Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
2014 Record: 9-7
Odds to win Division: +450
Odds to win Conference: +2000
Odds to win Super Bowl: +5500
Season Wins: Over 8 (-120); Under 8 (+100)
Bet these futures’ odds at 5dimes and receive a 20 percent bonus on deposits!
Without a premier quarterback still, the Houston Texans will have to dominate the ground game on the shoulders of Arian Foster while also continuing to be defensive pests.
Bill O’Brien has his work cut out for himself with a Houston Texans team that is just on the cusp, but is a bit short of the talent that its top foes roster. The team realistically is about on a Wild Card berth level, after having made the leap from being a two win team to a nine win season in just one season.
How much further the team can go than those nine wins lies heavily on coaching, as O’Brien and company attempt to squeeze blood from an orange with this current Texans team.
O’Brien calls the offensive plays and George Godsey (QB coach) also plays a big role in the offense. Last season, the name of the game was staying on the ground and attempting to control the clock and possession. This year will be very similar. The hope is that by doing that the defense wins games on the shoulders of J.J. Watt’s beastliness. The Texans led the league last season with 34.1 carries per game, while run plays made up 51 percent of its offense.
At QB, the Texans will turn to either Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer. Bill O’Brien told Houston Chronicle that there is no timetable on his decision here. O’Brien said Mallett will start against Dallas, since Hoyer got the go against the San Francisco 49ers. He said of the matter, “When we decide who that guy is, we’ll make sure we tell everybody and move on.” Tom Savage is also still somewhat in the mix, though perhaps the least likely to land it. No one can be counted at at this juncture, though.
Hoyer is 7-6 as an NFL starter for the Browns last season, and he really received a pretty unfair shake when he was replaced by an unproven and disappointing Johnny Manziel in the midst of what was a pretty solid season for Hoyer.
Mallett is a pocket passer and can see over defenses well, and he’s also familiar with O’Brien’s system. He has the arm to really air it out, while Hoyer has advantages in the area of QB mobility and throwing on the run.
Both options present benefits, but neither is an outstanding NFL QB really—and the Texans will continue to play as a team constructed on the basis of strong play from its backfield.
Arian Foster is that backfield, or at least the key piece in it. He rushed for 1,246 yards last season despite fighting leg injuries, while also averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Foster is used well as a receiver too, and lines up both in the slot and wide. He had 13 TDs last season, five of which came via passes.
Alfred Blue was a good second back behind Foster and should be more productive in his sophomore NFL season. Blue is a capable receiver too, so the Texans will employ a lot of repetitive play, but for a team that ran so often maybe that is obvious. The backfield is good enough to compensate for a mediocre passing attack that ranked No. 24 in the league last season. The rushing attack was No. 5, accounting for 135.1 yards per contest.
At WR the options are mostly mediocre as well. Andre Johnson gave the Texans everything he had, and there’s no real quick way to replace a franchise level receiver. DeAndre Hopkins caught 1,210 yards on 76 catches last year and he’s the new No. 1 option.
Cecil Shorts III, Nate Washington and Jaelen Strong all fill out the rotation, but of returning receivers only Damarius Johnson has caught more than 30 passes. The TE position may factor more heavily this season, and C.J. Fiedorowicz will be the one to benefit from those play calls. He’s not a great receiver, however.
The OL can only improve on what it was last season, which produced mostly good results. The rush couldn’t thrive on that level without a good OL, nor could the team rank so high in sacks allowed, with just 26 (No. 4 fewest in NFL). Bill O’Brien turned over the center duties to Ben Jones, who played at LG last season.
Xavier Su’a-Filo steps in at LG and the other starting roles will be the same as last year. Right now, however, Su’-Filo is dealing with an injury he sustained that is undisclosed. Needless to say, if he’s impacted then the OL is as well, because it is not replete with depth. O’Brien’s continued refusal to disclose information on injuries frustrates those trying to follow the Texans.
Su’a’-Filo also showed up out of shape and is likely just going to end up being replaced by a less talented Jeff Adams. So, there’s that.
RG Brandon Brooks is an interesting specimen at 335 pounds of surprisingly athletic play. RT Derek Newton’s growth curve has been good, and if he continues to improve he will be a very valuable run blocker and pass protector this season.
Defensively, the Texans closed out the season on a high note, winning four of its final five games on the heels of a defense that allowed just 260.8 yards per game and a 22 percent third down conversion rate.
The Texans believe they can replicate that for a full season, and it added some key pieces to try to ensure that: NT Vince Wilfork, FS Rahim Moore, CB Kevin Johnson and ILB Bendardrick McKinney.
J.J. Watt is a recognized monster, but the Texans need at least one more guy to step up and be a sack goblin. Watt had 20 of the team’s 38 sacks last year, and he’s one of the best defensive talents to come through the league. He became the first player in history to put up two 20-plus sack seasons and Watt may have even more chances still this year to make big defensive plays.
NT Vince Wilfork, a 12-year veteran with 325 pounds matching his experience, may be the one to free him up to do so—and that has to concern teams that the Texans have now found a way to potentially maximize Watt’s damage.
The LB corp has a lot of potential and no one is ready to sleep on Jadeveon Clowney. He underwent micro fracture surgery and was kept out of action by three injuries in his first pro season. That casts serious doubts on his ability to stay healthy, but no doubts on his actual abilities necessarily—Can Clowney live up to that initial hype? At this point the Texans just want something from him to help justify the high pick.
Brian Cushing’s health is equally as dubious and problematic, so the Texans really are counting on some injury bounce-backs if the LB options are going to be at its best. Akeem Dent, Mike Mohamed, Whitney Mercilus and John Simon round out the rotation, which is good but so dependent on health that it’s hard to assess what is actually possible.
The secondary returns all CBs, and it also adds first round pick Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest. The secondary is stable with Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson having established comfort with one another due to five years working together. The Texans will have two new starters at S, with Rahim Moore replacing Lewis and Swearinger’s replacement yet to be determined.
CB Andre Hal is in the running for the job too, and he certainly showed his flashes last year, not the least of which was a 61 yard garbage-time TD off interception. His play in this preseason has been good, and he’s definitely a potential answer there, with Eddie Pleasant, Stevie Brown and Lonnie Ballentine all also in consideration. Even with that unsettled, the secondary’s stability is its best feature and what makes it a good unit overall.
The Texans had a horrible return game in 2014. The team averaged just 6.1 yards per punt return and 21.1 yards on kickoff returns. Its own coverage units weren’t good either, as the team allowed 12.4 yards on punt returns and 26.0 on kickoffs. The team may seek to turn to Chris Polk of Washington, a fourth year running back who averaged 30.7 yards on 11 returns for the Eagles. Kicking is strong.
Jon Weeks rounds it out as a great snapper. It’s mostly an issue of improving defensive coverage units and getting a return specialist, but Polk certainly has a good resume despite limited attempts.
The reality of things for the Texans is that everything revolves around its division rival Indianapolis. Every measure of greatness is bound by whether the Texans can in fact get past the Colts, and if the team fails to do so, then the season was a failure.
The QB position hasn’t been especially productive and the WR unit is now bereft of one of the best receivers in the league over the last decade. Does that mean the team regresses from last season’s nine wins? Probably it does, yes.
Prediction: 8 wins