Time permitting, this will be the first installment in a new series. Unfortunately, due to working 100 hour weeks again, I've only been able to formulate posts in my addled mind and not present them here. I hope my work commitment eases off again soon, but for the immediate future, I'm not counting on it. There's my big, giant disclaimer.
The point of this series is to review in independent, objective terms how our individual Texans performed over the past year and then point out places to improve. Is there any better start than our "secondary"? I thought not. These will largely be based on ProFootballFocus' ratings, but I'm going to add some eyeball thoughts in as well. Allow me to emphasize the independence of their rankings but also what our guts tell us. When it comes to football, it's difficult to judge, for example, how a guard performs on every play: we don't know what they were supposed to do from the play-call. There's the series' huge disclaimer. Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy, are you ready to make sweet jump with me? (Also, a thanks to Neil at PFF for giving me permission to use numbers as I am below.)
Quick Note: I've recommended PFF normalize stats as performance against their opponent. Here's an example: Let's say Donovan McNabb throws for 400 yards against the Texans, but then he also does so against the Baltimore Ravens. McNabb would get more value for his performance against the Ravens than he would against the Texans because our secondary was just oh-so-bad and the Ravens' was the counter-opposite. However, this is a microscopic quibble with PFF. I truly value their independence and objectivity, something I know is difficult when I watch the Texans (see also: Zac Diles, Shaun Cody). With all that said, let's get to the Texans.
Cornerbacks: Heading into the draft, would you have said the difference between Devin McCourty and Kareem Jackson was the equivalent of good and evil? Probably not. In fact, the Texans passed on McCourty to take Jackson. Alas, they were pretty much counter-opposites in terms of performance. On an overall basis, McCourty wound up ranked 9th at 11.6, Jackson was 97th (out of 100) at -12.8. There was a nearly 20 point spread between their coverage ratings. To help you visualize, the difference between the two is Christina Hendricks compared to William Howard Taft.
Brice McCain clocked in at 92 with an overall rating of -10.8 And remember: McCain didn't even dress for a couple of games down the stretch. Jason Allen came in and did well, right? Nope as he ranks in at 68 during his stint as a Texan. In fact, Allen was better as a Dolphin last year (44th), and he was still cut. Let that sink in for a moment.
Overall, and this shouldn't be a surprise, Glover Quin was our best CB last year ranking at 42 in Overall score, but his numbers are heavily skewed by The Rusty Smith Experience.
To emphasize the point: Our CBs were super, extraordinarily, horribly, embarrassingly bad last year, Glover Quin somewhat excluded. But here's another odd point about Quin: he ranked 3rd against the run as a CB. He's an elite run-stopper, and I again argue he would make a better FS than CB. I state emphatically that Glover Quin would be an elite FS in this league, and even at the risk of further weakening our truly crappy CB play, moving Quin to FS would be a tremendous move. There are few better fundamental tacklers on the team than Quin.
When viewed from a purely developmental standpoint, one that says not one of our CBs has improved from their rookie season, I strongly believe our coaching is/was a bigger problem than our players. There's absolutely no way in which McCourty is that much better than Jackson one year removed from college, and the overall lack of development is incredibly laughable. David Gibbs and Ray Rhodes dug this team a hole with their utter and complete incompetence. The development of our CBs, whether by improved technique or a better pass rush, is instrumental to any defensive success heading into 2011.
Strong Safety: When I predicted the regression of Bernard Pollard, mean ol' MDC made fun of me. /sniff/ As I long argued throughout 2009, we were able to succeed because we were able to stuff the box with Pollard. The moment he had to cover, we were screwed. Pollard's numbers reflect this. His 124.9 passer rating against is atrocious. On an overall basis, Pollard ranked 70th out of 86 for all safeties. The vast majority of his value is as a pass rusher, not in either stopping the run and especially not against the pass. In fact, his negative rating against the run is a testament to his poor angles and, quite frankly, inability to finish tackles. You have arms for a reason, Bernie.
No matter how you examine the situation, Pollard is a tremendous liability to the team when asked to do the "normal" things a SS is asked to do. He was exposed all year as a fraud in coverage, and his 2009 looks increasingly like an outlier.
Free Safety: Truly, what can I say about Eugene Wilson I haven't already said? The only way he doesn't hurt us is that he didn't commit a single penalty last year, so he's got that going for him, which is completely and utterly void in value (you mean, he didn't commit a negative???). Out of 85 safeties, Wilson ranked 82nd, ahead of only Madieu Williams, and Don Carey. The Stone Handed Zombie wasn't only Brice McCain bad, but he was even worse.
Troy Nolan was equally execrable, clocking in at 69 out of those 85 safeties in his limited time. Almost the entirety of his value was wrapped up in the Oakland game with his pair of picks. Aside from that, almost everything he did was a negative.
2011: If Eugene Wilson is in a Texans uniform, expect more of the same. There's simply no two-ways about it. He had no business being on the field in 2010, and if he takes a single snap in 2011, it'll be a testament to our complacency. All things considered, our needs at FS outweigh those at CB as we at least have talent at CB. Some talent. Well, a little talent. Troy Nolan is most definitely not the answer at FS, though a limited shot at SS may be warranted.
At least one, if not two CBs, are urgently necessary. Moving Quin to FS alleviates the FS problem but increases the need at CB. Building at CB through the draft is probably not practical unless there's an immediate upgrade available in the first round, a doubtful proposition. Pollard needs to go unless we move him to OLB, which is not bloody likely.
Of the current personnel that comprises the Texans' secondary, only Quin, Jackson, and to a lesser extent, Allen (who at least picked off three passes) have earned shots at staying. The remainder aren't even replacement level, though I would give McCain a chance to redeem himself for what he showed at the end of 2009 when he was only slightly below average. Otherwise, if none of Wilson or Nolan or, yes, even Pollard appear on the Texans' 2011 roster, we will be in a better place.