Analysts, and fans alike, had predicted that the Texans would have the necessary weapons to take the reigns of the AFC South.
Each year, the Texans failed.
Each year, the fans were left wanting.
This year proves to be different.
A newly revamped Texans defense, under the direction of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, has already shown that its first-string players are able to keep up with some of the league's best. But keeping up is not enough to dethrone the current AFC South champions.
The following seven things must be done by the Texans in order to take over the AFC South. Otherwise, this year, like the others, will just be another dark memory for the Texans' fans.
Of the last nine road games against division rivals, the Texans have won one game.
Yes, I said one!
For a team that is looking to take over its division, the Texans must improve their road game. From 2008 to 2010, the Texans had a measly six division wins out of the 18 games that they played. Half of those games were on the road.
Winning 33 percent of your division games will not get you far in the NFL.
If the Texans want to have a chance to take over the AFC South, they must come up with some magic on the road. They must be able to start strong and finish strong rather than fizzling out late in the game.
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson must keep the offense focused on not only putting points on the board but also wearing out the opposing defenses. Likewise, DeMeco Ryans and Glover Quin must keep the defense fired up and bringing pressure on every down.
If the Texans can improve their road game, they will have a better chance of usurping the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
Discipline is a word that is part of the NFL mantra. Discipline means not only avoiding penalties but also playing the game in such a way that you do the most to ensure a win. This is where the Texans need to buckle down.
Both Jacksonville and Indianapolis have been in the top 10 teams with the fewest penalties per game average. The Texans, in order to win the division, will need to replicate that type of performance.
They will need to play as a single unit, be synchronized and disciplined. Players need to think quick and think smart, being sure not to make menial mistakes that will cost the team valuable yardage.
Likewise, discipline will need to appear in the offenses playmaking abilities. QB Matt Schaub will need to protect against throwing into double or triple coverage which can easily result in a turnover.
The WRs and RBs will need to do all that they can to protect the ball from fumbles or from being stripped away. If Schaub and the offense can be more effective in ball-control discipline, they will win more games.
Discipline, for the Texans, also means stopping the opposing team from coming back late in the game. Last season, the Texans were left empty-handed in a few games due to the lack of field leadership and discipline late in the game.
If the Texans can put up points, avoid penalties and keep opposing teams out of the red zone, they will have a better chance of taking the AFC South.
Peyton Manning has an affinity for slant plays. He appears to have receivers appear out of thin air to gain valuable yards just when it seems that the play has fallen apart.
The Texans must stop this.
With a revamped defense, the Texans will need to be careful to watch the middle of the field. The additional linebacker should help with this problem, assuming that each player maintains his coverage.
Quick slant passes, ISO runs and draw plays will eat apart the middle of a defense. Last season, the Texans were often dismantled by short, quick plays in the middle of the field.
The truth is, Peyton Manning is a football genius who can read, react and manipulate defenses almost at will. He always has a check-down player in short yardage and can eat up defenses with short passes all day long.
If the Texans wish to become true contenders in the AFC South, they will need to cover the middle of the field like their lives depended on it. They cannot afford to miss tackles or assignments.
They must react quickly to offensive play-calling and adjust accordingly. They will have to get to the ball quickly and bring down the ball carrier with purpose.
It is a well-known fact that the Texans' defense has been sub par at best.
Perhaps the most glaring deficiency in the Texans' defense was pass coverage. The Texans were constantly being beaten by the long ball. Slant routes, post routes, streaks—they all became four letter words for the Texans.
They were last in the league in pass defense, allowing 4,280 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns. Defensively, the Texans were the Mr. Hyde to the offenses Dr. Jekyll. They were constantly being beat and, more times than not, it cost them the game.
This year the Texans brought in CB Johnathan Joseph (from CIN) and FS Danieal Manning (from CHI) to help stop the bleeding yards. Additionally, Glover Quin has made a move from CB to SS where, according to Coach Wade Phillips, he can be a Pro Bowl playmaker.
The Texans may need to find a solution for the CB spot opposite of Joseph if Kareem Jackson does not step up. His play last year was atrocious, although he is not solely to blame. He has looked better this season (although it is only the preseason) and has to fight to keep Jason Allen from taking his starting spot on the roster.
If the Texans can bring additional pressure to the quarterback, they may be able to prevent many of the deep passes that hurt them so bad last season. However, even if the passes come, the Texans must have better protection in the backfield and must maintain solid coverage to prevent big gains through the air.
Getting pressure on the QB is a vital element to shutting down high-powered offenses in the NFL. Bringing an outside blitz is not always the answer, neither is a safety blitz or a corner blitz, or....well, you get the picture.
The Texans must bring a variety of different looks and blitz packages this season. They must pressure the QB on every down, every game.
However, bringing constant pressure is only effective when tackles are not missed, and the downfield defense is doing their job.
Wade Phillips' new 3 - 4 defense should allow the Texans to bring some new looks on the defensive side of the ball. Some of his more exotic blitz packages could be truly effective in blowing up some big plays.
Assuming that Wade Phillips' defense is truly effective and assuming that the Texans can bring the heat on the field, the defense could be an integral part of claiming the AFC South this season.
The Texans have never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis.
If they want to prove that they are to be taken seriously this year, they will need to beat Indianapolis twice. Most importantly, they will need to dethrone the AFC South champs in the home stadium (a feat in-and-of-itself).
Houston needs a playoff appearance, the Texans need to take over the AFC South and the only thing standing in the way...is Indianapolis.