Houston Texans Season in Review: Offense Edition
Hello, my name is Robert and I have a problem. It's been three weeks since my last Texans game.
I've tried watching other football games, and while I find them entertaining, they're lacking a certain personal touch.
See, football fans are football fans because the sport fills a primal need for competition, which manifests itself in screaming at the TV and hopefully, some day, in the unparalleled joy of a championship.
It's why I now have a void on Sunday afternoons and why I find myself yelling at the cats and throwing my remote at co-workers.
While I enjoy the playoffs, watching without a true rooting interest is like drinking light beer—it gets the job done, but it's wholly unsatisfying.
On a side note, this is my theory on why the mainstream media has so completely lost its connection with the common fan.
Fans are, by definition, emotional and excitable—two traits that the mainstream medial requires its members to abandon.
They root for the stories, whereas we root for teams. I don't care if the Texans are a good story. I just want them to win.
So, in an effort to recapture some of that excitement, let's look at what went right and wrong this season.
We'll start with the offense and go in reverse order from the most stable and successful positions to the ones that need the most work.
I'm going to use a combination of traditional stats, Football Oustiders, Pro Football Focus, and good old fashioned eye ballin' to make my assessments.
If you're not familiar with those sites, they basically do more advanced football stats (like football sabermetrics), but don't worry, you should still be able to follow along.
Before the season started, Ron Jaworski described the Texans' quarterback position by saying that Matt Schaub's first name is "if."
If Matt Schaub can stay healthy and play 16 games, the Texans can win.
The primary question regarding Schaub was whether or not he could start 16 games. Well, that should be answered.
The fact that he's going to start a seventeenth, the Pro Bowl, should answer most of the other questions as well
Ok, I know. He's only starting because Manning is in the Super Bowl and Brady and Rivers backed out because of injury—hell, David Garrard is playing—but that still means that Schaub had a solid season.
Between Football Outsiders (6th in DYAR and DVOA) Pro Football Focus (7th) and traditional quarterback rating (7th), Schaub has cemented his place as a top-ten quarterback.
He still has one or two "Brett Favre" moments where he throws to the other team a couple times a game, but if he can cut that down, he can really become an elite passer.
All the other quarterbacks combined for 18 snaps (all by Rex Grossman) and performed about as expected.
Unless the Texans are resting their starters late next season, though, that's about 18 more snaps than I would like to see from Grossman.
It’s nice to start off a positional review with the line “topping the depth chart is the best receiver in the league.”
That means that the worst case scenario for the position isn’t too bad.
Andre Johnson had yet another dominating year. Yes, his DVOA is low, but that’s partially diluted by the high number of times that Schaub chucked it to him in double coverage.
It would be very hard for someone to put together an argument that suggests Johnson is not among the league’s elite wide receivers, and that argument would be wrong.
Branching out, though, the secondary headline for this year was the coming out of Jacoby Jones as a viable receiver.
Jones made some stellar and key catches this year, and he showed that he should be on the field more often.
He led the league in both DYAR and DVOA for players with under 50 catches and Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the 29th best wide receiver.
Not bad for someone who most fans wanted gone after last season’s cardiac arrest-inducing performance.
Kevin Walter continues to be Kevin Walter. His numbers were not as good as last season, but they are still solid as he had the 8th-ranked DVOA.
Walter is an unrestricted free agent this season and his future as a Texan depends on how much of a raise he wants.
In my opinion, he is properly compensated right now and as much as I’d like to keep him, it should be for around the same price.
David Anderson made some big catches and is a funny dude. Like James Casey is to Owen Daniels, Anderson is kind of like Kevin Walter lite.
And as for Andre’ Davis, well, it was fun watching him play two seasons ago wasn’t it?
If the team can re-sign Walter, don’t be surprised if the Texans take a wide receiver in the mid to late rounds of the draft or take a flier on a talented, but unproven, free agent in order to keep the pipeline filled.
If they can’t, they’ll need to sign a reliable possession-type guy to replace Walter’s production.
Never has a position so deep brought so many questions. I initially thought to put tight end over wide receiver because of the depth of the position.
If Owen Daniels heals up and doesn’t hold out, and if James Casey can continue to develop, and if Anthony Hill can prove that he’s actually on the roster, and if Joel Dreesen can show that it’s worth keeping so many tight ends, then perhaps tight end can be a super deep position again.
But that’s a lot of “ifs.”
Let’s start from the top as everything here is pretty dependent on the Owen Daniels situation.
Daniels played like a stud before he got hurt, and the other tight ends played decently in his place.
But his situation bears some eerie parallels to the Dunta situation from a year ago. He’s coming off a knee injury, wants a long term contract, and is a threat to hold out.
Fortunately, there are a few differences that work in the Texans favor.
First, if we assume that a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached and next year is played under the existing terms of the Final League Year (very likely), Daniels will be a restricted free agent.
Second, the injury that Daniels sustained was much less severe than Dunta’s. These days, an ACL injury is pretty much just an injury with a long recovery time, but most people come back strongly.
Also, a tight end should be able to come back better than a cornerback as they are less reliant on speed or change of direction.
So without getting too far into Daniel’s situation, let’s just agree that he’s going to be a Texan next year and will likely regain his performance.
Casey is pretty much Owen Daniels lite, with a chance to succeed him if negotiations with Daniels stall. Dreesen did admirably as the primary backup towards the end of the year but is hardly replaceable, and I’m still pretty confident that Anthony Hill is not a real person, but just a person that Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak created to throw other teams off their scent with regards to their draft plans last year.
Overall, there should be no movement within the tight end ranks, with the possible exception of jettisoning Dreesen if they feel that the rookie(s) can fill in.
Still, it’s not as stable as we once thought.
The interesting thing about offensive lines is that they never get enough credit.
In the case of the Texans this year, they aren’t getting enough blame for what went wrong.
First off, let me admit that I am not an offensive line guru, and like most people, I struggle to really quantify the success of the line.
But my eyes tell me that they struggled.
From a run-blocking standpoint, I will still give a fair amount of blame to the running backs, but the line too often did not give them many options.
While the backs missed some holes, there were many times where the hole just wasn’t there.
This is supported by Football Outsiders who rank the Texans line as 26th in their stuffed metric (how often a back is stuffed at the line).
It’s also evident on the amount of times that the team struggled to convert on short yardage situations. I probably don’t have to bring that up too much.
On pass protection while Schaub only took 25 sacks, I can recall too many times where the offensive lineman was just beat.
And I’m not talking about those times when I screamed so loudly to Schaub to get rid of it, that I’m fairly certain he heard me. From a thousand miles away.
The only place I could find a ranking of individual linemen is at Pro Football Focus, and they rank our players as follows:
Eric Winston: 15th among tackles
Duane Brown: 60th among tackles (might be a bit harsh, but I agree that he’s overrated right now)
Chris White: 41st among guards
Mike Brisiel: 44th among guards
Chris Myers: 8th among centers
Antoine Caldwell: 46th among guards, didn’t qualify at center
Kasey Studdard: 71st among guards
The Myers one is a bit intriguing, as we all remember him getting manhandled by Kris Jenkins, but my guess is that while he struggles against stronger opponents, Meyers is actually technically sound and doesn’t make too many mistakes, although he struggles to really get a push.
Of course, that’s a big part of why we struggled on short yardage.
All in all, the offensive line still needs help. Maybe Rick Dennison can help, but we’re likely to still need some new faces.
Nothing was more disappointing than the Texans’ running back position, and that includes the continuance of Reggie Bush/Mario Williams/Vince Young stories last season.
Last year, we thought we had solved these problems when Steve Slaton came out and set a new single season Texans’ rushing record.
In hindsight, though, that should have just told us that the original record was pretty sad.
Before I go on, let me just get the fumbling thing out of the way.
It was pathetic, sad, frightening, and heartbreaking all at once.
How an entire group of running backs can become afflicted with fumblitis at the same time is something that medical science has yet to explain.
It’s like them all getting the bubonic plague at once.
But it happened. Every single running back who saw playing time lost a fumble during the season and most lost more than one.
If you were to single out one thing that cost this team a shot at the playoffs, that might be it.
Set the fumbling aside, however, and the running back position was still a let down.
Before Slaton was lost for the season (which is another note you can add to the “disappointment” column), he wasn’t running with the same effectiveness. He was missing holes, was less decisive, and seemed less explosive.
Some have argued that that was because of the extra weight he put on, but my guess is that it was a mental side effect from the fumbling.
Aside from Slaton, Moats displayed good vision but a lack of speed, and also a penchant for fumbling.
Chris Brown was only slightly more effective at his job than Kris Brown; and Arian Foster, while solid in the last two games, was not used enough to suggest that the team has solved its running back problem.
Pair this with the offensive line problems, and it’s easy to see why the Texans biggest need this offseason is improving the running game.
Well, that and the secondary, but we’ll deal with the defense later.