Division games biggest obstacle for Texans

Discussion in 'Tennessee Titans and NFL Talk' started by NewsGrabber, Dec 11, 2008.

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  1. NewsGrabber

    NewsGrabber Guest

    AP Photo/David J. Phillip
    The Houston Texans are just 1-5 against AFC South teams this season.

    Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

    They've won three straight and six of the past nine. Their offense is ranked third in the league, up 10 spots from where it stood after four games. They have found ways to win in tough road venues.

    Once again, the Houston Texans have created that magic combination of buzz and expectation.

    "I think it's as upbeat and as positive as it's been since I've been around here," said Kris Brown, one of three players who has been with the team since it played its first game in 2002.

    The Houston Texans can validate all that and more if they pull off an upset of Tennessee at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. Conversely, a loss to the Titans will serve to undo much of what the Texans have been building.

    This improving team still has the same major issue it's has struggled with throughout its seven-year existence: It doesn't win games against division opponents. Houston is currently 1-5 in the AFC South with just a 30-17 win over Jacksonville in a Monday night home game on the good side of the ledger.

    Since the Texans joined the league in 2002, they've won only 23.4 percent of their division games -- with just three total wins against the Colts and Titans. That rate won't get a team to the playoffs when the top teams are winning five or six of every 10 division games.

    "We've got to get that into everyone else's mind, our opponents' minds, that we can beat them in division games and we've got to start doing that a little better," Texans right tackle Eric Winston said. "There are not a lot of teams, I don't think, who get into the playoffs without having winning records in the division. That's something we're going to have to focus on heading into next year, and it starts this week."

    So Sunday we find out if the Texans have made progress or if their good work against Miami, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Green Bay doesn't translate well against the team atop both the AFC South and the conference.

    "It's their measuring stick to see how far they've come," Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said.

    The Texans know progress is measured strictly in wins and losses, so they don't want to go overboard in saying they are closing the gap.

    But they lost at Jacksonville by a field goal in overtime. They blew a 17-point lead with under three minutes left against Indianapolis. They lost by six to the Colts on the road. They had near-miss plays that would have kept them in their first game with Tennessee into the fourth quarter.

    "I don't think just because you've played some teams close that you've narrowed the gap," Brown said. "We have to get it done. [This game] would get us to .500 with a chance to do something that our organization has never done, have a winning season. On so many levels this game means a lot for our team and for the organization as a whole."

    "It doesn't matter in this league how much you lose by," Winston said. "At the same time this team has never gone toe-to-toe with some of the teams we are playing out of the division this year. So to go get wins in Lambeau Field, in Cleveland, to have played well against some of the teams that have come here, those are all really important phases of what we are going through as a franchise, of building us up."

    Both players said they think it's unfair to look at the quick turnarounds in Miami, Atlanta and Baltimore and compare the Texans' pace. From Winston's vantage point, those teams had more in place when their new staffs arrived than Gary Kubiak had when he took over the Texans in 2006.

    Kubiak is safe. But I am not sure I totally agree with Winston. If I am owner Bob McNair, I look at the Dolphins and Falcons in particular and ask my coach and GM why those teams have revamped and gotten into playoff contention ahead of us when we were significantly better than them in 2007.

    For a variety of reasons, the Texans have had to settle for smaller benchmarks.

    Last week's win at Green Bay gave the team a lot of confidence. The Texans didn't have to play a perfect game to win in a tough venue. Despite two lost fumbles, an interception and a muffed punt giveaway, they found a way.

    Which left them imagining how good things can be if they finally clean up the sort of mistakes that have hounded them all year. Nine teams currently sit at minus-six or worse in turnovers, with Houston at minus-11. Among that group, only Dallas and Denver have winning records. The rest of the gang includes the NFL's worst teams: Seattle, Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

    "If we can go out and play the way we've played the last couple weeks and eliminate some of the mistakes we've made and play a good, clean game, that would be a step in the right direction at least," Brown said.

    "When you have a game like we had Sunday and you make the mistakes we made having the four turnovers and so forth, for us to come out on top, that was a huge step for our team," Brown said. "It's encouraging, it shows us that we do have a lot of talent on our team, some really good football players and what the potential for this team can be if this team can execute. If we can go out and play the game we played on Sunday and commit the mistakes we made and still win, imagine what we can do if we go out and play a good football game? It's kind of revealing to us as players."

    Will Sunday's revelations be more good ones? The Texans have topped 350 yards of total offense 10 times, so they have shown us that they can put up some big numbers. But the question remains: Can they do better against the division?

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