It seems that everyone is chiming in with season predictions for the Houston Texans, but I will hold off on mine until the end of this here post.
Now that the games matter, I can delve back into the Deep Steel Blueprint. Given the potentially season-ending injury to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, some of you may think the game is all but won, due to sheer talent differential between the teams, which would make this little exercise pointless. I don't fall into that line of thinking whatsoever (at least, I have to tell myself that to keep the motivation up to write this piece). Without any real statistics available for the season, this week will be more or less what I think will and should happen.
Hit the jump to see my blueprint for Sunday's season-opening game as well as my own predictions for the 2011 Texans.
Part One: A Defensive Relentless Assault
The Colts' current situation can best be summed up as a motley crew lost at sea without a captain. If that be the case, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' defense needs to be the storm on the horizon. We have seen Phillips' 3-4 base defense succeed with 15 sacks in four preseason games, so his non-vanilla defense needs to live up to the incredible hype and expectations that everyone has.
Kerry Collins, jokes aside, isn't a joke (Writer's note: that's the best sentence I've ever written). Amidst the vodka, people tend to forget that he's a competent NFL quarterback who can still complete passes. The key here, since he's the newly signed quarterback leading an unfamiliar offense with a new offensive line to protect him, is to not let him catch his breath or get comfortable. Uncle Wade should call a lot of blitzes and stunts to make life difficult for a line that doesn't have any significant experience together - especially rookie Anthony Castonzo.
While I imagine the Colts will throw two tight end offenses out there to help the pass protection, and maybe create tight end mismatches, I do think Castonzo's inexperience, combined with the new line's lack of time to work on their communication, can hinder Indianapolis if Phillips can exploit it.
If Mario Williams, J.J. Watt, and company are twisting and zone blitzing frequently then that offense shouldn't be able to get into gear. At the end of the game, if Wade's defense has wreaked havoc, the Colts' offense should still be lost at sea wondering where their captain is.
Step Two: Offensive Creativity Should Keep The Ends Guessing
When you play the Colts, the offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with All-Pro defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Watching the Colts during preseason (I watched all four games), they seemed to rotate their linemen into a "run defense" line and a "pass rush" line. While it wasn't a straight switch, Indy rotated their defensive line far more than I can remember in an attempt to take advantage of their depth to keep Freeney and Mathis healthy and fix their run defense. A clever man knows the Colts will be prepared for a running trio of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, and Derrick Ward, but that's where James Casey comes into play.
Line him up as a fullback, or perhaps you motion him out wide, or maybe you move him to tight end or H-back slot. Maybe he lead blocks, runs up the seam, takes a play action fake, or is just a moving decoy. The thing about James is you don't tilt your hand any when he's on the field. Matt Schaub can put that offense into whatever works best, run or pass, and you can do it with ease, thanks to Casey, because he can capably put his helmet on a linebacker and is a receiving mismatch.
Coach Gary Kubiak could, and should, let the Texans push the tempo without losing any of his offensive plays, unlike last year with Vonta Leach's limits. When you can have this unpredictable an offense, you can keep a defense on its heels - which is what you want to do when you face Freeney and Mathis. If they can't speed rush downhill, those All-Pro ends become easier to manage for Duane Brown and Eric Winston. If they want to rush downhill, then you can play into that by running off-tackle. Control the ends and the Texans will have an easy time moving the ball.
I think it's a winnable game for the Texans, but they'll need to come ready to play and ready to control the pace of the game. Without Manning, it should be easier, but Indianapolis will give Houston nothing. At the end of the day, the game comes down to the coordinators. If they take advantage of the situation and have prepared their units then this should be a win.
For the season, I think the Texans will go 10-6 and head to the playoffs. I do believe this is a team that will start out shaky before really rounding into form due to the defense growing through some pain.
The AFC South is definitely there for the taking, as the three other teams have big, glaring questions, and I believe the Texans take it for the first time in franchise history.
Without Manning starting, the Texans have, without a doubt and by far, the division's best and most balanced offense. Given their ranks last year, the defenses were close. Indianapolis is more or less the same, Jacksonville didn't address their pass defense, and Tennessee lost Jim Washburn, their best lineman and hired Frank Bush to contribute to their defensive staff. Houston added a better coordinator and more talent so, on paper, I like where the defense is and could go. The talent is there for a season longer than 16 games, so there are really no excuses for the Texans. It's time to deliver and anything less is an absolute failure.
Sound off in the comments on the blueprint or my predictions. What say you about Sunday, BRBers?