Over the next four days, Texans101.com will be taking an in-depth look at the Houston Texans schedule for the upcoming 2012 NFL season. Giving a game-by-game analysis should help to better figure out what to expect from the Texans this year. The breakdown will be split into four quarters, the first of which is just below. Here is what the Texans’ schedule looks like the first four weeks of the season:
Week 1: Miami Dolphins – Sun. 9/9, 12 PM CDT
Week 2: @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Sun, 9/16, 12 PM CDT
Week 3: @ Denver Broncos – Sun. 9/23, 3:15 PM CDT
Week 4: Tennessee Titans – Sun. 9/30, 12 PM CDT
The first four weeks present four very winnable games for the Texans, two at home and two on the road, including two AFC South contests. So without further adieu, here is how the Texans season could shake out.
Week 1: Miami Dolphins
The Texans open the season at home with the Dolphins, a game in which the Texans will be heavily favored and rightly so. In 2011, the Dolphins finished the season strong after a terrible start, while QB Matt Moore proved to be serviceable and RB Reggie Bush turned in his first 1,000 yard rushing season. However, they were just 2-6 on the road and did little via free agency and the draft to improve themselves for this year. They drafted overrated QB Ryan Tannehill, who won’t likely be starting week 1. The team lost stud WR Brandon Marshall and replaced him with an aging WR Chad Ochocinco. If there is a strength to the Dolphins, it would be their lines, both offensive and defensive. The Dolphins ranked 11th in rushing offense in 2011 and 3rd in rush defense.
The Texans’ running game and new right side of the O-line will get it’s first test early against the Phins. Nevertheless, expect the Texans to still grind out a solid game on the ground while lighting the Dolphins up through the air. The possible reason the Dolphins allowed so few rushing yards is because opposing teams had little trouble passing the ball on them, ranking 25th in pass defense in 2011. Furthermore, the Dolphins did very little to address this issue in the offseason, so expect the Texans offense to have their way with the Dolphin D.
In the end, I expect this to be a fairly easy win at home for the Texans. The Dolphins are in semi-rebuilding mode where thing are going to get worse before they get better. The energy from the crowd of the home opener alone adds another seven points to this game, and I could see a potential blowout to start the season for the Texans. 1-0.
Week 2: @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Next, the Texans travel to Jacksonville to face the rival Jaguars. Like the Dolphins, this is a team in relative transition. While the Jags sport a formidable defense, 6th in the NFL in 2011, the offense consists of RB Maurice Jones-Drew and ten other subpar players. MJD led the NFL in rushing last season, but the passing game is where they really struggle, ranking last in the league in 2011. The Jags did add free agent WR Laurent Robinson, coming off a breakout season with the Cowboys, and drafted highly touted WR Justin Blackmon. But the issue still remains at QB, where second year man Blaine Gabbert will have to show significant improvement in order to push the Jags forward.
The Jaguars are always a tough divisional opponent, having gone 3-3 in AFC South contests in 2011 (2-8 in non-divisional games). Furthermore, they were 4-4 at home. This wont be a cakewalk for the Texans, as the offense could struggle to move the ball at times. The key to the game will be the Texans defense vs. MJD, whether they can slow down the dynamic RB and force the Jags into obvious passing situations. If the Texans stop Jones-Drew, the defense could be looking at its first shutout of the season. In the end, the Texans have too much talent and firepower to be slowed down by the Jags.
I expect a low scoring game, but a Texans win nonetheless. 2-0.
Week 3: @ Denver Broncos
The Texans will have their first true test of 2012 when they travel to Mile High to take on the new look Broncos. Old divisional foe QB Peyton Manning will get his first crack at the Texans’ much-improved defense since his neck injury a year ago. This is a tricky game to pick simply because it’s tough to determine what we should expect from the Broncos in 2012. They won the AFC West in last season at 8-8 led by Tim Tebow. The Broncos featured a run heavy offense with the passing-challenged Tebow, one that led the NFL in rushing just slightly ahead of the Texans. The Bronco defense was greatly helped by this, playing significantly less minutes as the offense chewed clock and stayed fresh well into the fourth quarter.
That was the old Broncos identity. Enter Peyton Manning. It’s conceivable the Broncos will run the ball significantly less now that they have one of the greatest passers of all time taking snaps, but how much can that improve this team? The Broncos finished second to last in passing in 2011 and don’t have the types of outside weapons Peyton grew accustomed to with the Colts. One could say the run game will help Peyton pick apart opposing defenses with play actions, while others could say that minus Tebow, the Broncos will rely on suspect RBs, an aging Willis McGahee, oft injured Knowshon Moreno, and third-round pick Ronnie Hillman. If this group doesn’t deliver without Tebow, Manning will be forced to throw frequently to the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. There is also the likelihood that if the offense struggles to run the ball and chew clock, the defense could get exposed as a lackluster group.
However, the biggest question surrounding the Broncos is of course the health status of Peyton Manning. There is the very remote, outside chance that he doesn’t return to form, which no football fan wants to see. I don’t believe that will be the case, but it could become a huge storyline if Peyton can’t bounce back from his neck injury.
Like I said, this is a tough call when it comes to picking a winner between the Texans and Broncos. The Texans should be able to run the ball effectively and score points. Additionally, the Texans should be able to shut down the Broncos’ run game, but that of course puts the ball in Peyton’s hands. I would make more of the serious home field advantage Denver has playing at Mile High, but including the playoffs the Broncos were only 4-5 at home in 2011. In what I think will be another close road game, the Texans will prevail and hand Peyton his first loss to the Texans as a Bronco. 3-0.
Week 4: Tennessee Titans
The Texans will return home after two weeks to take on the division rival Tennessee Titans. The Titans pushed the Texans at the end of the season in 2011, finishing only a game back in the race for the AFC South crown. If somebody was going to emerge from within the division to challenge the Texans, it’s unquestionably the Titans. On paper, the Titans look fairly average, finishing middle of the pack on both offense and defense in 2011.
The key to their whole season is getting RB Chris Johnson back on track. Two years removed from his 2,000-rushing season, CJ2K barely cracked the 1,000-yard mark in 2011. The Titans subsequently ranked 31st in rushing offense last season. The passing offense was surprisingly efficient, and should continue to improve. Whether the Titans stay with veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck or make the permanent move to second-year man Jake Locker, they’ll have a solid core of receivers to throw to, namely last season’s leading receiver Nate Washing, this year’s first round pick Kendall Wright, and the electric but troubled Kenny Britt returning from injury. So if CJ2K and the O-line can get back on track, this could prove to be a dynamic offense.
The defense should remain about the same, middle of the pack type of unit. The Texans should again have no trouble running the football, setting up play-action and scoring lots of points. However, the Titans might be able to do the same; staying unpredictable with successful rushing and play-action passing. As all AFC South contests are, expect week 4 to be the third nail biter in a row for the Texans. But at home in Reliant Stadium, the Titans will ultimately fall by the wayside for the Texans fourth win of the season. 4-0.
So there you have it, the Texans could (and probably should) be undefeated four games into their 2012 campaign. The Texans will need to get off to a good start with this favorable portion of their schedule because tough games loom past the opening weeks. Tomorrow we’ll look at weeks 5-9 (bye week 8) and see how the Texans stack up when their opponents begin to toughen.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.