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Is Competing In 2011 Salvageable For The Texans?

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One man's opinion on what problem areas the Texans will need to shore up to compete next year.

The Monday Morning 2010 QBs will be out in full force today. They'll be taking humongous leaps in logic now that the playoffs are assured to be Texanless for the ninth time in nine seasons. You see, it can't just be that one of the worst defense's in NFL history, brought about by a terrible scheme, terrible coordinator, and terrible defensive backs, held back a solid offense. No, instead the offense will now be the problem. Matt Schaub will spend an offseason being raked over the coals for not being an elite quarterback and throwing ill-timed picks. Mario Williams can be as productive as he wants, but he's never been on a good defense. Nobody here has ever won anything, nobody ever will, etc. The mob mentality will work it's magic here. It's gonna be ugly for a few weeks. 

What's lost is that these Houston Texans really just aren't that bad of a team. The mob storyline might have changed because the Titans loss was bigger than usual, but the Texans pretty solidly found mediocrity again. As I expected. To reach mediocrity, by definition, something must be being done right. So instead of going right into the RABBLERABBLERABBLE, lets take an objective look at what the Texans have and what the Texans need to be able to turn this around next year.

Coaching Staff

There have been so many words spilled on Gary Kubiak at this point that it's not even worth an exhaustive review. He's pretty conclusively proven that he's a bad head coach with a good offensive scheme. If the verdict were to be made by the fans, Kubiak would go. Unfortunately, the Texans aren't owned by the fans, and Bob McNair is too patient. Verdict: Toss.

Rick Dennison brought in a few big changes to the team from a play-calling standpoint. First of all, he almost eliminated the deep play-action pass that was a staple of the Kyle Shanahan offense. That's bad. On the other hand, the run game blossomed under his guidance, and Arian Foster spent a large portion of the year leading the NFL in rushing. I'm torn. The passing game has taken a step backwards to me, but I think this is more a matter of the players than the coach. Verdict: Keep, but I want more play action bombs and less bootlegs.

Frank Bush. You know this one. Verdict: Fire out of a catapult.

I don't think the special teams meltdown is entirely Joe Marciano's fault. His hand-picked returner got hurt in the pre-season, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Bentley both were injured at times and distracted by other duties, Steve Slaton returning kicks smacks of desperation. The kickoff coverage was pretty bad though, and the team definitely found themselves losing a lot of field position over the course of the season. Verdict: I lean keep, with more of an emphasis on using the back end of the roster on players that actually help him out.

Rick Smith, I think, has done a pretty good job of drafting all things considered. The players seem to be more talented before the coaching sucks the life out of them. His free agency record is abysmal, though. And there are questions about how much authority he actually has compared to Kubiak. If I have to toss Smith to get Kubiak out, fine. If not? Verdict: Lean towards tossing.

As for the rest of the staff, I'd let them stay or go at the new head coach's discretion. I can't think of a single area that the Texans realistically improved on outside of line play. On the other hand, I also have extreme distaste with Bill Kollar's "no nose tackles allowed" policy and the pass blocking regression that hit Eric Winston this year makes me antsy about retaining John Benton as well. 

Offense

Matt Schaub is not the problem here. He is not good under pressure, but there are ways to fix that: not running so many damn bootlegs, for one thing. More emphasis on pass-blocking. Fewer drops. A better season from Winston. More snaps out of the shotgun. I'm not trying to be an apologist for his season not being what it was last year, because anyone can tell you that a good running game was going to cut into his stats. Is he an elite quarterback? Ehhh, probably not. Is he a franchise quarterback? Probably. I would make an effort to retain Matt Leinart as my number two guy, but I wouldn't be heartbroken if he left. The Orlovsky experiment has failed, and it's time to let that ship sail.

Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are the obvious cogs to build around. The problem with this is that running backs don't have a lot of tread on their tires as elite, and Johnson played hurt all year and is in the twilight of his prime. This only means that the Texans absolutely need to go balls to the wall to get something out of this core. Vonta Leach must have been saddled by an unknown injury last year, because the difference was night and day. He can stay on as well. The time has definitely come to search for a second reliable wide receiver, either via draft or free agency.

Kevin Walter, while far from a weak link, had a down year and is getting up there in age too. Jacoby Jones should only be retained as a deep-ball specialist/returner. He just doesn't have the hands to operate in the short game. While I love David Anderson's comedy stylings, he gets banged up so much that I'm not comfortable with him as a regular. Derrick Ward I can take or leave, much like Leinart. Ben Tate is the future at backup running back, assuming he comes back healthy. Steve Slaton should have been released two months ago, when it was clear he had no role on this team.

It's also time to say goodbye to Owen Daniels. He gets hurt too often, can't block, and will want too much money to come back to the team. Joel Dreessen and James Casey should be your top two tight ends, hopefully with Casey being on the field more in third down situations then he was this year. Garrett Graham can take another redshirt year if he can't overtake either of them. Anthony Hill will be injured before you've finished this article.

One of the main problems I think the offensive line had this year was that the Texans focused so much, in both words and acquisitions, on improving the run blocking. All one needs to do is look at the line they assembled: all five of their linemen are better run blockers than pass blockers. Wade Smith, brought in from KC, was a run mauler first. Chris Myers is a run-blocker first. Mike Brisiel (when healthy) is almost a pure run-blocker. It's an interesting conundrum, for sure. The Texans either need to rely on Winston to bounce back or find someone up the middle who can actually be a decent pass-blocker. I'm not saying the line is a problem: teams have won with worse. But it could definitely use some tinkering to get a better pass/run balance.

Getting rid of Kubiak's early game script, which has proven completely ineffective for multiple seasons, will be as much of a boon for this unit as any realistic move they could make.

Verdict: This offense needs some minor tweaks, but to say that it's a problem is ludicrous.

Defense

Amobi Okoye was one of the very few Texans who I thought played better this season than last. Combine him with Mario Williams and Antonio Smith, along with cameos by Connor Barwin, Tim Jamison, Tim Bulman, and so on, and I think you've got the foundation of a good defensive line. Nose tackle still needs to be addressed, but I'm comfortable with the talent level up and down the line asides from that. Shaun Cody is still not a starter on a good team.

At the linebacker spot, the Texans might need some work. Brian Cushing fell off from last season's stellar form, but he played okay enough to still warrant a starting spot. I don't know what to expect out of DeMeco Ryans. Great leader, great player, but how does the injury affect him long-term? The Texans might be well-served to find out a reliable backup plan. Zac Diles has absolutely played his way into a bench role, and by default that leaves Darryl Sharpton as the starter. I'm not sure if Sharpton is a starter long-term or not, but the team shouldn't turn away any chances to upgrade here based on six-seven solid games.

The secondary might seem like it needs a total teardown, but it really just needs to have the same issues addressed as it did last season. Glover Quin is the only cornerback that really showed that he belongs in the NFL, and even he has had rough points at times this season, as you may all remember. Kareem Jackson isn't going anywhere, because you can't just give up on a first round cornerback after one year, but the team should not act like he has anything guaranteed to him in the coming seasons. He has to play his way onto the field. Antwaun Molden barely played, which really makes you question just how bad he looks in practice. Brice McCain led all Houston defensive backs in both falling down and whining to officials. Jason Allen was okay, but nothing special, which sadly made him the starter halfway through the season. The Texans should make an effort to obtain a good cornerback this offseason, and no, mock drafters, that does not mean they should draft another new one, because that solves nothing in the short term.. 

Then we get to the safeties. Eugene Wilson is culprit number one of why this defense was so execrable--no hands, no range, a complete lack of talent. That he was handed a starting job without any competition was a damning indictment of this organization. And speaking of damning indictments, how about Troy Nolan not even being able to completely unseat him? Bernard Pollard is a fine run stopper, but I feel like he'd do a lot better if the Texans actually played to his strengths. That means no more cover 2 safety, no more covering Desean Jackson one-on-one. Use him on run downs, use him as a blitzer, and keep him away from third and anything. Pollard can stay in that case, the rest of the safeties need to be cut and thrown to the wolves.

Verdict: The talent isn't last place bad, but nagging problem areas need to finally be addressed.

How I see it, the Texans most pressing needs coming into this offseason:

1) Defensive Coordinator
2) Safety
3) Nose Tackle
4) Bonafide cornerback
5) Head Coach
6) Linebacker
7) Wide receiver
8) Offensive Line help
9) Kick returner
10) Punter

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