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Why The Texans Will Make the Playoffs Next Year
Why They Didn't This Year
The Texans had Super Bowl aspirations before the start of the season. They were coming off a season in which they made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and had the defensive player of the year on their team. Those were quickly dashed when the team went on a huge losing streak and ended up trading away their starting quarterback in the offseason. Many reasons can be attributed to this epic collapse from Super Bowl contender to first pick in the draft. First, the quarterback (who has never been that consistent) suddenly turned into the king of pick 6's. The coaching staff, faced with a dilemma, couldn't muster up the genius to fix it. That is a major problem in the NFL when you can't fix something in your team. The game starts and ends with leadership. Next, the team was hit with a wave of injuries from that not-so-consistent starting quarterback to their star running back and so on. These reasons attributed to a down year for the perennial Houston Texans.
Why They'll Make Playoffs (Similarities?)
As the draft approached I begin to think about how the Texans got into this predicament and it made me think of another team. The Jacksonville Jaguars? The Minnesota Vikings? Oakland?! No, not one of the bottom feeders but rather a contender, the Kansas City Chiefs. Think about it. Both teams were expected to at least make the playoffs. They both had inconsistent quarterbacks that single-handily lost games for them in Matt Schaub (Texans) and Matt Cassel (Chiefs). Both teams had run games that were subpar to previous years. The defenses had many injuries that limited their style of play. Both teams were riddled with injuries to their secondaries that severely hurt their defenses which made it nearly impossible to win games in today's pass-happy NFL. For the Texans it was Johnathan Joseph (Their Starting Cornerback), Matt Schaub (Starting Quarterback), Brian Cushing (Pro-Bowl MLB), Danieal Manning (Starting Strong Safety), and Arian Foster (Pro-Bowl Running Back). For the Chiefs it was Glenn Dorsey (Starting Defensive End), Dwayne Bowe (All-Pro Wide Receiver), and Matt Cassel (Starting Quarterback). Some similarities? I think so too. The Texans will be returning to full strength as well as featuring some new caste members that will help this team win. Remember when healthy the Texans went 12-4 in 2012.
New Coaching Staff
Say what you will about the New England Patriots, but they know how to win. What better way for the new Houston Texans to build a winner than to give them a coach that has been a part of the Patriots organization. I'm talking about the new Head Coach Bill O'Brien. Former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, this guy knows how to get the most out of his team. While serving as the Patriots offense coordinator their offense in 2011 the Patriots had the number 1 offense. Yes, they had Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and a healthy Rob Gronkowski, but lets look at the facts. Tom Brady completed 65.6% of his passes for a career high 5,235 yards and 39 TD's to only 11 Ints. Those are MVP numbers. Could they have been completed without Bill O'Brien helping to call plays? At Penn State he compiled a solid record of 15-9 despite the NCAA sanctions and a host of good recruits leaving Penn State in wake of the scandal. Incumbent NFL quarterback Matt McGloin was the quarterback and posted the highest passing season and most completions in Penn State history! That can't be all because of this quarterback. The schemes O'Brien ran surely helped the young McGloin jump into the record books. It should also be worth noting that the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions didn't have an able kicker for a while and were forced to go for it on fourth down a lot. The lack of field goals certainly didn't help the team win games. The bottom line is that Bill O'Brien knows how to create a stable passing attack and will be able to help young quarterback Tom Savage develop quicker.
How Many Games Will The Texans Win in 2014?
Perhaps the biggest reason the Texans will return to the playoffs in 2013 is a great draft. Barring some major busts or injury problems hitting their rookies, these guys look the part of some instant contributors. Jadeveon Clowney is being hailed as a once in a decade prospect at defensive end. While he would have been better served in a 4-3, the Texans can still make him work in their 3-4 by using him as a near-constant blitzing outside linebacker like the San Francisco 49er's run with Aldon Smith. This might bring his sack numbers down a little bit but overall it will benefit the team tremendously. You probably haven't forgotten about JJ Watt. The beauty of the situation the Texans are in is that Clowney doesn't have to get 10+ sacks for them to be successful. While it is expected the team can do exceptionally well just by him adding pressure to free up Watt. Alternatively Watt can add pressure to free up Clowney. Either way these two are going to be adding pressure to the quarterback. With these two going after the quarterback it leaves a huge whole in the run game, except the Texans took care of that with Louis Nix III. A massive defensive tackle at 6'2" and 342 pounds that is similar to Vince Wilfork, he will be a run stuffer in the middle. Another instant contributor is Xavier Su'a-Filo who will most likely be starting guard, which is good news for a team that gave up 42 sacks to opposing teams. These additions will make the Texans instantly better. Finally there is Tom Savage. A raw prospect out of Pittsburg, he is compared to Tom Brady for great decision making but a lack of athleticism and downfield accuracy. While I doubt he is the next Brady, Savage can surely develop into a reliable starter for the Texans.
Cutting Dead Weight
Out with the old and in with the new. That is what the Texans did this year as they fired former head coach Gary Kubiak and got rid of incumbent Matt Schaub. Both of these guys had to go obviously. Schaub was enduring one of the worst statistical seasons of his career and ended the 2013 season with 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He even threw 5 pick 6's over the course of 7 games, which surely didn't help the team win. It did, however, help them achieve their league-worst record of 2-14. While it is fair to say that if Schaub has kept the starting gig he might have been able to turn things around, the way things were looking it is not likely that would have happened. After he went down it became apparent that Kubiak did not have the coaching aficionado to weather the storm in Houston. I have already talked of the coaching acumen of O'Brien, who should be viewed as an upgrade. The defensive which was less than stellar last year should also improve under new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Crennel served as coach for the Kansas City Chiefs for a while and is very defensive minded. Now that he is in control of a very talented and hopefully healthy defense things should turn around for the Texans.
The Texans suffered a drastic drop-off from 2012 to 2013. Yet all is not lost for the city of Houston. The old coach and quarterback were clearly on the decline. While the quarterback position is not fixed there is certainly a lot of potential. The new head coach knows how to win and has shown to do wonders with quarterbacks. The team is returning star talent such as All-Pro's wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end JJ Watt, and running back Arian Foster. A great draft brought in instant contributors and players with a lot of potential. It is clear things have changed in Houston, and hopefully for the better. I predict the Texans will go 10-6 with do to the play of a stellar defense and resurgent run game to barely sneak in the playoffs as a Wild Card.