. To that end, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said now he knows his team, its strengths and weaknesses a lot better than he did 10 months ago, when he began his tenure as the team's head coach.
"We just lost to a team here that was 3-5 after eight games last year and ended up going 10-6 and winning the NFC East," O'Brien said. "I think that this team really has to come together with the coaching staff and figure out what we can do better and try to correct this stuff for the stretch run here. Because we're still certainly not out of anything."
Midseason MVP: J.J. Watt. Perhaps the most obvious choice possible here, though running back Arian Foster made a case for himself with six 100-yard games, including four in a row until a groin injury shortened his game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Watt has scored three touchdowns this season -- two defensively and one as a tight end. He's got 8.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in the league, and a league-high six batted passes this season. He hit Bills quarterback EJ Manuel a career-high nine times in one game. He gets held constantly and, let's say, creatively blocked plenty, too, but Watt still dominates games. If the Texans had a better record, Watt would have a very real shot at being the league's MVP.
Biggest disappointment: Tight ends. When starting tight end Garrett Graham re-signed in free agency, he was excited about playing in a tight end-friendly offense. So far, though, the Texans have targeted tight ends a league-low 26 times. It's significant that their most productive tight end this season has been Watt playing out of position. They drafted a player they expected to turn into a solid blocker and perhaps a Rob Gronkowski-like weapon. Instead, third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who quickly jumped Ryan Griffin on the depth chart upon arrival in Houston, has not made much of an impact.
Best moment: When Watt lined up as a tight end, a Raiders defender admitted he looked at the No. 99 in front of him and assumed the player couldn't be an eligible receiver. So Watt ran his route, found himself open in the end zone and caught the notice of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was his first touchdown of the season and perhaps his most interesting one. Immediately after the score, the usually impressive Raiders PA system played "Turn Down for What," the unofficial Watt big-play song at NRG Stadium and an inadvertent nod to the Texans' biggest defensive threat becoming an offensive one, too.
Worst moment: Jadeveon Clowney's torn meniscus has kept the No. 1 draft pick from making a difference for the team that drafted him. The injury came when Clowney jumped to bat a pass and came down awkwardly on his right leg. He had surgery the next day and missed the next six games. Clowney returned in Week 8 against the Tennessee Titans and had one tackle but drew double teams that were hugely beneficial to the rest of the Texans' defense. After playing in one game, he missed the next due to illness.
Key to the second half: The Texans have to get more consistent offensively. It's not all bad. Fitzpatrick has positive moments, such as the throw to Foster against the Eagles that resulted in a 56-yard touchdown or the mobility he shows in being able to avoid sacks. But those moments are interwoven with bad ones. Inaccurate throws, interceptions that come from mental errors and a Total QBR that ranks 28th, better than only five eligible players -- three rookies (Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles) and two quarterbacks who were benched (Geno Smith and Manuel).