Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Houston Texans 2010 Kickoff

Texans' 2009 Accomplishments

The Texans finished the 2009 National Football League season with a 9-7 record, and came within a tiebreaker of making their first trip to the playoffs. Along the way, they accumulated some impressive offensive statistics -- for example, number one in passing, and fourth in total yards (league-wide).

After a horrible 0-3 start with the defense giving up an average of over 200 yards/game rushing, the team was 9-4 over the final 13 games. During that 13-game stretch, the Texans were second in the NFL in rushing defense and fourth in overall defense.

Average Offensive/Defensive Rank & Net Yardage Differential

Over the final 13 games, therefore, you could argue that the Texans were the 4th most productive offense and the 4th most productive defense in the NFL, for an average rank of .... fourth. To put that in perspective, over the full season, no team in football had a better average offensive and defensive rank than fourth. The Packers had the best ranking by this measure (4.0), as a result of ranking 6th in offense and 2nd in defense. They were followed by the Cowboys (5.0) and Vikings (5.5); all three were playoff teams.

Based on another rough measure, net yardage differential per game (=average yards gained minus average yards given up) the Texans were the 7th best team in the NFL -- even including the horrible start. (Note: Green Bay, Dallas and New England were 1-3 by this measure.)

Since 12 teams make the playoffs, with stats like these, you would expect the Texans were in the running for the playoffs; and they were. But only in the running.

2010 Plans for Improvement

If the Texans' stats put them in such elite company, why weren't they a playoff team? What do they need to "fix" in order to make the playoffs in 2010, and how do they plan to fix it?

Rushing Offense & Red Zone Efficiency

The passing game was tops in the National Football League. The rushing offense, on the other hand, was 30th! That needs improvement. A new OC, Rick Dennison, and the continued development of RB Arian Foster and the interior offensive line should lead to significantly better rushing stats this year. I, for one, won't be satisfied until we're averaging at least 125 yards/game on the ground. One important follow-on from improved running is better ability to finish off games by controlling the ball when leading late in the game. The inability to do this was probably most obvious in last year's home loss to the Colts

While the offense was fourth in total yards, it was only 10th in points scored. Part of the reason for this discrepancy was poor performance in the red zone. The improved running game will translate into better productivity in the red zone.

Turnover Ratio & Pass Rush

Another reason for the discrepancy between yards and points was turnovers. Replacing Slaton (and Brown, and Moats) with Foster, and Slaton's surgery, should minimize the fumbling. We also need for Schaub to take another step in reducing his interceptions; his 2.6% interception ratio is not bad, but definitely not up to the rest of his game. Part of that improvement will come from the improved running game. Running more will mean passing less, being less predictable, and fewer interceptions.

While the team improved its turnover ratio from minus 10 in 2008 to minus 1 in 2009, it needs to continue to improve in 2010 (though Green Bay's +24 would seem to be out of reach!). The rest of the improvement has to come from the defense. Probably the biggest deficiency here was the pass rush, and the inability to get consistent pressure without blitzing. The Texans were a lowly 25th in sacks. We need more sacks and pressures. This in turn will result in more interceptions, more QB fumbles, and a better turnover ratio.

Where will the improvement in pressure and sacks come from? A healthier Mario, and another year of experience for Connor Barwin & Amobi Okoye should help. Improving the running game and reducing offensive turnovers will help some here as well by keeping the defense fresher. A fresher defense means more sacks and interceptions.

On the Other Hand

On the other hand...
  • We have the toughest schedule in football this year (tied with the Titans)
  • Last year's injury rate was apparently somewhat better than average, and we can't expect to be as lucky this year. In particular, last year was the only year since he has been here that Schaub started all 16 games. If he's out again, especially early in the season, or for a long period, ....
  • The top three cornerbacks have less than 16 starts combined. I don't know that I've ever seen that little experience on an NFL playoff team before. It's especially likely to be a problem if we can't get a more consistent pass rush -- and without blitzing.
  • Finally, there's the Cushing factor. He has already been suspended for the first four games of the season for using a banned substance. He says he has done nothing wrong and therefore will not change anything in his training regimen. That effectively puts us in the awkward position of doing the same thing but expecting a different result. Hmmm.

This team is capable of dominating! -- some weeks. Until they prove different I'm afraid they're also still capable of being embarassed some weeks. If they're anything like last year, some weeks they can even manage to do both. This is a year where you'd really like to see a few real games before making a prediction. But, since I can't, I'm going to go with my gut (or is that my heart) and say 10-6.

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Houston Texans 2009 Kickoff
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Last modified: 9/8/2011

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