Last season, the Houston Texans went on a tear, making history in several regards, including being the first team to ever go from 0-3 to the heights they achieved, only to pull an Icarus and get dashed against the rocks when they faced the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs.
With a league worst offensive line, an easily exploited secondary, and only four players among the eleven starters on both sides of the ball who were truly unquestionably starting caliber, Houston needed to build a better roster simply to tread water in 2019, much less improve and advance to the ever-elusive AFC Championship game.
2018’s schedule was one of the easiest in the league.
2019’s is one of the hardest.
So what did Houston do? Add top flight free agents to help out their top end talent?
In fact, they let two starters (Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu) sign with other teams. Granted, paying Mathieu what he got from the Chiefs have been silly, but keeping Kareem Jackson should have been a must, not a “didn’t even send me an offer” sort of thing.
Then Andre Hal retired.
Now, if you count Tashaun Gipson as a top flight safety (Bradley Roby doesn’t appear to be a top flight corner, for sure), Houston now has him and Justin Reid as the only really good defensive backs on the roster.
No such sure bets are on on the offensive line.
Free agency came and went. Word bubbled up from the labyrinth of NRG Park that Houston was all about building through the draft. Hope sprung eternal once more.
Then Houston selected not one, but an entire draft class, full of developmental players. None of which project to be Day One starters, much less Pro Bowl invitees next winter.
But that’s okay. Houston builds through the draft and the roster is chock full of proof of that philosophy, right?
Well...after examining recent drafts, looking for the offensive linemen and defensive backs Houston has brought in who are rocking the roster right now, we got… Justin Reid.
Since 2011, Houston has drafted Derek Newton, Ben Jones, Nick Mondek, Brennan Williams, David Quessenberry, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Nick Martin, Julien Davenport, Martinas Rankin and now Tytus Howard and Max Sharping to bolster their offensive line
Under the tutelage of offensive line coach Mike Devlin, only Derek Newton developed into a top-notch player before a savage injury cut his career out from under him. And the argument could be made that Newton was developed by Devlin’s predecessor, not Devlin.
Now Devlin has an entire offensive line group full of developmental projects, with the exception of broken tackle Matt Kalil, but has no proven track record of turning potential into All-Pros or Pro Bowl invitees. None. Nada. Zip.
On the other side of the ball, Anthony Midget is entering his second year as the Texans’ secondary coach. Justin Reid surely stood out as a rookie, but it’s tough to say Midget did much else in the way of developing the defensive backs in his first year on the job.
Houston Texans general manager Brian Gaine is the leader of this team. From a leadership perspective, it’s the duty of a leader to set his people up for success. If you want Mike Devlin to field a unit capable of fending off 62 sacks in order to prevent further lung damage to the Texans first ever franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, you should provide him with a nice mix of veteran leadership who has been there, done that, plus some mid-level guys, plus some project players.
Just like calling in short passes, screens, and such to build the confidence of a struggling quarterback, you need to provide your offensive line coach with some easy wins.
Devlin has Kalil and 8-10 project players to work with. That’s hardly a high-percentage of easy positive gains among them.
Midget should have a nice mixture. While Johnathan Joseph is still capable of contributing, the ageless wonder is decreasing in ability as Father Time takes his pound of flesh. Gipson will be an asset, and Justin Reid seems to have a ceiling higher than the Texans have ever seen at the position, but the rest of the defensive backs are question marks looking for answers.
At this point, the offseason has been more about loss and potential gains down the road than any real wins.
With that, the Texans franchise moves further away from their proverbial red zone.
But let’s end on a high note, knowing DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Watson and Jadeveon Clowney are still Pro Bowlers and possible All-Pros barring injuries (though let’s not forget Gaine has yet to lock Clowney down long-term).
If Will Fuller and Keke Coutee can stay healthy, if Kahale Warring can become a Day One starter, and if the offensive line can at least get in the defense’s way long enough for Watson to throw the ball, the offense could be electric, high-powered, and seriously hard to stop. And it’ll need to do just that. With no corner capable of covering T.Y. Hilton, a defensive line that struggles to get to Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and the baker’s dozen of other franchise quarterbacks Houston is going to face in 2019, Houston’s offense is going to have to put far more than last season’s 24.1 points per game on the board to keep up.
Right now, envisioning Houston going deep in the playoffs requires a huge leap of faith, several shots of Kool-Aid, and professional grade suspension of disbelief.
Hope springs eternal, right?
With so many of you voting that Houston earned an A with its 2019 draft, we’d love to hear how you see the Texans overcoming the deficit of protection for Watson, the lack of defensive coverage, and all the normal adversity teams face each year to make it to the promised land.
Give us something to believe in. Drop your faith-leaping, suspensions of disbelief in the comments box.