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Preseason Power Rankings No. 7: Houston Texans

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Coming off the first playoff berth and 10-win season in franchise history, the Texans can’t help but feel it should have been better.

They were 7-3 when Matt Schaub suffered a foot injury, ending his season and throwing the potential for a deep playoff push out the window. T.J. Yates proved himself capable last year, but the Texans were at such a higher level than capable that the disappointment was palpable

They finished last year ranked in the league’s top 10 in scoring on both sides of the ball, and have added parts to the defense that could make it better.

And with General Manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak getting contract extensions, there’s a clear sense that the Texans are on the verge of something big.

When you can let players such as former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams walk with no return, it’s clear that they’re building a sustainable franchise, and could be a factor for years to come.

Strengths.

You’d be tempted to start with the league’s second-ranked defense, full of young, fast parts.

But then you’d be overlooking the fact the Texans have arguably the league’s best running back in Arian Foster and a receiver that might be the best at his position in Andre Johnson. Johnson has to stay healthy, and his contribution largely depends on the health of quarterback Matt Schaub, but when all things are equal, there’s not a better RB-WR tandem in the league.

So yeah, back to that defense.

The Texans transformed themselves under coordinator Wade Phillips, remaking themselves into an aggressive, effective side with young stars throughout.

The linebackers in particular are impressive, with Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin peaking together. Adding a solid veteran in Bradie James (familiar with Phillips from their Dallas days) makes it an exceptional group.

Then they drafted more pass rush in Whitney Mercilus, adding yet another tool for Phillips to work with.

They have playmakers on every level of the defense too, as defensive end J.J. Watt, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph make it the kind of group it’s hard to game plan against.

Weaknesses.

The main thing the Texans have to worry about is health.

Matt Schaub insists he’s fine after last year’s foot injury, and Andre Johnson missed nine games with hamstring problems before offseason surgery on his left knee in June. If both hold up, they’re automatically contenders.

Otherwise, the Texans have reasonable concerns on the offensive line, where the right side is populated by your guess is as good as mine.

After offering up right tackle Eric Winston in order to keep free agent center Chris Myers, they created competition where there was none.

They hope Rashad Butler can own the right tackle job, and Antoine Caldwell can blossom into a starting right guard, but there are reasonable questions about both.

Butler has good feet and can pass protect, but he’s a little light in the seat, and  isn’t strong at the point of attack. Caldwell hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and has been inconsistent, but maybe being in a contract year gets his attention.

Tackle Derek Newton and guard Brandon Brooks are pushing them for jobs, and it’s not a sure thing that they won’t win them.

Changes.

For a team as successful as they were, they sure weren’t bashful about getting rid of guys.

Because of the way Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin and J.J. Watt played, you can’t imagine them exactly missing Mario Williams. Think about that for a second. Williams signed a six-year, $96 million contract with the Bills, and it’s as if it wasn’t an issue for them.

They also traded middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles for a sack of beans (actually a fourth-round pick and a swap of thirds), primarily because they didn’t think he fit Wade Phillips’ defense. But he wasn’t the same player as before his torn Achilles, and that was a factor as well.

They also released right tackle Eric Winson (who signed with Kansas City) and let right guard Mike Brisel walk (Oakland), breaking up a very good offensive line.

They also took the dynamite to special teams, ridding themselves of kicker Neil Rackers and punter Matt Turk, along with return man Jacoby Jones.

They drafted a kicker in the fifth round (Randy Bullock), and brought in journeyman Shayne Graham to compete with him. Donnie Jones is the new punter, and they’re taking the cast of thousands approach to the return jobs, hoping between rookie Keshawn Martin, oft-injured speedster Trindon Holliday and veteran running back Justin Forsett they can find some production.

They also saw enough out of quarterback T.J. Yates to make him the backup, eliminating the need for Matt Leinart.

So yeah, there were changes.

Camp battles.

It’s easy to see Andre Johnson and gloss over the position, but his health makes you wonder about the position as a whole.

Primarily because once you get past veteran Kevin Walter, there’s not another wideout on the roster that’s caught a single NFL pass.

Two of those jobs should go to draft picks, third-rounder DeVier Posey and fourth-rounder Keshawn Martin. Throw in a group of young players such as Lestar Jean, Jeff Maehl, Trindon Holliday and Juaquin Iglesias.

Jean in particular has the chance to emerge, but this is a wide open position waiting for someone to take over.

Prospects.

It’s hard to imagine a player with more pressure on him this year than Matt Schaub.

He’s 31, and was playing at a high level when he went down with the foot injury last year. He’s also entering the final year of his six-year, $48 million, and there are no indications the Texans are going to do anything but wait.

He wants to stay, they like him, but he’s going to have to prove himself worth a long-term investment.

Play hard, Matt.

If he’s well, the Texans have proven they can score. They’ve proven they can stop people.

It’s as talented a roster, top to bottom, as any in the league.

Now it’s up to them to stay healthy and deliver on that potential.

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17 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 7: Houston Texans”
  1. greasybeerfart says: Jul 21, 2012 3:08 PM

    As a Niners fan, this team looks scary. One of the top rbs and top wr, not too mention a solid defense. Wouldn’t suprisr me if they were in the AFC championship this year or farther.

  2. yelix says: Jul 21, 2012 3:14 PM

    If everyone stays healthy and one of the rookie receivers proves capable of taking coverage away from Andre Johnson, these guys could very well be in the Super Bowl.

  3. oilman989 says: Jul 21, 2012 3:37 PM

    Florio came on Sports Radio610 yesterday and basically stated that with a healthy Schaub the Texans should runaway with the AFC South and could contend for a World Championship.

    I agree with the former; the latter, not so much.

    Johnson has missed significant time the last two seasons with hamstring issues, and he just got over arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s older than his 31 years would indicate.

    As Gantt mentioned, they have major question marks along the right side of the line (Butler, Caldwell) and a rookie PK who will undoubtedly have plenty of chances to prove himself.

    But until they find a solid complement to Johnson – assuming Johnson will be available to complement – this team will fall short representing the AFC in February.

  4. quiettexan says: Jul 21, 2012 3:52 PM

    I know they’re just punters…but you screwed up our situation. our punter is brett hartman (who replaced turk last season) turk was re-signed when hartman tore his acl, donnie jones is punting for him while he serves his suspension.

    caldwell and butler are both very soft. newton should have the starting job by midseason, if brookes lives to his hype he will too.

  5. nattination says: Jul 21, 2012 3:57 PM

    Really? Schaub/Johnson. Not a better QB/WR combo? I believe a couple guys in Detroit might have something to say about that. And Stafford was actually healthy, unlike that guy in Houston, Schaub. My money would say Stafford/Johnson for the foreseeable future.

  6. rabidbillsfan says: Jul 21, 2012 4:05 PM

    @oilman

    I have to disagree with you. As a Bills fan, this is the team I think Buffalo can be in the next few years. There is almost no weakness to this team. Shut down AJ, Owen Daniels steps up. Shut down the passing game, Foster will run all over you. Shut down the offense? That defense will keep it close so it can be a 1 score game. There is no other team in the NFL that boasts this much balance. As long as their core stays relativley healthy, and not all of the guys go down at once or for extended periods of time, this team is a favorite in the AFC. I think the road to the superbowl goes through Texas, and no, not Dallas.

  7. beckzhere says: Jul 21, 2012 4:17 PM

    If everyone stays healthy, there is no reason they shouldn’t be playing the in the AFC Championship game. That defense is sick!!

  8. b1gwin says: Jul 21, 2012 4:56 PM

    10 wins for a team that virtually had 6 bye weeks within its own division last year is really no biggie. The Patriots have been dealt that criticism for the last decade. The Texans faced 1 QB last year with a top ranking, Drew Brees… and he lit them up. After the coming season facing Rogers, Stafford, Cutler, Peyton and Brady then we’ll see Wade the Fade’s defense do just what it did everywhere else……..and thats take a swoon under a cupcake of a coordinator after having impressed in year 1.

  9. getadealdonealready says: Jul 21, 2012 5:05 PM

    I would hope they could win the division if healthy, there are a couple college teams that could win this division with or without injuries.

    Based on past results I don’t see both Johnson and Schaub staying healthy for a full season, without that they are not a contender in the playoffs.

  10. blue67ccm says: Jul 21, 2012 5:13 PM

    The one big question mark in my mind is why mess with consistency at the kicker position? For a team dreaming of its first Super Bowl, and the potential to do so, this better be some special rookie kicker. Otherwise, one missed kick could mean years of regret….just look at the Ravens in January.

  11. glynners says: Jul 21, 2012 6:45 PM

    Biggest question mark for me is Schaubs ability to win /close out the big games

    They played a game in NO last year were he should have had his team out of sight by HT but they settled for FGs and wound up losing.

    They had a pretty soft schedule last season too, this years looks alot tougher overall

  12. vman0626 says: Jul 21, 2012 8:14 PM

    Gmen fan here…..these guys impressed me last year. With a decent qb they would’ve beat Baltimore in post season. I was pulling for that kid qb. He just didn’t have it in him. I think they give perennial AFC powers fits this season…

  13. chuckyd317 says: Jul 21, 2012 10:02 PM

    Too low, best team in the AFC with a healthy Schaub. Top to bottom solid…

  14. SmurfJuice says: Jul 22, 2012 3:46 PM

    It’s just terrible that DeMeco and Mario had to leave this offseason. With those two, I’d say without hesitation they’re AFC contenders.

    Without them, they are still in a very weak division, still have a well balanced team on both sides of the ball, and picking Johnathan Joseph/Daniell Manning over Nnamdi Asomugha was probably the best move of the offseason last year.

  15. skylanetc says: Jul 23, 2012 10:24 AM

    DeMeco and Mario were mostly irrelevant last season. That defense will be better this year, which is bad news for the AFC.

  16. burnsxpress says: Jul 23, 2012 12:50 PM

    Defense is elite, Offense is okay enough..Cant wait for the Pats game..changing of the guard in the AFC

  17. 13champlain says: Jul 26, 2012 3:07 PM

    Texans are going to utterly destroy most teams this year (I am from NY). Looking forward to Houston v. Green Bay

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