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The Present And Future Of The Texans’ Offensive Line

The Texans’ offensive line is a mess.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans are a mess, and so is their offensive line. In the 2015 season, the strength of the team was their offensive line. Once their preseason line composed of Duane Brown-Xavier Su’a-Filo-Ben Jones-Brandon Brooks-Derek Newton become their actual line against Cincinnati, they began churning defensive lines and gave Brian Hoyer plenty of time to be mediocre.

Since the end of that season, things have fallen apart. Rick Smith let the average Ben Jones walk to Tennessee, where he has been a better player there than he was in Houston. Smith opted to sign Jeff Allen over retaining Brandon Brooks. In the draft, they selected Nick Martin in the second round; Martin missed his entire rookie year with an ankle injury and was replaced by Greg Mancz. Really good became mediocre last season.

This season, things continued to decay. The Texans had a Week One offensive line of Kendall Lamm-Xavier Su’a-Filo-Nick Martin-Jeff Allen-Breno Giacomini. This unit allowed ten sacks to Jacksonville. Tom Savage didn’t help things, but it was poor planning by the entire team as a whole. Savage takes forever to scan through his reads and moves like the DMV. It was impossible to expect anything out of him with his tackles being Lamm and Giacomini and his guards being Su’a-Filo and Allen. To start Savage Week One required a great pass blocking offensive line. The Texans didn’t have one.

In the middle of that game, Lamm was benched for Chris Clark. The worst tackle I’ve ever seen play in the NFL was replaced with a replacement level player. Ever since then, Houston’s offensive line has been constantly reshuffled.

The Texans have had eleven offensive linemen play offensive snaps--Breno Giacomini (100%), Su’a-Filo (98%), Nick Martin (98.4%), Jeff Allen (73.9%), Chris Clark (55.4%), Greg Mancz (45.8%), Kendall Lamm (16.1%), Juli’en Davenport (13.1%), Duane Brown (6.9%), Chade Slade (5.7%), and Kyle Fuller (4.5%). Together this bunch has been putrid at pass blocking, allowing a combined 45 sacks, and they have been below average at run blocking all season.

Currently, the Texans face a lot of uncertainty next season across their roster, with the health of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the entire secondary, the tight end position, and of course the offensive line. Next season the Texans have Jeff Allen, Derek Newton, Nick Martin, Kendall Lamm, Julie’n Davenport, Kyle Fuller, and Chade Slade under contract. That’s it. Clark, Su’a-Filo, Giacomini, and Mancz are all free agents after this season.

Su’a-Filo has reached the end of his rookie contract. Because of his pass block whiffs and refusal to grab the chest and block at the second level, he will probably be gone. Clark is below average and could stay, but it would be on a short deal. Giacomini has played 100% of the offensive snaps this season, and that is something that shouldn’t happen. Mancz could start at center for this team, but with Martin, he isn’t needed. He can play guard in a different offense as an outside zone blocker who needs to reach ‘3’ techniques and get to the second level. Mancz doesn’t fit as a guard in this scheme. Of these free agents, Clark and Mancz are the only guys who could maybe come back.

As far as the players on the roster, Allen has been terrible in Houston as a right guard. He was serviceable as a left tackle, oddly enough, as long as you don’t think about the number of penalties he has to commit to even be decent. Newton hasn’t played since Von Miller tore both his knees on a single pass rush in 2016. He missed the majority of last year and all of this year. It’s possible he could play next year. Martin has been great since coming back from ankle surgery. Yet his health is in question again next year, as he suffered a pretty severe ankle injury in last week’s loss to Jacksonville and has since been placed on IR.

Nothing is certain regarding these players next season. The Texans are going to have to improve their roster through free agency and compete with teams like Cleveland, Indianapolis, and San Francisco for players because of their lack of a first and second round pick. The Texans can save $5 million by cutting and Allen and save $4 million by cutting Newton. It’s more than likely both are released this spring.

Allen is horrendous. Newton is coming back from two injuries that zap mobility, and he was already limited in this area before his injury. The exact details of Martin’s injury haven’t been released. All that’s known is he’s suffered an ankle injury after he missed all of last season because of an injury to the same part of the body. If he is forced to miss an extended amount of time in 2018, it will open the door for Mancz to be re-signed.

Based off everything, the Texans could see four different starters on their offensive line next year. The 2018 line looks like ???-???-Martin/Mancz-???-???. The entire unit is in shambles. As of right now, the only possible fill-in I see is Davenport at one of the tackle spots. I liked him coming out of college, but he didn’t have the strength to play in the NFL this season. Another year of pushing metal around can cure that, and he does have the feet and arms to play in the NFL. Other than that, I don’t see another potential starter on this offensive line.

The Texans are currently 4-10. They are probably going to finish 5-11. The easy narrative is that with Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and others back, the Texans will automatically leap back into the playoff picture. But things are far from certain. This team has holes everywhere. The division will again be better than it was this year. Offensively, the scheme that worked so well with Watson this year will need to evolve even further next season. This team is facing numerous questions entering this offseason, and the offensive line is no different.