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What If? The 2010 Houston Texans: Their One Good Defensive Performance.

Hard to believe the defense, yes, the 2010 Houston Texans DEFENSE, did that on the field...

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

2010 Texans: This has to rank as one of the more disappointing seasons in team history. The offense was up for the challenge. In addition to the continued brilliance of Andre Johnson, the team saw the emergence of Arian Foster, who went from undrafted rookie to leading the league in rushing (1,616 yards). However, if the offense was playoff-caliber, the defense...was not. While it was not great the previous season, finishing in the middle of the pack, the 2010 version made the 2009 Texans defense resemble the 1985 Bears. In particular, the Texans finished the year in a 2-8 tailspin with the defense surrendered over 30 points/game. The Texans would finish with the 3rd worst scoring defense in the league (26.7 pts/game). Not even top 10 scoring offense could overcome those limitations. By no means were the 2010 Texans a Super Bowl caliber team, but the defense clearly held this squad back.

Houston Texans 2010 Headshots
Mr. Frank, about that defense...
Photo by NFL via Getty Images

Which is why the week 12 home tilt against the Titans was the strangest games of the season. Both teams limped into the game in dire need of a win. The Titans (5-5) faced their own drama, as the Vince Young era, along with the long-time tenure of Jeff Fisher, was about to conclude. Yet, with the Colts not quite the juggernaut of old, either team could, with a win, possibly get back into the race for the AFC South. The Titans went with rookie Rusty Smith over veteran Kerry Collins. With an opportunistic defense and Chris Johnson, who had a long history of tormenting the Texans, Tennessee figured it had a good chance. This did not turn out to be the case. Chris Johnson only mustered 5 yards on 7 carries and Rusty Smith served up 3 interceptions with no TDs. Surprisingly, the Texans D would carry the day, as they broke a 4-game losing streak with a 20-0 shutout, moving the team to 5-6.

Yet, it almost didn’t happen that way. Early in the game (13:17 in the 1st), Schaub was dropping back on a 2nd and 6, but came under heavy pressure. He got off a less-than-accurate pass that former Texan defender Jason Babin, had he secured the ball, would have had clear sailing to the endzone, ending the shutout. The Titans would have two further opportunities to end the scoring drought, but Smith served up two interceptions inside the Texans’ 3 in the 4th quarter, enabling Houston to secure the shutout (for reference, the INTs did not come on 4th down plays. The first came on a 2nd and 7 inside the Texans 9 and the second on a 3rd and Goal at the Houston 7). Still, if the team could have converted the pick-six, the game might have gone better for the Titans, as they might have shown more fight…at least with their on-field play.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans
This game did not go well for poor ol’ Rusty Smith, as Amobi Akoye can attest.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Granted, a 7-0 first quarter lead was hardly indicative of assured Titan success. The Texans’ offense could overcome such a deficit. A loss would not have dramatically altered the fortunes of either team, as significant flaws would hold both back from playing to their potential. Tennessee might have been in a better position at 6-5, but all of the associated drama with Vince Young would have hobbled the Titans.

However, the loss of a shutout would deprive the Texans of perhaps one of the strangest victories in franchise history. In particular, that 20-0 results remains the last time that the Texans blanked an opponent. What is remarkable is that in the 2010s, the strength of the Texans resided on the defensive side. Top coordinators such as Wade Phillips and Romeo Crennel, who did much to make the Texans playoff contenders, never saw one of their Texans defense pitch an in-game shutout. The 2011/2012 defenses, arguably staffed with the best overall defensive talent in team history, nor the 2016 squad, which finished #1 in the NFL in total overall defense, managed to goose-egg an opponent.

Side note: For all of his defensive greatness and his role as one of the greatest professional athletes to ply his trade in Houston history, JJ Watt has never played on a defense that shut out an opponent in the NFL. 3 Defensive Player of the Year wins, a boat load of league awards, a runner-up finish as league MVP…he never lead his defenses to a shutout. Since he moved over to Arizona, that streak has continued.

Seattle Seahawks v Houston Texans
Who wants to be the one to tell @JJWatt that he’s never been a part of a defense that shut out an opponent?
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Before this 2010 game, the last shutout in Houston history occurred back in 2004, when the Houston Texans blanked the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-0. There have been multiple games where the Texans only allowed one score, be it a FG or TD. Concurrently, the Texans have been blanked multiple times by other teams, including the Wild Card Abomination of 2015 (30-0) and twice in 2021.

There is one other reason why this fairly meaningless game stands out in Texans history. Deep into the 4th quarter, with the Texans comfortably ahead 17-0, the most explosive actions on the field took place between Andre Johnson and Courtland Finnegan. Finnegan, long considered one of the bigger trash-talking/pest players in the league, did what few had ever done: broke the seemingly calm veneer of Andre Johnson. Thus we have one of the most viewed highlights in team history:

Both players were ejected from the game. The NFL does not, surprisingly enough, use a scoring system to determine the winner of such fights, but there is little doubt about who “won” that round. The jokes about Johnson being the best hitter on the 2010 team, especially in comparison with the overall defense performance, just write themselves.

In the end, Frank Bush did not last beyond the 2010 season, despite the shutout. While Kubiak still kept his job, 2011 was a win-or-else type year. Bob McNair’s usual patience was at an end. Everyone associated with the Texans knew this. At the heart of the Texans’ problems: Fix the defense.