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22. Season in Review: Houston Texans

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For this season in review I turned to my good friend and Houston fan Ryan Covington to sum it up. No one is more ruthless in trash-talking or as lucid in articulating his pain of well, being a Houston Texans fan.

Ryan summed up the Texans as follows: "The team is the girlfriend that knows exactly how to push your buttons...she drives you insane and makes you question why you're even dating her and then all of a sudden she wins your heart back with one unbelievable act of love and compassion that makes you feel like crap for ever questioning her.....and then right when you are about to say "I love you," she rips your heart out and steps on it. After the crushing pain of last season everything hinges on next year...anything short of the playoffs and its time to walk away....and in this case, it's you...not me."

I imagine, based on my man Ryan's excitement and unrelenting Super Bowl talk, that Houston's week 1 shocker over the Colts was 'one unbelievable act of love.' 

That passion only deepened after a thrilling comeback win over Washington and a respectable win over Oakland. Then at 3-1 things started to go sour. Two prolonged losing streaks doomed any hopes of finally making the playoffs. 

Gary Kubiak is back, but this is his last chance. The Texans have the talent. If they fail to reach the playoffs then "its time to walk away."

Season In Review: "Hearts ripped out"

The Texans have been loitering outside the playoff gates trying to find a way in for several years now. This season was the Texans chance to burst through, to be welcomed and accepted by the media, and take up residence among the NFL elite. This year, was the Texans opportunity for respectability. 

Michael Irving - who seems to be wrong often - predicted the Texans would win the division. So too did Marshall Faulk (sad) and several over at ESPN. After a week one demolition of the Colts, the rest of the media jumped aboard the Moo-Cow bandwagon express. At 3-1, there was no stopping the runaway caravan. The Texans were taking the AFC and nobody could stop them. 

Heading into the bye week, the Texans were a confident 4-2 with a HUGE game looming with the Indianapolis Colts. Unlike before, this game was in Indy. The momentous game was being hyped as the 'most important' game in the history of the franchise. A win and The Beef Patties were in the driver seat to take the division. A loss and well, we know what happened...  Peyton Manning's darts punctured the hole in the Texan's inflated expectations and the wheels came flying off the wagon. Houston crashed and burned. Instead of 5-2 the Colts took the lead in the division and the Texans never caught up. 

Steve Young compared the game to watching the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals..."The Globetrotters toy with them, the Generals keep it close but of course they are going to lose. Peyton is going to do his thing [Freeney] forcing the fumble at the end...Its scripted! You know what is going to happen." OUCH. 

(Btw, Peyton did his thing without Addai, Clark or Collie - the guy is a beast OR Houston's D is that bad). That's my getting a shot back on Ryan after having to listen to him and all other Texans fans non-stop for 6 weeks. 

The thing is, Texans' fans would agree. Houston would go on to lose 7 of their next 8 games largely because the Texan's secondary was so terrible. In fact, it almost reached epic lows. By the end of the season, several analysts were calling it the worst all time. 

The Houston D gave up 30 points or more an astounding 7 games and besides from blanking a pathetic Tennessee offense, the Texans were torched by elite and average quarterbacks alike. 

Philip Rivers threw for 4 touchdowns in a week 9 San Diego win. Garrard followed up Rivers' performance with 342 yards and 2 touchdowns including a hail mary to win. Sanchez piled on by throwing for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns the following week.

You get the picture, defensively it was rough. On the other side of the ball, Houston's offense was nothing short of explosive. Matt Schaub continued his ascension and established himself amongst the upper-crust of NFL quarterbacks. Adrian Foster stunned the league rushing for 1,600 yards and capturing the rushing title along the way and Andre Johnson - nagged by injuries much of the season - did nothing to dissuade those who think he is the NFL's top one or two receivers. 

Nevertheless, when you have a 32nd ranked pass defense that gives up a record high 267 yards passing per game, you are only going to be able to win about 6 games. 

Offseason Momentum: Motivated by "anything short of the playoffs and its time to walk away"

In theory, the Texans should be confident going into next season. They have a core trio that is very similar to the Colt's triple headed monster of Manning, Harrison and James. The only difference, is that while the highlights are the same, the Texans don't know how to win. It's probably not the fault of Schaub or Johnson, but should be worrisome to Texans' fans that such an explosive offense - regardless of the defense - only produced 6 victories. You can argue that the offense can't do anything, but that's not necessarily true. How many times did was the Texans' offense unable to run-out-the clock or unable to close out games with one extra score? A lot. 

The Texans jumped to early leads and watched as they slipped away. Denver outscored Houston 14-0 in the 4th (including the game winner with 3 minutes to play). Josh Wilson for Baltimore returned a pick six in overtime to crush Houston's furious comeback (and playoff hopes) in week 14. Michael Vick and the Eagles followed the same path as the Broncos scoring 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to eek out a win. Schaub gave the Jets too much time after a field goal, allowing Mark Sanchez (no doubt cheered on by his 17 year old girlfriend) to drive the field for the winning score with 10 seconds in week 11. We haven't even discussed Jacksonville's dramatic hail mary.....

You get the picture and its rough. Houston just doesn't know how to win. 

Bringing in Wade Phillips should help. He will definitely change the losing culture on defense, which should take some pressure off the offense to always have to either blow teams away or close out games. 

(There's a small amount of irony in the fact that the team from Texas lost a majority of the shootouts).

More good news for Houston's beleaguered defense is that probowlers DE Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans will be back healthy for the Texans. They are both easily in the top 5 at their respective positions and should immediately stabilize the defense. Williams return will be most critical, as his ability to disrupt quarterback's rhythm will make it much easier for the secondary to actually cover people.

While Demeco's absence was a definite blow to the team, a small silver lining is that it did allow for the emergence of rookie Darryl Sharpton who progressed into a solid contributor and will strengthen the unit for years to come.

Offseason Anxiety: Can The Texans develop a culture of winning under Gary Kubiak?

For offseason worries, I am going back to my man Ryan who said it best:

"We've learned that the Texans have some real firepower offensively....they've got a power back who will run between the tackles who can also bounce it outside with Vonta Leach leading the way.

The question marks though aren't so much on defense, which should be remarkably improved because of Wade Phillips and the fact that we are switching to a 3-4 defense. 

The uncertainty for next year is actually offense. The line has proved that we can have a solid running game and arian foster proved that he's also Schaub's security blanket (I think he had over 600 yards receiving). However, outside of Andre Johnson who is undoubetedly the best WR in the game, there are a ton of question marks. Jacoby Jones is lightning quick and has shown that in one on one coverage he'll make the CB look stupid but he makes himself look even dumber but dropping wide open bombs for walk-in 6's.

Owen Daniels, who use to be Schaub's security blanket underneathe and across the middle has had two back to back underwhelming seasons, both injury plagued, and as for Kevin Walker, he's a very poor man's Wes Welker. No faith in him. Plus Foster was tremendous but Wasn't Cadillac Williams supposed to be the next O.J. Simpson after his rookie year....Basically, god-forbid anything happens to Andre Johnson and we are screwed."

Texan fans, you better hope Andre Johnson doesn't get hurt.

Draft Desires: 32nd against the pass? Cornerback sounds like a start

Houston's draft strategy has to be focused on three guys in the first round: 
CB Patrick Patterson out of LSU
CB Prince Amukamara out of Nebraska
CB Brandon Harris out of Miami

See a parallel. It is not a coincidence given last year's horror show that cornerbacks and safety help with be the objective of the draft. Patterson of LSU is the most hyped prospect. If he is gone - a likely scenario - the Texans shouldn't panic. However, if Amukamara goes before the 11th slot - somewhat unlikely - then they HAVE to trade up and do whatever necessary to get Miami's Harris. Already he would be a big drop off from the other two, but after Harris the disparity in talent at the cornerback is immense (for Houstonians its the distance between Houston's port and Miami big). 

Safety is considered to be a weak position this year is still important for the Texans. The two traditional safeties who would be worth a long hard look are free safety Rahim Moore from UCLA and free safety Quinton Carter from Oklahoma. However, an intriguing idea may be to take a second CB in Texas' Aaron Williams out of Texas. He is a big athletic playmaker who could be converted to safety to replace Eugene Wilson

In the later rounds, the Texans need to target receivers or tight ends. As Ryan mentioned, they are desperately thin and need a reliable playmaker to spell Johnson. Luke Stocker out of Tennessee and local favorite ND tight end Kyle Rudolph could be groomed to replace Owen Daniels. 

At receiver Titus Young is a blazing playmaker out of Boise State who has been drawing comparisons to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (those certainly must be gratifying remarks for Mr. Young). 

Free Agency Farewells: Busy Offseason for the Front Office

The Texans don't have a long list of free agents, but boy are the important.

As Ryan pointed out, Vonta Leach is critical to Adrian Foster's success finding holes. He is indispensable at clearing the first level and keeping linebackers off his running back.

Jacoby Jones is also close to a must sign. He may have battled a case of the dropsies but given the lack of depth, unless they spend a few high draft picks on receivers, Houston - er, Schaub - can't afford to lose him.

Same applies for Owen Daniels, who many people continue to predict will eventually have a break out season.

Kevin Bentley might be a smart signing, but he is getting up there in age and back up Zac Diles, also a free agent, has much more value. 

Colts fans may remember Diles, who racked up 23 tackles in 2 games against the Colts... as a backup!!!

Lastly, safety Bernard Pollard got torched more often than government buildings in Cairo, but he made up for it with 111 tackles. The Texans will look to replace Eugene Wilson at the other safety position, but keeping Pollard on as a backup may be a wise idea.

Threat to the Stampede: Did Peyton, Harrison and James strike fear in opponents?



Yes they did, and while Schaub, Foster and Johnson aren't at that level, they will always be very dangerous regardless of the help they get from their defense. They are a division opponent and even in a down year they left our butts plastered are butts all over Reliant Stadium. If its an offensive shootout I like our chances, still they will be better and hungrier than ever to knock us from the top spot.

Thanks to Ryan for providing some insight. Tomorrow we look North to Minnesota to explore another debacle of a season.