As it stands right now, the Texans are much farther from making a Super Bowl run in 2013 than some might think. In actuality, they might have taken a step back from 2011 to 2012.
The special teams unit was awful, and the Texans were forced to start with horrid field position on many occasions due to unnecessary penalties.
Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub called an extremely conservative offense, causing the Texans to struggle to score touchdowns.
The sacrosanct Wade Phillips defense from last year seemed unable to prevent elite quarterbacks from exerting their will on the Texans, dooming the team in the playoffs.
To add insult to injury, Brian Cushing, the defensive leader, suffered an ACL tear early in the season and was placed on the IR.
The Texans need to make major changes in the offseason in order to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender next season.
Here are those changes.
If the Texans special teams unit was taught by a competent coach this season, it certainly did not show on the field. The best and only word to describe the special teams effort is pathetic. Completely and utterly pathetic.
According to Football Outsiders, the Texans special teams is ranked dead last in the league, and for good reason.The Texans special teams problems were widespread, and they occurred in nearly every possible situation.
On punt and kick returns, the blocking was absolutely atrocious. It was rare that Keshawn Martin ever broke off a big play, and the majority of the time, it was not even his fault.
And when Martin did do something amazing and set the Texans offense up with incredible field position, a careless holding penalty or a mindless block in the back call would pull the offense back.
The coverage teams were miserable as well. Shayne Graham did not have the boot to kick the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, so kick returners often got opportunities to attempt returns. And with those extra opportunities, they often succeeded in breaking out a huge play, which would make things dramatically more difficult for the Texans defense.
The source of these problems, you ask? Well, the case can be made that the Texans employed slightly less than average special teamers. But a quality special teams coach would have corrected the easily correctable issues early on in the season.
Joe Marciano did not.
If the Texans do not wish to deal with terrible field position all throughout next season, Marciano must be fired.
Glover Quin, the Texans starting safety alongside Danieal Manning, was once the source of ire amongst Texans fans.
However, Quin has improved drastically as a player as the years have flown by, and he has become an integral member of the defense.
Quin is solid in coverage; he rarely cedes huge plays to the offense, and when he does, he does not let it affect him mentally. He returns every snap ready to play as hard as possible.
Quin, though, did not earn the starting job for simply being solid in coverage. Rather, Quin makes his money as a run defender. He often lines up as an extra linebacker, with his main job of locating the hole the opposing running back intends to run through and stuffing it as quickly as possible.
Without Quin, the Texans run defense would be much different and much worse.
Quin helped to minimize the loss of Brian Cushing with his run-stopping efforts, and without him, the end of the season for the Texans could have been much, much more disgusting for Texans fans.
The Texans should prioritize re-signing Quin this offseason, for he is a key member of a defense that wishes to return to its elite status from a year ago.
Inside Linebacker: Once Brian Cushing was placed on the IR, the harsh reality of the Texans linebacker situation made a dramatic appearance. The best of the rest of the bunch was Bradie James. Old and slow, it is unlikely that he will return for next season.
Then came Tim Dobbins and Darryl Sharpton, who, despite being of semi-starter quality, were too injury prone to remain consistent contributors. The replacement for the two oft-injured reserve linebackers was Barrett Ruud, who started both playoff games for the Texans. Lets just say that experiment did not work out too well.
Many argue that drafting a second linebacker to start alongside Cushing it not that important, as the Texans rely on nickel and dime packages, which ship out the second linebacker for an extra defensive back. However, the main reason the Texans often run such packages is because they lack capable coverage linebackers behind Cushing.
With an athletic linebacker who could both stop the run and cover linebackers and slot receivers, the Texans defense would be able to remain in the 3-4 scheme more often. This would allow the defense to generate much more of a pass rush, which would in turn greatly benefit the secondary.
Finding that type of linebacker should be one of the top priorities in this year's draft, as it could truly help restore the defense to its dominant status.
Nose Tackle: If you watch a Texans game, you will not really notice anything wrong with the team's nose tackles. They don't seem to give up much big plays, and they occasionally make a tackle or two. Certainly they aren't detrimental to the defense's success.
The nose tackles—Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell to be exact—however, do not do anything to contribute to the defense's success, either. They are just average players who fulfill their role and don't get in the way.
With a playmaking, game-changing nose tackle, the Texans defense can ascend to new heights. For starters, an extremely large nose tackle might be able to command double teams based on his size alone, and this would open up pass-rushing gaps for J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Brooks Reed that they would have never seen before.
Furthermore, a large nose tackle would be able to occupy more space on running plays, which would allow the Texans inside linebacker to more effectively make plays on the ball.
A mountainous, unstoppable force of a nose tackle is just what the defense needs.
Offensive Line: The right side of the offensive line was what truly doomed the Texans offense. The offense is dependent on a consistent running game, and once one pairs an inconsistent offensive line with that type of offense, the result is often disastrous.
Too often the right side of the offensive line was unable to grant Arian Foster running room, which would force the Texans to constantly run the ball to the left side. This would make the offense predictable and easy to stop.
The right side of the line, also, was ineffective in pass protection. Matt Schaub was consistently under pressure when the right side struggled. And when your quarterback is one of the most immobile ones in the NFL, consistent pressure is usually a nightmare.
The Texans have two ways to deal with this issue. The first is to develop their young players on the right side, as they have done in the past, and hope that they can dramatically improve. The second is to select their replacements early on in this year's draft.
Quite honestly, it would be foolish for the Texans to not take a lineman early on. They need to create a fierce competition between the old starters and the new draftees, and ensure that the best players claim the starting jobs.
Wide Receiver: When the second receiver on the depth chart on your team is named Kevin Walter, you know your team is in trouble. Unfortunately for the Texans, Walter's critically acclaimed blocking skills could not help the offense push the ball downfield.
Walter sputtered and died towards the end of the season, and he rarely received for more than thirty yards. Due to the inexperience of the receivers behind him in DeVier Posey, Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin, he was miraculously able to keep his starting job.
This terrible situation does not get better for the Texans. Posey, the most promising young receiver, suffered an Achilles' injury in the Texans final playoff game, an injury that will likely sideline him for the entirety of 2013.
The Texans desperately need to be able to stretch the field in order to open up running room for Foster, and they will not be able to do that with their current core of receivers.
Finding a playmaking receiver should be a priority in the draft.
After the Texans' pathetic collapse which featured them losing their all but locked up one seed and home-field advantage, many called for the head of Gary Kubiak.
He was, his critics claimed, unable to lead the Texans to the promised land.
Their critiques are partly true. While Kubiak and his offensive scheme was a major reason for the Texans late-season collapse, he certainly does not need to be fired. At least not yet.
The problem is Kubiak's extremely conservative play-calling style. He seemed to get the idea that by praying for Arian Foster to get the offense to a 3rd-and-short that touchdowns would magically appear on the scoreboard. Instead, the offense struggled to do anything consistently, mainly because Kubiak was unwilling to stretch the field and take a deep shot.
If the Texans are to win a Super Bowl next season, Kubiak will need to rid himself of his stubbornness and admit that his offensive scheme his flawed. He needs to realize that in order for the offense to return to its unstoppable 2011 form, he needs to become more of a risky play-caller.
If Kubiak is unable to adjust next season, Bob McNair should begin to seriously evaluate Kubiak's job status in Houston.
Wade Phillips, whose defensive scheme was a major reason why the Texans defense was able to so drastically improve in 2011, was seen as a messiah in Houston.
And that criticism is well-earned.
Phillps failed time and time again once it became apparent that his press man-coverage was ineffective against elite quarterbacks to adjust the defense. He failed to realize that his defensive scheme was partially flawed, and that it must be changed in certain situations.
Furthermore, in the final playoff game against New England, the Patriots hurry-up offense killed the Texans. After the game, several Texans defenders admitted they were not properly prepared to stop the no-huddle offense that the Patriots run every singe week.
And whose fault was it that the Texans were not adequately prepared in the week leading up to the most important game in franchise history? Phillips', of course.
Phillips is a great defensive coach, but he needs to learn to adjust his scheme when it needs to be. If he can do that, the Texans defense can become truly amazing.