Houston Texans: Continuity + Change = Success?

| August 5, 2011

I’m calling it now. Houston Texans.
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That’s my darkhorse to win it all. They’ve made two signings in free agency and that’s all I think it takes for them to go from sadly disappointing to straight-up dominating. And if they don’t, well, heads will have to roll. It’s that simple.
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Right now, while everyone is looking at Philadelphia and the moves they’ve made, people are sleeping on Houston. They haven’t so much got stronger, as eliminated two of their biggest weaknesses. That’s enough to make this team pretty darn scary.
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Continuity is Key

Everyone was so focused on the Texans’ secondary struggles and switch to a 3-4 defense, it seems like they’ve forgotten just how good the offense is. It’s starts at the quarterback position.
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Matt Schaub wasn’t a fancy high draft selection. He doesn’t run around making highlight reel plays. He doesn’t even give the press the kind of sound bites that gets him face time on ESPN, CBS and FOX. So it’s no surprise that as good as he’s been, he seems to get overlooked. Schaub is one of the most accurate QBs on his deep ball and he handles the blitz exceptionally well. They’re part of the reason he’s recently finished sixth (2009) and fifth (2010) in our pure passer gradings.
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It doesn’t hurt that Schaub has some of the best weapons to work with. It may come as a shock to many, but Andre Johnson is a pretty special receiver. Okay, so it’s not that hard to accept. Johnson was marginally ranked second in our three year gradings of wide receivers. But he’s complemented by the sure handedness of Kevin Walter, a player who has dropped the fewest catchable balls over the past three years. That impressive duo becomes a tough to contain trio when you consider what Jacoby Jones can do (even if he’s not quite as consistent as you’d like).
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Then there’s getting Owen Daniels back at full health. For the first half of the 2010 season Daniels was quite clearly making his way back from an injury that ended his prolific 2009 season. But in the final four weeks he was second in yards and receptions among all tight ends. It’s almost not fair the Texans get another weapon in the passing game.
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We haven’t even talked offensive line and running backs yet. Everyone knows how good Arian Foster is – our third ranked running back from 2010. He led the league in yards, and is also a pretty nifty receiver out of the backfield. But what about the O-line? Well, they’ve got the continuity aspect handled by resigning Mike Brisiel, and that means they’re returning all of the starters who contributed to them ranking second overall in our offensive line rankings.
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You get what I’m saying? The Texans are strong all over on offense. The defense … not so much.
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But Change Can Be Good

It’s pretty telling that Houston was home to two cornerbacks who were in the top five in allowing the most receiving yards. In a remarkable coincidence, Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin gave up 924 yards each (the joint fourth highest in the NFL). They also surrendered 11 touchdowns between them. So they had some issues with their cornerbacks. At the safety position, Bernard Pollard gave up six touchdowns, and the rotating pair of Troy Nolan and Eugene Wilson combined for a -17.1 grade. I know, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The whole secondary was pretty terrible.
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So going out and getting a cover safety who gave up no touchdowns and picking up a cornerback who ranked sixth in our 2009 rankings (he wasn’t healthy last year) doesn’t just represent an improvement. It represents a huge upgrade. With a little bit of development from their younger players, this once scarily bad secondary could actually be pretty decent.
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Of course there are issues with the Texans implementing a new defensive scheme. While DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing have the kind of skill sets that should translate well to a 3-4 defense, how Mario Williams adjusts, and what they do at the nose tackle position remains unseen. Plus they’re looking for an immediate contribution from a rookie, and are far from certain of their number two outside linebacker. Lots of question marks there, but there is proven talent on that defense. Certainly more so than last year when you think of the secondary issues, suspension / down year of Brian Cushing and injury to DeMeco Ryans.
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So while it may not be top of the league, you’d imagine this D getting better.
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Playoffs or more?

Which is what convinces me this is the Texans’ year to do something more than flatter to deceive. The AFC South is there for the taking, especially if Peyton Manning is less than 100%, and Houston is primed to take it. From there would you bet against them? They may lack the post season experience, but they have an offense that can run on you, and pick up yards in the air. A defense with playmakers and improved secondary play.
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When people sit down to talk about their dark horses for a run at the big one, some will look at the Texans. Well, consider me the first to lay my claim down in suggesting it so.
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Heck, if I’m wrong you’d have forgotten this article by the time it gets proven. If I’m right? Well expect a few links to remind you of who saw the rise of the Texans coming.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • stebutt

    Texans have been dark horses for a while now, but this year really needs to be ‘the year’ they make the playoffs. The talent is there, but when you think only 6 teams from the AFC can make the playoffs, and there are some pretty good teams out there that you would put money on making the playoffs, can Houston mentally get it all together?

    Tough scheduling against the AFC North and NFC South won’t help, plus the Jaguars are not looking a bad outfit either.

    If they are ever going to break the playoff duck, it needs to be now.

  • b0ng

    They still have coaching problems that may not be solved while Kubiak is in charge. I have watched this team come out and underperform so often it seems to be in their dna.