I'm ready for some football. This year, I'm comfortable including the words "Texans" and "playoffs" in the same sentence -- but not quite in the way I had hoped.
Houston Texans Deficiencies
The Texans ended last season with three obvious deficiencies:
- Red zone offense: The Texans ranked third in the National Football League in total offense in 2009 and yet were only 17th in scoring. One of the best offenses in the NFL consistently bogged down in the red zone.
- Turnover ratio: A season that began with reducing turnovers being a point of emphasis ended with the team giving up 10 more turnovers than it caused -- not exactly what coach Kubiak had in mind, and not playoff level performance.
- Defense: The Texans were 22nd overall, a below average performance that must be improved if they are to become a playoff team.
The team's success in 2009 will hinge on how well they have addressed those deficiencies.
Texans Offensive Improvements
The improvements on offense will come from the running game -- primarily because of:
- Another year of the OL playing together under Alex Gibbs' guidance. The OL really started to jell last year and is, I think, finally comfortable playing together, and comfortable with Gibbs' zone blocking schemes.
- A better stable of running backs with the addition of a healthy (I hope) Chris Brown, and another year of experience for Slaton.
- The addition of Anthony Hill, a blocking specialist TE to play the role Bruner played two years ago.
Alex Gibbs teams have always been at or near the top of the NFL in rushing once they master his techniques. Once they "get it," Gibbs' teams are historically among the very best in the NFL in rushing. In his first year with the team, performance improved from 99.1 yds/game (3.8 yds/carry) to 115.4 yds/game (4.3 yds/carry). My target this year is 135 yards/game. I expect a better running game this year will improve our red zone performance and time of possession. The improved running game will also contribute to reducing turnovers by putting the team in better down and distance situations; a big key to reducing turnovers is staying out of situtations where you are predictable, and "have" to pass.
Texans Defensive Improvements
Here are some of the key changes made on defense:
- A new defensive coordinator, Frank Bush, and a more aggressive scheme.
- The hiring of a top-notch DL coach in Bill Kollar, and the addition of David Gibbs to coach the secondary.
- A better front seven with the addition of (DE) Antonio Smith, 1st round pick (LB) Brian Cushing, 2nd round pick (DE) Connor Barwin, the return of a healthy DeMeco Ryans (he was less than 100% for virtually all of last season), and a more mature Amobi Okoye.
- The availability of CB Dunta Robinson for the full season, plus much better depth on the backend.
Improved play by the front seven should help to rectify the most glaring defensive deficiency of all -- last year's NFL-worst performance on first down. Poor performance on first down put the defense in consistently unfavorable down and distance situations. Improving that performance will in turn cause improvement in a number of other defensive stats, including defensive turnovers.
The biggest improvement on defense may be simply having DeMeco and Dunta healthy. Don't forget that two of the three best players on defense either did not play or played at less than 100% for most of last year.
In addition, the defense should benefit from the improvements on offense -- especially the improved running game and the reduction in turnovers. Both will contribute to better time of possession stats and better field position, keeping the defense fresher and more effective, and reducing the number of times the opponents are playing with a "short field."
AFC South is Tough
Most of the improvements on offense are reasonably assured; the defensive improvements are less certain. The performance of the defensive tackles in pre-season was not reassuring. In addition, Antonio Smith has not been the player I'm assuming he will be. However, the biggest question mark is what we can expect from first-time defensive coordinator Frank Bush. That's one reason why this year is a tougher call than most.
Another big problem is playing in one of the National Football League's toughest divisions -- the AFC South. I expect the Texans to be a significantly better football team this year than last year. However, the AFC South is arguably the best division in the NFL. For the Texans, the price of guaranteed participation in the post-season is finishing with a better record than both the Titans and the Colts. That seems unlikely. Instead, I expect the Texans to finish at 10-6 and be squarely in the midst of the wildcard race.
In short, in 2009 the Texans should be a playoff caliber team. Unfortunately, that's not enough to guarantee participation in the post-season. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid the Texans will fall short of the NFL playoffs one last time.
Related PostsWhat's Wrong With the Texans Defense?
Houston Texans Expected to Win 8.78 Games in 2008
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license.
Bookmark this on Delicious