2013 Team Needs: Houston Texans
After looking like one of the best teams in the league for the first three quarters of the season, the Houston Texans faltered down the stretch and failed to make much impact in the playoffs before bowing out with a loss in New England.
The play of quarterback Matt Schaub will dominate discussion in Houston for much of the offseason, with many already calling for the Texans to draft a signal-caller early in April’s NFL Draft. However, the truth is that there are other areas of need on the team also.
If they are to keep the distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC South, and try to position themselves for a run at the Super Bowl, they need to upgrade certain parts of their roster, ideally without breaking the bank.
You can find a list of the Texans own free agents here, but here’s a look at their biggest needs this offseason.
Whether the decision to allow Mario Williams to leave via free agency was the right one or not — Buffalo certainly handed him a contract way beyond what Houston were willing, or able, to pay — his play, and his ability to get to the quarterback in particular, was missed in Houston this year. Connor Barwin, who is a free agent himself, managed to record just 18 knock downs (hits and sacks) on opposing quarterbacks, while Brooks Reed offered as little on the other side.
They did draft Whitney Mercilus in the first round of last year’s draft, and he’ll get his chance to prove himself in 2013, but his rookie year was a disappointment to say the least. Between the three of them, none had a Pass Rushing Productivity rating higher than 6.4, and only Reed graded positively against the run.
Free Agent Fix: Victor Butler
While he won’t receive the same pay day of his current Dallas teammate Anthony Spencer, outside linebacker Victor Butler has the potential to be one of the bargains of the offseason for the right team. Playing just 300 snaps for the Cowboys this past year, Butler had a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 9.4, with three sacks, three hits and nine hurries from 127 pass rushing snaps.
He’s far from a sure thing, with this being the most snaps he’s seen in a season in his four-year career, but Butler has earned his shot at a starting gig. Grading positively both as a pass rusher and against the run in each of the past three seasons, Butler has shown that he’s good enough on a limited number of snaps, and now comes his chance to do it as a starter.
The Texans have the best left tackle in football right now on one side of their offensive line. On the other side? Not so much. Derek Newton, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, started every game at right tackle, matching every solid performance with two poor ones. Struggling as a run blocker in particular, Newton also allowed 32 total pressures and was just inconsistent in general.
It was his first season as a starter, and the Texans seem to like him, but there’s no denying his season was filled with far more disappointing performances than good ones. Adding to that is the fact fellow right tackle Ryan Harris, who split time with Newton in Houston this year, is a free agent.
Free Agent Fix: Ryan Harris
Harris played what worked out at roughly once every three series at right tackle, and actually outperformed Newton. Allowing 14 total pressures from 210 pass blocking snaps, he had a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 94.8, slightly higher than the 94.4 of his teammate.
He outplayed him as a run blocker too, although that has more to do with Newton’s struggles as opposed to Harris excelling. What’s clear is that the Texans like to rotate on the offensive line, with a rotation at right guard employed throughout the 2012 season as well. With that in mind, it makes too much sense to not bring Harris back into the fold, especially given that he has experience playing in a zone blocking scheme. The only change worth making is giving him the bulk of the snaps over Newton should they bring him back in 2013.
When inside linebacker Brian Cushing went down with a season ending injury, it exposed how little the Texans actually have at the position beyond the former USC star. Bradie James had a similar year in Houston in 2012 to his 2011 season in Dallas, with just a handful of solid performances outnumbered by poor ones. Tim Dobbins, a special teams captain, faded down the stretch, with three poor performances in the final quarter of the season, while Darryl Sharpton hasn’t shown much in his three year career to make you believe he can be a starter in the league.
It’s not that the Texans need to find another superstar next to Cushing, but someone who can at least push to start over the current contenders . Now if he could be brought in without breaking the bank, that would be ideal. The Texans certainly can’t afford to struggle as much as they did at the position in 2012.
Free Agent Fix: Larry Grant
Playing on a defense with the two best inside linebackers in football will make opportunities hard to come by, and so San Francisco’s Larry Grant saw just 20 snaps on defense this past year. From those limited snaps his lone tackle did result in a defensive stop, but a look back to the end of the 2011 season saw him enjoy extended playing time.
His performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13 of that season was particular impressive, with Grant registering a sack and a hit to go along with four tackles, which all resulted in a defensive stop. Over the entire season he saw 232 snaps, and graded positively against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage. He’s not someone that’s guaranteed to come in and start, but his play in the past suggests it’s not unreasonable to expect him to come in and compete.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon