After a first winning season and narrowly missing out on the playoffs, expectations are rising in Houston.
But things haven’t exactly gone swimmingly for the Texans after losing their top corner Dunta Robinson and the drug-test failure of Brian Cushing. Will this hamper the Texans as they attempt to land a playoff spot, or can they continue their development and finally challenge the big boys of the AFC South for a playoff spot and divisional crown?
THE GOOD NEWS
1. Schaub making good
It was interesting to see Matt Schaub fail to make the initial Pro Bowl roster. How much of that was because of his lack of name value, you have to ask. His performance in 2009 was superb. Schaub went into the season with doubts over his durability and consistency, but he eliminated these worries with a passer grading topped by only four quarterbacks.
Highlights came early in the season against the Titans (357 yards and 4 touchdowns) and then in a loss Tennessee later in the season (305 yards, 2 touchdowns). The truth, however, is there were many more performances that made Houston’s trade for Schaub in 2008 ago look an excellent piece of business. What we really liked about Schaub was his ability to deal with pressure, resulting in a +33.0 grade and completing 62.8 percent of passes on the 362 times pressure got to him.
The challenge for Schaub now is to maintain it, but given his performance in 2009, there’s nothing to suggest he can’t.
2. Making the receiver position even more explosive
The re-signing of Kevin Walters was good news, but the more interesting development with the Texans’ wide receiver group could be the development of Jacoby Jones. Not as sure-handed as Walter (he dropped 5 passes to Walters’ 1 despite getting 33 fewer targets), Jones accounted for a massive 16.2 yards per catch and displayed the kind of big-play ability that could give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
His threat stretching the field was evidenced by his 6 touchdowns and gives defenses another headache to think about when contending how to stop Andre Johnson (No. 4-ranked receiver) and Owen Daniels (No. 10-ranked receiving tight end despite missing half the season). With the Texans’ penchant for rotating their players and formations, the possibility of Jones seeing more playing time in three-receiver sets and stealing away some snaps from Walter in two-receiver sets is mouthwatering.
Jones showed something in 2009 to suggest he can be a difference maker — the big question is if the Texans get more use out of him than the 277 snaps had had last season.
THE BAD NEWS
1. Ignorance isn’t bliss
It was something of a surprise that the Texans decided to address their woeful defensive interior by … well, by doing nothing other than signing Earl Mitchell, an undersized defensive tackle likely to see action in obvious pass-rushing situations.
How this shores up an interior defensive line that was pushed around at the point of attack is questionable. The likely starters remain the easily moveable object in Shaun Cody (-8.6 rating) and the easily resistible force that is Amobi Okoye (-8.3). While Okoye was useful at generating some pressure (28 total pressures), it hardly negates the kind of run defense that made him the seventh-worst DT in that category.
The Texans have some talent at linebacker and end that masked these deficiencies to a degree, but make no mistake about it:Houston is going to need to get better up front if it’s going to challenge.
2. A blindside problem we can all see
It’s going to be a big third year for Duane Brown as the time for development being an excuse nears its end and the time to start producing begins.
After a ridiculously poor rookie campaign (-22.9), it was shocking to see Brown start the season off in relatively decent form. Throughout the first five weeks of the season he kept pressure away from Schaub and looked to have turned a corner. Then Cincinatti came to town and his season went rapidly downhill.
The 53 pressures Brown gave up was only topped by Mario Henderson, with Brown particularly susceptible to the outside rush, where he gave up 50.94 percent of his pressure. His run blocking may have improved, but the Texans will be wanting their 2008 first-round pick to do a bit better than our 63rd-ranked pass-protecting tackle.
The Texans are a team with some obvious strengths but some big weaknesses. The moves they’ve made this offseason seem to have done little to address this and it seems like a case of keeping faith with the development of players, hoping that is enough to catch the Colts. That’s asking a lot, but with an offense that explosive anything is possible. Can they be consistent enough?