Game 4 Preview: Seahawks @ Texans (How Good are the Texans, Really?)

How good are the Texans, really?  That’s what I set out to uncover in writing this post.  My answer: somewhere between “kinda” and “not very”.  They’re currently ranked 20th in the NFL by FO’s DVOA, and although that sounds low for a team that went 12-4 last year, it might be an accurate reflection of their true talent.  For one thing, I don’t think they’re as good as they were last year.  For another, I don’t think they were as good last year as they were last year.  Their point differential in 2012 was that of a 10-6 team; they basically won two extra games through luck*.  In fact, including the playoffs, the Texans went 6-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less last year.  Toss in the start of this season and that record goes to 8-0.  You don’t need to be a John Gruden or John Nash to recognize that winning 100% of your close games is not a sustainable path to success in the NFL.  I don’t think the Texans are flat-out bad (although I’m not ruling that out), but I definitely don’t think they’re a strong Super Bowl contender as some pundints** were touting at the start of the year.  I say, fringe playoff team, at best.

The Seahawks are much better than the Texans.  They’re better in all three phases of the game.  Offensively, the Texans’ main man is Arian Foster, but Foster is a much better fantasy football player than he is a football football player.  He racks up the yards and touchdowns because he gets a bunch of touches, but his numbers per carry have been steadily on the decline since his monster, breakout 2010 season.  His backup, Ben Tate, has been the better runner this season, by far, averaging 6.8 Y/A to Foster’s 3.9 Y/A.  While there is something to be said for being a workhorse, Gary Kubiak would serve his team well by shifting more of Foster’s carries to Tate.  And this isn’t just an “on paper” argument.  I’ve heard numerous analysts come to the same conclusion just by watching the Texans play.  Tate looks better.

In the passing game, Matt Schaub is a good-but-not-great QB, who’s on the back side of his career curve.  He has a new weapon this year in DeAndre Hopkins, but his old reliable weapon, Andre Johnson, has been banged up and will be limited on Sunday, if he goes at all.  I don’t see the Texans racking up yardage through the air against the staunch Seahawks secondary.

Defensively, the Texans are solid.  Their strength is doing whatever it is that J.J. Watt is doing — swatting passes, sacking the quarterback, stuffing the run, etc.  Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, and that statement might be true even if we remove the word “defensive”.

Houston’s been exposed through the air this season, so look for Russell Wilson to come out slinging.  The ‘Hawks have been demonstrating over the past year plus that you don’t need a true “number one receiver” to have a good passing attack.  Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Doug Baldwin are as efficient a trio of wide outs as there is.  The ‘Hawks o-line is more that a bit banged up, but when you have Fran Tarkenton 2.0 at quarterback this is less of a big deal than it should be.

One area where the Texans have been abysmal is special teams.  They rated dead last in the NFL last season in special teams DVOA, and this year they’re picking up right where they left off.  This is a big advantage for Seattle who has very good special teams.

Overall, I think the ‘Hawks win this game convincingly.  I know it’s a 10 a.m. PDT start time, and the game is in Houston, but the talent gap between the two teams is too much for me to give this a lot of weight.  Put it this way; if you gave me two even money bets, a) the Texans win, b) the Seahawks win in a blowout, I’d take b).  Now let’s hope I’m not hiding out in a snowy New Hampshire cabin Sunday evening out of embarrassment for making this proclamation.

Two non-Seahawks-related thoughts before I go.

  • Although my heart is always in my homeland (P-muthafuckin-N-W), I currently live in Washington, DC.  Being as such, I catch snippets of DC sports radio every now and again, and recently, with out fail, it’s a Robert Griffin III slagfest.  An 0-3 team has a defense that’s on pace to be one of the worst units in recent memory (Their weekly yardage against totals thus far: 443, 580, 441.  If your defensive yardage numbers over three games resemble an average student’s SAT scores, something is amiss.), and all people want to do is gripe about a promising young quarterback who hasn’t been that bad and will almost certainly get better as the season goes on and he gets healthier.  This isn’t rearranging deck chairs on The Titanic.  It’s blaming the wreck on the lifeboats because they aren’t cozy enough.
  • Updating the “Are the 49ers still good?” watch, they got beat handily by the Colts at home and then whupped the Rams in St. Louis.  So… the jury is still out.  As am I.

-DJG

*If you object to the word “luck” here, you can replace it with “fortunate random variance”. Also you should watch a replay of last year’s Thanksgiving game against the Lions.  That Texans win was lucky as shit.

**Copyright, Richard Sherman, 2012.