Too Fast & Too Furious?: How to Fix the Houston Texans
I really enjoy the “Fast and the Furious” movie series.
I mean, what’s there not to like? There’s a bunch of fast cars, some of which parachute out of planes. There’s 20 minute long chase scenes that usually include some physics defying maneuvers and ridiculous stunts that could only exist in CGI land. It’s got one actor named after a rock (“The Rock”) and one actor named after a type of gas (“Diesel”). It’s got two of the toughest women I know of in Michelle Rodriguez (who’s so tough that her character dies once every other movie and somehow keeps coming back) and real life UFC champ Ronda Rousey. Heck, the only woman that can beat that duo might be Houston Texans Cheerleader and decorated boxer Antonieta.
You’re welcome, Antonieta! You know we got your back! Although it’s probably more likely that we’ll need you to get our back than vice versa. Just saying. But most of all, the “Fast and the Furious” has awesome dialog like:
“This time it ain’t just about being fast.”
“You break her heart, I’ll break your neck.”
and the classic
“We talkin’ or we racin’?”
Wow. Brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it. Moving stuff, folks. Seriously, the only thing that would be more exciting than the “Fast and the Furious” is getting a tweet from Libby, one of our favorite Houston Texans Cheerleaders. Oh wait, we got that too!
Well, it seems we’ve just about completed the bucket list!
Unfortunately, as much as we’re excited about our favorite Houston Texans Cheerleader vets making the 2015 squad and have no doubt they will dominate in the 2015 season, we have less confidence in the Houston Texans football team. So let’s take a look at what we’re concerned with, and perhaps, how the Texans can fix it.
If we look at the offense, the glaring issue has to be at quarterback and the Houston passing game. Let’s face it, the Texans had four different quarterbacks take snaps during the 2014 regular season, consisting of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage. Sure, anything might have been better than the pick-6 machine, Matt Schaub, but this isn’t a group you’d expect to tally significant wins without a strong supporting cast.
Turns out, that’s exactly what happened as the Texans ended up 9th worst in the NFL for passing yards per game (209.5). Although the Texans ground game was consistently productive, with the 5th most rushing yards per game in the NFL (135.1), unsurprisingly led by pro bowl standout Arian Foster and capable backup Alfred Blue, it’s difficult to consistently win games without a competent passing threat. And although DeAndre Hopkins stepped up in his second year with his first 1,000+ yard season, the Texans still ended up only 9-7 in 2014, 2 games behind the AFC South division winning Indianapolis Colts.
What arguably saved the Texans in 2014 from the consequences of their poor passing attack (other than the fact that they were in the same division as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, two teams that only totaled 5 wins between them) was their extraordinary defense, led by J.J. Watt, sporting the 3rd most interceptions (20), most touchdowns off interceptions (4), second most fumble recoveries (14) and 9th most tackles (1082) in the NFL. This, in conjunction with a mostly conservative offense, resulted in the Texans owning the second best takeaway differential in the NFL (+12) through 2014.
As I mentioned above, the biggest problem in Houston is the passing game. And unfortunately, the Texans started out by making the wrong type of splash in releasing pro bowler Andre Johnson. Johnson has had over 1000 receiving yards every year that he played all 16 games back to 2004 (and the only year in which he was short was his rookie season where he had 976 yards). Although Hopkins became the new threat in Houston, Johnson was still a significant part of the offense in 2014, leading the team in receiving yards in 6 regular season games.
Johnson was owed $11.5 million in 2015 and $12 million in 2016, including a $1 million roster bonus in both seasons, so although the Texans tried to trade him away, ultimately, it made sense to release him if they indeed were committed to playing for the future. Johnson counted for about $16 million against the 2015 salary cap, saving the Texans almost $9 million in salary-cap space with his release.
And what did the Texans do to make up for this gap in the receiving corps during free agency? They signed Cecil Shorts III from the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you’re a Texans fan, you’re probably not overly excited about this, as the oft-injured Shorts has been relatively hit-or-miss in his four years with the Jaguars. He’s never played all 16 games in a season, but did show flashes of brilliance during his 2012 season where he totaled 979 yards and 7 touchdowns over 14 games. And there’s no doubting that at least Shorts is excited about coming to the Texans:
“It feels good [to join the Texans]. This organization is definitely a franchise that’s very consistent with winning the last some-odd years.”
I’m not exactly sure what he means by “consistent”, as although the Texans did make the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, they had losing records in 2010 and 2013 (going 6-10 and 2-14 respectively). But it’s always good to have a positive attitude, I suppose.
Unfortunately, on the quarterback side, the Texans decided to bring in Brian Hoyer to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’ve already discussed Hoyer a number of times in conjunction with the Cleveland Browns, and the bottom line is that he’s serviceable, but he’s not bringing you to any Super Bowls. And I severely doubt that either Ryan Mallett or Tom Savage will be the long term answer at quarterback for the Texans either.
Thankfully, the Texans did build on a good thing by adding defensive back Rahim Moore from the Denver Broncos and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork from the New England Patriots. But as I mentioned above, defense isn’t the problem in Houston. Heck, they could probably just run J.J. Watt out there by himself and they’d be OK.
Bottom line, though, is that there’s still plenty of work to do for the Houston Texans with the draft looming ahead.
The Texans have 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft, but 6 of them are after the fourth round. However, the pick that NFL pundits will concern themselves with is the Texans first round pick at 16th overall.
Clearly, there’s a need at quarterback and wide receiver. But since both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be gone by 16, perhaps focusing on wide receiver would result in better value. The problem is that Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker will also likely be off the board by the time the Texans pick, leaving them with the prospect of taking an upside wide receiver with risk, or looking to fill another position.
Although the Texans defense was generally solid, there was some weakness in the secondary. In particular, in 2014, the Texans defense was 21st in passing yards allowed per game (243). The addition of Moore shores up the secondary significantly, but there’s not much depth, so perhaps taking a cornerback like Kevin Johnson or Jalen Collins makes sense.
There’s also some potential with some later wide receivers like Dorial Green-Beckham, who has some off-field issues but is one of the more talented wide receivers in the draft, and Jaelen Strong, who has been slowly improving his draft stock in the off season.
My choice would be to go in a completely different direction and take strong safety Landon Collins. Quite frankly, Collins is a difference maker. He has good speed, is a complete ball hawk and hits with authority. Adding him to an already imposing defense, anchored by Watt, Wilfork, Cushing, Clowney and Moore, would make this unit one of the most feared in the NFL potentially for many years to come. The only concern is that it’s been mentioned that Collins excels between the numbers, but not as much on the sidelines. And with a potential weakness at cornerback, since Moore will likely play free safety in the based 3-4 defense, opposing quarterbacks might be able to exploit the sidelines. But a little coaching can go a long way, and Collins has the tools to be the anchor of the future. Don’t believe me? Check out some highlights:
With that said, I think the Texans should then target a wide receiver in the second round, such as Devin Smith, if available, who has potential to be a legitimate deep threat. And if not available, there are some great options even later in the draft, like Ty Montgomery.
Montgomery is a solid wide receiver option who never met his potential at Stanford. He has good speed and aggressiveness, but was prone to bad drops in college. Of course, Montgomery is moving up draft boards quickly after his big Pro Day, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. In my opinion, there’s no better late pick wide receiver to take a chance with. In addition, his Stanford teammates liked him, he’s well spoken, and he does have big play ability:
So there you go, Texans! A little road map to fixing the team and perhaps getting back to the playoffs!
But don’t just take my word for it. I’m sure Vin Diesel would tell you the same thing. After he’s done being fast and furious of course.