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Red Zone Play: Bring Out The Chain Gang

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Measuring how close the Texans are to scoring position.

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The underlying theme of this column revolves around the Houston TexansS ability to enter, stay in, and score from the proverbial Red Zone. In the off-season, it’s easy to get optimistic and jump to the conclusion that your favorite team is a serious Super Bowl contender, poised to score every time they get the ball.

In fact, we can even buy into the hype of some NFL media experts who claim the Texans are favored to make it to the big game this year. While doing just that makes life easy for a Texans fan, the flip-side of the off-season is having enough bandwidth to dig deeper into what it will take to make a date with the Lombardi Trophy.

Since we’re in the mid-summer doldrums, that gap that exists between mini-camps and training camp, we may as well break out the shovel and get to digging, right?

We all know consistent winning requires victory in all three phases of the game. Let’s break down each and see what the Texans really have going on. This week, the focus is on Houston’s offense.

OFFENSE:

Houston head coach Bill O’Brien will once again be formulating the offensive game plan, calling the plays and playing chess with opposing defensive coordinators. Under O’Brien we have quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, wide receivers coach John Perry, running back coach Danny Barrett, tight end coach Tim Kelly, and offensive line coach Mike Devlin. With information coming out of NRG Park sparse, it’s hard to know who among these men is a rising star in the coaching world. But under O’Brien so far, most offensive position coaches have appeared to be more appendages than anyone given the sort of authority most teams hand to their offensive coordinators. In a nutshell, the Texans’ offense lives and dies in the mind of O’Brien.

Quarterback

It’s really hard to hold back excitement about seeing Deshaun Watson on the field again. For me, that excitement level shot into orbit after Kenneth Levy and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with the phenom a few weeks ago. When watching commentary on great quarterbacks throughout history, you’ll often hear about the “X-Factor,” that intangible element that can’t be coached, learned, or really quantified, other than that it’s a will to win that infects everyone the quarterback plays with on Sundays. Anyone who thinks Watson doesn’t have that X-Factor knows nothing about football.

Wide Receiver

It seems everyone at the national level is finally starting to realize what most Texans fans have known for a long time: DeAndre Hopkins is the real deal. I’ve been watching pro ball since the days of Lynn Swann’s acrobatic Super Bowl touchdowns and Fred Biletnikoff’s Stickum catches. I’ve literally seen hundreds and hundreds of professional wide receivers come and go. When all is said and done (barring any crazy injuries), Hopkins will give a speech in Canton, and his bronze bust will be alongside the greatest to ever play the game. Pairing him with a healthy Will Fuller V and getting average contributions from Keke Coutee, Braxton Miller, Bruce Ellington and Sammie Coates could make Houston’s passing game absolutely lethal.

Running Back

Here’s the first place the offense pulls back from the history makers mentioned in the quarterback and wide receiver categories. At the moment, it’s hard to make an argument that Houston has a solid RB1 on the roster. Lamar Miller certainly hasn’t proven to be the game-changer we hoped he would become in O’Brien’s scheme. D’Onta Foreman suffered an Achilles injury late in his rookie season, and we’re all painfully aware (pun intended) of what achilles injuries do to running backs. After those two, we have Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, and very little hope for a game breaking run coming from anyone not named Deshaun Watson.

Tight End

Like the running back group, the tight end room doesn’t give much to get excited about. While the New England Patriots’ version of the offense Bill O’Brien runs has spent years thriving on the ability of tight ends and slot receivers to move the ball, BO’B’s offense has yet to have a standout pass catching tight end. Names like Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson and Jordan Akins don’t exactly fill our minds with visions of Shannon Sharpe, Kellen Winslow Sr., or Antonio Gates. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that the tight ends on the current roster can make a consistently positive impact in the run game by blocking, either.

Offensive Line

Let’s not beat a dead horse with lots of words. Instead, we’ll simply point out this was the worst unit in professional football in the 2017 season. Since it takes offensive linemen time to gel with one another, and Houston replaced several of the underwhelming starters from last season with slightly less underwhelming ones this year, don’t expect much immediate improvement here in 2018.

When you have a once-in-a-franchise player like Deshaun Watson, spending the off season building a wall of blockers around him should be priority number one. Unfortunately, the proof that Brian Gaine met that objective over the last few months isn’t in the pudding. Nevertheless, the dream is that the Texans have done enough both personnel and scheme-wise to give Watson a better chance to take this team to the championship this year.

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There you have it, a deeper dive into the Houston Texans offense for 2018. Next week, we’ll look at the defense, which is once again in the capable hands of defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Romeo Crennel.

In the meantime, what do you think? How close is this new version of the Houston Texans to adding another professional sports championship to the great city of Houston? There’s still time to make some moves before training camp; do you have any suggestions for how the Texans can remove some of these question marks?