An tumultuous off-season only eclipsed by the threat of pro-football leaving the city, is the single reason for this period not being considered the worst in Houston’s history. An implosion of unrivalled proportions was allowed to unfold by a second generation owner, who has come across as inept and every bit of the billionaire’s child archetype. This was going to be an off-season of change but the entire future of this team was thrown into disarray as its disgruntled quarterback became embroiled in a flurry of allegations. A total of 22-civil suits & 10 legal pending.
This all occurred whilst hiring a new head coach and general manager, the circus buried the lead. Football is back but what are the area’s of this team that will define the 2021 season?
It’s Football Time In Houston.
A week on Sunday the newly, but untraditionally formed roster will welcome the number one overall pick, in Trevor Lawrence as the Urban Meyer leads Jaguars for his first foray into the NFL game. The limited pro-experience of the opposition should give a clear barometer of where this veteran heavy Texans roster team is placed. Regardless of the outcome, the refreshing element of actual football to discuss, however successful they will provide a welcomed break for a beleaguered faithful.
There’s a huge element of the fan base becoming alienated by the aforementioned turmoil, the atmosphere in NRG & the level of attendance will be something to note. Particularly if the Texans come out looking short against last years worst team, then a perpetual spiral may begin with another 8 home games still to play.
Defensive Lead, Once Again?
The defence has been often the leading unit for many of the previous Texans vintages & it appears to be heading that way into 2021 also. The loss of Mr-Houston, number 99, hasn’t left the hole it could have. In part due to the circus, in part due his physical decline but also due to the multiple role players acquired have given a sense of hope along the D-Line.
The acquisition of Maleik Collins, Vincent Taylor & Demarcus Walker, have all looked better than expected. In heavy rotational front, added to by Omenihu, Jake Martin, plus the development of Ross Blacklock & Roy Lopez, this unit will budren the weight of the team. If they can regularly disrupted up-front, they will give this team a chance.
The pass coverage, for what seems like the 10th season in a row, could be this teams undoing. It will be a baptism of fire against a Rookie gunslinger, with a serviceable cast of receivers, in Shenault, Marvin Jones & DJ Shark. The address of the cornerback position, underserved the issues of talent by only signing Terrance Mitchell & Des King. An improvement of last year of course, but will they be able to hold up in coverage? Part of that question, relies upon their ability but also in-part on the expected zone-coverage scheme and how they can manufacture pass rush without any game-wreckers in the trenches.
The depth of the linebackers, in relations to where the safeties line up will be perhaps the biggest hole in this Lovie Smith 4-3 scheme where they similarly lack talent in the linebacker room to cover the pass. It was child’s plays in the final pre-season game for Tom Brady. A test against the best, playing basic shell coverage, had a predetermined outcome. But Lovie will need to dig deep each week and game plan, relying on his experience as he enters his 42nd year of coaching.
The pre-season headline has been the defensive turnovers but an over-reliance upon that isn’t a feasible way to live in the league. Playing fundamentally sound defence will be first port of call, as turnovers is a mix of mentality but also mostly due to opposition mistakes. Undoubtedly a great habit to have and this team will need it to stay in games but they can’t hang their hat on that alone.
A Special Teams Chance?
Co-ordinator Frank Ross’ job on the special teams unit has shown that they may be the secret ingredient to claim a few more wins that this team may deserve. The signing of Andre Roberts as an all-pro-returner & the unrivalled punting ability of Aussie Cam Johnson gives a tint of excitement. It’s not sexy, it won’t sell tickets or jerseys but the unit may be essential to keep this team alive most weeks.
Running a Watson-less Offence?
Now Tim Kelly/Pep Hamilton want to run the ball with great regularity. But if they are able to against team first units, across a 17-game schedule is the big question. It appears Mark Ingram will lead the attack as long his health at 31 holds up. The age at the position, the underwhelming start by Phillip Lindsay, the errant David Johnson does not garner logical enthusiasm for the units productivity.
Many will hope, for the first time since perhaps the emergence of Arian Foster, the Texans will give carries to Scottie Phillips. It’s a young mans position for the most part. The Texans have persevered with veterans at the position, keeping 5 tail-back was a nod to not losing them to waivers. But Scottie has an extra gear than the rest of the position group. In a season where there is limited to gain, he could be a small silver lining.
What The Heck O-Line?
James Campen has provided a much needed and refreshing change to the offensive line rooms stewardship. But there is still work to do. The re-shuffle of Max Sharping & Tytus Howards into both opposing guard spots is a perplexing one. The planned unit may look different in early games due to the health of Marcus Cannon & Lane Taylor. But the overt desire to reward Charlie Heck with playing time, due to his much lauded off-season physical transformation, may be an ill-fated one. Heck showed a number of errors/being overmatched in the bull rush, that his position may not be tenable. If so, they’ve removing much needed off-season preparation for the the true, first-choice unit.
Whether this unit can be a platform for the team, most notably in the run game, will be the acid test of this offence’s ability to be productive.
Tyrod’s Health Or Floating Davis?
Taylor gives this team the best chance to be serviceable but his recent record of health would point to him missing time. The hopes of Davis Mills have been singed by his pre-season performances. The mere 11-collegiate starts has shown exactly his billing, the rawness & mental process needs refinement at the pro-level playing speed. Assuming Watson lurks in the back-ground for the foreseeable future, until off-field matters can be resolved, then Tyrod’s offence will be a grand departure from recent memory. The unit will rely on his mobility and the play action game to open up the lay-ups needed for the unit to stay on the field.
Efficiency and converting in the red-zone will be huge factor, as relying on field-goals, considering your pass defence’s ability won’t cut it. The formula will be tight end heavy, short-to-intermediate passing to compliment the run game. Highlight plays will be at a premium. The expected ground-and-pound will be symbolic of this teams season. Hard fought yards at every turn for 17-weeks won’t be for the purest but at the very least, we can put some of the mess behind us, for a few hours on a sunday.
Given this teams flaws, 4-5 wins appears their ceiling. A lot can change quickly in the league, the assumption of all things being equal, never proves true. Three rookie quarterbacks, plus 5 games against either new or 2nd year quarterbacks, seems favourable.
Cleveland, Buffalo, LA, Seattle appear forgone conclusion on paper. Getting 2 wins in the four games against Tennessee & Indianapolis will be defining but there are winnable games, if the team, can avoid beating itself. A departure from that mentality would be a step forward in this Nick Caserio era of Texans football.