Here's why the loss of Bradley Roby couldn't have come at a worse time for Texans

Here's why the loss of Bradley Roby couldn't have come at a worse time for Texans
The Texans have no answers for top tier receivers.Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Late Monday afternoon, the NFL distributed a six-game suspension for Houston Texans receiver Will Fuller — who violated the league's drug policy. Nearly four hours later, the NFL suspended Texans cornerback Bradley Roby for the same purpose. The news of both Fuller's and Roby's suspensions could not have come at a worse time.

After winning back-to-back games following their Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions, the Texans were on the verge of turning their disastrous season around. Entering Sunday's game against the Colts at 4-7 could have given the Texans little hope to qualify for the playoffs with a victory inside NRG Stadium.

But instead of becoming the second team in league history to reach the playoffs after an 0-4 start, the suspensions place the Texans with a daunting task of replacing the talents of Fuller and Roby. Despite losing their No. 1 receiver for the rest of the season, Houston is in a substantial position to overcome Fuller's absence.

Brandin Cooks has been just as important to the Texans' receiving corps, and the additions of Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter could be enough to fill in Fuller's void. Unfortunately, Roby's void appears to be an unenviable feat.

"Anytime you have someone on your team make a misstep — that's disappointing," Romeo Crennel said. "Particularly when they are team contributors, so, what we'll have to do now is everybody as a group will have to play to belt straps, and put our best foot forward and get ready for the game on Sunday."

The 28-year-old Texas native has been Houston's best defensive back all season. In 337 coverage snaps, Roby has only allowed 23 receptions with a PFF grade of 71.6 overall — the highest among all Texan corners.

Prior to his PED suspension, the Texans received a small dose of life without Roby's on-field contributions. In the two games he missed, Houston's secondary gave up an average of 285.5 yards against the Packers and Jaguars. Both franchises' top receiver had a field day in Roby's absence — which included a career performance from Davante Adams (196 Yds., 13 Rec., 2 TD) during the Texans' 35-20 loss to the Packers.

Texans killer T.Y. Hilton comes to NRG this Sunday

Houston's most challenging task could take place against Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. Even when the Texans had an adequate secondary, Houston still struggled to contain the four-time pro-bowler.

In 17 career games against the Texans — including the postseason — Hilton has recorded 90 catches for 1,530 yards and 10 touchdowns. Albeit this season demonstrated that injuries and age hindered his production, Hilton could still have a massive game without a solid corner shadowing his every move.

During Wednesday's media availability, interim head coach Romeo Crennel gave no indication who will be assigned Hilton ahead of their match against the Colts. Keion Crossen and rookie John Reid have received a bulk of their playing time on special teams, while Eric Murray has to be used to cover the likes of the Colts' other receiver, Zach Pascal.

As Houston's most experience corner, Vernon Hargreaves III could potentially take over as Houston's primary defensive back, but there is a significant drop-off when compared to Roby. Among the remaining qualified candidates, Hargreaves has possessed the team's lowest PFF grade of 41.7 overall — while allowing 40 receptions on the season in 376 coverage snaps.

"When you lose production like that, it hurts," Crennel said. There's nothing we can do about it now, but it hurts not having them. But like I told them this morning 'we have enough in the room that we can win games, and everybody has to tighten their belt strap up and put that best foot forward and have great energy and effort and drive to win this game on Sunday.'"

All season long, Houston's inability to stop the run was the highlight of what has been a dreadful defensive year. However, without Roby, Houston's diminish secondary could make the final five weeks of the season miserable. In addition to facing Hilton twice over the next three games, the Texans will have to assign someone to cover the talents of Allen Robinson, Tee Higgins, and A.J. Brown to close out the season.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

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