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Red Zone Play: Do The Math

The Texans’ best path to success in 2017 has nothing to do with who’s playing quarterback.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

NOTE: This post was written and scheduled to publish before the news about Tony Romo’s retirement went public.

Some of the best teams in NFL history were built primarily through the draft. The ‘70s Steelers dynasty – the only team to win four Super Bowls in six seasons – was chief among them. The ‘90s Cowboys pulled off a blockbuster trade that sent Herschel Walker to the Vikings in exchange for more draft picks than Jerry Jones could imagine having these days. Bill Belichick is famous for drafting no-name players and turning them into situational co-stars for Tom Brady’s Hall of Fame march.

Could that be the approach Houston Texansgeneral manager Rick Smith is employing?

At this stage in the off-season, it sure looks like Houston is rolling for “Draft or Bust”. With no viable free agent additions, and the loss of A.J. Bouye, John Simon and Quentin Demps, Smith better have one serious card up his sleeve if he thinks he’s making any waves this off-season in the free agent market.

Let’s put all the “Tony Romo: Savior of H-Town” signs away and assume building through the draft is Smith’s ultimate goal.

This year’s rookie talent pool is deep and wide on the defensive side of the ball. There’s enough solid defensive back prospects for every team to land a starter or two. Need a linebacker? Chances are you can get one. Want a defensive end? Myles Garrett will be off the board by the second pick, but there are still scores of others, including some guy named T.J. Watt.

Where this train leaves the tracks is the offensive side of the ball. The draft isn’t overly deep in starting caliber offensive lineman or quarterbacks. In fact, the one quarterback who seems to have risen to the top at this point, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, was just bodily tossed under the bus by his college coach, who essentially said he’s not pro-ready.

Looking through the rest of the available signal-callers, they all have some pretty sizable red flags. Last year, most of the draft pundits said if you needed a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft, you were in trouble. 

This year’s crop isn’t as highly touted as last year’s.

While Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz bucked the trend by having the perfect opportunities in the right systems with the right teammates and coaches to give them abnormal success for a rookie, lightning probably won’t strike twice.

While it could happen again this season, it’s hard to imagine a rookie stepping into Bill O’Brien’s offense and pulling a Dak Prescott, even if he was to supplant Tony Romo (or whoever) on the depth chart.

If Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brock Osweiler, T.Y. Yates and Case Keenum couldn’t do what Prescott has done, what hope do Kizer, Mahomes, Watson, Kaaya, Trubisky or Kelly have? 

It’s pretty obvious Rick Smith is waiting for Tony Romo to become a free agent so he can take the wheel and save the day. And, odds are, keep the car on the road while [insert rookie QB here] learns how to drive it. But with Romo’s injury history and the tight window Houston’s defense has to grab a championship, the strategy seems incredibly risky at best and downright insane at worst.  

Now, pairing Kizer with Will Fuller once again may offer a spark to get this team rolling. With the amount of love Kizer is getting on the national stage, odds are he’ll be a Brown, 49er, or Jet long before Houston gets the chance to scribble his name on a draft card.

And let’s not forget Fuller’s drops in college were frequently on the other end of Kizer-thrown passes, so it’s not like that spark won’t come without its share of spits and sputters.

All this certainly paints a fairly dreadful picture of what Texans Nation can expect from the 2017 season.

However, if Smith decides to go the other direction and push all his chips to the middle of the defensive table, this defense could get catapulted into rarefied air.

Two or three draft picks dedicated to defense, along with the usual undrafted free agent who rises above, and J.J. Watt could be leading a defense that makes the ‘85 Bears look like they were playing Pop Warner.

If Houston can assemble a defense that limits opponents to the fewest points allowed in a season (a record currently held by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens at 169), then all it takes is another solid performance by the All Field Goal Offense to put this team in the Super Bowl.

The 2000 Ravens gave up an average of 10.33 points per game. If Houston can best that next season and the offense can average 12 points per game, all this hand-wringing over who the quarterback will be is irrelevant.

The 1976 Steelers pitched five shutouts in the final nine games of the season, only allowing two touchdowns over that span. If Houston could do that, who cares who the quarterback is?

Let’s take that idea to the next level and say J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Kevin Johnson and Andre Hal all contribute two touchdowns each defensively.

Here’s the math:

  • 168 points (or less) allowed.
  • 56 points contributed by defenders.
  • 105 points worth of field goals by Nick Novak in 2016. 
  • Now the offense only needs to make up ONE TOUCHDOWN.

I’m sure Braxton Miller can hand off to Lamar Miller and score one touchdown on offense. We don’t even need Tony Romo, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees to rack up one touchdown.

Osweiler or Mallett could score once in a season.

Looking at all that, it’s easy to say the best way to hedge the bets at this point is build the defense through the draft, put a historically good product on the field, and sit back and wait.

How about you? Have a different idea of how the off-season should be moving? Think going all-in on defense via the draft doesn’t make sense? Afraid J.J. Watt will be too busy making HEB commercials with his brother T.J. to score more than once? Let us know in the comments below.