With the Texans about to celebrate 20 years of playing on the field, we are taking a look back at the previous seasons, looking at various “What If?” scenarios that might have altered the course of the team’s history. Next up, the 2015 Texans:
2015 Texans: The team looks to build on the rebound of 2014. The defense becomes the strength of the team. Foster’s time in the Houston backfield comes to an abrupt end. However, the focus of the team, for better and worse, is the quarterback position. It runs the gauntlet, from the Hard Knocks documented drama of the battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer to injuries, to one of the worst QB performances in NFL playoff history. For this counter-factual, let’s look at what if the team made some different decisions.
Decision 1: Mallett is named the starter in training camp:
To start, Mallett’s attitude is different. Mallett reports no issues with his alarm clock and is engaged with the team. Hoyer continues to prepare in a professional manner. Hoyer is well situated to work as the back-up, but perhaps as ready as any back-up in the league to step in and reclaim a starting position.
Yet, what happens once the actual games start? The opening day game at Kansas City set the tone for the team and not in a good way. What if Mallett played the whole game as opposed to just the last quarter? While Mallett could not mitigate the Texans’ defensive issues, he might have made it a more competitive affair. Yet, it is likely that Mallett would have his erratic moments. It would not be surprising that Mallett stars out inconsistent and off-target, putting the team in a double digit deficit. Eventually, Mallett settles down and does get the Texans back into the game, but ultimately, the team still loses its first season opener since 2009.
While Mallett would still retain the starting job after an opening day loss, the team’s fortunes in this scenario do not change all that much, mostly due to the surprising defensive struggles. The team still starts 1-2. Mallett’s play in those games is solid, but not spectacular. Then the Texans play Atlanta. With its defense seemingly still stuck in mud, the offense struggles to get anything going. Mallett has an off-game, and the team finds itself down 42-0 in the third quarter. In comes Hoyer to try to salvage something for the team. Hoyer puts up decent numbers, but the final score is hardly something to boast about (48-21).
At this point, the outcry for the Texans to make a change grows. Mallett, previously secure in his status as the starter, feels the short hook after the debacle in Atlanta. BO’B is not happy with the team’s overall offensive execution. The team has a short turnaround to get ready for the Colts for a Thursday night game. Mallett, determined to once and for all end the quarterback controversy, looks posed and confident on the opening drive as the Texans march down the field. However, inside the Colts’ red zone, the drive suddenly ends with an untimely interception (a deflection off of the running back). For the rest of the half, the offense can’t seem to generate anything of significance. The Colts go up 13-0. Midway through the second quarter, Mallett takes a hard shot to the chest and has to come out of the game. Hoyer steps in and plays the rest of the half, much to the chagrin of Mallett, who after a couple of plays, is ready to get back on to the field. Mallett leaves the field early, missing Hoyer’s Hail Mary to get the Texans on the board at the end of the half. The Texans lose a tight game to the Colts, 27-20.
In the wake of the Indy debacle, and with the team at 1-4, B’OB decides to make Brian Hoyer the starter against Jacksonville. After making the announcement, Mallett does not take the news well. He is a no show at the following Tuesday practice. He makes an appearance the following Wednesday, and while he does not speak with reporters, B’OB and Smith allude to some personal issue that Mallett needed to resolve. Accusations of immaturity plague Mallett. Still, Mallett manages to get himself together and is with the team when they fly off to Jacksonville. Hoyer plays decently, especially in the second half, and the team comes out with a 31-20 win. After the game, BO’B reiterates his support for Hoyer, ignoring all other questions about Mallet.
Still, Mallett is far from happy. Teammates report that he is late to almost every practice the following week, and Mallett makes national headlines when he does not fly with the team to Miami. A faulty alarm clock is blamed. The Texans don’t buy the excuse and deactivate Mallett for the game in Miami, a 44-26 slaughter. The next day, Mallett is released, and the team begins a frantic scramble for some stability under center to back up Hoyer.
At this point, the second order counterfactual takes effect. With no other changes to the timeline, the team still continues on the path of winning a division title, and a date with a major defeat at the hands of Kansas City. Much of that is predicated on the return of a former Texans QB to the fold. Yet, that was not a certainty, leading to the next decision point:
Decision #2: TJ Yates doesn’t pick up the phone.
When it becomes apparent that Ryan Mallett was no longer destined to wear Battle Red, Rick Smith needs to find some QB depth. The Texans manage some success with off-the-street guys, a la Case Keenum at the end of the 2014 season. However, Keenum was not available. Enter one Mr. Taylor Jonathan Yates, an unemployed former starting QB for the Texans. Not on a roster to start the 2015 season, Yates would end up finding himself back on the Texans sideline with a bye week to get up to speed. Turns out his signing proved most fortuitous, as he is pressed into immediate action on a Monday night game against Cincinnati. Leading the Texans to the come-from-behind win, he starts the next game against the NY Jets, leading the Texans to perhaps an even more important win. Unfortunately, Yates suffered a season-ending injury during a key game in Indy.
Suffice it to say, TJ Yates played a huge role in getting the Texans’ second half surge going. However, what if TJ Yates was not available to take snaps for the Texans during that critical stretch?
In this scenario with no TJ Yates, the Texans find themselves at the point of desperation. In the bye week, needing someone with some degree of NFL experience, they scour the waiver wire. Unfortunately, names such as Thaddeus Lewis and BJ Daniels are currently not available, and with almost no other viable options (rumors of Jeff Garcia and JaMarcus Russell tryouts litter the Houston sports pages), the Texans take a hard look at practice squad player Zac Dysert. He left his alma mater, Miami of Ohio as the all-time passing leader, surpassing Ben Roethlisberger. Still, the thought of Dysert being the only back-up option leaves the Texans management cold. While the Texans activate Dysert for the Titans game, they also place a call to Josh Freeman, previously of the Fall Experimental Football League. Hardly the ideal player, but the Texans lack options. Freeman uses the bye week to learn the BO’B offense. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much of a grace period. Deciding that starting experience for a backup QB matters, the Texans activate Freeman and leave Dysert off the roster. Hoyer’s third quarter concussion forces Freeman into immediate action. He at least makes the attempt to get Hopkins involved, but after tying the game at 6 early in the fourth quarter, two consecutive Freeman turnovers later in the quarter lead to 10 Bengals points, and the Bengals remain unbeaten, winning 16-6. Matters do not improve much when the NY Jets come to town. The Texans defense does a solid job keeping former Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in check, holding the Jets to 17 points. However, the Texans, with Hoyer still out due to concussions and Freeman still trying to get the hang of the offense, manage to only put up 13, losing a tough game and seeing the team fall to 3-7. Lacking options, BO’B keeps Freeman as the starter, and he rebounds the following week, doing just enough to support the defense against New Orleans, as Houston keeps faint hopes alive to win the division at 4-7.
Regrettably, that is the high point for the season. Hoyer’s return from injury does not last long, as he takes a brutal pounding in consecutive losses at Buffalo and against New England. With Hoyer injured, the Texans take a chance on the recently waived Brandon Weeden, leading to Dysert’s release. Hoyer, Freeman and Weeden remain on the roster, but the 4-9 Texans can’t make up the ground. Freemen the start at Indy, only to leave the game early due to a leg injury. Weeden plays admirably, but the Texans fall in Indy, 10-6, dropping to 4-10.
Houston wins out, but again must watch Indianapolis, armed with former Texans WR Andre Johnson, pull off an upset win over the red-hot Chiefs, setting up an incredibly overblown Deflate-gate rematch, with the Pats taking the game in convincing fashion, 41-17. The offseason sees a massive purge of QBs, as only Weeden and Savage (on Injured Reserve in 2015) remain. McNair does not fire anyone, but makes it clear that he wants results this off-season. “We need a franchise quarterback” he declares after a third consecutive non-playoff season for his team.
Two QB decisions. One at the start, and one at the midway point. While no TJ Yates arguably might have crushed the 2015 season, the long-term prognosis for the Texans remains the same. Without a settled QB, the team will do little to break its ceiling of winning team and quick playoff appearance.