Restablishing The Baseline: Where Were We?

If the 2012 season was a cornerback, the prospect of a healthy Andre would make it feel inadequate. Kind of like innegan.

A few weeks ago, we took my daughter to Disney World for the first time. Going to Disney when you live where I live is not that big a deal. It's about an hour drive from my door to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, so we don't even necessarily get a hotel (Food and Wine Festival time of year excluded - nobody is fit to drive home after that).

Seeing as my daughter is only a year and a half old, it's also not like she was dying to go. She can recognize Mickey Mouse out of a cartoon lineup, but there was no screaming anticipation, desperate "are we there yet" speeches, or otherwise agonizing moments leading up to our arrival. My seven year old niece, however, was ecstatic about the trip. Living in Florida in no way diminishes her level of excitement.

My wife and I both recalled what it was like going to Disney World as children. She was born and raised in Florida, and while I moved here when I was ten years old, I vividly remember making a family trip here back when I was an easily influenced six year old still living up in the Woodlands.

The anticipation of a Disney World trip was like nothing else. Everything in life revolved around that moment - I remember staring at the clock wondering if I manually spun the hands, would it actually make the time go faster? Back then, there were a few events that took the excitement levels through the roof; with birthdays and Christmas rivaling Disney trips for our heated attention.

As we've grown older, though, the realities of life have all but beaten that excitement out of us. Few things get us as riled up as those simple moments when we were children. But a few still persist, and one of those is the opening weekend of the NFL. While that's still over a month away, the first moments that signal its approach are rapidly approaching.

Are we there yet?

If your offseason has been anything like mine, it’s been filled with non-football related distractions. The draft and OTAs were a welcome reprieve, but they’re the NFL equivalent of talking about the salad in a steakhouse. Once the steak arrives, nobody cares how good the croutons were.

So I think it’s time to recalibrate ourselves on where the team stands and what we should be expecting and looking forward to this season.

Wide Receivers

There has been a lot of talk about who will fill the roster spots behind Andre Johnson. Kevin Walter’s best days seem to be behind him, and there is a good amount of potential surrounding the rookies and second-year players. I’ve also heard discussion about how the team desperately needs to bring in a veteran receiver for depth, but all of this is seemingly ignoring the most critical element: Andre Johnson.

Regardless of what your opinion is on the depth of the corps behind ‘Dre, there’s nobody on the current roster that would be able to fill in should he go down again. This was proven last year. As much love as I have for Andre Johnson, he’s not been the healthiest of cats over the years. It’s possible that some of this is starting to catch up with him.

The running game has the ability to keep the chains moving and is among the most dynamic in the league, but the passing game is what makes the offense explosive. That explosiveness is non-existent if Andre and Matt Schaub are not on the field. This was reinforced when I watched a replay of the Buccaneers game from last season. The level of excitement and fear – from the perspective of the opposition – generated by this offense is inversely proportional to the amount of time AJ spends on the trainer’s table.

Expectations

One of the biggest challenges that this team faces is the ability to handle increased expectations. That said, they are far more prepared for this than are we, the fans. Texans fans are now going to find themselves in a difficult position.

The expectations placed on this team are rightfully high. If the Universe and any overseeing forces that may control it have any sense of balance, the Texans will have a relatively healthy year and will be among the favorites to represent the team in the Super Bowl.

Yet because of the national media’s Tebowian tunnel vision, the Texans will not garner the attention they deserve. So allow me to quote American brewing visionary Charlie Papazian and offer some advice: "Relax, and have a homebrew."

The reality of the situation is that we, the fans of the Texans are actually in a great place. While the amount of idiotic trolls on this site are likely to increase, the lack of media attention will likely help put a limit on the amount of stupidity that we may realize (or… not).

So enjoy the quiet peace of expectations.

Defense

Speaking of expectations, the Texans defense went from a liability in 2011 to a strength last seasons. And when I say liability, I mean that I would rather watch an episode of "Game of Thrones" with both my mom and my daughter than relive those moments two years ago when the Texans’ opponents had the ball.

This year, we must see whether or not the team can sustain that success. While the play of last year’s free agents Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning were key to the turnaround, the key to the defense lies in the success of the pass rush. The emergence of Connor Barwin allowed the team to withstand the loss of Mario Williams last year, but the keys to victory will be in the team’s ability to bring pressure from a variety of angles. Brooks Reed must continue his development and Whitney Mercilus will have to prove his worth as a pass rusher.

If the pressure generated by the defensive line can be similar to last year, the defense should be able to replicate last year’s experience. If not, well, then that Andre Johnson health thing that I mentioned earlier will be even more important.

Taking Back Sundays

One of the best parts about the return of football season is the fact that there is this understood notion between my wife and I that Sunday afternoons are already reserved. During non-football season, a myriad of items can take over a weekend. Admittedly, I am responsible for a good number of those: yard work, golfing, and of course, the famous Brew ‘n Q.

Now, though, all of that will have to be done on Saturdays. If nothing is going on, I might sit down on a Saturday and watch a bit of college ball, but the real deal is on Sundays, and I’m more than happy to give up Saturday football to make sure the Sunday schedule is clear.

My wife once asked me if we really need to spend the money on NFL Sunday Ticket. My response was that if we start having a hard time feeding the family, we can have this discussion again. Until then, the Ticket stays.

Contemplating The "Ifs"

The Texans have the ability to be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Allow me some liberty with the all-powerful "if" for a second. IF the defense can replicate last season’s success and maybe even improve a little. IF the key players on offense can remain healthy and perform like they’ve proven they can. IF the key youngsters on special teams can deliver, THEN this can easily be the best season in team history.

Within those "ifs" are lower level "ifs". I call them sub-ifs. The biggest sub-if facing the team this upcoming season is: IF the team can fill the holes of players departed. Between the rebuild of right side of the offensive line, the departure of the Cap’n, the loss of depth at tight end, and the reliance of rookies on special teams, the ability to keep those areas from torpedoing the season is critical. The team doesn’t need these new starters to become All-Pros, but just to keep them from sinking the season.

IF all of this can come to pass, though, then don’t make any plans for early February – your presence might be required at the BRB Super Bowl Party.

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