The Houston Texans have been the popular pick for the team on the rise for several years now. A year after going a measly 2-14 the Texans fired Coach Dom Capers and replaced him with offensive minded coach Gary Kubiak.
The following year the Texans had a bounce back season and improved to 6-10, suddenly Houston seemed like a team with real talent and was expected to make a push for their first playoff birth.
By most accounts the 2007 season was an improvement. The team had their first non-losing season in franchise history, but the Texans still fell short of the playoffs. At 8-8 the Texans seemed just a draft pick or free agent short of getting over the hump.
Naturally after their most successful year the Texans started to become many people’s team on the rise and a sleeper candidate to make the playoffs. Mario Williams was coming into his own and Matt Schaub was entering his second season as the starting Quarterback.
The 2008 season couldn’t have started much worse for Houston. After four weeks the team was still without a win and was looking for answers.
They would go on to get a huge contribution out of third round draft pick, running back Steven Slaton. The Texans would go on to win 8 of their next 12 games, including 5 of their last 6, but still fall well short of the post-season.
If you are a realist, it's time to expect more of the same.
Call it sour grapes, but this team hasn’t done what it needed to do to win this division. Last year’s AFC South champions, the Tennessee Titans shouldn’t be as good, but Jacksonville shouldn’t be as bad. Peyton Manning isn’t coming off of surgery to start this season like he was last year.
This division is still one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the NFL and no win will come easy.
That’s not to say I don’t think the Texans will be an improved team. The offense is still one of the best in the NFL and one of the team’s biggest weakness’ from last year, the defense, has a lot of new faces.
Antonio Smith, Cato June and Shaun Cody are among notable free agents signed and draft picks Connor Barwin and Brian Cushing are going to be asked to step in and contribute early on.
The secondary, however, is still a mess. With Robinson still unsigned and Jacque Reeves still lining up against NFL wide receivers (instead of the practice squad) the team is going to find itself in serious trouble when they have players like Manning, Warner, Palmer and Brady taking the field against them this season.
Running the ball is still a bit of a question mark for the Team as well. Slaton exceeded all expectations last year with his stellar rookie season. Can he really maintain it though? Who is going to be the compliment back to him this year?
Chris Brown, Ryan Moats, Arian Foster, Jeremiah Johnson; these are the other running backs currently on the roster. When mentioning stellar 1-2 punches I don’t think many people will be thinking up clever nicknames to Slaton-Moats tandem Houston currently has.
Speaking of tandems, say what you will about Sage Rosenfels and his epic collapse last year against the Colts, but the man was an effective backup. His replacement?
Dan “2-points!” Orlovsky. Schaub has yet to play an entire season without getting hurt, so Houston absolutely has to expect that Orlovsky is going to see the field this year.
I’ve spent the entire article listing the team’s shortcomings, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a dim one, but I promise you it’s there.
The Texans spent a 5th round draft pick on a Tight End named James Casey. If you haven’t heard of him by now, just take a minute and go look for his videos on youtube, it’s worth it.
Casey is a great prospect for this team. He can lineup all over the field. He can throw the ball, rush the ball and catch the ball. He has the body of a tight end but the speed of a wide receiver; he’s going to give defenses matchup problems all day long.
Arian Foster, while not very productive as a senior, showed a lot of promise his junior year at Tennessee. He's big and strong and can force his way into short yardage gains. He may be, along with Casey, the beginning of the end of the Texans’ red zone issues.
If the Texans can get solid contributions out of several of their draft picks and Antonio Smith can help bring pressure on the line, then the Texans may be able to skate by with their weak secondary by being able to outscore opponents and by forcing Quarterbacks into bad decisions with effective pass rushing.
Houston could likely outright win several other divisions around the league, but that option isn’t there. Unfortunately all indications are this team is going to actually rely on draft picks to step up in order to challenge for one of the wildcard spots.
However, if 11 or more wins is what it’s going to take to get into the playoffs again next year, Houston, with much displeasure, will be watching from home.