As SOLIS noted here, 8-8 is worlds better than 7-9. 8-4, which is what your Houston Texans accomplished after their 0-4 start, is even more impressive when you consider that the bagel they posted through the first quarter of the season eliminated them (for all practical purposes) from postseason contention. While you'd like to believe professional athletes would have enough pride in themselves to expend maximum effort regardless of the situation, that's not always the case. The Texans didn't roll over, and that's worth noting and applauding as we enter the offseason.
That's not to say that this team is ready for 2009, because it's not. There are several areas ripe for upgrades in the starting corps, most notably DE, DT, CB, and FS. And although the offense has all the makings of an elite unit, there's always room for improvement and depth. In that vein, this PGB will spit out my thoughts on yesterday's win over the Bears with an eye toward possible offseason moves. Position by position, and then we'll end with the coaches. Now:
1. QB--I'll accept the argument that Matt Schaub is still a work in progress, but I believe the position that The Schaub can't be the starting quarterback for a playoff team is untenable based on what we've seen. Yes, he turned the ball over too much this season, and that's a problem. But he also threw for more than 3,000 yards, 15 TD, and 276.6 yards per game in about two-thirds of a season (including his near flawless 328 yard, 2 TD, O INT effort yesterday). Those are big-time numbers. The kind of numbers that should leave us no doubt that Schaub should be starting in '09.
With regard to Sage Rosenfels, I'm still of the mind that he's a fine back-up despite the fact that he provided us with what I believe was the single most horrific moment in franchise history. He's no longer the attractive trade bait he once was, so I'd count on him being Schaub's No. 2 again in '09. I'd look for the Texans to make QB a very low priority this offseason, though I think a young QB could be drafted relatively high in 2010 for grooming purposes.
2. WR--Still the strongest area on the team, led by the best wide receiver in all of football. Another Sunday, another ten (10) catch day for Andre Johnson, who finishes 2008 as the league leader in both receptions and receiving yards. Quite simply, it doesn't get any better than 'Dre. Memo to Kubes and Kyle Shanahan: That fade to 'Dre in the end zone...why isn't that in the playbook every week? It can't be stopped.
Kevin Walter quietly had another very effective season as the No. 2, though there were a handful of games where his contributions didn't show up in the stat sheet. Although K-Dub only had one catch yesterday, it was huge; that drive could have very well ended in zero points and changed the entire complexion of the game without that reception. Apostrophe Davis wasn't the factor he was in 2007, but I think his emergence in '07 was primarily due to Andre Johnson missing almost half of the season. Apostrophe is an average No. 3; his value as a return man is what really makes him a key cog in the scheme.
Jacoby Jones has been and continues to be a complete non-factor at WR and a fumble waiting to happen as a punt returner. He put another one on the ground yesterday, and I don't know how Kubes can keep running him out there. His speed is undoubtedly electrifying, to the point that I wonder if there'd be any interest in him in the trade market. If I could get a fifth round pick or better for him, I'd do it in a second if I was Rick Smith. As I sit here today, I wouldn't bet on Jacoby being a Texan in 2009; I could absolutely see him struggling in the preseason and being one of the final cuts in late August. With the possible exception of Jacoby, I'd look for the status quo to remain at WR in '09.
3. TE--Owen Daniels finished with better numbers than he did a year ago, posting 70 receptions, 12.3 YPC, and showing little sign of the ball control issues he displayed at times in '07. OD is already one of the best tight ends in the league, and he's only getting better, as witnessed by that 33-yard scamper yesterday. You can count the number of TEs in the NFL who can routinely move the chains on a single play on one hand, and OD is one of them. Draft-wise, I don't know that it's even worth spending a late-round pick on someone to replace Joel Dreessen. Dreeseen's not going to be mistaken for Tony Gonzalez, but he's a cost-effective spot player when OD isn't on the field.
4. RB--1,282 rushing yards at 4.8 YPC. 50 catches for 377 yards. 10 TD. Ladies and gentlemen, I do believe your Houston Texans have themselves a franchise running back. Yes, Smithiak needs to acquire a short-yardage bruiser to take some of those third-and-two carries away from Slaton, and I'm sure they'll do it. The question is whether that acquisition is made through the draft or via free agency. Personally, I'm guessing we could see a late-round pick burned on a big RB, though an undrafted rookie free agent taking the gig is another distinct possibility. The only thing I do know is that there's no way we're going to see Smithiak spend anything remotely resembling sizable coin on a RB.
What discussion of "sizable coin on a RB" would be complete with mentioning Ahman Green? As in, "Ahman Green won't be a Texan in '09." Ryan Moats has been intriguing in limited action (including but not limited to yesterday, when he filled in for Slaton while Slaton was in Kubes' doghouse for reasons unknown to us--was it that fumble, something else, etc.?), which may well result in an invitation to camp and the opportunity to return as a No. 3.
Something to ponder that Chris raised: Will Steve Slaton hold out? He's fresh off a monstrous season in which he proved to be invaluable to the Texans; the second year of a third-round rookie contract is no longer commensurate with his stature; and he plays a position that has perhaps the shortest shelf life in professional football. His leverage may never be greater than it is now. So what does he do? I have no idea; needless to say, it bears watching.
5. OL--Thank you, Alex Gibbs. You made an offensive line that was rather underrated last year into an undeniable strength this season. Chris Myers had the problems a smaller center is going to have with mammoth DTs, but he has to be considered one helluva return on a sixth round pick after his first year in H-Town. Chester Pitts may have had the best season of his career. Mike Brisiel proved to be a solid, inexpensive solution at RG (though I seem to remember him being a greater source of penalties than anyone else on the line throughout the season). Duane Brown had moments where he looked every bit like the rookie he is, but he showed enough flashes of promise that I have no idea why Ephraim Salaam took snaps away from him. In the final analysis, I'd have to say that I was most disappointed in the play of Eric Winston, who seemed to take a step backward from the tremendous performance he put forth in '07.
Schaub was sacked 23 times this season; Sage was sacked 9 times. With three (3) new starters on the OL, one of whom is a rookie protecting the QB's blind side, that's not too shabby. Add in Slaton's success on the ground, and there's little doubt that Alex Gibbs was manna from heaven.
I'd look for your Houston Texans to draft OL for depth, but it certainly does not qualify as a priority.
Wow...that ran long. Separate post on defense and special teams forthcoming tomorrow.