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There's More To Kick Return Woes Than Just New Rules, Gary

For the Houston Texans, the preseason has been brilliant. They have two wins, but the real story is how they have those wins. The defense had seven sacks and a takeaway against New York while New Orleans couldn't stop the Texans from racking up 208 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Yet, there has been a glaring weakness in both games – Joe Marciano’s special teams unit.

We won’t even get into the woeful punt return average of 3.7 yards per return, the opponent's 13.8 yards per punt return against, or the uninspired punting competition, because Houston's kickoff return team has been, by far, the most troubling of all the aspects. Through two games in the preseason, the Houston Texans are 2nd worst in the NFL with an average of 16.9 yards per kick return. Only Atlanta’s 14.0 YPKR is worse.

During head coach Gary Kubiak’s Sunday press conference, he addressed kickoff returns. Per Twitter:

Kubiak on kick returns: "I like what I saw from Shiloh (Keo)... We've got to make some vast improvements in those areas."

@HoustonTexans Kubiak on sp. teams: "We've got to make some vast improvements in those areas...The game's changed from a kickoff return standpoint."

Unfortunately, this can’t be blamed on the new kickoff rule, Gary. Under the same rules, your kickoff coverage unit has allowed 28.6 YPKR. Beyond that, the kick return unit has been in decline for quite some time.

In 2007, the Texans had the 2nd best return team in YPKR (26.5) to go along with four touchdowns. In 2008, returns dipped to 21.5 YPKR which took the franchise to 26th overall. There was small improvement in 2009 with a 22.6 YPKR average, but it bottomed out in 2010 with an average of 19.8 YPKR (6th worst in the NFL). The coverage unit didn’t fare any better with the Texans allowing an 8th worst 24.2 YPKR against, so putting rules on the wedge can’t be all to blame there.

Just looking at the decline, you have to put the blame on Marciano and the inability to adapt to new coverage rules with good blocking schemes. Being 31st in returns is a far from ideal situation that Kubiak should’ve addressed during the declining return years, but here here we are in 2011 with no real solution presenting itself and return averages continuing to drop.

Safety Danieal Manning and wide receiver Jacoby Jones have experience returning kicks, but I could understand and support why Kubiak wouldn’t want to put them in that role. Steve Slaton also has experience, but he’s to blame for 2010. Trindon Holliday's been hurt ever since he bobbled kicks last preseason.

As we head towards Saturday’s third preseason game, fans can only wonder if Brice McCain, Sherrick McManis, Ben Tate, or someone else will get a crack at improving the emptiest hole on the depth chart because the best return option is currently taking a knee in the end zone (which the Texans have only done once in four opportunities).

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.