The Houston Texans continue to set ambitious, yet attainable goals for the 2009 regular season. Coach Gary Kubiak embarks on his fourth year at the helm after taking over a disgruntled team that finished 2-14 in 2005.
Now, with several critical elements in place, owner Bob McNair expects his team to be a playoff-caliber squad. It’s realistic to believe the Texans can win at least 10 games this season based on their offensive firepower and talented, young defense.
Houston entered the offseason looking to assemble the right coaching staff. Kubiak had some holes to fill and took the initiative to hire guys who fit his overall coaching philosophy.
Last season, Kubiak showed discontent toward defensive coordinator Richard Smith. Overall, the Houston Texans’ offense ranked third in the NFL, but the defense finished 22nd. So, the Texans elected to fire Smith, defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, and secondary coach Jon Hoke.
Kubiak promoted senior defensive assistant Frank Bush to replace Smith as defensive coordinator. Bush, 46, understands Kubiak's philosophy and has the respect of the team's top defensive players.
Also, David Gibbs, son of Texans' offensive line coach/assistant head coach Alex Gibbs, officially replaced Hoke as secondary coach. Gibbs held the same job title over the past three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Texans possess young talent on defense, a Pro Bowl receiver in Andre Johnson and a solid quarterback in Matt Schaub, when he's able to stay healthy. What the Texans also have is Steve Slaton, one of the best young running backs in the league.
If Houston really does make that long-awaited leap to being a postseason contender, Slaton's contributions will factor heavily on the team's success.
When analyzing the strengths of the Texans, it all starts with Johnson. In six seasons, Johnson has 6,379 receiving yards on 486 receptions, including 33 touchdowns. He led the NFL with 1,575 receiving yards last season with Arizona Cardinals superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald (1,431) finishing second and Carolina Panther’s Steve Smith (1,421) third.
It’s not just the exceptional stats which propelled Johnson into becoming the best receiver in the NFL. In fact, everything he does without the ball makes him the most dangerous player on the field.
Top corners do everything in their power to cover Johnson over the course of a game, yet the former University of Miami standout produces better than anyone off “bump and run" coverage.
Johnson has a way of getting his hands in the right position by using “swim” tactics to maintain position and get in front or a step behind defensive backs. This typically results in a catch for the two-time All-Pro receiver.
What makes him truly unique revolves around his ability to open up the field, especially for No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter and Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels.
Even when defensive backs contain Johnson, he finds a way to continue his routes and get open. Throughout the game, defenses have to make several adjustments by either double or triple teaming him. When Schaub looks Johnson way on a double team, he’ll end up finding a wide open Walter or Daniels down the field.
In a way, Johnson doesn’t always have to make a catch to be the most dominant player on the field.
Schaub established a benchmark as the team's starting quarterback last season. Overall, the Texans’ organization believes he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the AFC. He threw for 3,043 passing yards, completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and 10 INTs. Overall, Schaub averaged 276.6 passing yards per game in 2008 with a passer rating of 92.7.
The stats are impressive for the 27-year-old quarterback, but it requires more than just accumulating numbers to lead the Texans to their first ever postseason appearance. He must captain the offense in order to maintain aggressive play while protecting the football.
The Texans have a tendency to turn the ball over once they advance to their opponent’s side of the field. Schaub must step up and take responsibility for the offense. He's already earned the respect of his teammates. Now, if he continues to lead, the team will follow.
Heading into training camp, Slaton has full command of the starting running back position. As a rookie, Slaton finished sixth in the NFL with 1,282 rushing yards on 268 carries, including nine touchdowns, 13 runs of 20+ yards and five runs of 40+ yards.
With the offensive line more experienced in Gibbs’ “zone blocking” scheme, the Texans offense should put a substantial amount of points on the board this season.
Bush’s defense features the monstrous All-Pro DE Mario Williams. Last season, he amassed 12 sacks and 53 tackles in 15 games. In the Texans’ first ever Monday Night Football game at Reliant Stadium against Jacksonville, Williams recorded three sacks and one forced fumble.
The Texans signed former Arizona Cardinals DE Antonio Smith to a five-year, $35 million contract to fill the gap opposite Williams. With third-year DT Amobi Okoye, the team’s 2007 first-round pick plugging the middle, Houston expects to have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
By selecting former USC linebacker Brian Cushing with its 2009 first-round pick, the Texans finally addressed the strong outside linebacker position. In addition to All-Pro middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and third-year linebacker Zac Diles, the overall front seven of Houston’s should be lethal and productive against opposing offenses.
It’s going to take an overall collaborative team effort for the Texans to produce double-digit wins this season. They must decrease their turnovers while creating more turnovers from a defensive standpoint.
Kubiak’s squad should put points on the scoreboard, but the defense needs to spend more time on the sidelines rather than on the field during games.
The secondary, featuring fluid cover corner Dunta Robinson, must rise to the challenge and prevent opposing quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning, from exposing certain weaknesses.
Injuries could possibly be the Achillies tendon, causing the team to fall short of accomplishing short-term and long-term goals. Johnson, Schaub and Slaton have to remain on the field in order to make the Texans a contender in the AFC South. A critical injury to Slaton will likely take the Texans out of playoff contention.
Unfortunately, in the "zone blocking" scheme, Slaton will find himself taking hard hits over the course of a game.
The simple, yet effective scheme creates open lanes for fast running backs to excel. Since Slaton constantly looks for open holes, it gives opposing defense more time to react and tackle him at full speed. If the Texans can’t find an ideal backup, an injury to Slaton will damage the running game and create havoc to the overall offense.
A great coaching staff will utilize strengths while finding ways to turn weaknesses into strengths. For the first time as Texans' head coach, Kubiak has the right coaching staff in place.
The players will be coached properly and should demonstrate a significant amount of improvement throughout the regular season. Based on their arsenal, it’s reasonable to believe this team will make franchise history with its first ever postseason appearance.