State of the Franchise
When does a 13-win season feel empty? When a team holding Super Bowl aspirations rips off 11 wins in its first 12 games, only to stagger to the finish, losing three of its final four games. Follow that by falling from the top seed to playing on wild-card weekend, and then being eliminated in the same playoff round as the previous season. The Texans achieved quite a bit in 2012, posting a franchise-best 12 regular-season wins, including six on the road. But itís hard to embrace the positives when reality came knocking in December and January. The Texans are an upper echelon team, but they need to be better.
In an era where passing offenses dominate, coach Gary Kubiak remains tied to success on the ground. Heíll need to open things up a bit. Arian Foster has been a consistent weapon in the backfield, but he appeared to wear down under a career and league-high 351 carries in 2012. Developing more receiving weapons is the first order of business. Hence, Houston selected Clemsonís DeAndre Hopkins with its first-round pick. This is the first time the franchise went wideout in the first round since Andre Johnson in 2003. Hopkins is a candidate, along with DeVier Posey Ė a 2012 third-rounder who will spend the first part of the season on the physically unable to perform list Ė to join Johnson as an aerial threat for the Texans.
Moving from 20-yard line to 20-yard-line shouldnít be that much of an issue for the team and with the development of more receiving weapons, the hope is that Kubiak can become a less predictable play-caller, particularly in the red zone. The coach had a tendency to run the ball more than pass when the Texans crossed the 50-yard-line, a trend that became more skewed when Houston got inside the 10. With teams knowing what to expect, scoring touchdowns inside the red area became problematic, particularly during the teamís late season fade.
Defensively, the Texans fell off a bit from 2011, but they were still an effective unit. DE J.J. Watt garnered all the headlines and deservedly so, as opponents must scheme for him. But a healthy LB Brian Cushing is a necessity. For the second straight season, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will need to handle some offseason churn. Houston lost strong safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin to free agency. Ed Reed signed on to replace Quin, while some shuffling in the linebacking corps will cover Barwinís loss. Houston drafted two linebackers, and Phillips will decide how to best deploy Brooks Reed, a playmaker at the position, in the mold of Cushing.
The Texans have been at crossroads before. Only now, theyíre further along in the growth cycle, so just reaching the postseason is no longer enough.
Ed Reed - S, Ravens
There are many miles on his body, but he can still make an impact alongside Danieal Manning.
DeAndre Hopkins - WR, CLEMSON
(Round 1, 27th overall)
Expected to start immediately, with the hope that he becomes a reliable enough target to take defensive attention away from Andre Johnson.
Sam Montgomery - LB, LSU
(Round 3, 95th overall)
The loss of Connor Barwin means an outside rush linebacker job is available, in particular if Brooks Reed moves inside.
KEVIN WALTER - WR, Titans
His short game didnít make a big enough impact in the passing attack.
SHAYNE GRAHAM - K, Browns
Gives way to 2012 draft pick Randy Bullock, who nearly won the job last year but suffered a training-camp groin injury.
Connor Barwin - LB, Eagles
Departure opens up opportunities for draftees Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams.
Glover Quin - S, Lions
The Texans were able to replace him with a good one in Reed.
JAMES CASEY - FB/TE, Eagles
An underutilized asset in the Texansí offense, heís now headed to Philly.
WHOíS GOT JOHNSONíS BACK?
There was talk that nine years in the NFL had made wideout Andre Johnson a step slower, but he recorded a career-high 1,598 yards in 2012, indicating he can still contribute at a high level. Any success opponents had against Johnson wasnít because his skills are in decline; it stemmed from defenses not having to worry about the other side of the field when deciding to double-team Johnson. At one point, Jacoby Jones was supposed to be that alternative option, and he showed flashes, but he also had trouble hanging onto passes which led to his departure last spring. The Texans tried to address the need for another threat last year when they drafted Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey. Now, after being the second wideout taken in this past Aprilís draft, DeAndre Hopkins is expected to step into a starting role opposite Johnson. Will he finally provide the threat that keeps defenses honest?
Ever since he was hired to be Houstonís head coach, Gary Kubiak has preached the old NFL dogma of running the ball. Heís talked about having a two-back system and getting the right types of lineman to block the way he wants to run the ball. It took a while, but heís assembled an elite ground game. But the style of the offensive game in the league has been changing. The Texans couldnít keep up with the offensive pace set by AFC foe New England. Pass-heavy offenses, a quicker pace and mobile quarterbacks are resulting in more wide-open attacks. Entering his eighth season at the helm of the Texans, Kubiak ranks fourth in terms of NFL coaching tenure. He has some work to do if he wants to keep his job beyond 2013.
IS SCHAUB THE ONE?
The Texans were rolling, winners of six straight and in the driverís seat in the AFC at 11-1, but QB Matt Schaub slumped in December, registering no better than a 72.1 quarterback rating in three of the teamís final four games. He became the top target for criticism from Houston fans, as well as the areaís media. Schaub isnít going anywhere, however. His current deal has two more years guaranteed, so heíll have to channel David Carr for the Texans to eat any of the contract. But in 2013, heíll simply need to be better, while taking more chances, provided Kubiak lets him open up. Schaub had career-lows in yards per attempt and yards per completion in 2012. There have been times when the Texans needed Schaub to throw more and he did it well. After slipping into a more conservative attack under Kubiak, the pressure is on Schaub to rediscover his passing touch.
Rising: J.J. Watt led the league in sacks, but was also an effective pass-blocker. Opposing teams will devote many resources to dealing with him.
Declining: Matt Schaubís regression toward the end of the regular season and in the playoffs was reason No. 1 why the Texans were eliminated short of their goal.
Sleeper: Randy Bullock takes over a kicking job thatís produced prolific scorers in recent seasons. The Texans thought he was worthy of a fifth-round draft pick in 2012.
Supersleeper: Whitney Mercilus was brought along slowly in his rookie season, but injuries forced him into a larger role and he finished with six sacks. Heíll start at outside linebacker this season.
J.J. Watt - DE
Should be the top IDP candidate in the NFL.
Brian Cushing - LB
A tackling machine when heís healthy.
ANTONIO SMITH - DE
The veteran end is getting better with age; 17.5 sacks over his last three seasons.
RotoWire Rank: 5