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2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Houston Texans - 1st

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 15, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, AFC South: Houston Texans - 1st

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Matt Schaub is often overlooked when the elite quarterbacks are discussed. But he has averaged a quarterback rating of over 93.0 as Houston’s starter the past six years. He remains one of the most accurate and efficient quarterbacks in the league — consistently among the top six to seven in completion percentage and interception rate. Schaub, however, does have some clear weaknesses. Among his comparable contemporaries, he lacks the arm strength of a Tom Brady and, unlike a Ben Roethlisberger, he fails to effectively handle pocket pressure. Behind Schaub, T.J. Yates showed the ability to manage a conservative, balanced offense as a rookie. Well-rounded as a talent, he also lacks elite size, arm strength and accuracy.

 

Running Back:

The Texans running game took a step back in 2012 but it wasn't due to a lack of backfield talent. Arian Foster is an excellent runner and good pass catcher, combining a unique, upright running style with tremendous vision, patience and timing of his burst. Completing a fantastic one-two punch, Ben Tate brings more straight line speed and pure overall athleticism and strength. Battling hamstring and ankle injuries last year, Tate is entering a contract year and needs to prove that he can stay on the field. Greg Jones enters to fill a fullback role, bringing power, strength and ball skills to the backfield.

 

Wide Receiver:

Future Hall of Fame receiver Andre Johnson is going under the radar, despite his 112 receptions and career-high 1598 yards. What made the season maybe more impressive than any other in 2012 was that he played the season through pain and even got his knee drained, all without missing a start. It might be reasonable to expect an even more explosive performance in 2013. Opposite him should be rookie DeAndre Hopkins, a polished talent with a great ability to make plays in traffic. He won't stretch the field, but he can be a reliable and consistent short and intermediate target. Beyond Hopkins, second-year players Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey are fast, explosive targets who execute in different ways. The Texans get the ball in Martin's hands on end-arounds, on short drags in the short area and even down the field, utilizing his explosiveness out of breaks. Posey is a smooth, prototypically-sized receiver with more than enough upside to take the number two receiver job if he can be consistent with his ball skills. Finally, 6'3” 215-pound Lestar Jean has shown well as a big, vertical threat in limited action, amassing 25 yards per catch in 2012.

 

Tight End:

The tight end spot will come down to Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. Similar talents, neither are great blockers, but they have nice route running skills and the versatility to be moved around offensive formations. Daniels is faster and gets more separation, but both must more consistently take advantage of mismatches in the passing game.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line is the lone area of the team responsible for the snags the offense faced down the stretch of 2012. The offense had a difficult time relying on running the ball behind the right side of the line, and Schaub did not have much time to be able to sit in the pocket and stretch the field vertically. The source of many of these problems was right tackle Derek Newton, who struggled in both protection and run blocking. Issues were exacerbated when the team started rookie Ben Jones at right guard. The hope is that tough, athletic rookie David Quessenberry could eventually overtake Newton and that second-year mammoth Brandon Brooks will maintain and secure that guard spot.

Otherwise, the offensive line was fine. The Texans enjoy one of the two or three best left tackles in Duane Brown. Chris Myers is a Pro Bowl-caliber center with length and athleticism, and left guard Wade Smith is an above average player with a wealth of experience in their zone blocking scheme. Houston's line is a finesse one and can struggle with bulk and power (as we saw in their two nightmare Patriots match-ups), but when executed well, the Texans can have a top five unit.

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Best Offensive Rookie – OT David Quessenberry

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – OG Brandon Brooks

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Tight End

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Line:

The Texans possess arguably the best three-man line in the business. Leading the league in sacks, defensive end J.J. Watt is a freakish, relentless and virtually unblockable force. The team moves him all over the line, inside and out, and his length and timing present a substantial impact on passing lanes. But due to the attention he rightfully receives, going unknown is end Antonio Smith, another supreme and versatile disruptor with a prototypical frame and athleticism for the one-gapping role Wade Phillips's scheme calls for. Inside, Earl Mitchell brings the quickness, explosiveness and natural pad level to disrupt at nose tackle. His job isn't to gobble up blocks; nonetheless, his athleticism makes him a handful for interior offensive lines. Behind them, the most interesting guy to watch is 6th round rookie Chris Jones, an athletic and super productive collegiate pass rusher from the interior.

 

Outside Linebacker:

Gone is Connor Barwin, the Texans' leading rusher from the outside linebacker position. But the team is confident in the depth of talent they have, provided by Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed and a few rookies. Mercilus was productive in a rotational role as a rookie, notching six sacks. He has the requisite athleticism and skill to adequately replace Barwin. Opposite him, while Reed is athletic, he has failed to be the playmaker that the team expected. If the defense wants to get consistent pressure upfront, Reed will need to eventually be replaced by a high upside rusher like Trevardo Williams, Sam Montgomery or long athletic, small-school rusher Willie Jefferson. The guy to watch here is Williams, who combines explosive speed, power and energy.

 

Inside Linebacker:

The Texans' inside linebacker position was the weakness of the defense, continually exploited by Tom Brady and Patriot running backs in the playoffs. Returning to one spot is Brian Cushing, a fast, physical playmaker. Competing to start next to Cushing are undersized but athletic Darryl Sharpton and veterans Tim Dobbins and Joe Mays. None are great options but, surrounded by great talent, shouldn't hold back the defense. The interesting young player is Mike Mohamed, a good tackler with instincts and terrific change of direction skills.

 

Cornerback:

Wade Phillips's aggressive, press-man scheme calls for the cornerbacks to perform difficult tasks under high pressure. For the most part, the duo of Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph did an admirable job. They made it difficult for the offense to complete balls and get separation on the outside, while making it often near impossible to convert third and long situations. The issue though was largely in the nickel, where young cornerback Brandon Harris struggled against good slot players like Wes Welker, yielding way too much separation. Ideally he would be usurped by fellow third-year Roc Carmichael in the nickel spot going forward.

 

Safety:

Back is Danieal Manning, a versatile and effective cover guy and tackler, as well as a terrific return man. Ed Reed enters to replace Glover Quin, who was great for their defense. Reed needs to get healthy and play but when he does, he is likely the best fit (maybe in NFL history) to be the deep, roaming safety at the back of a top, physical press man covering secondary. The hope is that smooth, physical versatile rookie D.J. Swearinger can fill an open safety spot when Reed is out.

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Best Defensive Rookie – OLB Trevardo Williams

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – OLB Whitney Mercilus

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Inside Linebacker

2014 Draft Defensive SuggestionJonathan Brown, Illinois