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Five Questions: Offense

Give me a second here.

Brian Cushing.

Tim has actually inserted a clause into our deals where we need to mention Brian Cushing at least one time before we can click the post button.  Saying it twice is even better, as far as affiliates and links go.  Three times, however, leads to him appearing in your room a la Biggie Smalls in South Park.  Except instead of shooting at you with pistols, there are needles everywhere and he now (apparently) masturbates vigorously.     

Anyway, there are actual football questions to be asked now that we have, for the most part, set next year's roster in pencil post-draft.  I've decided to tackle the most important of these questions, in my mind, as Bri--DeMeco Ryans tackles running backs in mid-cut.  Today we'll look over the offense, and we'll eventually cover the defense and the special teams/coaching.


1) Can Matt Schaub play all sixteen games again?

He’s not as injury prone as some experts believe, in my mind, but Schaub’s pain threshold will again be an open question.  Facing a brutal defensive schedule in a loaded AFC race, the Texans will need Schaub to start every game to have a real shot at beating the field, particularly since Dan Orlovsky wasn’t even impressive enough to take the backup job last year. 

2) How involved will Jacoby Jones be?

Jones’ benching for missing curfew, combined with a reluctance to trust him on the field, led to him getting only 25.5% of the snaps last year.  When he did get on the field, he was excellent: a 68% catch rate, and he led all receivers with between 10-49 passes in both Football Outsiders’ DYAR and DVOA ratings.  With Andre Johnson demanding so much safety help every play, Jones should be able to roam free on the other side and potentially get a lot of one-on-one deep balls.  Kevin Walter re-signed with the Texans, giving them an excuse to put Jones in the slot and keep him off the field for the sake of run blocking.  The Texans don’t necessarily need to take Walter off the field to use Jones--they could run less two tight end and two back sets--but considering how explosive the offense was when Jones was out there last season, it’s my opinion that the Texans should find a way to get him 50% of the snaps, at least.  I have a bad gut feeling that he doesn't reach that mark.

3) Will the running game be fixed?

Between a down year from Steve Slaton, fumbling issues, and injuries to important tight ends and guards, the run game was more theoretical than actual for the majority of the year.  The Texans attacked this area on a number of fronts, hiring an offensive line coach to be their new offensive coordinator, bringing in Ben Tate in the draft, and signing Wade Smith away from the Chiefs in free agency.  I thought the Texans would improve on regression alone, because it’s hard to fumble that many balls, but they may very well wind up turning this into an area of strength.  Between Tate, Arian Foster, and Steve Slaton, they have three backs who should work very well in the ZBS, and Tate has the potential to become a true gamebreaker in my book.  The question for me lies in the middle of the offensive line:  Between Smith and Antoine Caldwell, the Texans have two players who have the potential to vastly improve what they got out of guard and center last year.  Will they use them, or will they continue to play coaches' favorite with Kasey Studdard?  Will Studdard justify the love with the same kind of improvement we saw out of Duane Brown?  It’s an open question, but I’m penciling the Texans in to be at least average next year at pounding the rock.  Speaking of Brown...

4) Will Duane Brown continue to improve?

Brown took a huge step forward after an abysmal rookie season, going from extremely bad to just bad.  I’m not counting on it, but a further step forward this season would be an extremely positive sign for the Texans chances.  In addition to the now regular challenge of stopping not being impregnated by Dwight Freeney, the Texans will go up against the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th ranked teams in FO’s adjusted sack rate next year in Washington, Oakland, Denver, and Philadelphia.  Add on to that a potential bounceback by the Giants, Derrick Morgan joining Tennessee, and the Jets and Ravens both using the Rex Ryan 3-4, and it would be a really big plus for the Texans if Brown could take another step forward.

5) Is Owen Daniels the same player he was?

This is going to come off as harsh, but if Owen Daniels’ comeback doesn’t go smoothly, the Texans need to abandon him immediately.  While he was out last year, the offense didn’t really skip a beat.  The Texans have multiple credible tight ends.  And also many backups to those.  While I don’t foresee this being a problem as Daniels has come off ACL tears just fine in the past, if he is anything less than 100% of what he was last year in terms of separation and dexterity, I can also see the Texans holding on to the idea that he’s their best tight end far longer than they should, and potentially losing a game or two because of it.  This is too close of a playoff fight to give Daniels snaps if he’s not all the way back yet. 

What say you, BRB nation?  Are my concerns foolish? Should we welcome our new Rick Dennison overlords and their work on the offensive line?  What questions would you say are more important than those I have set forward?