I'll open by saying it's entirely possible I missed a discussion regarding the first question above on this site at some point over the last 12-months, but I don't recall ever seeing it come up on any kind of retrospective of the Texans' 2009 season -- here or anywhere else.
This question came to me a couple months ago, and I've half-wondered about it but never really followed it through. But now with Clark's recent injury, I thought this might be a good time to both satisfy my own curiousity by doing some research and throw my question out there on BRB to gauge other people's opinions. Did OD's injury kill the Texans' 2009 season?
You see, I never heard this put out there as a theory, but when recently reflecting on the '09 season that nearly ended with a playoff birth and ruing the fact that we may have missed our best chance of making the playoffs given how easy our schedule was, this thought came to mind.
"When did he go down again?", I asked myself. "Buffalo", right. "When did we go on that 4-consecutive-intra-divisional-game losing streak that kept us out of the playoffs?", I wondered. "I think it was pretty soon after that". [Wow, writing fake conversations is definitely an acquired skill. Kudos to you MDC!]
So, was there any link to the timing of Owen Daniel's knee injury last year and the Texans' collapse? Let's take a look at the timing of events and some stats to get a better picture.
Last year Daniels went down in the first quarter of the 8th game, which was in Buffalo. We were 4-3 going into the game and here were the team's TE receiving stats through 7 games:
As we all know, OD was off to an unbelievable start. Almost reminds me of those Bagwell stats in 1994 before the baseball strike cut things short. Anywho, Daniels got hurt on his first (and only) catch of that 8th game, and we struggled to beat the lowly Bills. Casey got a couple catches in that game, but all in all, the lack of TE production in that game was a sign of things to come, as was its potential impact on our team's ability to win ballgames.
Below are the TE receiving stats for the next 4 games, all of which were against divisional opponents (wk9 @Indy, wk11 Tenn, wk12 Indy, wk13 @Jax):
You'll notice that average receptions per game and average yards per game went into the crapper, both falling to under 40% of the first 7 game averages. Just as meaningful, receptions as a percentage of targets fell a full 10%. That speaks directly to a decrease in offensive efficiency. Furthermore, with less targets per game going to TEs, it made our passing attack less multi-dimensional.
The results of those games we know all too well. The Texans lost all four games. Their scoring per game fell from 23.9 in the first 7 games to 19.8 during those 4 losses. You know what though, despite what you see above, I hate the overuse of stats in football. Teams scheme differently game to game, where and who you play are variables that shouldn't be ignored but constantly are, sample sizes are too small, etc.
My point here is simply that the lack of one of our key offensive weapons and the source of one of our main tactical advantages seems to have submarined our team in the short-term -- possibly in part because (a) we didn't have a replacement for him, (b) we weren't able to successfully alter our offensive game plan and (c) we were playing the three teams that knew us the best who consequently were able to adjust their game plans much faster than non-familiar opponents.
Here are the stats from the final 4 games, all of which were victories:
So Dreessen seems to have morphed into OD v2.0 over these last 4 games. Receptions per target was all the way back, and while the last two metrics weren't quite as good as OD's averages, it seems the passing offense found its TE option again which helped open up the passing attack for the wideouts. Team scoring went all the way up to 27.8 points per game over this period. In short, we eventually were able to move past the shock of losing OD and find ways to win games.
Now, I'm not a full time writer (obviously!) or analyst, so I haven't explored all of the other factors that could be pointed to as causes for the mid-season losing streak. I'm sure there are a multitude of other variables may have come into play here. Historical ineptitude in divisional games, other significant injuries during that period, and blown coaches decisions(!) would be just a few. But this just jumped out at me as a key reason that we had trouble winning some of those first games without OD.
So my first question to the audience is, do you agree with this theory, have an alternate explanation that is more probable, or possibly just don't give a rat's ass since that's all in the past? To those with that last opinion, I would counter withmy second question. Does having Dallas Clark go down after only 6 games with stats just as productive as Daniels' from '09 (70% receptions/target, 6.2 receptions/game, 58 yards/game, 3TDs) spell trouble for Manning and the Colts? I sure hope so but I won't bet on it.