What if? 2015 Texans: The quarterback dilemma
With the Texas about to celebrate 20 years of playing on the pitch, we look back on previous seasons, looking at various “What If?” scenarios that could have altered the course of the team’s history. Next, the 2015 Texans:
2015 Texans: The team is looking to build on the rebound from 2014. The defense becomes the strength of the team. Foster’s time in the Houston backfield comes to an abrupt end. However, the team is focused, for better or for worse, on the quarterback position. He runs the gauntlet, from the documented Hard Knocks drama of Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer’s injury battle, to one of the worst QB performances in NFL playoff history. For this counterfactual, let’s look at what would happen if the team made different decisions.
Ruling 1: Mallett named starter in training camp:
For starters, Mallett’s attitude is different. Mallett reports no issues with his alarm clock and is committed to the team. Hoyer continues to prepare professionally. Hoyer is well positioned to work as a substitute, but perhaps as ready as any substitute in the league to step in and reclaim a starting position.
Yet, what happens once the actual games begin? The day one game in Kansas City set the tone for the team and not in a good way. What if Mallett played the whole game rather than just the last quarter? Although Mallett couldn’t alleviate the Texans’ defensive problems, he could have made it a more competitive affair. Still, it’s likely that Mallett would have his erratic moments. It wouldn’t be surprising if Mallett was inconsistent and off target, putting the team into a double-digit deficit. Eventually, Mallett moved in and put the Texans back in the game, but ultimately the team still lost its first opener since 2009.
While Mallett would still retain the starting position after a matchday one loss, the team’s fortunes in this scenario don’t change all that much, mainly due to the surprising defensive struggles. The team always starts 1-2. Mallett’s play in those matches is solid, but not spectacular. Next, the Texans play in Atlanta. With his defense seemingly still stuck in the mud, the offense is struggling to get things done. Mallett has a knockout and the team is down 42-0 in the third quarter. Hoyer arrives to try to salvage something for the team. Hoyer puts up some decent numbers, but the final scoreline is hardly something he can brag about (48-21).
At this point, the outcry for the Texans to make a change grows. Mallett, previously assured of his starter status, is feeling the short hook after the debacle in Atlanta. BO’B is unhappy with the team’s overall offensive execution. The team has a short deadline to prepare for the Colts for a Thursday night game. Mallett, determined to put an end to the quarterback controversy once and for all, looks poised and confident on the first practice as the Texans march down the field. However, inside the Colts’ red zone, the drive ends abruptly with an untimely interception (a deflection of the running back). For the rest of the half, the offense didn’t seem to generate anything significant. The Colts go up 13-0. Midway through the second quarter, Mallett takes a hard hit to the chest and has to come out of the game. Hoyer steps in and plays the rest of the half, much to the chagrin of Mallett, who after a few plays is ready to return to the field. Mallett leaves the field early, missing Hail Mary de Hoyer to bring the Texans to the board late in the half. The Texans lose a close game to the Colts, 27-20.
Following the Indy debacle, and with the team at 1-4, B’OB decided to make Brian Hoyer the starter against Jacksonville. After making the announcement, Mallett doesn’t take the news well. He does not show up for training the following Tuesday. He makes an appearance the following Wednesday, and although he doesn’t speak to reporters, B’OB and Smith allude to a personal issue that Mallett needed to resolve. Accusations of immaturity torment Mallett. Still, Mallett manages to pull himself together and is with the team when they fly to Jacksonville. Hoyer played decently, especially in the second half, and the team came out with a 31-20 victory. After the match, BO’B reiterates his support for Hoyer, ignoring all further questions about Mallet.
Still, Mallett is far from happy. His teammates report that he is late to almost every practice the following week, and Mallett makes national headlines when he is not flying with the team in Miami. A defective alarm clock is blamed. The Texans don’t buy the excuse and disable Mallett for the game in Miami, a 44-26 massacre. The next day, Mallett was released and the team began a frantic race for some stability under center to back Hoyer.
At this point, the second-order counterfactual takes effect. With no other changes to the timeline, the team continues on the path to winning a division title and a date with a major loss at the hands of Kansas City. Much of that hinges on a former Texans QB returning to the fold. Yet this was not a certainty, which led to the following decision point:
Decision #2: TJ Yates doesn’t pick up the phone.
When it becomes clear that Ryan Mallett was no longer destined to wear Battle Red, Rick Smith must find some QB depth. The Texans are somewhat successful with street guys, at Case Keenum late in the 2014 season. However, Keenum was unavailable. Enter a Mr. Taylor Jonathan Yates, an unemployed former starting QB for the Texans. Not on a roster to start the 2015 season, Yates would eventually find himself on the Texans sideline with a week off to catch up. Turns out, his signing turned out to be very fortuitous, as he’s pressed for immediate action in a Monday night game against Cincinnati. Leading the Texans to victory from behind, he starts the next game against the NY Jets, leading the Texans to perhaps an even bigger victory. Unfortunately, Yates suffered a season-ending injury in a key game at Indy.
Suffice it to say, TJ Yates played a huge part in the Texans’ second-half surge. However, what if TJ Yates was unavailable to take shots for the Texans during this critical time?
In this scenario without TJ Yates, the Texans find themselves on the brink of despair. In the bye week, needing someone with some degree of NFL experience, they skim the waiver thread. Unfortunately, names such as Thaddeus Lewis and BJ Daniels are currently unavailable, and with almost no other viable options (Jeff Garcia and JaMarcus Russell tryout rumors litter Houston’s sports pages), the Texans are taking a hard look at the training squad player Zac Dysert. . He left his alma mater, Miami of Ohio, as the all-time leader, passing Ben Roethlisberger. Still, the idea of Dysert being the only backup option leaves Texans management cold. As the Texans activate Dysert for the Titans game, they also make a call to Josh Freeman, previously of the Fall Experimental Football League. Not the ideal player, but the Texans are running out of options. Freeman uses the week off to learn the BO’B attack. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much of a grace period. Deciding that starting experience for a backup QB is important, the Texans activate Freeman and leave Dysert off the roster. Hoyer’s concussion in the third quarter forces Freeman to act immediately. He tries to at least involve Hopkins, but after tying the game at 6 early in the fourth quarter, two straight Freeman turnovers later in the quarter lead to 10 Bengals points, and the Bengals remain undefeated, winning 16-6 . Things don’t get much better when the New York Jets come to town. The Texans defense is doing a solid job keeping former Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in check, keeping the Jets to 17 points. However, the Texans, with Hoyer still out with concussions and Freeman still trying to get the offense under control, only managed to put up 13, losing a tough game and seeing the team fall to 3-7. Running out of options, BO’B kept Freeman as a starter, and he bounced back the following week, doing just enough to prop up the defense against New Orleans, as Houston held out dim hopes of winning the division at 4-7.
Unfortunately, this is the high point of the season. Hoyer’s return from injury didn’t last long, as he suffered a brutal hammering in back-to-back losses to Buffalo and New England. With Hoyer injured, the Texans take a chance on the recently waived Brandon Weeden, leading to the release of Dysert. Hoyer, Freeman and Weeden remain on the roster, but the 4-9 Texans can’t make up ground. Freemen depart for Indy, only to leave the game early due to a leg injury. Weeden plays admirably, but the Texans fall to Indy, 10-6, falling to 4-10.
Houston prevails, but must once again watch Indianapolis, armed with former Texans WR Andre Johnson, pull off an upset win over the scorching Chiefs, setting up an incredibly over-the-top Deflate-gate rematch, with the Pats taking the game from convincingly, 41-17. The offseason sees a massive QB purge, as only Weeden and Savage (on Injured Reserve in 2015) remain. McNair isn’t firing anyone, but is making it clear he wants results this offseason. “We need a franchise quarterback,” he said after his team’s third straight non-playoff season.
Two QB decisions. One at the start and one halfway through. While no TJ Yates was arguably able to crush the 2015 season, the long-term prognosis for the Texans remains the same. Without a QB settled, the team won’t do much to break its winning team and quick playoff appearance ceiling.