Will the 10th time be a charm for the Houston Texans?
In the final season of the team’s first decade of existence, they’re still seeking that inaugural playoff appearance. And while that sounds pathetic on paper, they’ve rarely been lousy during their nine years as a franchise.
They just haven’t been good enough.
It would also seem that they’re still suffering from that problem. After all, the team is coming off a 6-10 season, hasn’t exactly overhauled the roster and is about to make the sometimes messy transition to a 3-4 formation under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
But this isn’t a 6-10 team. They’re better than that, and the one weakness that weighed them down in 2010 — the pass defense — has been drastically improved with two free agent acquisitions. We’re about to find out if new defensive backs Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning will provide enough of a jolt to fix Houston’s world-famous Achilles’ heel.
2010 in a nutshell: They have the fourth-best passing game and the seventh-best running game in the league, but the secondary gets torched week in and week out. They allow 8.2 yards per attempt, a league-worst 267.5 passing yards per game and a league-high 33 passing touchdowns. There’s nothing Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Arian Foster can do to compensate for that kind of ineptitude.
Three predictions for 2011:
1. Arian Foster will have another big year: So will the offense in general, but I want to make it clear that I don’t believe Foster’s breakout 2010 campaign was a fluke. He was consistent from start to finish last year, and will only benefit from having a healthier Andre Johnson to keep defenses honest in 2011. Houston’s biggest offseason loss was fullback Vonta Leach, but there might not be a big drop-off from Leach to his replacement, Lawrence Vickers. The offense will once again be well balanced and extremely dangerous this year, and Foster will be a key contributor. He might even lead the league in rushing again.
2. The defense will still be sub-par: I’m excited about the presence of Joseph, who was the second-best cover corner on the market and plays at a Pro Bowl level, and Manning, who is exceptionally good in coverage from the safety position, but it’s going to take some time for them to adjust to the 3-4. Part of the problem with the pass defense last year was that they didn’t get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks (just 30 sacks) and I can’t see that number getting much better with top pass rusher Mario Williams trying to adjust to a weakside linebacker role. They’re also relying on quite a few unproven players to adjust on the fly and improve swiftly. If dudes like Kareem Jackson, Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt struggle, so too will the defense as a whole.
3. They’ll finally make the playoffs: Prognosticators have been saying this for half a decade, but it looks as though it’s finally time for the Texans to break through. They finally have enough balance between the offense and the defense (and enough balance within each unit) and they’re finally mature enough to handle a run into January.
The final word(s): They could use more depth at a lot of positions — particularly receiver, end, safety and corner — but the Colts are having some issues and the Titans and Jaguars aren’t exactly scaring anyone. This will be the year they finally win 10-plus games.