There were, however, some positives to come out of the 2010. We saw Andre Johnson have another great year and Mario Williams continue to impress, but more than anything, we witnessed the emergence of Arian Foster.
The former Tennessee Volunteer led the league in rushing and finished second among running backs in receiving. Yet, in our rankings, he finished third overall and his pure rushing grade was only sixth best. The kind of grade that acknowledges his outstanding performance but wouldn’t earn him one of the seven votes he got for Offensive Player of the Year.
Foster was put in a position to succeed, and sure, he capitalized, but what about those five mammoth maulers who paved the way? We’ve recognized them all in our AFC South Divisional team of the year, and now we’re going to give Texans fans a very special Secret Superstar.
You see it’s not just one guy, but five. The Texans’ Secret Superstars are their entire offensive line.
From the time of their formation, the Texans’ problem has been evident – pass protection so bad it left David Carr shell-shocked. With their investment in Matt Schaub, it wasn’t long before the Texans realized they had to keep him upright, lest he go the same way. So Duane Brown was drafted in 2008 to join a line featuring Eric Winston, Chris Myers and others.
To say he had a rough rookie year would be an understatement. Poor with his run blocking, he was beyond dreadful in pass protection, giving up 11 sacks and 50 total quarterback disruptions despite missing a portion of the season. Throw in Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel having their struggles in pass pro and it shouldn’t surprise many that Schaub also missed time.
There was an improvement in 2009, but the left side of the line was still scuffling. Losing Chester Pitts was something they never recovered from, with Kasey Studdard an ineffective replacement. So, in an off season where Wade Smith constituted the only new face, not much was expected from this group.
Putting it mildly, expectations were surpassed. When all was said and done, the Texans were the only team whose entire offensive line graded positively.
Parts of the Whole
We somewhat expected Eric Winston and Chris Myers to have good years. Sure, the everlasting memory of Myers’ 2009 season was Kris Jenkins slapping him to the floor, but the center had a strong season even with moments of suspect pass blocking. He carried this through to 2010 where, even with his issues in pass protection, he finished the year as our third highest graded center.
As for Winston, he ended up with a lower grade in 2010, though you can blame that largely on a terrible game against the Titans in Week 12. In that game, William Hayes and Jason Babin battered him to the tune of two sacks, one hit and four other pressures. Without that game, Winston finishes in the top three in our right tackle rankings; with it, he ended up a still creditable sixth.
As for the new addition to the group, Wade Smith, we weren’t entirely surprised. He featured prominently on our list of best value free agents, and responded with the kind of season that earned our third best overall grade for a guard, a spot on our Pro Bowl team, and second string honors on our All-Pro squad. The shame is that it could have been a lot better, but for a five week stretch where he lost his way with his run blocking between Weeks 9 and 13. Still, a very good effort from one of 2010’s most impressive performers.
The other guard, Mike Brisiel, had to rotate at times with Antoine Caldwell and missed some action as well. It didn’t slow him down, and before his season ending injury against Baltimore, he was playing the best football of his career. Despite playing just 510 snaps, he ended up with the sixth highest rating of all right guards in the league.
Lastly, we have Duane Brown, a player who had looked hopeless at times in his first two years. Year number three saw the arrival of his first positive rating, primarily on the back of his impressive run blocking (the Week 9 encounter with San Diego was a highlight reel in and of itself.) He did have issues with consistency and missed some time due to suspension, but the highs were enough to show that Brown can be a player at this level.
For a line that some were down on as the season approached, that was quite the performance. Four of the players ranking in the top six at their position and the last member slotting in above the average. This may have been helped by an off year for linemen in general, but credit has to be given where it’s due. The offensive line really stepped up, and while there’s still room for growth, it really deserves more attention than it has received.
For now they’re a bit of a secret, but if they stay on track, they won’t be for long.