Andre Johnson didn’t earn five Pro Bowl invites and a reputation as being one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL by being a wallflower. But there’s no denying that the Houston Texans is off to the quietest start of his 10-year career.
Through six games, the 31-year-old Johnson has caught 25 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns. The number of receptions and receiving yards are the lowest to open a season in which he has played the first six contests.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak conceded that the team has trimmed about 20 snaps per game from Johnson’s usual rotation in an effort to keep him healthy for the entire season, but Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he’s not buying that as the sole reason for Johnson’s reduced production.
“That and the fact that I’ve seen about four teams double him every snap might be a reason he’s off to a slow season,” Pees said Thursday. “There aren’t a lot of people letting him run free. It’s not like you don’t know he’s out there. So I think that will have something to do with it.”
Kubiak agreed with Pees that defenses pay extra attention to Johnson, but Kubiak said he was heartened by Johnson’s eight-catch, 75-yard outing in Sunday’s 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“My biggest goal for Andre is to have him available for this team 16 times this year and try to keep him healthy. But I thought he played real well last week,” Kubiak said. “I think he’s getting better each and every week. The good news is we’ve got some young players making some plays. So we’ve been able to spread the ball around a little bit, and that’s usually what we do best. We’ve got a lot of people making plays and not just one or two guys.”
Pees pointed out that the Texans’ passing attack relies on the success of Arian Foster and the running game. If Foster is gaining yards, opposing defenses begin to adjust to contain Foster, and quarterback Matt Schaub can employ play-action calls to find Johnson, wide receiver Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels downfield.
“They’ve made their big plays in that situation,” Pees said. “It’s not necessarily so much a passing attack like a third down on a wide-open thing like a New England. They’ve made most of their hay in the passing game off of their play-action. So to me, it’s just having good zone eyes, or man eyes, whatever we might be in. We always talk, ‘Keep your eyes on your luggage. Know who you have and keep your eyes on them.’ We just have to be very disciplined in that. It goes right back to fundamentals and technique.”
Regardless of Johnson’s numbers, the Ravens would be wise to account for him. The wide receiver has enjoyed a good deal of success in his last two meetings with the Ravens, collecting 17 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.