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Red Zone Play: Hardcore With Soft Edges?

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Has Houston done enough to set the edge? Examining that and other moves the team could still make this offseason.

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The 2018 Houston Texans roster is shaping up with the additions of several key free agents and re-signings of veteran players who were eligible to hit the market. Addition by subtraction helped as well when offensive linemen Xavier Su’a Filo and Breno Giacomini were allowed to walk for Nashville and Oakland, respectively.

Adding Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu should strengthen the core of the defense, while the haul of Senio Kelemete, Zach Fulton and Seantrel Henderson points to an upgrade on the offensive line.

Still, when looking over the roster in its entirety, it looks like the team still has some issues on the edge.

ESPN’s Sarah Barshop put together this bit of roster analysis a while back:

Offense

TE: Ryan Griffin. The Texans still could add a tight end after C.J. Fiedorowicz retired last week, but if not, Griffin likely will start. Stephen Andersonhas potential to become a reliable pass-catcher, but Griffin’s experience gives him the edge. Houston dealt with plenty of injuries in what was a terrible 2017 at the position; Texans tight ends caught 53 percent of their targets last season, which was the worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The group had just two combined receiving touchdowns, which was tied for last.

LT: To be determined. Houston started five players at left tackle last season, two of whom -- Chris Clark and Duane Brown-- are no longer on the team. Ideally, 2017 fourth-round pick Julien Davenportand free-agent addition Seantrel Henderson will compete at right tackle, but if the Texans don’t add anyone else, the other might have to protect Watson’s blind side.

RT: Davenport/Henderson. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Houston’s offensive tackles were particularly bad in the running game in 2017; the Texans ranked 29th in average yards before first contact on rushes outside the tackles (2.31). Houston will hope Davenport takes a step forward in his second season, and if the Texans don’t add another offensive lineman, they’ll need him to.

Offensively, who is going to set the edge for the running game, should Bill O’Brien decide not to only employee his favored A-Gap crash play? Julien Davenport did okay as a rookie last year, but the Texans’ offensive line was still worse than some NCAA units. Odds are Derek Newton will never be a solid road-grading right tackle again (if he ever was).

Who is going to give All Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins some relief on the other side of the field? While Will Fuller has done decently, he’s not a proven WR2; I’d consider him a very capable WR3.

Defense

DE: J.J. Watt. He has played only eight games over the past two seasons as he dealt with a back injury in 2016 and a broken leg in Week 5 last season. Watt is still rehabbing from his leg injury and might not be back on the field by OTAs this spring, but he said he will be ready for the 2018 opener.

OLB: Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus tore a pectoral muscle in Week 5 and the Texans missed him up front. Will 2018 be the year when Watt, Clowney and Mercilus can stay healthy, reach their potential and become the NFL’s best pass rush?

OLB: To be determined. As of right now, the Texans don’t have much depth at outside linebacker, but Brennan Scarlettcould see more time at the position.

CB: Johnathan Joseph. Joseph will be 34 when the 2018 season starts, but he was the Texans’ best cornerback last season. Until he shows significant signs of regression, Houston will be relying on Joseph in the secondary.

CB: Aaron Colvin. Colvin was a slot corner for Jacksonville but comes to Houston with the opportunity to start on the outside alongside Joseph. It will be interesting to see how the Texans handle nickel formations this season, as Kareem Jacksonhas been their slot corner.

Colvin and Mathieu do a lot to shore up a weak secondary, but no amount of Watt/Clowney/Mercilus can lock down both sides of the line of scrimmage consistently. Guys like Christian Covington, Brandon Dunn, and Brennan Scarlett are going to have to step up their game, especially if the injury bug gets to nibbling on the Houston depth chart like it did last year.

Normally, at this time of year, we’d be eyeballing the draft to fill in the last few holes. Maybe Houston gets a win in the later rounds, but expecting them to land starting quality offensive tackles, defensive ends, outside linebackers and another cornerback is pie-in-the-sky right now.

Don’t abandon hope – the two people who can make this team a true Super Bowl contender should be all in, all season long.

Deshaun Watson has proven at every level he can make lemonade out of lemons, even behind the worst offensive line in pro ball. Expect more Watson Made Magic® this season.

On the other side, Romeo Crennel has taken no-names and turned them into Pro Bowlers time and again. If Houston’s defense can stay 80% healthy this year, Crennel’s unit will be among the best the league has to offer.

What about these two free agents still on the market the Texans could conceivably add?

  • Safety Kenny Vaccaro - offers more versatility to a defense that thrives on moving pieces around the board.
  • LB Derrick Johnson - could be a solid Brian Cushing replacement, allowing the rangy Zach Cunningham to line up across from Whitney Mercilus at times.

Houston also needs help in the running back room, which may be addressed in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray are both waiting for the phone to ring and have spent their careers feasting in the A-gap.

Given the current state of the roster, what would you do to fill in the last few pieces?