Monday night, the Houston Texans will begin their 2011 preseason against the New York Jets at Reliant Stadium. So far, the NFL has seen a dramatic spike in interest of the preseason due to the labor unrest in the offseason.
The same is true of the Texans, although the interest may be the cause of renewed optimism and not just a simple return to football.
To the casual fan, preseason games are usually only interesting for the first quarter or however long the starters see the field.
To the discerning fan, however, much can be gleamed from preseason action, especially to Texans supporters this year with the advent of the new 3-4 scheme under Wade Phillips.
Here are just a few questions that may be partially answered on Monday Night Football but hopefully are completely answered before Week 1 against the Colts.
How effective is the Texans front seven at applying pressure?
I avoided the typical first question on the mind of Texans fans of how effective Mario Williams will be at his new position of OLB. That’s important, but realistically, Williams’ level of success will not make or break this defense.
Williams has been a steady producer during his career, but the Texans have failed as a defense despite that production.
Lost in the national attention of Mario’s position change is that Connor Barwin and Brian Cushing are making transitions of their own. Their ability to get to the quarterback along with rookie JJ Watt, first year starter Earl Mitchell and Antonio Smith will be paramount, maybe even more so than Williams on his own.
I am curious to see a 6’7”, 285 pound linebacker though.
Have the new coaches and offseason acquisitions made the Texans secondary serviceable?
Elite is not the target for this position group, not this year at least. Wade Phillips asks his secondary to hold coverage while his pressure schemes hopefully get to the quarterback.
Ultimately, the existence or lack thereof of that pressure will determine the performance of the secondary.
The 2010 secondary would not have been up for the task of holding the water for the three to five seconds that it would take for rushers to get to the quarterback. I think though, that the 2011 version can be vastly better in part thanks to the additions of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning.
Still, it will be paramount that younger incumbent players like Glover Quin, Kareem Jackson and Sherrick McMannis develop better than they did under the old defensive coaching staff.
Adding three drafted rookies to that list makes the coaching of Vance Joseph much more important than the performance of any one player, in my estimation.
Has the Texans offense learned how to play against 3-4 defenses?
It was only two years ago that the Texans opened the 2009 season at home against the Rex Ryan coached New York Jets. The result was the domination of the Texans offense, especially their offensive line, by the aggressive 3-4 defense.
While they probably won’t see exotic blitz packages because it is the preseason, but it will be interesting to see whether the line can overcome this trend.
How deep is the talent on the Texans roster?
Every team is asking this same question in the preseason, but it is especially important for the Texans who always feature an incredibly young team on average.
As it stands now, the offense has far fewer questions than the defense, but both sides are very susceptible to change midseason.
For the offense, the main story is the battle for the wide receiver position. The top three spots are pretty much locked up after the re-signing of Jacoby Jones, but after that, Dorin Dickerson, Terrance Tolliver, Lester Jean, Derrick Townsel and Jeff Maehl are all competing in a very tight race.
As for the defense, the entire squad is a question in terms of depth but especially the linebackers.
The switch to the 3-4 created an emphasis on the linebacker position naturally, and starters Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans are all coming off serious injuries. It will be interesting to see how far Brooks Reed, Darryl Sharpton, Jesse Nading and Bryan Braman have progressed in this system.
What are you looking for in tonight’s contest? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).