Where Houston Texans Stars Must Improve in 2014-15

Matt Goldstein@mattgoldstein5Contributor IIJanuary 16, 2014

Where Houston Texans Stars Must Improve in 2014-15

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    When most teams go 2-14, it usually indicates a massive failing at several key positions and a severe lack of depth. These teams are often faced with a dreadfully long rebuilding process, doomed to seemingly get the same results on a yearly basis.

    The Houston Texans, however, much like the Kansas City Chiefs, can be the exception to the rule.

    They have stars at multiple positions and talent across the board. In order to possibly return to the playoffs next season, they may only need effective quarterback play and Bill O'Brien to live up to expectations.

    The Texans stars, though, certainly did not play lights-out this season—with the exception of J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Duane Brown.

    In order to truly become a playoff contender next year, they will need all of their stars to step up and do what they do best. Otherwise, the Texans may be sitting at home again this time next season.

    Here are the Texans stars who absolutely must play much better or dominate next season in order for the Texans to experience a return to glory.

Johnathan Joseph: Return to Shutdown Form

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    In 2011, Johnathan Joseph was praised as one of the best cornerbacks in the league; he virtually shut down every single receiver he lined up against.

    Under Joseph's lead, the Texans secondary flourished, making it nearly impossible for opposing quarterbacks to find success against them. Of course, Joseph and the other members of the Texans secondary benefited from an incredible pass rush, but their level of play still has yet to be replicated to this day.

    And while Joseph was much better this season than he was in 2012, he did not nearly reach his 2011 form. Under a new defensive scheme and another offseason to truly get healthy, however, Joseph could certainly return to his shutdown form.

    If he can, the Texans defense will experience a sharp increase in its level of play. Its pass-rushers—including, of course, J.J. Watt—will have much more time to reach the quarterback. Opposing quarterbacks also will be forced to go through more of their progressions, which will only make the likelihood of them getting rid of the ball drastically drop.

    Joseph's return to elite form would undoubtedly help the defense return to its dominant style from 2011. 

DeAndre Hopkins: Become More Consistent

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    While DeAndre Hopkins is not yet considered a star, he certainly has the potential to become one, and his importance in the Texans offense warrants his mention in this article.

    Hopkins, the starting receiver opposite of Andre Johnson, was drafted in the first round of last year's draft, and he was expected to come in and do big things for the offense.

    And while Hopkins defied realistic expectations by hauling in more than 800 yards as a rookie receiver, he certainly did not live up to the hype.

    His play was extremely inconsistent. He would have huge, unbelievably good games and then essentially disappear in the next one. While this type of play is expected from a rookie receiver, Hopkins' lack of consistency was very concerning at times.

    Hopkins has talent, and if he can put it all together next season, the Texans offense could have a receiving core that would rank among the best in the league. A fully consistent Hopkins paired up with Johnson would be nearly unstoppable.

    If Hopkins steps up, so too will the Texans offense.

Antonio Smith: Become a Pass-Rushing Force

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    Antonio Smith certainly has the talent and athletic ability. His rare combination of quickness and strength makes him incredibly hard to block, and he certainly has the ability to strike fear into most offensive linemen throughout the league.

    Smith, though, did not take advantage of his gifted skill set last season. Although he would occasionally display signs of being a superior pass-rusher, he would often completely disappear from a series and even a game.

    Whether this was because of a lack of effort or fatigue, it does not really matter. What matters is that Smith had the ability to positively change plays for the Texans defense, and he was unable to do so, for whatever reason.

    If the Texans retain Smith in free agency, which is certainly not a guarantee, he will need to step up next season. The Texans defense needs a pass-rusher who can play consistently enough that opposing offenses will be forced to shift their focus away from J.J. Watt.

Arian Foster: Stay Healthy

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    While this may seem simple enough, it may not be for Arian Foster.

    After an extremely long recovery from calf and back injuries during the offseason, Foster finally managed to shake off the rust a few games into the regular season. He started to look like his old, dominant self; he was hitting the correct holes with an explosive force.

    Foster, however, did not stay healthy for long. He eventually succumbed to a back injury and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. 

    The Texans need Foster in order for their offense to thrive, especially because Ben Tate will likely leave in free agency. 

    Foster needs to take special care of his body and ensure that he does not force himself to play if he feels an injury acting up.

    He is simply that important to the offense.

Owen Daniels: Become a Security Blanket

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    Throughout his career, Owen Daniels has been known as a security blanket, a target that any quarterback could rely on.

    Next season, however, he will need to take his game to a whole 'nother level.

    There is an high chance a rookie quarterback will be leading the Texans offense next season, and if there's anything a rookie quarterback needs, it's a tight end who can consistently get open.

    If Daniels can attain a Jason Witten-esque level of reliability, the growth of the rookie quarterback could likely be exacerbated, and the Texans could be launched into contender status much sooner than expected.