A Look at the 2015 Houston Texans

There is no denying that the Texans have one of the great all time players on their roster, but what about the rest of the team? What happens without Arian Foster? Could this be the worst team in the AFC South?

Time to take a look at Houston.

Previously in Houston…

Statistically in 2013 the Texans were the worst team in the NFL with a 14 game losing streak, giving them a chance to take the highly rated Jadeveon Clowney number 1 overall in the draft. Unfortunately Clowney missed most of the season with an injury meaning they never got to see just what he was capable of. After the poor form of 2013, both Gary Kubiak and his interim replacement were sent packing, to be replaced by ex-Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel.

There were changes on the field too. After being nothing short of serviceable for a number of years, Matt Schaub seemed to fall off a cliff in terms of playing ability and was shown the door, to be replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett, neither of which managed to get any traction.

Traction seemed to be the team’s problem. The Texans got off to a great start, winning 3 of their first 4 games, but then went on to lose of their next 4, in the end despite never really looking like a convincing play 0ff team, the Texans narrowly missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

The Texans getting to 9 wins is somewhat surprising when you look at how little they had in the way of offence. Aside from their QB issues, they weren’t exactly blessed with weapons. Johnson had a pedestrian year, DeAndre Hopkins flashed but didn’t excel and I have no idea who played tight end (that’s not true it was Ryan Griffin, Garrett Graham and C.J Fiedorowicz, but the point is they were ineffectual). Oh there was one other tight end…

On defence they had a player that altered the course of the team. JJ Watt played at a level that raised the game of everyone around him and showed that we might be on the verge of witnessing something truly special. Watt stood out as one of very few difference makers in 2014.

So What Changed?

With the new coaching staff put in place last year, it was on the field that big changes were made, of which they don’t get much bigger than the release of the greatest ever Texan, Andre Johnson, who’d been told he’d have a reduced role in the team. Johnson may have the last laugh however, now teaming up with Andrew Luck. After 7 years’ service on the team, center Chris Myers was released, he now works for a local sports caster and was last seen interviewing the new center, Ben Jones. After season with more ups and downs than JJ Watt’s dumbbells, Ryan Fitzpatrick re-joined his ex-offensive co-ordinator Chan Gailey.

Replacing Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer comes into the team after a season where he seemed to deflate towards the end of the season. Hoyer will compete with another ex-Patriot QB in Ryan Mallett. A pick up that went a little under the radar is that of Cecil Shorts, who became a casualty of the Jags vast receiver corps. Shorts is by no means a replacement to Johnson, but is a great yards after catch receiver. On defence they made a literal huge signing (poor joke), in Vince Wilfork which now makes the Texans front 3 a pretty scary prospect to deal with. In the secondary Rahim Moore was brought in to a secondary that lost D.J Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis. Moore has been a solid player for the Broncos who have a loaded secondary.

In the draft the Texans added reliable corner Kevin Johnson to the secondary, which now looks more loaded than ever. In the 2nd and 3rd they added Bernardrick McKinney to the outside line backers and highly rated wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who rounds off a sneaky good wide receiver group.

What to Look Out For

The wide receiver group provides a lot of questions, but has potential to be pretty darn good. Hopkins quietly had a decent season and looks set to take on the role of no.1 receiver. Hopkins was 11th in the league in terms of yards per catch with 15.1. Hopkins should benefit from stepping out of the shadows of Andre Johnson and if he can continue the excellent big play ability he’s shown in training camp, on the field, he could be in for a career season. Cecil Shorts has failed to impress whilst playing for a succession of bad Jaguars teams. Now Shorts has the chance to impress on a marginally better AFC South team. In all seriousness though Shorts’ stats don’t show off his yards after catch abilities. This year we could see that. We mentioned Jaelen Strong before. He’ll be under a decent amount of pressure to perform; otherwise Houston will be relying on Nate Washington to perform… Which may not work out well.

The defensive front 7 on paper is one of the best in the league, but is relying on a number of players staying healthy. Brian Cushing, when on the field has been a top inside line-backer. Cushing last season improved in terms of snaps, being on the field as much as he was in 2013 and 2012 combined. Jadeveon Clowney was considered a freakish athlete when coming into the league with the no. 1 overall pick. Unfortunately we never really got the chance to see what he’s capable of after missing most of the season with a knee injury. John Simon was a player that benefitted from both the Texans injuries and a previous working relationship with line-backer coach Mike Vrabel. After a solid 2014, Simon might just have done enough to retain the starting job. However he will more than likely be splitting time with Whitney Mercilus on the other side of Clowney if he’s fit. We’ve already spoken about the insane ability of J.J Watt and to be honest there is nothing I could say that hasn’t already been mentioned a million times already, so let’s move on to the others. Vince Wilfork is a player that is no doubt on the decline, but he also played an important role in the Patriots team that won the super bowl last year. Wilfork played over 70 snaps on the line at defensive tackle. This year he’ll predominantly be lining up at nose next to JJ Watt. Wilfork will get a lot of work if they can’t get Louis Nix firing, after missing last season through injury. Jared Crick is the final piece of this defensive front and goes about his business with very little fuss. Crick replaced Tim Jamison this year and was the very definition of solid. Crick looks set for another decent season with Wilfork, Watt, Mercilus and Clowney drawing an awful lot of attention.

Because of the play of a certain defensive lineman, the play from the Texans secondary often gets overlooked. This year as previously mentioned they’ve had a slight overhaul. Slight overhaul might be an understatement actually. Both safeties have gone and been replaced Stevie Brown and Rahim Moore, 2 fairly vanilla players that by default will walk into a starting job. At corner they’ve racked up some decent talent. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson have played together for the last 5 years, building decent partnership. Now add to the mix Kevin Johnson, who’ll line up in the slot and you have a pretty decent cornerback trio that should benefit from solid play up front.

Potential Concerns

The Quarterback position is a long-term problem for a team who’s best QB was probably Matt Schaub. 2015 is no different. This year it’s a straight battle between 2 ex- Patriots QBs. Brian Hoyer had an exceptional start for the Browns last year, but progressively seemed to get worse. Every week it felt like the Browns defence was putting Brian Hoyer in a great position to narrowly miss winning a game. Hoyer should be at least partly responsible for the team being out of the playoff race. Ryan Mallett is an unknown quantity. The amount of games he’s started, Jason-Pierre Paul could count on his fingers. Mallett has demonstrated an impressive arm, but aside from that, Mallett could be either the answer to the Texans problems or the reason Tom Savage gets more time on the field than he deserves. It’s okay though, because of their run game right?

Wrong. Last year this was a team that relied more on their running backs than any other team. Basically last year Foster WAS the Texans offence. The same Foster that is set to miss some serious time with a groin injury. So it falls on Alfred Blue to move the ball, which as proved by last year’s 3.1 yards per carry compared to Foster’s 4.8 yards per carry is a significant drop off. The Texans will surely be hoping to see Foster on the field sooner rather than later.

The offensive line isn’t necessarily bad but there are holes. Duane Brown, Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton have all solidified their positions and are solid starters. The issues arise with Su’a Filo and Ben Jones. Jones moves over to center, replacing the released Chris Myers. Jones’ move means there’s a gap at left guard which is filled by last year’s 2nd round pick Xavier Su’a-Filo that has a lot to prove after a raw rookie season. The real issue, like with a couple of positions is depth. The Texans really can’t afford any injuries, with very little experience at backup.

The last position of concern is at tight end. Not a lot to say really. It simply lacks talent. 2014 was meant to be Garrett Graham’s break out season, but it never really happened. C.J Fiedorowicz, showed some promise, but still doesn’t look like a finished product; I do however think we might see him on the field more. Finally Ryan Griffin is something of an unknown quantity, but should see limited snaps behind Fiedorowicz and Graham. Whichever way you look at this is a definite concern.

Final Thoughts

This is a team that is currently without its most important offensive player and they will no doubt suffer because of it. This really is a perfect example of the team’s biggest problem outside of a starting quarterback. A lack of depth. When you look at the roster you realise it would take relatively few injuries to totally floor this team. That being said Bill O’Brien was hired from a Penn State team that had nothing, yet he managed to work miracles with the relatively little talent. If there is a coach in the league that can make this roster work, it’s probably him. That being said, without Foster there is a very real chance that this could end up being the worst team in the division. On paper I’d almost certainly take both the Titans and Jaguars. But the game isn’t played on paper and an x-factor like JJ Watt raises the play of the whole team. I got to think they’ve got 2nd in the AFC South written all over them.