32 teams in 32 days: Texans
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 29, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this look at the hottest thing to hit Houston since the great heatwave of '03 ...
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2007 record: 8-8 (379-384)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-7
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 7.8-8.2
All-time franchise record: 32-64 (.333)
Playoff record: 0-0
Last five seasons: 28-52 (.350)
Best game of 2007: 23-10 home win over New Orleans (Week 11). This win came as New Orleans was experiencing a midseason rebirth, and was one of the rare occasions where all three phases of the game came together for Houston. Four of their eight wins came over teams who finished 4-12 or worse.
Silly-season activity: The Texans have signed or re-signed 14 free agents so far, none of which caused ESPN to break in to their regular programming with a news alert. But with a team that has improved in both of the last two seasons, adding depth and standing pat with the guys you have is probably a success. The Texans might make a big free-agent push someday, but are probably another year of .500 or better away from doing that.
Strength: Offensive line. What? Houston's offensive line is good? It sure was. Although the OL graded out only at No. 13 on the Offensive Hog Index, a look at the talent around them makes a case that the team's moderate offensive success was built here. Because of injury, the Texans lost their No. 1 RB, QB and WR for significant portions of the season. Yet they had a stellar No. 5 ranking in Passing Yards Per Attempt, and underwhelming RBs Ron Dayne, Ahman Green and Darius Walker combined for 322 carries, 1297 yards, 9 TDs and a solid (for them) 4.01 YPA average. It's not the youngest group in the league (average age 29.4), but these Hogs got it done last year.
Weakness: Secondary. The Texans were bad at everything pass defense last year. They were 30th in Defensive Passer Rating (a horrible 93.6), allowed 66.1 percent completions and picked off just 11 passes, tied for fewest in the league last year. Things got even worse when CB Dunta Robinson went down with injury after nine weeks, with their last seven opponents all passing for at least 229 yards per game.
Most underrated player: TE Owen Daniels. Daniels was the ninth TE taken in the 2006 Draft, but has outproduced everyone ahead of him. Last year he caught 63 passes (more than he caught over his entire four-year college career) for 768 yards (sixth among all tight ends) and 12.2 YPC (fourth among TEs with 20 or more catches), and was a key cog in Houston's successful passing game.
Unit on the rise: Defensive line. For all of Houston's talent here – three first-rounders starting – they'd better be on the rise. And they certainly can't be much worse than last year, when they ranked 31st on the Defensive Hog Index. DTs Amobi Okoye and Travis Johnson haven't lived up to their potential yet (at least as run-stoppers, where the team allowed 4.4 yards a crack). Second-year man and former overall No. 1 Mario Williams had a breakthrough season (14 sacks), but the Texans got nothing from the other DE spot and will be looking for another pass rusher in this year's draft.
2007 Draft grade: Incomplete. Houston drafted projects with their top two picks last year, 20-year-old DT Okoye and third-round WR Jacoby Jones from Lane College. Both played a lot last year, Jones as a punt returner/No. 4 receiver, Okoye as a starting DT, but it'll still be a couple of years before there's something solid to go on here. Fourth-rounder Fred Bennett saw some action at CB when Robinson went down, and struggled.
2008 Draft power: 1st (18), 3rd (79), 4th (114), 5th (143), 6th (174), 7th (205).
General Draft strategy: The Texans have picked in the top 10 overall in five of their six years of existence, but it wasn't until 2006 that they had their first breakthrough draft. Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans are the most decorated young defensive duo in the league, although their big numbers haven't translated to success on that side of the ball. Eric Winston is a solid starter at RT, and Daniels is money at TE. But the Texans had terrible drafts throughout their infancy, and need another strong class in 2008. They are without a second-rounder for the second straight year thanks to the acquisition of QB Matt Schaub, so their No. 18 pick will have to be a winner. Draftniks like them to take an RB in the first round, but an outside pass rusher or defensive back makes a lot more sense at that selection.
Youth/experience: The Texans will be a young crew next year, with no projected defensive or skill-position starters over 30. However, there is plenty of experience, thanks largely to last year's injury problems – the Texans got starts from 42 different players last year, a remarkably high number. GM Rick Smith, going into his third year, has assembled a well-balanced roster.
Coaching: Gary Kubiak is bucking the trend of head coaches who bring a specialty on one side of the ball but succeed on the other (Billick in Baltimore, Crennel in Cleveland, Lewis in Cincinnati, Dungy in Indianapolis, Gruden in Tampa). He has turned around Houston's offense in two seasons on the job, and has lived up to offensive guru billing. Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike, has moved up to offensive coordinator this year. The defense hasn't been as good under Kubiak – it's improved, but only from terrible to less than mediocre. Veteran Richard Smith is the defensive coordinator, having coached with Kubiak in Denver, and he does have some pieces to work with. But another sub-par year on defense, and you have to think they'll start looking for a bigger name. Special-teams coach Joe Marciano has been with Houston since Day 1, and led the No. 3 team on our Special Teams Index this past year. He's been doing this for awhile, folks – he was the special teams coach on the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL.
Overview: The Texans succeeded (by their low standards) in 2007 despite significant injury and a still-maturing roster. They have improved their record two years running. Still, all discussions of Houston's bright future start with their closest competition; the AFC South of 2007 had the best overall record in NFL history. If one team ahead of them falters, that's still two more to overcome. The Texans are traveling a righteous path toward respectability, but it's blocked by bullies everywhere they turn: Houston boasted a single victory in the division last year and just four over the past three seasons.
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