Ah, Summer...why can't you just go away so we can play some football?
Seeing as it is only July 6th, a season prediction post feels like a stretch. Predicting games is hard enough, and there are too many unknown variables before training camp even starts (thankfully, camp's coming soon). One of the few things that could be done, without wildly predicting games, is looking at what this team needs to do to improve upon 2009's franchise-best nine win season.
Aside from everyone's favorite answers of improving the rushing attack and making field goals, let's look at five parts of the 2010 Deep Steel Blueprint that the Texans must follow to have THE GREATEST SEASON EVAR IN FRANCHISE HISTORY!!!!1!!!1!
Last year, Matt Schaub dropped back 626 times. The offensive line combined to allow, according to ProFootballFocus, 193 combined sacks, hits, and pressures. In other words, Schaub wasn't comfortable in the pocket 31% of the time he dropped back. Now, that's really not too shabby, compared to other pass-heavy teams such as the Cardinals' duo of Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart (231/622 for 38%) or Peyton Manning (197/583 for 34%). You have to give the offensive line some credit there.
However, the offensive line will face a much tougher test this season with the NFC West being replaced by the NFC East. It'll be up to the line to gel and, at the least, maintain last year's protection rate. Ideally, it'd be nice if that number could be lowered to around 25%, but if the offensive line maintained that 30% ballpark rate then we could probably live with it, especially since 127 of that 193 comes from simple pressure as opposed to someone touching teh Schaub.
2) It's time to stop being the AFC South Doormat.
1-15, 4-12, 8-8, and, last but not least, 1-5. Those would be the all-time records against the Colts, Titans, Jaguars, and last season's divisional record. I'm actually surprised that the Texans are 8-8 against the Jaguars because of how decent that is. I was also surprised to learn that David Freakin' Carr led the Texans to their only winning record in the division with 2004's 4-2 mark.
The importance of winning in the division cannot be understated. Since 2002, no NFL team has made the playoffs without at least two division wins, so 1-5 won't cut it again. Even then, only four percent of playoff teams--that's 4-of-96--have made the playoffs with a 2-4 division record. Those six games will go a long way in determining the postseason fate of Andre Johnson and Company.
Houston gets a little bit of help from the schedule makers, as both the Indianapolis games get extended time for game-planning due to their being the first game and post-bye game (although that does go both ways). There's also four division games in November and December, when the Texans typically play their best football in the Kubiak era. The whens aside, the division woes must change if this team is to take that elusive next step.
3) Frank Bush, can we see that aggressive defense we were promised?
The notion that defense wins championships is a bit misguided. You don't need to play great defense, but the defense does need to do something well. Look at last year's conference championship game participants: The Saints were takeaway artists, the Colts harass your quarterback relentlessly with speed, the Jets have defensive backs that make receivers disappear, and the Vikings' defensive line owns any offensive line. So what does Frank Bush's defense do well? ... ... ... Please, don't answer all answer at once. ... ... ... Okay, can anyone answer? Bueller? Bueller?
Even with the all-important, according to Madden NFL '11, "swagger injection" of Mr. Bernard Pollard, the Texans still need to find an identity on defense. An identity like stopping the run
Defensive Line coach Bill Kollar wanted his smaller, speedy defensive linemen. Kollar's got them now, so Williams, Smith, Barwin, Okoye, Mitchell, and Cody need to make it happen by making opposing quarterbacks beg for mercy. There's more than enough talent there to help the Texans get into the top half of the league in sacks.
4) Question: Which team played the best defense against the Texans in 2009? Answer: Who are the Houston Texans?
As our livers can attest, this team loved to shoot itself in the foot last season. Heck, they shot themselves in just about every possible body part.
Why did it feel like a crucial drive often ended with a dropped pass on offense? Didn't it feel like Peyton Manning, Chris Johnson, and Maurice Jones-Drew did what they wanted against the defense even without the aid of those NFL-Worst, according to PFF, 58 defensive penalties that gave teams free yards and first downs? Do we need to talk about the 11 missed field goals? What about the Schaub interceptions or Chris Brown fumbles towards the end of games?
Flawless football shouldn't be expected, but no team can overcome all of those mistakes. Even if they perform similar to last year, those lovable Texans would do better than 9-7 if they cut down on their own mistakes.
5) As cliche as it has become, we need another season of franchise firsts, franchise records, best player/unit in franchise history, and biggest game(s) in franchise history.
If this season is to go like we want, then it's time for the guys in battle red to check some things off the "never done list." What are some things that have never been done by the Texans?
- A winning September. The franchise has a 7-16 all-time record in the season's first month, with no month better than 2-2. These slow starts have always had the Texans chasing .500 as opposed to chasing 10 wins.
- A win against the Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, Jets, and Chargers, as the franchise is a combined 0-14 against those teams - all of whom appear on the 2010 schedule.
- A win in Indianapolis or a sweep of Peyton and the Peytoneers. In the eight-year history of the AFC South, the Colts have only lost three divisional home games and been swept once out of 24 tries.
- A win streak longer than four consecutive games.
- A home record better than 6-2. Since 2002, 70% of playoff teams take care of business at home and finished the season with a home record of 6-2 or better.
- A player with 10+ receiving touchdowns. Since 2002, the season average is eight players with 10+ receiving TDs - yes, Andre Johnson's franchise-record is only nine. Perhaps the answer to the red zone struggles would be getting the ball in the hands of the team's best player...oh, there I go thinking logically again. Silly me.
- A defense that has given up less than 20.8 points per game - a feat that 16 teams achieved last season.
- An offense that has scored more than 24.3 ppg - a feat that 9 teams achieved last season.
- A NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, or NFL MVP. Unlike most years, the Texans have legitimate candidates in Ben Tate, Matt Schaub, and Mario Williams.
If some of those get done this year, then we can finally cross off some other never done items, such as a 10+ win season or a playoff appearance, which would remove the dubious distinction of "only professional sports team without a playoff appearance (NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB)."
At a luncheon in June, Coach Kubiak said, "I don't care about who we play, I care about how we play." A lot of this team's problems are completely within their control. If this young team can grow up together and play a smart and FULL (cannot stress that enough) 60 minutes then I like their chances against any team out there.
There's no reason why this talented roster can't impose their will on any other team - tough schedule or not. Don't get suckered into that talk of "tough schedule" because there are simply no excuses for Gary Kubiak and his band of merry men. The offense is among the league's finest and the defense certainly is capable of playing well enough (in the vein of Indianapolis or New Orleans) to win games. My friends, the playoffs are entirely possible. Show the comments no mercy.