Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
29 Mar 2013
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
13 comments, Last at 10 Apr 2013, 11:43am by Texans Fan