By Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
The legs of Foster and the arms of Watt
Superpowered the Texans' gallant trot
High hopes held for a future title run
Then Schaub made historic mistakes
Lost 11 straight, for Heaven's sake
Kubiak informed Friday that he's done
TIME OF DEATH: 11:47 PM EST, Thusday, December 5, 2013 (by loss to Jacksonville)
A year ago at this time, the Houston Texans were striding in front of cameras wearing custom letterman jackets, celebrating the unity felt for a team playoff bound for their second consecutive year.
Today, the head coach who guided the franchise's best years, Gary Kubiak, was thrown out the door, while the reigning AFC South champions sit at 2-11. Those 11 losses comprise a streak that is current; the team has not won since September 15.
The firing comes a little over a month after Kubiak was stretchered out of Reliant Stadium, having suffered from a blood vessel disorder similar to a stroke, around halftime of a Sunday night game against Indianapolis. The Texans would blow a commanding lead over the Colts, falling to 2-6 in the process.
By the time that game had taken place, it was unheralded Case Keenum starting at quarterback over two-time Pro Bowler Matt Schaub, whose fall from grace was met with the hostile fan derision you'd expect from other sports markets. Bet Schaub never expected to see his jersey go up in flames as part of a parking lot effigy.
On this day in 2012, the Texans were 11-1, and had all but sewn up their second straight division title. The distance in which the pendulum has swung the other way in 365 days is absolutely staggering.
1. To Err is Schaub, Among Others
Schaub, as we all remember, made dubious history in early October when he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games. The record-breaker came less than 90 seconds into what turned out to be a 34-3 gutting at the hands of the 49ers. This came a week after Schaub handed the game to the Seattle Seahawks with an ill-advised screen pass that Richard Sherman returned for a score.
A week after the trouncing in San Francisco, Schaub injured his leg during a home game against the Rams, via a Chris Long sack. The sight of Schaub writhing on the turf tickled the Texans fans, who openly applauded the injury, bringing back sadistic memories of Jets fans doing the same to Chad Pennington.
TJ Yates came right in to the delight of those fans, and then inadvertantly gave them some karmic stomach punches by throwing his own pick-six to Alec Ogletree, who returned it 98 yards. That made five straight weeks with a pick-six, an extended record.
Pressed-in hopeful Keenum hasn't thrown a pick-six, yet a defensive score was spurred by him. A sack from John Abraham on November 10 led to a Matt Shaughnessy fumble-six, making six defensive scores this season, from the hands of all three Texans QBs.
To pile on problems that the defense can't be blamed for, Tandon Doss of the Ravens returned a punt 82 yards for a score in Week Three.
The Texans own the worst Bendability rating in the NFL; yards allowed divided by points allowed. With a score of 11.23, they allow a touchdown every 78.61 yards given up. Cleveland is second worst, allowing a touchdown every 86.73 yards, actually a sharp uptick.
If you took away the seven touchdowns given up to offensive and special teams errors, the Bendability rating improves to 13.05 (a touchdown every 91.35 yards). That's still bad, but it'd be better than five other teams, including the very Jaguars who felled them twice.
2. Offense Isn't Impressive, Even Without the Mistakes
It takes more than Keystone Kops bumbling to sink an offense to the depths that Houston currently resides. You can still score your points while tripping over your own two feet once a game, as Houston's been prone to do.
But the Texans HAVEN'T done that. After averaging 26.0 PPG in 2012 (eighth in the NFL), their output has plummeted to 19.2 PPG in 2013. Maybe there IS something to the opposition being gifted a porous touchdown in six different games.
Mostly with Schaub in the driver's seat, the Texans threw for 6.58 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt in 2012. That's passing yards with yards lost to sacks subtracted, as a further measurement of offensive push. That average ranked 13th best in the league.
Fast forward a year, and an unconfident Schaub, unpolished Keenum, and a good half of Yates at his worst, triple-team for an average of 5.88 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, a drop to merely 21st best. The three men have been sacked 34 times for a loss of 305 yards. Keenum has personally lost 165 yards to sacks, on 15 takedowns.
The running is still there; Ben Tate and the IR'ed Arian Foster led the charge of 4.35 yards a run, tenth in the NFL. There are five teams that have more, or as many, interceptions than the Texans, and nine teams that surrender more sacks, so there's a few silver linings within.
What IS painful is the third down percentage. Houston converts only 34.68 percent of their third downs, the ninth worst average in the league. That's down from 37.56 a year ago, but last season a less-abused defense was at hand. That leads to....
3. Defensive Decline
In 2012, the Texans boasted one of the strongest defenses in the NFL. Coordinator Wade Phillips guided a fortress that gave up 4.00 yards a carry (ninth in the NFL), allowed only 33.02 percent of third downs to convert (third best), and racked up 44 sacks (tied for fifth most).
The numbers haven't diminished to horrifying degrees, but more yards per attempt are allowed (4.14) and more third downs convert (36.81 percent). Those numbers rank 18th and 12th respectively in the NFL. Houston also has just 29 sacks (on pace for 36), which ties them for a mere 21st most.
Here's a rather painful stat: despite playing one more game than everyone except for the Jaguars, the Texans have had the least amount of throws against them: 377. That's a full two less throws than 31st place Chicago, and seven behind 30th place St. Louis. Both will increase their gap over Houston in Week 14, as will 28 other teams.
After all, why throw on Houston when your team already has a lead caused by the incompetence of the Texans' offense? Clock management and avoiding mistakes on your own have been enough to beat Houston for the most part this season, outside of some inspired Keenum efforts in recent weeks.
JJ Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is on pace to have just seven defensed passes and 12 sacks this season, down from 16 and 20.5 in his 2012 career year. Those are still damn good numbers, but with opponents gameplanning to avoid his gangly arms, Watt's teammates haven't stepped up to compensate for his expected dropoff.
To top it off, Houston, with even one more game than all but the Jags, have the least amount of interceptions in the NFL: a mere five. Atlanta and Green Bay are godawful defenses, and they each have six in one less game played. For shame.
The Texans give up 26.9 PPG, sixth worst in the NFL. It drops to 23.2 PPG when you take away the turnover scores, but alas, you can't take those away.
4. Team Intelligence/Poor Coaching
As we noted just days before Kubiak was fired, the Texans entered Week 14 No. 32 on the CHFF Intelligence Index -- the dumbest team in football.
The 2013 Texans boast one of the most amazing statistical storylines perhaps in NFL history: No. 10 in total offense, No. 7 in Total Team Yards Differential and No. 3 in total defense.
Yet this physical beast, which won the territorial battles week in and week out, is 2-11, architects of a rare 11-game losing streak.
Houston simply failed, time after time, to do all the little things right it takes to win football games.
Team intelligence, the way we measure it, is ultimately a reflection of coaching. And in that measure, Kubiak was the worst coach in football this year.