Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Houston Texans: Making so much out of such a little thing.

Yesterday the Houston Texans released their first depth chart of the 2014 pre-season to which the Chron's fading sports team responded with a chub, listing the starters sans position and a loosely related slide-show. The Houston Press (Houston's former alt-weekly, current livejournal) provided us with something from Jeff Balke that, sort of, provides analysis.

So while the former newspaper of record is wandering around the perimeter of "do as little as possible" (probably due to having little access to the current regime), the alt-media is running stream-of-consciousness musings and talk radio is busy obsessing over the jerkiness of Arian Foster the public is left to self-analyze in the chron.comments:
Whitney Mercilus was a first round pick and can't even make the starting team his third year in the league.
While the Mercilus "demotion" to 2nd string is a worry, there are other points regarding the Texans' first depth chart that should be made by those who are paid to make such points, but are not.

Offensive Line is a worry: The Texans O-line is weak across the board, with the exception of Duane Brown, and there is little experienced depth should injuries occur. Given that this is the NFL where injuries almost always occur, one has to worry about the health of the QB's trying to operate behind that line.

Running back is a question mark: The easy line is "wait until Arian Foster gets healthy".  The reality is that Arian is an overused RB who is coming off major back surgery. Furthermore, the depth behind Arian is suspect, at best. Andre Brown is a journeyman, Dennis Johnson has shown flashes of competency, but only flashes and Alfred Blue is a rookie who was dogged by health issues throughout his college career.  Then there's the problem (not talked about much) that Foster is a stretch back whose fit into a power running system is questionable, at best.

Linebacker is a concern: The mantra that Cushing is coming back might, or might not, be a jolt of energy for this LB corps. Right now Cushing is on the PUP, coming off his 2nd major, season-ending, injury in consecutive years. Without Cushing the ILB position is of concern.  In the 3-4 these ILB's are required to make plays and fill gaps created by DL's who plug holes and occupy blockers. At some time they will be asked to make an individual play. We will see on Saturday if the LB unit, without Cushing, has the athletic ability to make these plays.

The defensive backfield is a question mark: Maybe, it can be said that an increased pass rush will help the DB's in coverage. Maybe DJ Swearinger can control his tendency to draw personal fouls. Possibly, Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson become better cover corners with QB's having less time to sit in the pocket. The problem is we just don't know and the track record for the group is one of regression.

The "roster full of talent" lie is being exposed:  Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Texans is that, by appearances, the roster is not a talent-filled cornucopia that's been underutilized but rather a roster reflecting the talent level of a team that went 2-14 last season. For the Texans to make much progress there are a LOT of things that have to fall 100% right. All of the questions above have to be answered in the affirmative. Then there's the issue of Rick Smith's dodgy draft record which is finally drawing attention among the talkers in sports talk radio.

By continually missing in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft and through his seeming inability to understand the basics of cap management, GM Rick Smith has created a talent vacuum in the 2nd and 3rd strings on this team.  I think, but don't know, that Bill O'Brien has a sound plan in place for the team. What I am unsure of, at this point, is whether or not he has the players to execute that plan at a level that wins games.

One thing we forget is that the view around the league that the "AFC South is weak" is, in part, because of the Texans and not in spite of them.  As much as the Texans look at teams such as Jacksonville and Tennessee in terms of season wins the same thing applies in reverse. Right or wrong teams are looking at the Texans as places on their schedule where getting a W is possible.

When it comes to front-line talent in the NFL the Texans have JJ Watt, Duane Brown, an injured Brian Cushing and a whole mess of maybe.  Maybe Jerrell Powe is a starting-quality NT, maybe Clowney is healthy and plays up to a high level, maybe Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph improve, maybe the Safety play is better this year, maybe the LB corps can hold it together and Cushing returns, Maybe DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey continue their progression and maybe The Fitz can become a game manager with a stronger arm than Matt Schaub.

Or maybe none of this happens and the team struggles to get to 4 wins.

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