The next team up on our NFL 32 Team Preview segment is the Houston Texans. They’ve played only 4 Playoff games in their 11-year existence, all 4 in the last two seasons. Houston won the 2011 and ’12 Wild Card rounds of Playoffs but lost in both Divisional rounds to the eventual AFC Champion. They’re one of the favorites to be a Super Bowl contender this season under Head Coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak holds a record of 61-55 since being hired by the franchise in 2006. Some feel that if he doesn’t get the team to take a step forward in one of the next few seasons, it could cost him his job.
Offense: One of the more high-caliber Offenses in the league, Houston ranked 7th last season (8th in rushing and 11th in passing). Matt Schaub is the one who will be responsible for calling the plays in the huddle. Schaub consistently puts up over 4,000 yards passing when he plays full seasons and often throws in the mid 60’s percentage wise in his completions. Schaub is steadily one of the better Quarterbacks in the NFL year after year but fans have concerns about him being the one who will lead them to the Promised Land. This upcoming campaign is going to be huge for Schaub in proving “he is who we think he is”, to steal a line from Dennis Green. Matt isn’t the only face of Houston’s franchise, as Arian Foster is arguably one of the best Running Backs in the game. Foster has played 4 seasons with the Texans, running for 4,521 yards and 44 touchdowns over that span. His running style isn’t his only forte, as he’s very reliable in the passing game. He’s come a long way since coming to the team un-drafted, which is what Ray Graham will be trying to do in 2013. Graham was a playmaker at the University of Pittsburgh that fought back from a torn ACL in 2011, and ran for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He’s a wild card but has all the abilities a Running Back needs to shine in the league. Ben Tate was thought to be a force backing up Foster when drafted in 2010. He’s fought injuries throughout his career and will be nice compliment, if healthy, to Arian during the season. Opening up the holes for these runners will be an Offensive Line led by Chris Myers and Duane Brown. They’re 2 of the best at their positions and both should see returns to Hawaii after the end of the season for the Pro Bowl. Myers holds down the job as Center, as Brown handles the duties at Left Tackle. There are concerns over the consistency at the Right Tackle. The job should go to Derek Newton who started 14 games for the team in 2012. If he can’t play at a high level, the team took Brennan Williams in the 3rd round of the Draft. Williams could win the starting job during camp if he provides impeccable play throughout August. Wade Smith is a Pro Bowler as well who starts at Left Guard. He and Brandon Brooks should get the nods as starters. The Wide Receiving crew for the Houston Texans is full of explosive talent. Andre Johnson has been one of the top players at his position in the NFL for quite some time now. Johnson had 23 plays for 20 yards or more last year and was responsible for 79 first downs. He has totaled 818 catches, 11,254 yards, and 56 touchdowns in his career. He’s been the go-to-guy for Schaub for years now and should be a top producer at his position again. To try and have another major threat, the Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins 27th overall. Hopkins scored 18 touchdowns for Clemson last year and was a consistent asset for the team during his time there. If he can make some big plays during his rookie year, it’ll take a lot of attention off Andre Johnson and make the Houston’s passing game a lot more dangerous. They’ll need their other wideouts (Lestar Jean, DeVier Posey, and Keshawn Martin) to take advantage of the opportunities they are given and make a name for themselves. The starting Tight End position has belonged to Owen Daniels since 2006. He had one of his better years receiving last season, while bringing in a team and career-high 6 touchdown passes. He’ll be backed up by Garrett Graham who started 9 games for the Texans last year while hauling in 3 scores. Houston has everything they need to be one of the top Offenses in the league next season. If they’re healthy, Schaub should lead the team to a record similar to their 2012 performance.
Defense: Ranking 7th in Total Defense, the franchise was 7th versus the run and 16th against the pass in 2012. J.J. Watt was a big reason for it’s success and is arguably the best Defensive Linemen in the NFL. Playing at End and Tackle, Watt tied for the team high is pass deflections with 16, led in tackles for loss with 23, led in forced fumbles with 4, and led the team in sacks with 20.5. He’s one of the most effective and disruptive players the game has to offer. Antonio Smith will play at the other Defensive End position and he racked up a career-high 7 sacks last year. Earl Mitchell is the team’s anchor at Nose Tackle. He started 3 games last year and will be looking to put up good numbers in his first season as a full time starter completed. The Linebackers for the organization begin with Middle Linebacker Brian Cushing who is coming off a torn ACL. Cushing is the heart of this corps and will need to stay healthy while having his typical 100+ total tackle season with 4 sacks or more. Starting 11 games for the team over the last 3 years, Darryl Sharpton should be the other starting Middle Linebacker for the Texans. Starting at Outside Linebacker will be Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. Reed had will be looking to rebound after a poor 2012, as Mercilus will be trying to build off a strong rookie campaign where, only starting 4 games, he brought the Quarterback down 6 times. The team drafted Sam Montgomery in the 3rd round to play at OLB. I personally think that after he builds up his strength, he’d be a perfect fit as a Defensive End. Notably, Trevardo Williams was taken in the 4th round and led his conference in sacks during his senior season with 11.5. The Defensive Backfield for the Texans got a lot better with the signing of Ed Reed during the Offseason. Reed, 10th All-Time in interceptions, is looking to help take the organization to the Super Bowl for the first time. Coming off winning one in 2012 with the Ravens, Ed will bring supreme playmaking ability and knowledge to a Defense that ranked 14th in interceptions last season. There is some concern that Reed might not be ready for the beginning of the coming year. If that were true, D.J. Swearinger could be seeing time ASAP. A 2nd round pick in 2013, some felt Swearinger was a steal in the Draft. He’s battled injuries in college, but brings a hard-hitting presence that will be needed when called upon. In 2012, Danieal Manning, who will be moving to Strong Safety, picked off 2 passes in his 7th year. It’ll be interesting to see if Swearinger’s play will be good enough to demand time over Manning when Reed is on the field. Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph make up the starting Cornerback tandem in Houston. Jackson led the team in passes taken away with 4, setting a career high, in his 3rd year as a pro. Joseph is going into his 3rd year with the team and looking to rebound from an injury filled 2012. Throughout his 8 years in the league, he’s only started 16 games twice. Brice McCain, responsible for the Slot Receivers, has played decent in his 4 years with the team. McCain is someone the team is looking to have one of his strongest seasons yet. The Houston Texans will have their moments on Defense in 2013, but in the end should hold up pretty well. One thing they should see a lot more of is turnovers, with the presence of a ball hawk at Safety, to go along with a nice group of pass rushers.
End Result: I have the Texans at 10-6. My prediction involves the team having some struggles in the beginning of the year but finishing the season as one of the hotter teams.