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