Home > NFL > We’d all be better off ignoring the Houston Texans, but their time has come

We’d all be better off ignoring the Houston Texans, but their time has come

I feel bad writing this piece, because I felt — strongly — that the Texans made a huge mistake keeping Gary Kubiak as head coach after the 2008 season.  And 2009.  And 2010.

Despite this mistake, Houston has stayed the course, and if they are ever to be rewarded for their insane level of loyalty to their head coach, this is the year which they will realize that opportunity. It’s hard to ignore just how well positioned the Texans actually are. It’s one thing to remark over the last three years that the Texans had a lot of talent and could have conceivably made a run at the playoffs.  On multiple occasions, they were close enough to the point where they should have finished the run.  And the Texans have unequivocally failed each time.  But despite the failures, they were never particularly well positioned to succeed.

In 2008 and 2009, they were never going to catch the Colts.  This was a wild card team at best those years.  And while the 2009 Jets weren’t exactly an unbeatable team at 9-7, the Texans had a tiebreaker advantage against every other team besides them. Last year, the AFC South could have been won by a non-Colts 10 win team for the first time in quite a while, and the Texans choked their way to 6-10.

But now, the AFC is shaping up so that not only is the AFC South wide open (if not down), but that there is no obvious second wild card team after the Steelers and Ravens non-AFC North winner.  The Texans could be not only the best team in the AFC South, but even if the Colts go 15-1, they could still be a playoff favorite.  In no other recent season was that the case.

If positioning is half the battle, and I would argue it may be more than that, then the Texans could already be justified in keeping Gary Kubiak and adding Wade Phillips to run their defense.  It’s hard to knock a proven offense, but the Texans combine the league’s best zone blocking line with the NFL’s leading rusher from last season, Arian Foster (not that those two things are unrelated), with the best receiver in the game, Andre Johnson, and three tight ends which the Texans feel should be starters (Owen Daniels, Joel Dresseen, and James Casey), and great depth in terms of runners and pass catchers, the Texans offense is clearly the favored son of the Mike Shanahan coaching tree. Unfortunately, such a designation also describes the Texans defense.

What’s really nice about the Texans this year from the defensive side of the ball is that the bar is set so low in the AFC South that one year after the Texans posted some of the worst defensive numbers in the history of the NFL, they’re potentially in the discussion for the best defensive unit in the division.  The Colts struggled significantly last year.  The Titans defense faded down the stretch and got into track meets with a bunch of teams it should not have.  The Jags defense has been horrible since 2007.  And while the Texans were worse than all of those units in 2010, they may be the one group of the three who can expect legitimate improvement at all three levels after drafting on the defensive line, getting players back from injury at the linebacker level, and a couple of free agent signings in the secondary, as well as expected improvement.

In fact, it’s not apparently obvious where a defensive weakness is on the Texans.  If anything, their move to the 3-4 has changed the game for some of their better defensive players in past years: Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans fit their prior schemes better than their current ones.  But if you are looking to nitpick the Texans defenses for weaknesses, the front seven is likely not where you should start.

Houston is preparing for another year of turn-and-chase tactics in the secondary, but between Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Glover Quin, and Kareem Jackson, teams at least will be required to spread out the Texans to create seams in the secondary, as opposed to last year where “line up and run zone-busters” worked plenty well.  Problem is, spread offenses are more prevalent than ever and will be out to get Houston this year.  Phillips will not be afraid to go to man coverage if he needs to, but teams will not hesitate to go after Jackson if he does.

This is where the competency of other quarterbacks in the division come to the Texans aid.  In the span of a weekend the Texans saw match-ups against Peyton Manning (week 1) and David Garrard (released) drop off their schedule.  Garrard beat the Texans in hail mary fashion last year; Manning was slightly more systematic in his destruction.  Even still, the Texans managed a 2-2 record against those opponents last season, and could dial that up to 3-1 or better this year.  And while the Titans are the kind of team that could be around to take advantage of self-inflicted Texan mistakes, there’s no comparison between how much talent the Texans have on their roster and what the Titans have.

Last year, the Chicago Bears went 11-5 after the schedule broke in such a manner where they were able to avoid a bunch of no. 1 QBs, and played a number of teams while they were down.  Something similar could be lining up for the Texans.  Mere competency could result in better than 4-2 against the AFC South, and playing the Dolphins, Texans, Bengals, Browns (and Ravens?) in AFC play is hardly a murderers row of opponents.  The Texans should be sitting on 10-6 as a generic baseline for what they should accomplish this year, and I’m just not sure there’s another team in the AFC South that can match that this year.

The longer the Texans leave the Colts hanging around in the division, the more a Peyton Manning led late season run can act as a deterrent to the Texans making the playoffs.  But going back to the top of this column, even Manning the Master accomplishing the impossible might not be good enough to knock the Texans out of the playoffs entirely.  The Texans must only be 9-5 at the 14 game mark to be Manning proof, as that mark will give them two chances to lock up a franchise record 10th win and deliver the knock out blow to Manning’s Colts in the process, with the AFC wild card as a cushy consolation prize should they fail.

Whether or not you have the Colts in the playoffs probably has more to do with how much faith you have in the Texans to finish what they start.  But with the Bengals, Panthers, and Titans on the schedule late, a meltdown late is unlikely.  It’s really a combination of all these factors that make the Texans such a safe playoff pick in spite of everything screaming to you that they’ll screw it up.  No team is better poised to run the table in it’s division anywhere in the NFL than Houston.  And if that’s not the most obvious sign of a team that deserves your trust — the cautious tale of the 2010 Raiders aside — then you’re probably too rational to ever buy the Houston Texans anyway.

 

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