sistaff
Monday October 17th, 2011

The Texans have averaged just 17 points over their last three games. (AP)

Let's be realistic here: Even with Andre Johnson and Mario Williams at 100 percent and in the lineup, Houston's four-game stretch against the Saints, Steelers, Raiders and Ravens would have been tough.

But the Texans are inching dangerously close to being in big trouble. Case in point: Next week, likely without Johnson and definitely without Williams, Houston travels to Tennessee. If the Titans win that game, they'll be 4-2 and have a 1 1/2-game lead on Houston in the division.

That's far from an insurmountable deficit after Week 7 -- and Houston would be alone in first with a win over Tennessee -- but it's cause for concern.

And that's especially so given that the Texans don't seem to have anything to hang their hats on right now. When Johnson's around, the Matt Schaub-led passing attack is lethal. Without Johnson?

Well, you get what you saw in Weeks 5 and 6: Schaub putting up yardage numbers but struggling to get points. In a loss to Oakland last Sunday, Schaub actually threw for 414 yards, but Houston scored just 20 points and had only two field goals after halftime.

Sunday in Baltimore, Schaub completed 57 percent of his passes for 220 yards, and the Texans mustered a measly 14 points.

Adding Derrick Mason, at least on first glance, doesn't appear to have helped much. Mason had three catches for 27 yards Sunday -- certainly not an explosive debut. Jacoby Jones led the way for Houston with 76 yards receiving, but Schaub spent most of the day dodging Baltimore rushers and dumping passes underneath to his safety options.

That's fine if you're trying to win a ball-control game. Houston, though, is designed to be a big-play offense, whether it's through the air or with Arian Foster on the ground.

The Texans can dink and dunk, but they'd prefer not to.

Right now, they don't have a choice. And against a team like Baltimore, with arguably the NFL's best defense right now, the mountain was too high to climb.

The thing that has to be scariest for Houston at the moment is that its defense  has been solid. The Texans headed into Baltimore ninth in points allowed at 20.7 and had the Ravens sitting on 16 after three quarters.

But fourth quarters have been a nightmare, starting in Week 3, when the Saints hung 23 points on Houston to rally for a win. The Texans' offense scored 33 that day but couldn't put the game away late, with Schaub throwing a critical pick to set up a go-ahead Saints score.

Two weeks later, after the Texans beat Pittsburgh in spite of its offensive issues, Schaub threw a terrible interception on the final play of a loss against Oakland.

Sunday, the Texans' defense gave them a chance again -- Houston had two fourth-quarter possessions down 19-14 and failed to score. Then, after Baltimore stretched the lead, the Texans turned in back-to-back turnovers on downs, without picking up a first down.

The Baltimore defense deserves a ton of credit across the board for those results, but Houston's offense has to start delivering -- with or without Andre Johnson. If it can't soon -- like, say, at Tennessee in Week 7 -- the Texans again will find themselves scrambling in the season's second half.

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