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29 Mar 2013

State of the Team: Houston Texans

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL. (However, since the Texans change offensive personnel less than almost any other team, we've listed them with only 11 starters.)

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

HOUSTON TEXANS

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Schematically, the Texans might have the best offense in football. They masterfully intertwine their run and pass games. Their run-action designs, which are well-disguised in their zone blocking concepts, are the crux of this underneath and misdirection passing attack. Out of this, the Texans do an outstanding job creating mismatches with formation wrinkles. The concern is whether crafty schemes alone can carry an offense all the way. This offense has a superstar running back, superstar wide receiver, and upper-echelon front line. But Matt Schaub’s limited arm, plus the limited wide receiver resources outside of Andre Johnson, make it extremely tough for Houston to move the chains when behind in the down and distance.

BACKFIELD

QB: Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates
RB: Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Greg Jones (FB); Lost: Justin Forsett

Just because some pundits over the years have exaggerated the importance of a quarterback’s arm strength doesn’t mean we should over-correct things by declaring arm strength unimportant. Arm strength is very important. The lack of velocity and downfield depth on Schaub’s ball is a problem. Granted, that problem is often overcome because Schaub is excellent on rollouts, play-action concepts, and defined short area throws. He works with arguably the best all-around running back to lean on in the super fluid, graceful-yet-powerful, Foster.

RECEIVERS

WR: Andre Johnson, Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, LeStar Jean; Lost: Kevin Walter

TE: Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, Tyler Clutts (H-Back) ; Lost: James Casey (H-Back)

Johnson still lifts coverages downfield and commands double teams at the intermediate levels. A great way to offset his mildly declining raw skills would be to infuse more speed in the spots around him. Hence the dismissal of the mundane Walter this offseason and the drafting of Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey last offseason. The most intriguing of the young bunch (which includes third-year pro Lestar Jean) is Martin, for his shifty quickness. He’ll likely get the first look for the No. 2 spot as Posey is expected to be on PUP to begin the season after his torn Achilles in the playoffs. The Texans don’t do a lot of multi-wide receiver sets because so much of their passing game is built on run-fake deception, which is best executed with multiple tight ends. The loss of Casey hurts; he was a viable move player who could line up along the line or in the backfield.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Duane Brown LG: Wade Smith C: Chris Myers RG: Ben Jones RT: Derek Newton

Backups: Brandon Brooks, Nick Mondek; Lost: Antoine Caldwell, Ryan Harris

This is one of the most cohesive, well-coached units in football, which explains the three Pro Bowlers it produced in 2012. Brown, Smith, and Myers are all outstanding run blockers on the move and reliable (though not flawless) in pass protection. The concerns are on the right side. Newton hasn’t been able to harness his impressive raw talent. Jones had his moments working in a rotation with the underachieving Caldwell last season, but he’s a natural center who may get bumped for the bigger Brooks.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

Many think of Wade Phillips’ Texans as being an aggressive 3-4 blitzing unit, but really, they’re more of a fundamentally-sound 5-2 unit. They play a lot of two-deep man coverage and rely on their high-octane front seven to win individual battles. In the dime package, Phillips becomes more aggressive and creative. He’s able to do so because he has two good cover corners outside and, when everyone is healthy, versatile inside linebackers partnering with safeties who can play man-to-man.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Jared Crick, Tim Jamison

DT: Earl Mitchell, Terrell McClain; Lost: Shaun Cody

Strictly in regard to his physical skill set, there’s a legitimate discussion to be had about whether Watt is the best 3-4 defensive end of all-time. His greatness naturally overshadows Smith, who himself is a dynamic lateral mover and penetrator. Even more overshadowed is Crick, an effective puzzle piece off the bench. Mitchell has good short-area mobility in traffic, but he hasn’t had to carry a full-time starter’s load before.

LINEBACKER

OLB: Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman, Delano Johnson; Lost: Connor Barwin

ILB: Brian Cushing, Daryl Sharpton, Mister Alexander; Lost: Barrett Ruud, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins

Barwin will be missed, but general manager Rick Smith drafted Mercilus for a reason. The first-rounder got more and more reps as last season progressed, but the jury is still out on him right now. Texans fans don’t appreciate Reed enough. He’s not a great cover guy or pure speed-rusher, but he’s very good at the point of attack against the run. He also has a strong understanding of the little things that help his teammates, such as taking on blocks to set up stunts, twists and blitzes, or setting the edge play side. Phillips’ system is heavily reliant on those little things. A lot of Reed’s dirty work benefits Cushing, who’s often the focal point of Phillips’ interior blitz designs. If he bounces back from last October’s ACL injury, the Texans will once again be dangerous in their dime package.

SECONDARY

CB: Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain, Brandon Harris; Lost: Alan Ball

S: Ed Reed, Danieal Manning, Shiloh Keo, Eddie Pleasant; Lost: Glover Quin, Quentin Demps

Replacing Quin with Reed might seem like an upgrade, but it’s more of a wash. Yes, Reed, even in his advancing age, is clearly the superior player. But Quin offered a very specific brand of versatility that fit perfectly in Houston’s frequently-used dime package. Reed isn’t the in-the-box presence that Quin was. At corner, Joseph has the ability to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers week in and week out (his mediocre game charting numbers in 2012 were caused by nagging injuries), while Jackson has blossomed into a fine solo man-to-man defender. The re-signing of McCain delays the need for Harris, who is built to play the slot and nothing else, to emerge.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Randy Bullock P: Shane Lechler; Lost: Donnie Jones

Bullock, the 2012 fifth-round pick who missed the season with a groin injury, will be replacing Shayne Graham, who had the worst kickoffs in the league last season. Lechler will try to bounce back from a very down 2012.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 29 Mar 2013

13 comments, Last at 10 Apr 2013, 11:43am by Texans Fan

Comments

1
by jonnyblazin :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:08pm

Surprised to see Ed Reed as a blue. His tackling last season was really bad, the only decent hits he had was when he went helmet to helmet and got a flag.

2
by speedegg :: Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:19pm

I was surprised the Texans let RT Eric Winston walk last year. And more surprised they cut him without asking him to restructure his contract. Really don't think Newton is that good, the Patriots specifically had a LB or DE bump him and disrupted the Texans zone running scheme. Of course, it was the Patriots Defense and haven't seen too many teams run a 2-5-4 to counter the Texans running offense.

Besides a #2 WR, another ILB, thought another RT is a big need.

4
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 9:04pm

It's just as surprising that the Chiefs released Winston after only a year, and I don't believe for a minute that it had anything to do with 'fan outrage' over the Cassel injury incident. There must be something not obvious that is making a talent like Winston poisonous.

OTOH, there are rumors the Texans are talking to Winston again, so they may get lucky.

10
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 8:09am

The Texans cutting Winston was 100% about money. They could not afford to keep all their good players, and they figured they could live with a downgrade at right tackle better than at center.

I can't speak to the Chiefs' rationale, beyond the fact that I thought at the time they signed him they were overpaying for a good but not great player at a non-vital position.

3
by Dean :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 3:14pm

Watt on any sort of an all time list is a slap in the face. He's not even the greatest 3-4 DE in HOUSTON history. Somewhere Elvin Bethea is shaking his head.

6
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 9:17pm

Except that, technically, Bethea falls under Oilers/Titans history, not Texans history, under FO terms.

Regardless, Watt still had a career year for just about any 3-4 DE, no denying that.

7
by Dean :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:12pm

I didn't say Oilers and/or Titans, nor did I say Titans. I said, and even emphasized, Houston - for that exact reason.

8
by Charlie (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 10:10pm

Are you crazy or something? Did you sleep through all of last year? Watt already is in the record books for having arguably the best defensive season by a DL OF ALL TIME! Those are facts, not just a subjective comment. Watt will be in Canton one day, book it. Wade Philips said as much the moment he saw him and watched him practice. He's forgotten more about football than me or you will ever learn so dont get mad, Bethea was a great player, but Watt is already better. Scary part is he he just went on record saying his elbow wasnt even fully healed from a preseason injury all of last season. Chew on that.

9
by Dean :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 10:14am

You forgot to use the template.

12
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 8:17am

Well, there are rant-like qualities there, but he does have a point: Watt's peak is already higher than Bethea's. You'd have to be an extreme advocate of peak performance to argue for him as the greater player over the course of their careers to date, but it's pretty reasonable to think that Watt will ultimately be regarded as the greater of the two, and it might only be another couple of seasons before that argument can be made quite strongly.

5
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 9:11pm

It's hard for me to believe that losing Quin in exchange for Ed Reed is a plus for Houston. Reed has been one of the best without doubt, but Quin is a near top-10 safety entering his prime. One can only imagine that Houston has identified their replacements already.

11
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 8:13am

I have to assume it's a forward cap planning issue, because otherwise you're right, it makes no sense. Reed's contract is to all intents and purposes year-by-year. Quin presumably wouldn't have taken a deal like that.

13
by Texans Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 04/10/2013 - 11:43am

Texans sold out for a ring in 2013 with the Quin/Reed exchange. They've got an old (in many respects) offense that is paid for in full but now it seems to be coming apart. Daniels is getting beat up, Johnson is getting old, Foster is wearing a LOT of tread off his tires and the man himself, ol' Schaubby-slice is getting a monkey on his back because despite his incremental improvements, he seems a year behind whatever achievement was desired at the beginning of the current year. The defense fell off despite Watt's record-book 2012 performance and needs to regain it's health before it can even begin to worry about filling in the holes, especially depth which is remarkably thin for a team who constantly drafts defenders. The offense needs a serious infusion of juice that I believe just isn't coming from a single draft...more specifically, I think everybody who has the Texans pegged for best-WR-available in their mock drafts have vastly misunderstood their intentions. Unless they luck out with a 2nd Andre Johnson, a WR just isn't going to lift the offense by showing up. That's not the way the Texans offense works...or wants to work, to be more accurate.