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Red Zone Play: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Where are we? What happened? Who turned off the lights?

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Looking back on the 2017 Texans season has that same feel I had two years ago when I got out of a car that was just totaled in a completely unexpected accident. I was cruising along on my way to work, thinking about what I had to accomplish when I got there and suddenly, WHAM someone ran a red light and t-boned me, ending my trip and destroying my car.

I was dazed, confused, completely unsure of what to do (mainly because I had an off-the-charts concussion), and bewildered at how I went from driving down the road to standing in the middle of it without any direction or impetus.

When this past season began, excitement filled the air. Finally, we were going to see a healthy J.J. Watt-Jadeveon Clowney duo dominate the NFL. Mike Vrabel was going to put his mark on the defensive landscape. Tom Savage would give way to Deshaun Watson at some point. The two-headed monster of Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman was going to gobble up running yards like no one’s business. All was going to be glorious in H-Town.

I even entertained a glimmer of hope that we’d have a World Series title and a Super Bowl title in the same sports year. (One outta two ain’t bad, right?)

Then, the tire screeching began, the red light was run, the shriek of crumpling sheet metal accompanied the sound of two massive forces colliding, and everything careened to a sickening halt.

Now here we are, bewildered, dazed, confused, and feeling more than a little bit gypped.

Well, life goes on, so it’s time to take inventory of what we have going forward and what we need to do to bring back the pre-accident magic.

J.J. Watt – If anyone can become what he used to be, it’s J.J. Sadly, that sentence has been typed too many offseasons in a row now. Odds are he’ll descend from his superhuman heights and become an above-average defender going forward. That’s if he can make it through a full campaign.

Jadeveon Clowney – All indicators are this guy is a force of nature set to wreak defensive havoc for years to come – and there was much rejoicing.

Whitney Mercilus – Unlike Watt, I fully predict Whitney to return to full strength and continue to elevate his game. If anything, the year off should bring him back even better than he was last September.

Deshaun Watson – This kid is special. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called it, like Babe Ruth calling his infamous home run. Not only will he return at full strength, he’s going to the Pro Bowl next year as the best quarterback in the AFC.

Deandre Hopkins – His quest to unseat Andre Johnson as the best Houston Texans receiver of all time will continue in 2018. Nonbelievers will believe in just how special this guy can be.

Mike Vrabel – This is a hard one to quantify. I watched Vrabel coaching up linebackers at training camp a few years ago and walked away convinced this guy was the next Romeo Crennel. The stats from last season would argue against that conviction. Was it a personnel deficiency that t-boned Vrabel’s drive to work, like the accident that took mine out? If so, why didn’t he have the scheme to overcome it? Learning curve, maybe? Either way, I’m willing to give him another shot before drawing conclusions.

Bill O’Brien – While he’s certainly no Jon Gruden, I’m not convinced anyone else in the head coach candidate pool is any better than B’OB. At the end of the day, I really like the guy and prefer to remember the 57-14 dismantling of the Not-The-Oilers (how are they in the Divisional Round of the playoffs anyway?) instead of the 4-12 season record as the hallmark of 2017.

This brings us to what I feel is the biggest question mark and indicator of future success:

Insert General Manager Name Here – With two playoff teams snubbing Houston’s interest in interviewing their front office people, the pool of candidates is very murky. As football fans, there’s little that’s harder to project forward than the potential success of a GM. There are no stats to base predictions on, other than success of former employers. Let’s take Charley Casserly as an example; he was part of all four of the Washington Redskins championship teams. He didn’t do much here. Mike Lombardi helped build the late 90s/early 2000s Oakland Raiders and then contributed to the perpetual stench on the field in Cleveland.

It’s really a hit-or-miss thing. But in order to move forward, as O’Brien said, we need a GM who is aligned with the existing team, coaching staff and vision. Otherwise 2018 is lost before it begins.

The new GM has to shore up the defensive backfield, finally do something about the utterly horrendous offensive line, and add depth pretty much everywhere. If the GM can do that, 2018 will be bright. However, doing it without a high-round draft pick or much trade capital to gain one means building through free agency and the later rounds in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, Houston hasn’t had much luck going that route in its brief history. But this is the off-season, where hope springs eternal!

What say you? If Bob McNair called right now and hired you as the new General Manager, what would be on your short, must-do immediately list? Tell us in the comments below.