by Cecilio Rosario
These days, it’s stressful being a pro football fan in Texas. Heading into Week 9, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have a combined 5-10 record and minus-69 point differential. Serious injuries to star players and some serious character issues have contributed to their subpar starts.
DISAPPOINTMENT IN DALLAS
In Dallas, America’s Team has looked like Team America of late. But no one in the Lone Star State is laughing.
In the waning moments of their 2014 playoff matchup with the Green Bay Packers, the ‘Boys were poised to advance when until a coach’s challenge erased Dez Bryant’s highlight-reel catch. By staying cool when it mattered most, gunslinger Tony Romo finally justified his franchise QB status and Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett‘s unwavering faith. The Cowboys entered this season with promise, and started out 2-0, but those wins cost them dearly. Romo broke the collarbone he’d had surgically repaired in the past; Bryant, his top target, suffered a Jones Fracture in his right foot. The Cowboys have since had to rely on Brandon Weedon and Matt Cassel under center, throwing to a depleted receiving corps led by a banged-up Jason Witten. The result? A four-game losing streak. Last week’s loss against the up & down New York Giants included a 3-interception game by Cassel, and crucial special teams gaffes–including a muffed punt that robbed them of the chance at a game-tying drive. And after failing to score a touchdown (despite Bryant’s return) in this week’s 13-12 loss to the Seahawks, they released Joseph Randle, who just weeks ago was their starting running back.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the matter of Greg Hardy’s sideline meltdown during the loss to the Giants. The controversial defensive end erupted on the sideline, knocking a clipboard out of the special teams coach’s hand and getting into a heated argument with Bryant and other teammates. While passion is crucial to success in sports, too much can cost your team on the field, and Hardy’s maligned reputation has worsened in the wake of his outburst. Jones and Garrett have handled the situation in-house, but it remains to be seen if this is only the beginning of a tumultuous situation.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE PROBLEMS
The 3-5 Houston Texans are 25th in this week’s ESPN NFL power rankings. Astoundingly, they’re also tied for first in the woeful AFC South. They were last in the division just last week, before beating the (also woeful) Tennessee Titans 20-6 this week. But just a week ago, they were pounded in jaw-dropping fashion by the Miami Dolphins. They have their fair share of troubles.
The Texans finished their 2014 campaign at 9-7, missing the playoffs for a second straight season, but there was hope on the hacienda. Human wrecking ball J.J. Watt was expected to stay true to his All-Universe form; he was set to be complemented on the defensive line by super rookie Jadeveon Clowney, who spent most of last year on the mend from a knee injury. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins was poised to emerge as a top talent, after Andre Johnson’s departure to the divisional rival Indianapolis Colts. All-Pro running back Arian Foster was expected to bring veteran leadership as he balanced out the offense with his dual-threat potential. But the Hard Knocks curse reared its ugly head once again.
Foster, like Romo, has had a hard time staying inside the lines. He missed the first three games of this season, recovering from a serious groin injury sustained in training camp. Only four games, Foster suffered another serious injury, this time a season-ending Achilles tear.
One of the core aspects of the Texans’ disappointing start has been a confusing quarterback controversy. Brian Hoyer began the season as the starter, but lost his spot to Ryan Mallet in the course of Week 1. Mallet remained the starter, only to be replaced by Hoyer during a Week 4 blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Down 42-0, Hoyer earned a quarterback rating of 103.8 while closing the gap to a more respectable final of 42-21; but coach Bill O’Brien, in a move that left many scratching their heads, named Mallet the starter for Week 5 against the Colts. A hard hit knocked Mallet out of the game, during which Hoyer apparently re-earned his starter status. He lost that game, but went on to lead the team to a win against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Then, like Hardy, Mallet exhibited poor timing: he missed a team flight on game day, which looked particularly bad in light of an atrocious stat line (he ranked dead last in the NFL in completion percentage and yards per pass.). He was released on October 27th, two days after his missed flight and the Texans’ 44-26 humiliation in Miami.
Moving forward, it’s hard to tell which Texas team is worse off. The Cowboys are getting Dez Bryant back, and Romo will be back eventually. But they’re buried at the bottom of the NFC East, and while the division is somewhat in flux, having three teams to pass is a tall order for half a season. But Cassel has experience winning at the NFL level, and Bryant, Darren McFadden and Jason Witten are a reasonable collection of offensive weapons. Houston, on the other hand, has most of its weapons on defense; their quarterback situation is much more dicey, and aside from Hopkins, it’s fingers crossed on offense. They’re leading their division for now, but it’s just a single game from top to bottom in the AFC West. Still, their fate is more in their hands.
The second half of the NFL season will be interesting for the Texans and Cowboys. There’s lots of room for improvement, and a football mecca’s worth of fans could really use a break.