With the addition of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator and with implementation of Phillips' 3-4 defensive scheme, the Texans' defense jumped from being historically awful to being one of the best in the NFL.
The offense continued to do what it had been doing quite well in previous seasons: score points quickly and efficiently. With the new premier defense, however, the Texans were able to prevent other teams from running up the score, allowing their offense to secure games for them.
Now, the Texans will try to continue their success that they kindled last season; they will attempt to secure a spot in the class of the AFC's elite.
Here is how the Texans stack up against the teams already at the top of the AFC.
The Patriots have long been sitting atop the AFC and have been perennial favorites to come out atop the conference.
How do the Texans match up against the best of the best in the AFC?
When Tom Brady is at the helm of your offense, your team will be guaranteed to have of the most dominant offenses in the NFL. The Patriots are well aware of this fact, as they have won three Super Bowls in the past 10 season and have made it to two more as well.
Along with Brady, the future Hall of Famer, the Patriots have a number of dangerous receiving threats. Two members of their receiving corps, Wes Welker as a wide receiver and Ron Gronkowski as a tight end, excelled last season and were elected to the Pro Bowl.
In addition, the Patriots utilize Aaron Hernandez, a tight end who could be a starter on nearly any team in the NFL, and also added Brandon Lloyd in free agency. Despite having a lackluster season last year, Lloyd led the NFL in receiving in 2010 with 1,448 yards.
While they struggled running the ball last season, the addition of Joseph Addai should assist the rushing attack, but it hardly matters as Tom Brady and the Patriots' passing game is incredibly efficient.
The Texans' offense, however, can go blow for blow with the Patriots'.
With Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson set to return healthy for the start of next season, the Texans' offense can be considered one of the most balanced in the entire NFL. While the offense runs through the rush, Schaub has proven that the passing attack can be just as effective as the running game with Arian Foster.
Before the emergence of Foster, Schaub threw for 4,770 yards in 2009 in a record-breaking season, with Andre Johnson on the receiving end of many of those passes.
While the pass works terrifically for the Texans when Schaub is healthy, the rush is even better. Arian Foster was the recipient of the NFL rushing title in 2010 with a total of 1,616 yards, and he also leads all running backs and wide receivers with 4,061 yards from scrimmage in the past two seasons.
Although the Texans' offense has been fantastic recently, the Patriots' offense has been and will be simply too dominant.
Winner: New England Patriots
This is a completely lopsided battle here between the Patriots and the Texans.
When the Patriots were struggling to prevent opposing quarterbacks from completing passes last season, the Texans were garnering sacks and swatting balls out of the air at the line of scrimmage.
On the other hand, the Texans ranked 2nd in the NFL in passing defense with a dominant pass rush and 4th against the rush.
While the Patriots made steps to improve their struggling defense with the additions of Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Tavon Wilson in the first and second rounds, it remains to be seen if their defense will able to take the dramatic step forward that the Texans' defense did last season.
Winner: Houston Texans
Now, as the 2012 NFL season approaches, the Ravens will likely resume their spot as one of the AFC's elite.
How do the Texans stack up against the team that handed them their first-ever playoff defeat?
Much like the Texans, the Ravens' offense breathes through its running game. Ray Rice is one of the most talented backs in the NFL, whether he is carrying the ball or catching it, and he has the good fortune of running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league.
The Texans' running game is just as effective, if not more, as the Ravens'.
With Arian Foster carrying the ball, much like Ray Rice, the threat of him breaking out a big play is always there. He too runs behind an excellent offensive line, and he also can greatly contribute in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield. In addition, the Texans employ another dangerous back in Ben Tate, a player who almost reached 1,000 yards in his first full season in the NFL as a backup running back.
Unlike the Texans, the Ravens' passing game can be more of a liability than an asset. Joe Flacco, who passed for 3,610 yards with a completion percentage of 57.6 percent, can be very inconsistent; in some games he plays like a Pro Bowler and in others he struggles to find his receivers.
The Texans, though, are fortunate to have the benefit of an efficient passing game. Matt Schaub, while not always at his best, displays flashes of being a great NFL quarterback, and Andre Johnson, if he can overcome his injuries, can be considered one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Although the Ravens' and Texans' rushing attacks are nearly equal, the Texans' passing offense gives them the edge.
Winner: Houston Texans
While some maintain the opinion that the loss of Terrell Suggs will severely harm the Ravens' defense, that is simply just not true.
The Ravens' defense has too many good players for that to happen: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb, to name a few. While the former defensive MVP is an outstanding linebacker, the Ravens have the talent on the defensive side of the ball to make up for it, and the addition of Courtney Upshaw in the NFL draft will certainly be a major contributor.
The Ravens' defense will continue its dominance from last season, when they ranked 4th against the pass and 2nd against the rush.
The Texans' defense will hope to further its surprising success that it achieved last season. After ranking among the worst defenses in the history of the NFL in 2010, the additions of Wade Phillips, Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning in the offseason quickly turned the defense around. The Texans went from having an atrocious defense to one of most swarming, stingy defenses in the NFL.
While the losses of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans appear to be extremely damaging on paper, that too, is not true. Williams only played in five games last year before missing the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, and the Texans' defense actually began to improve even more after Williams' injury, as it began to adjust more to Phillips' 3-4 defensive scheme.
Ryans, despite being a Pro Bowler, had trouble adjusting to the 3-4 defense, and that, along with his health, limited him to only playing around 50 percent of the defense's snaps. Comparatively, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin played close to 95 percent of the defensive snaps.
In an incredibly close matchup, I believe the Ravens' defense just barely edges out the Texans' due to superior experience and leadership. The Texans' defense, however, is on the same talent level as that of the Ravens.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
The heavily favored Steelers fell victim to an 80-yard touchdown reception by Demaryius Thomas that shocked the collective minds of football fans around the nation.
With an aging defense and a star receiver who is currently mulling a holdout, the 2012 season will be a test for the Steelers to see if they can remain among the AFC's elite.
How do the Texans compare to a Steelers team that has something to prove this upcoming season?
Last season, the normally strong Steelers rushing game did not experience its usual success. The offensive line struggled to hold blocks, in pass protection as well, and Rashard Mendenhall abnormally struggled. In addition to being injured, Mendenhall was unable to consistently produce at the high level that he was expected to.
As mentioned before, the offensive line also struggled with its pass protection, and as a result, Ben Roethlisberger took a number of unnecessary hits. While the emergence of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown helped ease away the issue of the ineffective offensive line, it was still clearly an issue that needed to be addressed.
By selecting David DeCastro and Mike Adams with their first two picks in the draft, it is quite possible that the Steelers have fixed the problem. These players, however, are still rookies and it remains to be seen if they can significantly contribute.
While the edge in the passing game likely goes to the Steelers, the Texans' efficiency at running the ball and running the play-action gives them the upper hand in this comparison.
Winner: Houston Texans
If this were the Steelers' defense of a few seasons ago, there would be no question as to who the winner of this comparison would be.
The Steelers, easily.
Now, however, the Steelers' defense is beginning to feel the effects of having a number of aging players. While their defense will still remain elite, as it was ranked first against the pass and eight against the rush last season, it may be starting its decline.
Compared to the Texans' defense, which is young and only going to improve, the Steelers' defense may have to take a, albeit small, back seat to the Texans'.
Winner: Houston Texans
1. New England Patriots (14-2)
2. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
3. Houston Texans (11-5)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)