This is the first of a 3-part series. Five weeks through the 2023 NFL Season the DeMeco Ryans era is well underway. Projecting a team’s entire season is no sure bet, like we learned at the end of last year’s season, anything is possible, but upon watching the first five games of the Texans season, we can use these as a good litmus test. One thing stands above all analysis early on…. boy does it feel good to have a competent team again. The power tandem of Nick Caserio and DeMeco Ryans have reconfigured this roster into a physical, fundamentally sound, fun and youthful squad that is capable of competing week in and week out. This article will serve as an analysis of the (early) good, bad and ugly of this Houston Texans team, highlighting the successes, downfalls and identifying where the team can grow to reclaim the AFC South and march their way back to relevancy.
You know exactly where we’re going to start. Coleridge. Bernard. Stroud. IV. The future of the franchise, ball placement specialist, legend in the making, call him what you want, this kid is as advertised. CJ Stroud has stepped in from day one and changed the entire trajectory of this franchise. Stroud plays with a poise and football intelligence that is far and above any Texans’ quarterback we have ever watched. It has been a real treat to watch this young gun-slinger grow by leaps and bounds every week and stack impressive game atop impressive game. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but through 186 pass attempts he has yet to throw an interception. Although there have been a few throws that should have been turnovers, it’s a testament to the preparation and execution of CJ that this stat continually grows. Stroud is quickly climbing the ranks of top QB’s in the league and it would not surprise me at all if by seasons’ end he approaches top-10 territory. Following a two-week roughshod where 7 found himself sacked 11 times, he’s sped up his internal clock and dissects through his progressions masterfully leading to an offensive identity change and onslaught in the passing game. Because of this barrage, the likes of Nico Collins, Robert Woods, Tank Dell and Co. have revamped the wide receiver room into a legitimate core giving opposing defenses headaches to game plan against. Week 5 against Atlanta saw a fatal flaw be uncovered for this passing attack, but more on that later. The CJ to Nico connection is real, which is ironic given their alma mater rivalries. Scour the internet for CJ’s advanced stats, I highly recommend JT O’Sullivans’ "The QB School" YouTube channel for an in-depth breakdown of Stroud’s mechanics and decision making. He’s quickly becoming a star before our eyes, expect him to keep this team in contention and end the season with some much-deserved ROY hardware.
The second heap of praise goes to DeMeco Ryans and the identity he has brought to this team. For the past two years, this mediocre franchise has found itself as the laughing stock of the league. But if you would have told me all the pain and incompetence of the David Culley’s and Lovie Smith’s would lead to the return of Cap, I would sign up for it all over again. The physicality and comradery Ryans brought over has been a revelation. He built his coaching staff primarily of fellow 49er employees, retained Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross and hasn’t looked back. This coaching staff has shown to be smart, decisive and gutsy when need be. They’ve built an identity on all three sides of the ball, and have all had big moments successfully encapsulating their identities. The offense, led by Bobby Slowik, Jerrod Johnson, Ben McDaniels and Chris Strausser have fine tuned a run-first, KubShanistan (shout out Payne and Pendergast) west coast scheme that generates 5.4 yards per average and is amongst the highest in the league in third down percentage. The red-zone success rate and run game stand to improve, but through five weeks this offense has shown enough to overcome adversity and script plays for success when desperately needed (looking at you Dalton Schultz latest touchdown play).
Defensively, the greatest positive takeaway is the physicality which these boys play with. Early in OTA’s DeMeco referenced the "kill zone", which caught my ear. Five weeks into their regime I am witness to the KZ and absolutely love it. The pass defense intentionally leaves zones open in the middle of the field praying the opposing QB is clueless to the bait, to the Texans delight they have been (see the Eric Murray hit on Jamal Agnew week 3 against the Jags). We’ve seen hit-sticks from Murray, Ward, Pitre, Cashman, WAJ and can expect more to come the more cohesive this defensive unit plays. We’ve watched the defense physically wear down the Jaguars and Steelers so far and make the turnover plays necessary to keep the team in the game against Atlanta. The revelation of Blake Cashman and the physicality of the secondary have been the early success, expect DeMeco to do everything necessary to return this Texans defense to the ones he used to captain.
Last but not least, and maybe most surprising recognition goes to the ownership team of Cal and Hannah McNair. What was once an embarrassing tandem that once saw fans clamor for ownership change has been replaced with a new vision focused on passion for the city of Houston. Listen to the crowd at home games, you can hear the energy and excitement of the raucous audience again. The McNairs continue to tease new uniforms that keep the fans engaged, have elected a fan committee prioritizing fan input, and seem to have a pretty good sense of fan investment. Everything from Texans organized community events to the JJ Watt Ring of Honor induction, (and of course, maybe the most significant, the firing of Jack Easterby), the McNairs seemed to have learned from their early mistakes, and have made a return to relevancy the priority. This is a turnaround I would not have expected from ownership, and in doing so, must tip my cap to the two. They have done a great job of staying out of the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons and allowed the teams play on the field to receive all of the great merit. Chin-Up, Texans fans. We have a lot of greatness headed our way.