Houston Texans: Contenders or Pretenders?

The Houston Texans historically seem to be a player away almost every year from contending. From 2011 to now, the Texans have made the playoffs five out of eight years and amazingly mostly with average to outright lousy quarterback play.

When that fact is given thought, making the playoffs five out of eight years is an enormous accomplishment. There is no doubt that the Texans would have either won or at least reached a Super Bowl if they had the quarterback that they have now.  The 2016 team was maybe one of their most talented squads, with the exception of the quarterback position. That team was indeed a defensively-carried team, mainly because Brock Osweiler kept them on the field. Osweiler was not only a turnover machine but was also a lousy thrower of the football. If defense wins championships like the ancient cliché states, then 2016 was indeed a Super Bowl team.

There is no use in looking in the past too long, but we can use the past to answer questions about the Texans’ potential now. One question about the 2016 season is, “What can restore at least 80 percent of that Super Bowl defense?”

To restore the Texans to even 80 percent of the 2016 defense would make even the severely wounded 2018 offense instant contenders. Another question to address is, “What will do the Texans do to protect Deshaun Watson?”

Health destroyed the 2017 season, so “did the Texans make enough changes to keep their players healthy? If the third concern is secure, then the fourth concern is as well; the fourth question being, “Will receivers Will Fuller and Keke Coutee and running back D’Onta Foreman stay healthy?”

Contention Barrier 1: Making 80 percent of the 2016 defense

One of the biggest hopes of restoring the 2016 defense to even just 80 percent is to remember their great defense was without stud defender J.J. Watt.

Clue, Clue, Clue, and Clue Texans.

In other words, pay defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and stop the games. Should Clowney be enumerated like a sack leader? No. Should Clowney be identified as a critical piece to a contender window? Yesterday. Do you sometimes have to overpay for essential players to a team? Yes.

So just do it. The Texans played the same hardball game with Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye after the 2016 season and spent the next two years paying for the greed at the cornerback position. It is way easier to find a Bouye type sleeper rather than a proven NFL star like Clowney.

Another vital piece to the hope of restoring the defense to at least 80 percent of the 2016 Super Bowl defense is the big rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson. In a nutshell, the Texans will need the giant corner to make an immediate impact. With every rookie is an NFL learning curve, yet it is no doubt that Johnson has the rawness and size for impact immediately.

Contention Barrier 2: Protecting Watson

One of the biggest things the Texans should aggressively do is repent for the sins of letting left tackle Duane Brown go and target left tackle Trent Williams aggressively from the Redskins. Trent Williams brings an instant veteran presence and nastiness to a very young group of offensive lineman forced into grown man shoes.

Before Brown was the eventual All-Pro and Pro Bowler, he was first the doubted green rookie that most Texans fans initially called a bust. Many athletic 1st rounders struggle before they become stable. An offensive lineman learning curve is not only natural but expected.

Looking at the history of other first tackles, we can see Tyron Smith, and Hal Vaitai, both started as struggling right tackles before they blossomed into solid left tackles. Why expect anything different from rookie Tytus Howard? Orlando Brown is the exception, not the norm. The contingency plan to protect Deshaun Watson will make the Texans natural contenders if appropriately executed.

Contention Barrier 3 – Strength, Condition, and Health Plan

In 2017, the Houston Texans injuries were way above the norm, according to Brian K. Patterson from Fansided. Looking at the list from 2017, most of the injuries were shoulders, knees, and concussions.  Whenever a pattern of injuries emerges, the strength and conditioning coach becomes the primary suspect.

The Texans made the proper adjustment in 2018 by bringing on one of the best in the NFL Strength and Conditioning business in Luke Richesson, who was known for specializing in soft tissue injury prevention and well-rounded physical health. The work Richesson accomplished with Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt was terrific and received high praise from players and head coach Bill O’Brien, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Unfortunately, Richesson resigned from the Texans, but the good news for Texan fans is his long term assistant Mike Eubanks is the new Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. For the Texans to be contenders, they will need Mike Eubanks to keep players on the field and continue the wholeness track of Richesson.

Contention Barrier 4 – Key Weapons Coming Back

DeAndre Hopkins is without question a durable top-3 receiver. The Texans went on a nine-game winning streak and mostly without Keke Coutee, D’Onta Foreman, and Will Fuller. Regardless of the schedule, nine consecutive wins are never easy in the NFL. Think about the upside of the Texans with those three back. If even two out of the three recovering players come around, that will be more than enough to put the Texans in a position to outscore teams.

Before the ACL injury, Fuller was on a scary pace to do over 1,000 yards with Hopkins. Everything about Fuller’s game improved, from catching with his hands to route running to scary yards after the catch. According to NextGen, Keke had the best separation per target out of all receivers in the NFL. A number 3 with the most separation creates instant mismatches versus nickel backs and even better, super scary yards after the catch opportunities. Reports are coming out that Foreman is light years ahead of schedule.

Conclusion: Are the Texans contenders? It depends on how much of the concerns are solved.  The deadline to see drastic improvement is before the start of the 2019 season. Is it realistic to expect all four of the contending barriers addressed in just a couple of months? Logic would say no, but the good news for the Texans is it will only take a combination of the four concerns to be addressed to be instant contenders. Maybe Lonnie Johnson struggles, but Trent Williams is acquired. Maybe Keke shakes the injury bug, but Foreman is not himself. Any day now Clowney can be announced with a new contract. Historically the Texans have made the playoffs with average to bad quarterbacks over the past eight years. Now they have one of the best quarterbacks, and they will need to repeat the success that they have previously had.

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