By Tim, Battle Red Blog
Eight years into their on-field existence, your Houston Texans finally posted their first winning record. As is their habit, the Texans left their fans wondering "what if" throughout the offseason. What if the Texas had resembled a professional football team in Week One--instead of an incredibly poor facsimile of a professional football team--against the Jets? What if Kris Brown decided not to morph into Ian Howfield at repeated crucial moments throughout the season? What if Gary Kubiak and/or Kyle Shanahan had realized that the words "Chris Brown" and "halfback pass" should never be uttered in the same sentence, much less be an actual play call? What if the Texans had won just one of the four games they lost by seven points or less?
9-7 was a milestone for this franchise. It's time to keep moving forward in 2010.
Significant offseason additions/subtractions
The Texans eschewed big-name free agents this past offseason, with the only two additions of note being Wade Smith (who may not start) and Neil Rackers (who may not even make the squad, despite Kris Brown's inaccuracy last year and fans calling for Brown's head all offseason). As they've done throughout the Smithiak Era, the team opted to focus on building through the draft. To that end, Kareem Jackson should start at cornerback. Fellow draftees Daryl Sharpton and Dorin Dickerson could push for snaps as well. Ben Tate, thought by some to be a potential savior for an ailing running attack, is out for the season, so don't be the guy in your fantasy league who burns a pick on him. Additionally, sixth-round pick Trindon Holliday could be a very intriguing weapon in the return game, provided he manages to hold onto a roster spot as a return specialist.
In terms of what was lost, the biggest subtraction could well be Kyle Shanahan, who left to coordinate the offense for his father in D.C. We're still unclear exactly how much Lil' Shan was responsible for in H-Town, as Kubiak always retained veto power and purportedly remained very involved in putting together the offensive gameplans. Indeed, most fans don't expect much of a drop-off, if any, from K. Shanahan to Rick Dennison.
You've probably read many stories lamenting the loss of Dunta Robinson via free agency. This is not one of those stories.
Andre Johnson is the best wide receiver in football. Matt Schaub is one of the top quarterbacks in football. Given similar pass protection to what he got last year from the offensive line (both starting guard positions are up for grabs, but don't expect much of a bottom-line effect on the line's functionality), look for Schaub-To-'Dre to thrive again. Kevin Walter, re-signed in March, provides a steady presence at the second wide receiver and will be pushed for touches by Jacoby Jones. Owen Daniels was having a fantastic season last year until he tore his ACL; he remains on the PUP List, though he claims he'll be ready for week one. If Owen Daniels can't go, look for Joel Dreessen to start at TE; many Texans fans are hopeful that James Casey will be given a chance to shine as well. Running back is Arian Foster's to lose, and Texans fans would be shocked if anyone but Foster lined up with the first-teamers come September 12th. Look for Steve Slaton, coming off cervical spine surgery, to be primarily featured on third-down, with the caveat that Kubes will not hesitate to play multiple backs, especially if one of 'em (I'm looking at you, Slaton) puts the ball on the ground.
The Houston secondary is frightening. Kareem Jackson is a rookie. Glover Quin, while coming off a promising rookie campaign, can hardly be called a sure thing. Brice McCain, another second-year player, seems likely to win the nickel job. The safety position is a bit more secure, with veterans Eugene Wilson at free safety and Bernard Pollard--a revelation after being signed off the street in September--manning strong safety. The potentially shaky secondary makes it even more vital for the Texans to pressure the quarterback, and that mission gets tougher without our beloved Overtrained Athlete for the first four weeks of the season. Mario Williams, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans & Co. (that's right...Amobi Okoye doesn't get his name on the door) are going to have to take it to another level to keep opposing offenses from capitalizing on a secondary that'll have offensive coordinators salivating until further notice.
Matt Turk is your punter. Trindon Holliday will be given every opportunity to prove that he should be returning kicks and punts; if he doesn't win Kubes and/or Joe Marciano's heart, some combination of Andre Davis (who seems unlikely to make the team if Holliday does), Jacoby Jones, David Anderson, and/or Steve Slaton will man punt and kick returns. As touched on above, Kris Brown and Neil Rackers are battling for the kicking job. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that a push will go to Kris Brown, so Rackers will likely have to be noticeably better in camp to unseat the incumbent. That makes most Texans fans a sad panda.
Gary Kubiak inherited a 2-14 squad in January 2006, and he's fashioned it into a team on the cusp. Kubes got a contract extension over the offseason, but a step back could still mean the end of his time in his hometown. There's no denying that Kubes is an incredible offensive mind, and the offense's statistics speak for themselves. Critics abound, however, when it comes to Kubes' delegation of the defensive coaching duties. First it was Richard Smith, who was run out of town on a rail after the 2008 season. Now it's Frank Bush, who's certainly better than Richard Smith; unfortunately, "better than Richard Smith" isn't exactly cause to commission a statue of one's likeness. Bush's defense was statistically stout after an an abysmal first few weeks of the 2009 season; he's going to need his charges to continue that progression this year, and that's far from a sure thing, particularly without Brian Cushing for the first four games. We've got a pretty good idea what we're going to get out of the Houston offense, and it should be delightful. We have nowhere near the same clarity when it comes to the defense, and that's cause for consternation.
Depending on how much I've had to drink, I can see this team winning anywhere from seven to eleven games. The schedule seems much more daunting than last year, and no Cushing for the first quarter of the season could be disastrous for this team's playoff chances.
You know what? Screw it. 10-6, with a wild card berth.
Be sure to visit Battle Red Blog in the coming days, as I'm almost sure to revise that prediction to 3-13. Texans fans don't know how to handle success. Even the pretend, predicted kind. May God have mercy on us all.