The smoke has settled from all the bombs that were dropped on the Texans' 2012 season, which was simultaneously incredible and disappointing at the same time. It's been about 50 days since the Texans lost to the football version of the Evil Empire, packed their bags, cleaned their lockers, and headed to their offseason homes to prepare for the 2013 gauntlet. Perhaps now is a good time to critically analyze the 2012 season without letting emotions decimate the truth like a herd of wildebeests trampling over Mufasa (Edit: Officially the first Mufasa reference in BRB history ~ bfd). Despite the disappointing last four weeks of the regular season and second half of the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Houston still went 12-4, won their second straight AFC South title, and played the best football ever to grace Reliant Stadium in their ten years of a franchise (unless Matt Schuab doesn't get his foot ripped off).
When they were playing their best football, they were 8-1, obliterating the eventual Super Bowl winning Ravens 43-13, and the postseason favorite Denver Broncos 31-25 in Denver. After this great start, they won two overtime games in five days against lackluster competition followed by a destruction of the Titans. At 11-1, every Houston fan was thinking #1 seed, homefield advantage, and Nawlins, only to see our version of the Mona Lisa get torched right before our eyes. The last four weeks were a nightmare of poor red zone offense, atrocious play-calling, and foul 3rd down play that plagued them in every game post-Week 13. Houston has the team, talent, and ability to play with any team in the NFL and hoist the Lombardi Trophy high above their head. Like every team entering the off season, there are holes to be filled; those will be discussed later this week. Last time I was home, I scoured through my garage looking for some old PS2 games but instead found some old YMCA trophies from my days tearing up the court when I was 11. Let's celebrate the best Texans team of all time by handing out some imaginary awards and hope I can do a better job hosting than Seth MacFarlane.
Rookie of the Year: Whitney Mercilus
Mercilus did a great job making the most out of his playing time (something most middle school/high school players should learn when they first start playing). His first start did not come until the Week 12 against the Tennessee Titans, when he started at weakside outside linebacker to take over for the injured Brooks Reed (Wade Phillips moved Connor Barwin to the strongside). In his first career start, Mercilus only managed to accumulate a fumble recovery and two tackles, but both were sacks. He helped lead "Run for Your Life Jake Locker Day" when Houston had their best defensive performance of the season (6 sacks, 3 INT, 3 FR, 89 rushing yards surrendered, and Locker only completed 53% of his passes). On the year as a whole, Mericlus played in all 16 games, tallying 25 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass deflected and finished third on the team with 6 sacks. Houston may lose Barwin to free agency, so the Texans must have Mercilus become a more all-around player next season. He is a pass rusher extraordinaire, but he must improve his run-stopping ability in the coming year.
Despite Mercilus' success this year, he mostly won this award due to lack of competition. Houston's draft this past season brought good players that produced, but nothing great. The Texans got 78 games played from their rookies, including starts from Keshawn Martin, Ben Jones, Brandon Brooks, and Mercilus. Both the offensive linemen had their ups and downs. Jones was pushed around sometimes up front, but once he gets bigger, faster, and stronger, he should develop into an every-game starting guard. Brooks needs to learn the nuances of the zone read game; if he does, pretty soon he will turn into a Werebear mauling DTs into the secondary. However, this draft will be dependent on if they get anything from the two wide receivers taken in the third and fourth round. DeVier Posey and Martin are talented young wide receivers who I feel just need playing time in order to develop a rhythm with Schuab and learn the playbook. On top of that, at least one of them (including LeStar Jean) has to be better than Kevin Walter. Hopefully, Kubiak tries to implement them in the offense and saves the team's draft picks for something other than a WR. Congratulations, Mercilus, It's going to be awesome to watch you haunt opposing quarterback's dreams when they hold their pillows for dear life on Saturday nights for many seasons to come.
When I woke up on the morning of Sunday, September 18th, I was ready for a routine Texans win that included great defense, starving the opposing offense from the ball with the running game, and deep passes from Matt Schaub. My expectations were turned upside down. On Jacksonville's first drive of the game, Blaine Gabbert coughed up the ball as a result of a Danieal Manning sack (and Glover Quin hit) on a patented Wade Phillips safety blitz. The ball was recovered by Tim Dobbins, and Gabbert would not start another game in 2012. This play altered the space/time continuum when Chad "My Favorite Pasta Is Penne" Henne came in not giving a damn and slung the ball all over Houston's secondary. From that point, on every Houston fan thought," I can't believe we are going to lose to 1-8 Jacksonville," only to have Schaub lead one of the greatest comebacks in his career.
In OT, the field goal kickers traded three points, Schaub threw a pick, and after a failed 4th down conversion on an incomplete pass to Justin Blackmon, Houston got the ball back with 2:30 left in OT. They would not need more than 25 seconds to seal the game. After a five yard pass to Kevin Walter on first down, on second and five Kubiak felt the blitz coming and went with a screen pass to Andre Johnson. In a shotgun set with two receivers split wide on each side ('Dre lined up to the right), Jacksonville brought six on the blitz. At the start of the snap, 'Dre faked like he was going deep only to cut back to the line of scrimmage after five yards. With two men in Schaub's face, he threw off his back foot to Andre, who already had four blockers and only 3 defenders in front of him . Walter made the first block on the corner, Duane Brown dump-trucked the safety, and Ben Jones ran for his life to bodyguard Andre Johnson into the end-zone. The entire stadium and every living room that cared knew he was going to score as soon as he caught that pass. Right when he crossed the plane, he leaped into the end zone victorious with Houston at 9-1, their best start in franchise history. Houston would run this same play in subsequent games, but it would never bring the dramatic 48 yards it did again on that normal Sunday turned chaotic.
Entering Week 10 of the NFL, both the Texans and Bears were 7-1. The Bears were the team talked about in Bristol for their defensive performances of the first half of the season. Up to this point, the Bears' defense had forced 28 turnovers, 9 interceptions returned for touchdowns and had only allowed 9 touchdowns overall. Charles Tillman was forcing fumbles left and right, picks were going back to the house, and brandon Marshall was gaining 100+ yards every game. Every "expert" picked the Bears.The Bears would force turnovers. The Bears would exploit Houston's secondary. The Bears couldn't lose at home on Monday Night Football against a dome team from Houston that did not have the stones to play in Soldier Field out in the cold. This game played out the exact opposite of what was predicted. Houston won the turnover battle, forcing four, including two huge ones by Manning that will be overlooked. One was a forced fumble when he drove Kellen Davis into the ground on the opening drive. The other was a Jay Cutler pass to Davis in double coverage that Manning stole out of the air. The play of this game was the only touchdown of this showdown. On second and 2 at the Bears' 2 yard line, Arian Foster went to the right toward the pylon and dove for a Schaub pass. He leaped in the air for what felt like eternity, reached out, cradled the ball, and turned over into the end zone. It gave Houston a 10-3 lead that they would not squander for the rest of the night.
The other moment everyone will remember was Dobbins unleashing himself undrneath Cutler's double chin, right after Cutler released the ball near the line of scrimmage. It ended up being ruled a 15 yard illegal contact penalty and resulted in a Cutler concussion. Cutler would come back at halftime for one play before being yanked for the immortal Jason Campbell. Before the hit, Cutler was 5- 9 for 36 yards and one interception. Post Dobbins obliteration, Cutler was 2-5 for 4 yards and another interception. We'll never know what would have happened if Cutler was not knocked out of the game for straying too close to the line of scrimmage.
The importance of this game was that it showed the physicality of the Houston Texans. When they had 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 seasons as a fringe contender, the knock was that they were not tough enough. This game proved that they belonged with the NFL's elite; they outhit and outplayed the Bears in Chicago. It represented an old school slugfest that is rarely seen in the NFL anymore with the rule changes and the high level of QB play. No, it was not as exciting as the OT winning Jacksonville game, but it was the best one.
Controversy of the Year: Justin Forsett 81 Yard Rushing TD
Every year on Thanksgiving, when you are slathering cranberry on your turkey, seeing how many pieces of pie you can stuff in your mouth, and trying to ignore the screams and hell -raising young demons, this play will be replayed year after year after year. After being down 24-14 in the third quarter, an ordinary hand-off to the underrated, rarely used Justin Forsett turned into a ruckus. While he appeared to have a knee down, he still had one hand on the ground planking himself upright, but the whistle never blew. Forsett did what any player is supposed to do: play until the whistle. He sprang himself up and ran into the end zone, untouched for a franchise record 81 yard run. As soon as he crossed the plane, Jim Schwartz was fuming. He reacted by tossing the red flag onto the turf like Andy Reid. The play was automatically under review because it was a scoring play, and by throwing the flag, the play became unreviewable. It was a play that he had seen before, but instead of being cool like a Gary Kubiak, he overreacted and brought Houston one score closer to tying the game. If you want to read more about his poor decision making process, check out the link provided.
The Gandhi Award: J.J. Watt
When checking out the ESPN headlines, there are usually snapshots about trades, big nights from a superstar, or new league rules. Sometimes, it's the result of players making bad decisions. The games we love are sometimes tainted by the superstar athletes we love to watch. Whether it's Jay Ratliff getting a DWI or deer antler spray or another new PED scandal in baseball, nothing is worse as a fan than to read about the poor choices our favorite athletes make. So this year we are honoring J.J Watt for being the best person in the NFL on and off the turf of Reliant Stadium.
This past Christmas, when his family went home early and he was left home alone on Christmas, Watt went and drove around the city of Houston doing his best Santa impersonation. He visited the children's hospital, the fire department, random fans' houses, and the police department. He did this all on a whim and without publicity. Watt does this because he genuinely cares. This isn't because of the perceptions of him being a good guy or trying to quench some repulsive thirst of always having to be in the limelight. He knows about the influence and ability he has and uses it for something other than just playing football. Not only did he make the Grinch believe in Christmas again, buthe proposed to a little girl crying on YouTube when she realized she was too young to ever have the chance to marry Watt. Also, he personally flew kids from Sandy Hook Elementary after their best friends were slain inside the sanctity of the school house. He did this to give them a normal day instead being home stuck in the frigid Connecticut winter thinking about the terrors that occurred just days before. Not only is Watt the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but the person of the year as well.
This throw is not the David Carr-esque throw that Texans fans grew to hate, where he's running away from the pass rush and instead of throwing it out of bounds, closes his eyes and heaves it to a double covered Corey Bradford. However, this throw was Schaub's worst of the year and epitomizes his inability to throw the deep ball at the end of the year.
After a Shayne Graham field goal and a defensive stop, Houston was working on taking the lead from the Colts in the second quarter. The drive started at the 3 yard line and the Texans quickly moved it to their 30 yard line. On first and ten with 4:19 remaining, it was the opportune time to take a chance deep. The Texans went with a three TE set, two on the left, one on the right, with Andre Johnson split to the right. At the snap, Houston ran their patented zone block play action that pulled Owen Daniels to the right to block, sent Garrett Graham on a drag down the middle and James Casey deep. Schaub had superb pass protection. With bodies laying all around him, he sent one deep for Casey. He had three steps on Vontae Davis, but Schaub limped the ball three yards short to him on an underthrow (skip ahead to 1:20). It was a 40 yard throw that if thrown correctly probably would have made the game 13-7 and Houston would have been that much closer to the #1 seed. Instead, Vontae Davis snagged it and ran to the Houston 39 for a return of 26 yards that would lead to a Vick Ballard one yard run touchdown run on the ensuing drive.
Travis Johnson Worst Draft Pick of the Year: TBA
Travis Johnson is the biggest bust in franchise history. Taken in the first round with the #16 pick in the 2005 NFL draft, the Texans franchise looked like it was on the way up. They almost had their first .500 season, but a loss to the Bears in Week 17 put them at a franchise best 7-9. Whatever momentum they had was suffocated with the 2005 draft. It was a draft that brought their first All-Pro player, Jerome Mathis, a kick returner, but nothing else. Johnson was at the bottom of this trash can draft left out to rot in the summer Texas heat (the best player chosen in the 2005 draft, Aaron Rodgers, was picked 25th). In his 5-year/$10.2 million dollar per year contract with $7.7 million guaranteed, he brought production of 38 games started, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 8 passes deflected, and 106 tackles before he was traded in the 4th year of his contract to the team that resides in a whale's vagina.
Houston got none of that. So from now on, this award will be named in his honor.
The draft is a hard thing to discuss. No matter how awesome the draft seems on day one and the high confidence level created after reading draft report card after draft report card, nobody knows what the truth is until 5 years down the road. There is no bust in the most current draft class for the reasons stated in the Mercilus Rookie of the Year award. What we have is too much uncertainty and too many unknown questions to be answered to come up with a decision.
Jerry Jones Award for Worst Off Season Move: Trading DeMeco Ryans
It's not that this was a bad move by GM Rick Smith to save money and open up salary cap room for Foster and Brown's big deals. In hindsight, it was the one that stung the most. Smith thought that Darryl Sharpton would be ready for the regular season, Bradie James would be an above average #3 ILB and Brian Cushing would anchor the center of the defense. Little did he know Cushing would tear his ACL on a cheap block from behind by a Jets guard, Sharpton would play his only game against the Pats in Week 14, and James would start the majority of the season in place of Cushing. The stout ILB core turned into a dumpster-diving trio of Dobbins, James, and Barrett Ruud, all of whom are handicapped when it comes to pass coverage. If Houston had Ryans, the defense would have performed much better against New England. Ryans would have hopefully been in pass coverage against Shane Vereen and Aaron Hernandez instead of Ruud. Smith has done a great job constructing this ball club and this award is the most nitpicky of the bunch.
Dom Capers Worst Coaching Decision: Tie- Kubiak Not Taking Chances Deep, Wade Phillips Coverage Decisions vs. New England
Wade Phillips did a puke-worthy job in pass coverage by allowing the mastodons playing ILB to cover against Pats' skill players. The defense did an above average job against New England, but the performance will forever be scarred by Vereen and Hernandez running by old linebackers. Wade's decisions were worse than the conservation occurring on the offensive side of the ball.
Every run-run-pass series, every three and out, every unsurprising play-call in the red-zone demoralized the offense down the stretch. The zone read play-action was put to the side in favor of running on first and second and then going to Andre on a third down and long from the shotgun. My only explanation for the outstanding play calling going to hell is if Schaub was hurt toward the end of the year. Maybe the Snorlax Wilfork bruised his elbow severely in Week 14 hit which killed Schaub's ability to throw the ball long. If Schaub was being coddled down the stretch, it would be a much better excuse than the engine sputtering that occurred.
The Jacoby Jones Award: Jacoby Jones
This award will forever be in Jacoby's name. It's the award for the Texan who left in free agency that every Houston fan dislikes the most. In Houston, he was a returner who refused to catch the ball and go up field. He preferred to razzle and dazzle side to side on his way to a three yard gain. In Houston, he was a receiver who could not catch a pass in coverage and consistently dropped passes. In Houston, he was the man who muffed two punts, one of which was recovered at the Texans' six and moved forward to the two. The fumble led to a one-yard Joe Flacco touchdown pass and put the Ravens ahead 7-3 in a game Houston would lose 20-13, ending Houston's magical 2011 season.
Last offseason, when Baltimore signed him, I laughed, unlike the sorrow I felt when they ripped Vontae Leach from us with the scent of money. Jacoby went from putrid to a playoff hero whose performances will be etched into the lore of football history. First, he snagged a 70 yard TD pass that tied the game against the Broncos with 40 seconds left, putting the game into overtime. Then in the Super Bowl, Jacoby returned the opening kickoff of the second half 108 yards and put the 49ers into a 28-6 ditch. I hardly ever truly hate a player and wish bad will on him, but Jacoby Jones is my least favorite player of all time. I prefer Tom Brady's precious locks flowing in the crisp New England air than Jacoby jiggling in the Super Bowl.
Offensive Player of the Year: Andre Johnson
Arian Foster had the second best year of his career, but nobody on the offense compares to you, Andre Johnson. He made the passing offense go. Here are some numbers for you:
In Wins: 77 catches, 1,190 yards,15.5 Y/C, 4 TD.
In Losses: 35 catches, 408 yards, 11.7 Y/C, 0 TD.
He posted the most receiving yards and second most receptions in his career at age 31. He had the greatest game of his career against Jacksonville when he caught 14 passes for 273 yards (#9 of all time) at 19.5 yards per catch and added one touchdown.
He led the team in every statistical category this season except TDs . Below are his numbers and who finished #2 on the team.
'Dre- 112 Catches, 164 Targets, 68% Catch Rate, 4 TD, Long Catch of 60, 70 first downs.
Catches- Owen Daniels 62.
Targets- Owen Daniels 103.
Catch Rate- Ben Tate 100%.
TD- Owen Daniels 6.
Longest Catch- LeStar Jean 54.
First Downs- 37 Owen Daniels.
Andre caught 32% of all completions and was targeted on 30.14% of all throws.
He singlehandedly carried the Texans' pass offense this season since Houston did not have another option other than Owen Daniels. He made it impossible for Schaub to spread the ball around because he was able to get open on every play. He's the team leader and why the offsense clicks as well as it does.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
Like Andre Johnson on offense, J.J Watt was the focal point of the defense and led the them in every major category. No defensive lineman in the history of the NFL has had as stupendous of a season statistically. It is preposterous that he was able to do this from the defensive end position of the 3-4 defense. Most players who rack up 20+ sacks do it as outside rushers from the nine technique and don't have to fight double teams on every play. He can do it all--stop the run, rush the passer from the outside or up the middle, and even play DB with all the passes deflected he had. He forced other teams to double team him, which opened up tackling lanes for other defenders. It really is a bummer Cushing did not get the chance to play a full season behind Watt this year.
I will do the same thing with Watt that I did with 'Dre.
Watt: 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 23 TFL, 139 YDSL, PD 16, FF 4.
Tackles Glover Quin 84.
Sacks Antonio Smith 7.
TFL Connor Barwin 7.
YDSL Antonio Smith 51.
PD Kareem Jackson 16.
FF Danieal Manning 3.
It's unfair how great he is and it's a shame guys like Manning, Jackson and Quin are overlooked by the monster that Watt is.
MVP: Andre Johnson
Both Andre Johnson and J.J Watt are deserving of this award. I am going to have to give the nod to Andre Johnson for the MVP of the 2012 Houston Texans' season. The main reason being? Andre had better days in big games. This is most likely due to smart offensive coordinators simply running away from Watt or shifting their blocking assignment towards him. In games the Texans lost, Watt was a force, but it was marginal compared to how he produced against the Titans (which would be unsustainable). Hopefully he is out there somewhere reading this to get ready for next season.
Comment and let me know your thoughts, how you agree/disagree, or what other ideas I should have used for Texans' awards.