Houston Texans' Biggest Concerns Heading into the Regular Season
It is incredible just how much can change over the course of one NFL season.
The Indianapolis Colts went from being a member of the AFC elite to being the stomping ground for many NFL franchises, though they are certainly rising with Andrew Luck at the helm.
The Houston Texans have progressed from being an incessantly mediocre football team to being division favorites to being Super Bowl contenders.
Last season, the Houston Texans had so many concerns heading into the regular season, which may seem odd considering they were pretty much guaranteed the division crown by nearly every single media outlet.
Now, however, one really has to nitpick in order to find a major flaw or concern in this Texans team, and besides the obvious ones of staying healthy and turnover on the offensive line, not many stand out.
Here are the biggest concerns for the Texans heading into the regular season.
Right Side of the Offensive Line
By far the biggest concern of the Texans heading into the regular season, the right side of the offensive line should be the greatest worry of every last Texans' fan.
Everything for the Texans offense stems from the ground game. Matt Schaub would not be able to have the kind of success he's had for the Texans when healthy over the previous seasons if it had not been for Gary Kubiak's effective zone-blocking running scheme.
When a team can successfully ram the ball down an opponent's throat at any point throughout the game, the main concern of that defense would clearly be to stop the run. Therefore, it is almost a guarantee that defenses will bite on the play-action fake, allowing Schaub enough time to make his high-low read and make a play for the offense.
The running game is greatly important to the Texans offense, and that is why it is such a concern that 40 percent of the offensive line will be represented by new starters.
Already in the preseason, the right side of the line has given Texans' fans a reason to worry. Despite displaying excellent pass protection, it is clear that Arian Foster and Ben Tate find it easier to consistently garner yardage while running to the left side of the line.
While the right side of the line has allowed the Texans' stable of backs to break off some big runs, that fact is counterbalanced by the fact that the concerning right side has also halted several rushing attempts.
While the right side of the line certainly has not been awful, from my observations, their inconsistent play has allowed defensive penetration in the backfield on a much more consistent basis than one would hope to see. The right side has also completely missed their assignments on several occasions, and it is imperative that those mistakes do not happen regularly once the games start to count.
Derek Newton and Antoine Caldwell, the two starters on the side of the line that makes me nervous, will improve as they garner more experience.
The question is, though, will they be able to allow for the Texans' rushing attack to continue its dominance?
Only time will tell.
When one looks at the vaunted Texans defense that is coordinated by Wade Phillips, one sees a stingy, swarming squad of players that can make any opposing offense tremble.
The Bulls on Parade defense, though, can be attacked in a way that every 3-4 defense in the NFL can be torn apart by.
Tough, downhill running.
The Texans, however, did not have much of an issue with this last season. Their offense was able to put points on the board so quickly and efficiently that many teams had to resort to throwing the ball early on in the game, allowing them to fall prey to the dangerous Houston pass rush.
The Texans, though, did not face many teams that had an excellent running game and a defense that could shut down the Texans offense.
This season, however, the Texans will face many teams that have an extremely effective rushing attack. The Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and even the Buffalo Bills have the capabilities of sustaining a consistent ground game.
The Texans appeared to be vulnerable to runs down the middle, and the defense has not been consistent in stopping opposing team's rushing attacks.
The run defense should improve, however, when J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Shaun Cody all return fully healthy from injury. They are major contributors to the run defense, perhaps even the most important ones.
It is incredibly important that the Texans are able to successfully stop the run in the regular season, as that can be the determining factor in several games.
Injuries were the biggest concern for the Texans last season. They lost two star offensive players in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and star defensive player Mario Williams for the majority of the season.
Along with that, Arian Foster, Danieal Manning, Mike Brisiel and Darryl Sharpton all missed significant time throughout the year.
Now, heading into the 2012 regular season, staying healthy will be a major concern for the Texans' coaching staff and training crew.
J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, Brian Cushing, Shaun Cody and Kareem Jackson have all sustained injuries that have kept them out of training camp for a prolonged period of time.
In order to make the Super Bowl run that so many fans are predicting, the Texans' key players must find a way to stay healthy.
Re-Signing Connor Barwin
It is the Texans' strategy to never negotiate contracts during the regular season.
That was why it was so important for Texans general manager Rick Smith to sign left tackle Duane Brown to a long-term deal, and it is also why it is so imperative for him to lock up Connor Barwin before the regular season starts.
Barwin is a premium pass-rusher, something no team can have enough of in the pass-happy league that is the NFL. His value right now could be much lower than what it could potentially be at the end of the season.
Last season was Barwin's first successful one as a pro, and if he is to repeat his Pro Bowl-caliber performance, then his value in the free-agent market will skyrocket.
The Texans would be forced to spend an enormous amount of money on Barwin in order to retain him, which would severely hurt them considering they have to re-sign Matt Schaub, Brice McCain, Shaun Cody and Glover Quin as well.
The Texans cannot allow Barwin to leave in free agency after the end of this season, and they cannot afford to pay him what a premium pass-rusher would demand in the free-agent market.
The Texans need to lock him up long term right now.