Part I: Secondary (also includes a brief description of this series).
Part II: Linebackers.
Part III: Defensive Linemen.
As usual, my thanks to ProFootballFocus for providing the numbers. Welcome to Part IV of this series, which I'll hopefully finish before a small child sends me directly to the funny farm. And in 2011, our Special Teams were special in a Jordann-and-beefy-offspring kind of way. Not everybody can be Neil Rackers, after all. Now, take my hand. There, there. There, there. Jump!
For a change, we'll start with the happy. To say that Rackers was a tremendous upgrade over Kris Brown is akin to comparing razor blades to Emmanuelle Chriqui. Rackers nailed 26 out of 29 field goal attempts, good for an 88.9% rate, and he was solidly above-average in kick-offs to the end zone. Most importantly, Rackers was not responsible for a mass intake of bleach every other week, which was nice. For a change. Add on six tackles, and better tackling fundamentals than most of the defense, and Rackers was quite an upgrade. Overall, PFF ranks Rackers at 12.
Matt Turk, why hast thou forsaken us? Turk was solidly average in 2009, but he showed his age in 2010, receding faster than my hairline. If there was a count for shanks, Turk would easily be amongst the league leaders while, overall, he was easily in the bottom tier of punters. PFF ranks Turk at 22, but he was the anti-clutch all year.
The good news about Jacoby Jones returning punts is that he's still pretty good at it. The bad news is that (a) he's still returning punts, and (b) he had oddly few opportunities to do so. For the year, Houston punt returners had just 35 chances. Five players had more chances on an individual basis. JJ clearly isn't the punt returner he once was, but he could've used a replacement after being asked to take more offensive snaps in 2010. In addition, punt returners have a very limited lifespan, making fresh blood (and David Anderson doesn't count) a necessity.
On special teams coverage, James Casey and Darryl Sharpton led the team with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Let's get the the part you've been waiting for: kick returns. Steve Slaton's continued presence returning kick-offs was one of the most perplexing decisions by the Texans all year, and it's yet another reason why I want Joe Marciano to join Frank Bush in coaching Pop Warner leagues. PFF has Slaton ranked dead last for kick returners, and it's not even close. Slaton was easily amongst the worst on kick return yardage, and his ability to find packs of tacklers was rivaled only by Andre Davis' 2009 season. It was an experiment in fail.
2011: Joe Marciano needs to go. Our special teams play has been horrible the past two years - even with the addition of Rackers - and it's time for a change. The only positive is that we aren't exposed to big plays against us, but we are the modicum of mediocrity when trying to create.
Changes need to be made at three out of four of our primary special teams positions: punter, punt and kick-off returner(s). Whether or not JJ returns, we need a replacement for him to return punts. Slaton was awful all year, and Matt Turk has morphed into Chad Stanley (he's also like 103 years old, so it is a logical pro(re)gression).
2011 promises to bring several overdue changes to our special teams units.