Houston looks to improve and clinch home-field
The Houston Texans blew a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with Sunday's ugly loss to Minnesota.
They'll get another opportunity to do it in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis next Sunday. But a loss could drop them to third in the AFC.
If Houston loses to the Colts and both Denver and New England win, the Texans could fall to the third-seed and lose not only home-field advantage, but also a first-round bye. If Indianapolis beats Houston and Denver loses or New England loses or ties, Houston will still get a bye.
They can also get home-field advantage with a loss if the Broncos lose and the Patriots lose or tie.
''We know what it takes,'' defensive end J.J. Watt said. ''We're going to get focused, and then we're going to come out there and earn ourselves home-field advantage.''
To do that, coach Gary Kubiak will need to correct many problems on his team. The biggest one, he says, is improving on third downs. Houston (12-3) has struggled in that area recently. Against the Vikings was the worst yet as the Texans converted 1 of 11 chances.
''Obviously, we've got a problem on third downs right now,'' he said. ''It has not been good the last three weeks. If there was one problem, we'd go address that. There's many, many issues going on. But there is one consistent issue and the consistent issue is third-and-long.''
A glaring reason why there's been so many long-yardage situations is the inability to run well on first and second downs. Nine of Houston's 11 third downs were 8 yards or longer Sunday. Of those nine, five came after Houston had running plays for no gain or negative yardage on first or second down.
''That's not the type of play we're accustomed to having,'' left tackle Duane Brown said. ''We've got to get 5 and 6 then bust out a big one. When have those 2-yard runs and set up a third-and-8, third-and-7, it's tough. Against a good defense it's going to be hard to convert those third and longs. We just continue to put ourselves in those situations.''
Houston has converted 10 of 38 third down attempts in its last three games, which included two losses. Some have blamed quarterback Matt Schaub for the third down woes. But Kubiak said he's only part of the problem, and that the running backs, linemen, receivers and even the coaches have to get better for things to change.
The success of Kubiak's offense is predicated on running the ball well. So he was troubled when he reviewed the game and realized they didn't have a single running play on third down against the Vikings.
''For us to do what we do best, there's a percentage of those that we need to be in position to line up and run the football, and we haven't done that in the last month,'' Kubiak said. ''Getting back to that is a big point of emphasis. Now that's a lot easier said than done, so we've got to look at ourselves hard to make sure we can get that done.''
The Texans had a season-low 34 yards rushing on Sunday. Their running game was hurt by Arian Foster playing little more than a half before leaving with an irregular heartbeat. Foster, who had a season-worst 10 carries for 15 yards on Sunday, underwent tests Monday and is OK.
''I appreciate all the concern and support,'' Foster tweeted. ''I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal.''
Kubiak expects him to play Sunday.
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