With the 2016 season firmly in the rearview mirror, the best column to debut with the name “Battle Red Balls” is coming to an end. Yes, we feel the pain too. Don’t cry. It’ll be alright.
For the season finale, we decided to do things a little differently. We’re giving out game balls for the best performances of the season from players and coaches in all three aspects of the game.
Even though the Texans failed to advance to the AFC Championship Game and the offense was historically bad, the defense was historically awesome. Word is the braintrust behind that defense will be back next season to keep pushing this thing up the hill.
So without further adieu (unless you need more adieu in your life), we present to you the 2016 Season Finale Edition of Battle Red Balls.
Offense: Duane Brown. He was a stalwart coming off a major injury and actually seemed to be back to his old form, which was unexpected. Honorable mention to Greg Mancz, who held up better than I think anyone could have realistically expected at center after the pre-season injury to Nick Martin.
Defense: JD Clowney is the obvious pick, but sometimes the obvious pick is just the right pick. Totally came into his own, displayed explosive playmaking, clearly grew as a player (you can see him getting over the over-aggressiveness that was always a problem for him when he played), and even showed signs of rounding into a leader. You can also make a case for Whitney Mercilus, A.J. Bouye, etc.
Special teams: Uh, no. Sorry, nobody deserves this. Total group failure.
Coaching: Another obvious one that is the correct one - Romeo Crennel. What more really needs to be said? By one popular measure, he had the number one-ranked NFL defense without the unquestioned best defensive player in the world. Re-sign RAC now and don't even look at the number.
Offense: C.J. Fiedorowicz was the only consistent highlight-reel-worthy player each week. Special thanks go out to Duane Brown for at least improving the left side of the offensive line once he returned to full strength. I can't recall any other offense in history that made me cringe and cuss more than the one Bill O'Brien put on the field in 2016. I was not entertained. It was not fun. It DOES matter, Bill.
Defense: A.J. Bouye gets the nod here after an incredible season. Mercilus and Clowney would be split for close second-place finishes. I hope the Texans find a way to retain Bouye, because he earned it and they need him. Kareem Jackson isn't good on the outside and Johnathan Joseph isn't getting any younger. Bouye and Kevin Johnson on the outside next year would make a solid pair of corners.
Special Teams: Nick Novak carried the "All Field Goal Offense" on his back by kicking 40 field goals on 46 attempts and making 26 of 29 extra point attempts this season. A special nod of respect to Shane Lechler for continuing to do his part to flip the field. Lechler has punted the ball 1,352 times during his sixteen seasons in the NFL, and it felt as though 1,300 of those came during 2016. It's a shame the coaches and players responsible for stuffing/slowing the other team's gunners and providing coverage on returns couldn't at least look better than what we can see on any given Friday night at a local high school game.
Coaching: Romeo Crennel is the only reason this team won more than three games this season. I hope they convince him to stick around another couple of years, because his defense can win a championship if the Texans can just find an average QB and coordinator for the other side of the ball. Special recognition to John Butler for his tremendous success in developing A.J. Bouye and other defensive backs who had to fill in as starters went down with injuries. Mike Vrabel also gets a salute for the incredible work he has done with the linebackers including the rise of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney.
Offense: Duane Brown. Once he came back from injury, there was an immediate improvement to the ground game. The only rock solid piece of the Texans’ offensive continuity from the past few years will hopefully continue to do just that for a few more.
Defense: Jadeveon Clowney. I've been a Clowney fan for years and loved seeing him finally play at the level commensurate with his God-given talent. The idea of him and a healthy J.J. Watt playing in a Crennel/Vrabel defense makes me giddy for next year.
Special Teams: Nick Novak. No one else is even close. I didn't have high hopes for him coming into this season, but he took the All Field Goal Offense to the promised land of the playoffs. Brock Osweiler should give the difference in their salaries to Novak as a tip-out.
Coaching: Romeo Crennel. Best defensive coordinator in the history of the great state of Texas and possibly the league. Imagine what he could do with a full contingent of healthy players and an offense and special teams that didn't always handicap the defense?
Offense: DeAndre Hopkins. Nobody that good should have had to play for a QB that was that bad.
Defense: A.J. Bouye. Just from the early games in the season, it was easy to tell Bouye had improved. His work against TEs in the early parts of the season carried over to his excellent work out on the boundary once Kevin Johnson went down with an injury. Nobody deserves the contract he will get more than he does.
Special Teams: ...
Coaches: Romeo Crennel, who is now my waifu to be.
Offense: Duane Brown. The rest of the offense was sad and underwhelming. Brown was great this year. Brock Osweiler rarely faced backside pressure. The Texans ran the ball really well behind the LT spot all year, much better than they did over any other spot of the offensive line.
Defense: A.J. Bouye. Jadeveon Clowney was really good. A.J. Bouye was great and was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this year. He did more than fill Kevin Johnson's holel; he overflowed it.
Special Teams: Nick Novak. He made a lot of field goals, but he can't kick it out of the end zone.
Coaches: Romeo Crennel. Natch.
Offense: Duane Brown. Lamar Miller and C.J. Fiedorowicz are also good choices, but Brown returned from a catastrophic injury without missing a beat. Give him the season-long game ball.
Defense: So many deserving candidates. I choose Jadeveon Clowney, though. The way he stepped up in J.J. Watt's absence to become a game-wrecker after so many had doubted whether he’d ever be able to do it is one of my fondest memories of Texans fandom. I can't wait to see what he does next year with Watt on the field.
Special Teams: I narrowly go with Nick Novak over Shane Lechler here. Novak was the source of an astonishing number of points. It's a feat I hope we never see again.
Coaches: It almost has to be Romeo Crennel, right? Honorable mentions to John Butler and Mike Vrabel, but how Crennel was able to put together one of the best defenses in the league without the services of his best defensive player is astounding. Additionally, the incredible development of A.J. Bouye, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney was a sight to behold. Oh, and D.J. Reader's progression--as a rookie fifth round draft pick--deserves attention as well. Crennel certainly had the benefit of several talented players, but that doesn't diminish the job he did. It was as fine a performance as we've seen from a Texans' coach.
Offense: 404 File Not Found. If I have to say someone, I'll go with C.J. Fiedorowicz, as he was clearly the most improved player on the team this season.
Defense: Jadeveon Clowney finally became the player we all thought he could be. Now we find out what he looks like with the defense fully healthy next year.
Special Teams: Obviously it's Nick Novak. The All Field Goal Offense wouldn't have been as successful as it was without Novak's leg.
Coaches: There's no doubt in my mind it's Romeo Crennel. The defense evolved over the season from really solid, if lacking in spots, to a truly scary (for other teams) monster to fend off. Toward the end of the season, the defense was almost as much fun to watch as the 2013 Seattle Seahawks defense (side note: I generally don't say that about defenses, period). Not to mention the growth of players like Clowney, Bouye, among others. It's all been fun to watch, and I think Crennel deserves a ton of credit for their improvement.
Offense: By being the prettiest girl in Oklahoma, it goes to CJF who finally showed flashes of promise from when he was drafted. He was my favorite player from that draft based on position, and I think he’s starting to get it together.
Defense: Benardrick McKinney. Yes, he struggled in coverage against the Patriots in the playoffs, but he showed up every game this season.
Special Teams: LOLOLOLOLOLno.
Coaches: I just want to curl up on Romeo Crennel’s lap, have him stroke my hair, and tell me everything is going to be allllllright.
Who would you award game balls to on the offense, defense, special teams, and coaching staff for performances in 2016?