As the old cliche goes, the National Football League is a copycat league. The cliche means that teams will copy those championship teams.
Due to Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Robert Griffin III, there will be a lot of currently quarterback-less bad teams ready and willing to hand the franchise over to a rookie QB. For your Houston Texans, they should be staring long and hard at the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens. For anyone invested in the franchise, this week has to be a mix of stinging pain and wondering.
Back on October 21st, the Texans obliterated the Ravens 43-13. The game wasn't even that close because Houston eased up after jumping out to a 29-3 first-half lead. It was Houston finally getting the 'Never-Beat-Baltimore' Monkey off its back. It supposedly marked Houston establishing itself as a bully and a player in the AFC. Except, as we all know, Houston faded while Baltimore survived and fought its way to Super Bowl XLVII. Let's take a look at key decisions that impacted each team down the stretch.
When Baltimore struggled offensively, head coach John Harbaugh replaced offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on December 10th. Recently, Cameron admitted that the move put the inconsistent Ravens on alert and helped get them on track. The Texans made no such changes in the offensive playcalling when their own offense went into the tank in late November. The Texans made no such changes to their horrific special teams either.
While Baltimore adapted to injuries to inside linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb, Houston struggled to recover from losing inside linebacker Brian Cushing. The depth behind Cushing wasn't as good as what Baltimore had behind Lewis, but Houston's defense also had a void in leadership. Bradie James, who was brought in because he supposedly knew the defense, simply couldn't direct the defense like Cushing did.
Whereas Baltimore would get an emotional surge from the returns of the exempted Lewis and PUP'd outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Houston failed to get that from PUP'd inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton, and Cushing faded into the background. Sharpton's recovery was rushed and slowed due to setbacks and Cushing, rightfully put on injured reserve, opted not to intentionally be a vocal player. The Texans never really discussed the IR exemption until Brice McCain went down late in the regular season. Baltimore made tough, gutsy decisions to get the team back on track. Houston kept trying to put the square peg through a round hole.
Seriously, think about it. Who leads the locker room? New England has Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is not afraid to make a decision that goes against the norm. Baltimore has Ray Lewis and John Harbaugh showed he can make tough decisions. Houston? Name a bold move the coaching staff has made over the past two seasons. Name the leader in the locker room who inspires with words or actions.
Houston has a solid locker room filled with good character guys, but in the end, the difference between the Texans and the AFC Champions appears to be leadership - be it the head coach or a voice in the locker room. When the team gets into a slump, there need to be guys who can keep the boat steady, hold people accountable, and instill a sense of urgency to get things right. Right now, as Baltimore fields interviews along the bayou, Houston looks rudderless, wandering aimlessly down the AFC river.