5 Reasons Houston Texans Will Improve from Last Season

Matt Goldstein@mattgoldstein5Contributor IIMay 6, 2012

5 Reasons Houston Texans Will Improve from Last Season

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    Last season, the Houston Texans were so close to reaching the precipice, the goal that every single NFL team desires to accomplish: winning the Super Bowl.

    Following a disappointing 2010-11 season, the Texans proved their critics wrong by improving their defense dramatically, winning the AFC South and showing that they could compete with the NFL elite.

    Now, as the 2012-13 season fast approaches, there is reason to believe that the Texans will become even better and show the rest of the NFL that they will be a force to be reckoned with, in not just the upcoming season, but for many more to come.

A Healthy Matt Schaub

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    It is Week 10 and the Texans have just blown out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an easy victory. The Texans improve their record to 7-3, and it appears that they might be the best team in the AFC. Then the unthinkable happens, QB Matt Schaub suffered a season-ending Lisfranc fracture in his right foot on a meaningless play in the third quarter. 

    On that day over a a-half-year ago, the Texans went from being AFC favorites to make the Super Bowl to being questioned whether they would make the playoffs. The Texans, however, proved just how good a team they were, rallying under rookie QB T.J. Yates—after backup QB Matt Leinart suffered a season-ending shoulder injury—and winning several key games down the stretch.

    Although the Texans were very successful with Yates at the helm, there is no questioning the value Schaub brings to this team. Before his injury, the way he ran the offense could only be described as efficient and effortless. The Texans seemed to be able to score at will, and this was due to Schaub's effectiveness at running the Texans' offensive scheme.

    In the Texans' offense, everything stems from being able to run the ball. With Arian Foster, Ben Tate and one of the best offensive line's in the NFL, this is no problem for the Texans. It is what Schaub does with that rushing attack that makes the offense so great.

    Schaub is a master at running the play-action, and thanks to the team's outstanding running game, he gets the opportunity to use his skill set to the full extent of his abilities. When he got injured, the play-action was not as successful, and this showed in the team's offensive production.

    According to ESPN.com, the Texans averaged 27.3 points per game with Schaub starting, versus only 21.4 points per game without him. This shows the Texans benefit greatly when Schaub is leading the offense, and that he is a major game-changer for them.

    Therefore, if—and this might be a big if—Matt Schaub can remain healthy for the entire 2012-13 season, then the Texans' offense will be greatly improved. Schaub should definitely be able to improve the Texans' record from last year, and his ability to manage the Texans' offensive scheme should give the team the chance to make a championship run.

A Young and Dangerous Pass-Rush

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    Last season, before Mario Williams got injured for the whole season, the Texans' pass-rush was a tremendous advantage for their defense. Then, after Williams tore his pectoral muscle, the pass-rush only seemed to improve.

    Young players such as Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and J.J. Watt stepped up to fill the void left by Williams, and they certainly did not disappoint. Those three young and inexperienced players—along with Antonio Smith and Brian Cushing—made life hell for opposing quarterbacks.

    Now, after the NFL Draft, the Texans have added even more dangerous pass-rushers to their defense. With their first-round selection, the Texans chose Whitney Mercilus, a DE/OLB who led the NCAA in sacks and forced fumbles. In addition, the Texans also picked Jared Crick, a player who has first-round talent, but fell to the fourth due to injury concerns. 

    With the additions of these two players, the Texans will have a rotation of pass-rushers who can get after the quarterback at will. Last season, Reed and Barwin had to play nearly every snap at outside linebacker, due to injuries and lack of depth, and they rarely received a break.

    Now, with the newcomer Mercilus, not only have the Texans added a potential sack machine, but also they have also added a player who will allow all three outside linebackers to remain fresh and ready to play. The same also goes with the defensive end position, as Crick will become part of an integral three-man rotation with Watt and Smith.

    To think that the Texans' pass-rush can be even more improved from last season is a scary thought, as it was already seemingly unstoppable. The enhancement of the Texans' pass-rush will not only make their defense much better, but it will also give them the opportunity to make a postseason run.

A Full Offseason for Kareem Jackson

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    Kareem Jackson has been the bane of the Texans' defense ever since he was drafted with the 20th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft out of Alabama. Jackson had high expectations coming out of college, and it was believed that he would be able to anchor the Texans' struggling secondary.

    Jackson, however, only seemed to exacerbate the issue. He helped lead the Texans to finish with a historically awful secondary, and the Texans finished 32nd in the league in pass-defense.

    In his first season, Jackson struggled with nearly every aspect of playing cornerback in the NFL. He could not play zone-coverage, and even though man-press was supposed to be his strong suit, he struggled with that as well. He had difficulty locating the ball in the air, as he could not rotate his head and also cover his man. He got burned periodically, and allowed opposing offenses to make huge plays down the field.

    Most of Jackson's problems stemmed from the tough transition of being a college cornerback to having to guard opposing team's No. 1 NFL receivers. In the 2011-12 season, Jackson was moved to the No. 2 cornerback slot, due to the free-agent signing of Jonathan Joseph. Jackson improved immediately thanks to his new role, even without a full offseason to work with his new defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips.

    Jackson showed great improvements in his sophomore season, although he was certainly not successful. He showed many of the same problems that he had in his rookie year, even though they were not as prominent as they were before.

    This upcoming season will be a make it or break it one for Jackson. He will either put his past struggles behind him and remain the Texans starter, or he will display his same old difficulties and perhaps force General Manager Rick Smith to find his replacement.

    There is hope yet for Jackson, however, as he will have a full offseason and training camp to learn from Phillips, who is one of the best in the business. Phillips has a great defensive mind, and he is definitely the man that can transform Jackson into a capable starting cornerback. 

    If Jackson can become a new player this season, it will be huge for the Texans. They will have solid starters at every position on defense, which will be huge for them considering they have to go against some of the best offenses in the NFL this season. If Jackson improves greatly, it will be assured that the Texans will win more games than if he does not. 

An Improving Receiving Corps

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    When Andre Johnson went down to multiple hamstring injuries last season, it became clear that the Texans were weak at the wide receiver position behind Johnson.

    Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones showed difficulty contributing to the offense without playing alongside Johnson, and when they did produce, it was extremely inconsistent.

    It was evident that the Texans needed to upgrade their receivers through the draft, and they did, drafting DeVier Posey out of Ohio State and Keshawn Martin out of Michigan State. Both of these receivers were playmakers in college, and they will be given the opportunity to compete for third starting job behind Johnson and Walter.

    While Martin and Posey may someday have bright NFL careers, there is a third receiver competing for the starting job who can very likely win it. Undrafted out of Florida Atlantic, Lestar "Big Play" Jean was a training camp sensation for the Texans last season. He made two catches for 53 yards in a preseason game against the Jets, and he looked like he might have been a huge contributor for the Texans offense that season.

    Unfortunately, Jean suffered a shoulder injury that earned him a spot on the IR, and he was never able to play for the Texans in the regular season. Now, however, Jean will surely have the opportunity to be a starter on the Texans' offense. In an interview, Gary Kubiak said, "We've got a couple of kids that we think a lot of, Lestar Jean being No. 1." 

    In any case, whether Jean, Posey, Martin or Dwight Jones wins the starting job, the Texans will certainly believe it to be an upgrade, as they cut Jacoby Jones to pave the way for one of their young receivers to become a major part of the offense. By cutting Jones, it shows that the Texans believe whatever receiver ends up starting for them will be a significant improvement over Jones.

    If any of the Texans' young receivers end up exceeding expectations, he will add a whole new dynamic to the Texans' offense alongside Andre Johnson. If this receiver is successful, he will make the Texans' passing offense just as difficult to stop as their rushing offense, which would give them one of the best offenses in the NFL.

A Healthy Team

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    No team in the NFL suffered more significant injuries than the Houston Texans. They lost several key starters on both sides of the ball for several weeks and sometimes the whole season, yet they prevailed and managed to make the playoffs. This serves as a testimony to just how good the Texans are, and that when healthy, they can compete with any team in the NFL.

    The most notable injuries for the Texans last season were: WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster, QB Matt Schaub, QB Matt Leinart, RG Mike Brisiel, OLB/DE Mario Williams and FS Daneal Manning. If almost any other team lost this many important players, it would have crumbled and fallen. The Texans, however, used the philosophy "Next Man Up" and played as if some of those players had never even been injured.

    Now that almost all of these players will be returning to the Texans healthy, aside from Brisiel, Williams and Leinart, the Texans will have much more talent and depth on both offense and defense.

    If the Texans can remain healthy this season and not catch the injury bug as harshly as they did last year, then it will be a certainty that they can improve their record from last season.