In the interminable offseason, there isn’t much football news other than reports of players (thankfully non-Texans) getting arrested. So here’s a few beaten-to-death discussion points for us Texans fans to go over.
What’s going to hold the Texans back in 2012?
To answer this question, many analysts look to the position with the most turnover, which would be the offensive line and specifically RG and RT. Oddly enough, few people highlight Wade Smith as the possible weak link in the O line, despite being the underachiever of the group. I suppose being sandwiched in between two of the premier linemen in the league helps get your mediocrity overlooked.
Antoine Caldwell taking over at RG doesn’t bother me too much when it comes to the running attack, and I’m sure Arian Foster doesn’t mind either; some of Foster’s best runs to the right side came with Caldwell in the game, albeit with Eric Winston helping out as well. Unfortunately, Caldwell’s pass blocking is underwhelming; all you have to do to get worried for the coming season is to re-watch the 2010 Ravens game in which Caldwell was repeatedly abused by Haloti Ngata whenever Schaub dropped back to pass.
I don’t really know enough about Rashad Butler and his abilities to have an strong opinion on him. I doubt he can match Eric Winston’s enthusiastic run blocking, but if he can be a sound pass blocker then his shortcomings will be easier to swallow. All I know is that the move to release Winston would probably have looked a bit smarter had Butler been completely healthy and not recovering from a torn muscle.
Too many articles on the web have yammered about how the Texans now have only two wide receivers who have caught an NFL pass. Whenever I hear that, I always think "Yeah, but this is still the most talent we’ve had at the position for years." No matter their inexperience, I’d still rather have today’s wide receivers than the carousel of worn out or talentless veterans we’ve seen at the position in years past. However, the Texans front office will be under some scrutiny for their WR draft strategy. Now, few people are going to get too critical over the Keshawn Martin pick. He’s a versatile player and seemed well worth the fourth round pick, so Rick Smith doesn’t have to be ashamed if Martin doesn’t produce. But Devier Posey is a different matter. While the trade out of the second round probably had more to do with gaining an extra pick than anything else, it still stands to reason that Rick Smith and company essentially passed on Reuben Randle in the second round because they truly believed the problems at wide receiver are equally or sufficiently resolved by drafting Posey instead. How much of an indictment of the Texans’ talent evaluation will it be if Randle or other passed-on receivers like Mohamed Sanu prove to be successful as professionals and Posey does not?
It always seems rather childish to complain about scheduling, but it’s ignoring reality to pretend that it doesn’t matter. The unlucky draw the Texans got this year is the matchup against the NFC North, which seems to be the most powerful division in the league heading into this season. Keep in mind though that the NFC South slate looked horribly difficult a year ago, before the Buccaneers collapsed into a puddle of goo. For right now, three of four NFC North games look to be very tough, although thankfully the best team of the three we get at home.
The difficulty of the AFC East slate all depends on how good the Bills and Jets prove to be this year. We already know the Monday night game at New England will be horribly hard; the home opener against Miami, not so much (but still a dangerous opportunity to fall). But the Bills and Jets are still, to me at least, enigmas. If both teams continue with their 2011 mediocrity, then this schedule becomes a bit easier to get through.
The two other non-divisional AFC games aren’t the two worst possible matchups, but they’re still harder than getting the Dolphins and Raiders last season. The Ravens are more than likely still going to be a good team, despite their offseason depletions, but I think this year the Texans are finally going to face them with a slight edge, spread across the areas of personnel, coaching, and home-field advantage. And as for the Broncos game, I’m going to be on tenterhooks throughout, wondering at every snap whether I’m about to see the violent and permanent end of Peyton Manning’s career.
Finally we get to our AFC South games, which are a little harder to guess the difficulty of than it first seems. I couldn’t help but chuckle darkly when I first saw when the Colts games would be held. Maybe I’m too much of a conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that the NFL doesn’t want the Colts’ new quarterback to have to face the meat-grinding Texans defense too early in his very first season. These two Indianapolis games could prove to be vital for the Texans if they haven’t yet locked up a playoff berth or divisional title by that point, or (hopefully) a first-round bye.
The Jaguars are rather puzzling. Their defense is undeniably good, and they do now have a few wide receivers as opposed to having no wide receivers at all. So while there is a possibility for improvement, I still think the Jaguars are painfully limited by Blaine Gabbert’s inability to function as an NFL quarterback, i.e. not collapse under the slightest pressure. Therefore the two Jacksonville games are possibly the best two chances to collect wins in the early and middle season.
Watch out for the BE-SFs. I may not have concrete reasoning for this, but my gut feeling is that they could take advantage of a weak AFC and grab enough wins to contend with the Texans for the AFC South title. Of course, their schedule is every bit as difficult as Houston’s, but Methopotamia has a way of defying expectations and playing well when you least expect it; last year few people expected much from them, what with a new coaching staff, but they still managed to eke out nine wins. Oddly enough, there was no team that the Texans more thoroughly dominated last year than the BE-SFs, except maybe the Bengals. But the Texans weren’t able to beat the Bengals by a 34 point margin on the road, and I doubt they could’ve come within a hair of beating them with a collection of backups and third-stringers in a game where Gary Kubiak couldn’t have cared less about winning. So it’s rather odd that the team I’m most worried about happens to be the team that was most eminently beatable by Houston in 2011. Nevertheless, the BE-SFs are the team most likely to push the Texans to gain more victories late in the upcoming season.