Oh how easy it is to forget about the Houston Texans. Boring quarterback, boring uniforms and a franchise that has only seen two playoff berths in its existence. All the focus is directed at the Patriots, the Broncos, the 49ers, the Seahawks and all the great young quarterbacks around the league. It is disturbingly easy to forget that the Texans were 12-4, have won playoff games in each of the past two years and possess great players at almost every position group on the team.
First, the Texans have elite players across the offense. Forget the fact that Matt Schaub has averaged a quarterback rating of over 93.0 as Houston’s starter the past six years. Forget that he is one of the most accurate and efficient quarterbacks in the league — consistently among the top six to seven in completion percentage and interception rate. One day Andrew Luck will get there. Come back when he does.
The Texans have an All-Pro caliber running back in Arian Foster. An All-Pro, future Hall of Fame receiver in Andre Johnson, an elite, almost flawless left tackle in Duane Brown, a Pro Bowl caliber center in Chris Myers and we haven’t even gotten to Ben Tate and Owen Daniels yet.
Yet Houston’s offense faced snags in their ability to consistently put points on the board late in the season. The most crucial concern lies on the offensive line, where the Texans unquestionably suffered the worst right-side-of-the-line play in the league. Right tackle Derek Newton utterly failed in pass protection and along with guard Ben Jones often single-handedly derailed any semblance of a run game to the right side. Left guard Wade Smith has been a strong player for the unit but, in a key matchup, could not handle Vince Wilfork in the two nightmare losses against the Patriots.
The biggest way the offensive line hurt the Texans is in the way pressure has hurt Schaub’s play. Quite simply, he is not the same passer and decision maker under pressure. If the line is to be improved, second-year athletic, yet mammoth Brandon Brooks must start ahead of Ben Jones at right guard. Versatile, tough and athletic rookie David Quessenberry must have a shot at knocking off Newton at right tackle. I mean, that would be my choice.
But honestly, in the locker room, next to the “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” sign, should be one reading, “really, anyone but Derek Newton.”
The Texans defense was usually great in 2012. They had the best and certainly the most entertaining defensive player — and the leading sack artist — in the league in J.J. Watt. One of the few best third down defenses. A fun, aggressive press man scheme. They return mostly familiar faces, led by funny and underrated veteran leader 3-4 end Antonio Smith and fast, tight, sound defensive backs Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning.
Gone is Glover Quin, and in is Ed Reed. He needs to get healthy and play but, when he does, he is likely the best fit (maybe in NFL history) to be the deep, roaming safety at the back of a top, physical press man covering secondary. The hope is that smooth, physical versatile rookie D.J. Swearinger can fill an open safety spot when Reed is out.
The fact is, if your passing offense lacks a multitude of weapons and can’t consistently contain Watt and Smith upfront, you will find it difficult to move the ball consistently.
The defense has flaws, however, as the Patriots exposed without hesitation. The inside linebackers were toasted in man coverage with Brian Cushing out with a season-ending injury. Outside of Connor Barwin, the outside ‘backers struggled to consistently get pressure, forcing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to blitz too often.
This position will likely still be a question mark, at least next to Cushing, where recently signed Joe Mays, veteran Tim Dobbins and undersized Darryl Sharpton should all get a shot to start. There are no great options and no high ceiling, outside of the athletic third-year Mike Mohamed somehow getting an opportunity. But on a defense filled with good players, one adequate to average player shouldn’t derail the whole deal.
Further, young cornerback Brandon Harris struggled against good slot players like Wes Welker, yielding way too much separation. Ideally he would be usurped by fellow third-year Roc Carmichael in the nickel spot going forward.
There isn’t a team in the league that lacks imperfections. But there are few that have the sheer number of great players that the Texans do, at some of the most important positions. The Texans are among the handful of best teams in the NFL, anything less than 12-4 should be a disappointment. Somehow, on the radar, they are flying somewhere beneath the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots face uncertainty. The Broncos were handled at home against these very Texans last season. Expect Houston to be there at the end of the postseason.