Entering their bye week at 4-5, the Houston Texans obviously have much to fix before their flight to Cleveland this week. Most of us here at BRB predicted the QB situation would be as frustrating as it is now, but few would have foreseen the TE group being this bad through nine weeks, especially when Bill O'Brien put such an emphasis on the position before coming here.
Garrett Graham, who earned a three-year, $11.25 million extension shortly after Owen Daniels' release this year, has been an utter disappointment. His 12 catches, 122 yards and no TDs are by far the worst stats that I could find among TE1s in the league. On 423 snaps, he's been thus far outperformed by no-names like Jeff Cumberland of the Jets (15 catches, 154 yards, 1 TD), Levine Toilolo of the Falcons (15, 149, 1) and John Carlson of Arizona (20, 217, 1).
He's certainly not Antonio Gates, but Graham was never that bad under Gary Kubiak, so what's the problem? How could a player who succeeded in a TE-friendly offensive scheme struggle so mightily under a new (supposed) TE-friendly scheme?
According to Pro Football Focus (why are you looking at me like that, Brett?), 217 of his 423 snaps have featured Graham running a route, but he's only been targeted 19 times... or about 9% of the time. That is absurd. Second- and third-stringers like Tim Wright (NE), Benjamin Watson (NO), Eric Ebron (DET) and Luke Willson (SEA) have gotten the same or more targets so far. Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, who played all of three games this season before getting placed on IR, also has more targets than Graham.
Of course that puts the onus on Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose struggles throwing the ball have been well documented. For what it's worth, Fitzpatrick throws a nice deep ball once in a while, but his short-area accuracy has been sketchy at best. Still, Graham can't catch the ball if he's not targeted.
It's too easy to just blame Fitzpatrick, however, as TEs have been among his favorite targets the past two seasons. In 2012, he and Scott Chandler connected 43 times on 73 targets. In 10 full games as the starter for Tennessee, he threw at Delanie Walker about six times a game. Ignoring tight ends is not a feature of Fitzpatrick's play. Of course, neither Buffalo nor Tennessee trotted out Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as their starting WR duo. Combine that with the fact that Fitzpatrick is constantly on the move, thanks to an inconsistent offensive line, and perhaps he hasn't the time to go to his third and fourth reads. That's pure conjecture, though.
The fact remains that a 9% target rate for a TE1 is too much of an oddity to just say, "It's the QB."
C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin have seemingly done nothing to demand more playing time. Both the rookie and the second-year TE have disappointed in various points of the season, but neither have the sample size of Graham's.
PFF's rating system isn't perfect, but it gives us an idea of how ineffective the group has been in several areas. It's particularly interesting to note that Fiedorowicz's strength was supposed to be run-blocking, yet it's apparently befuddling him the most. Of his 286 total snaps, The Polish Hat has been tasked with run-blocking 165 times.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick taking a seat, it's up to Ryan Mallett to turn this thing around. Will there be any increase in TE production with him signal-calling? It's anybody's guess, but it'll be fascinating to watch.
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