Jan 15, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (23) carries the ball in the second quarter of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M

AFC South Exposed: The Houston Texans are Screwed

If you’re a Jaguars fan, the offseason is shaping up quite nicely.  The superb defense is coming back largely intact, Peyton Manning definitely won’t be in Indianapolis, Tennessee appears unsettled with their current quarterback situation, and the Houston Texans are getting weaker each day.

Last time in AFC South Exposed, we explained why the Tennessee Titans are Screwed.  While it was mostly speculative, we’re going to continue the trend here at B&T and tell you why Houston is Screwed in 2012.

Originally this article wasn’t going to focus on why the Texans are not going to do well, I didn’t want to sound too negative about the whole AFC South competition, but with the front office seriously damaging the roster it’s tough not to make note of it.

By now the names of the lost players for Houston are becoming commonplace.  Tight end Joel Dreesen (Denver), Mario Williams (Buffalo), offensive tackle Eric Winston (Cut and rapidly signed to Kansas City)…the list seems endless.  16 players were declared free agents on March 13th.  Two players (QB Matt Leinart and Eric Winston) were cut the day before and fullback Lawrence Vickers was cut on the 13th.  Of the 16 players declared free agents, only  one has been resigned – Center Chris Meyers.  One of 16.  That’s barely over 6%.

Chris Meyers is a very good zone-scheme center.  He works superbly well in the Texans lineup and will probably play his best ball in the Houston scheme.  Getting him back was crucial for the Texans.

As was re-signing Arian Foster before free agency on March 5th.

With those two pieces back the Texans have a strong running game (Foster and Ben Tate are a powerful duo) and can guarantee inside line solidity that can flex with the passing game when needed.

But the Texans have let too many pieces walk this year.  Of their championship level defense from last year, they’ve now traded linebacker DeMeco Ryans away for a fourth round pick.  It’s tough to return to form, even with your starting quarterback coming back, when you lose so much cohesion from the year before.

Wade Phillips was great at orchestrating the team to a powerful defensive showing last year.  But it wasn’t just him.  The front office had been bringing in high level talent through the draft for years.  That talent was finally beginning to gel.  And the team was starting to see the dividends.

Replacing that cohesion is harder to do than it appears.

I don’t care what Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips do in 2012.  Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will still put up big numbers, but I can’t see the Texans taking a step forward (but probably a few back) this next year.  Expect the other AFC South teams to creep closer to the division leader this year.

- Luke N. Sims

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Tags: Andre Johnson Arian Foster Ben Tate DeMeco Ryans Eric Winston Gary Kubiak Houston Texans Indianapolis Colts Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Schaub Peyton Manning Tennessee Titans Wade Phillips

  • seadog77471

    The only hope the Jags have for 2012 is that the rest of the AFC South is hit by lightning. The Jags and Indy should compete not only for the bottom of the South, but for the bottom of the NFL. If all 22 starters for Houston and the Titans catch a season long disabling disease, then and only then might the Jags win the division. This team is really really bad. Without MJD, the Jags may not make a first down all season.

  • BrandonSlaydon

    I don’t see them stepping back at all – they actually are cutting “non-essential” personnel to make sure they can sign their more essential personnel next year.  They still have a healthy and capable O line – a very formidable front 7 on he defense – Schaub, AJ, & OD – not to mention the WRs they’ve been grooming.  THEN they have a draft coming up that is FULL of offensive weapons and a FO that has made some good decisions in the draft.  They may have taken a step back on the Oline, but all the pieces that were dropped were product of “the System” that Kubes has in place and almost all were mid-late round pics and cast-offs from the other teams.  He has been grooming backups to learn the system and will bring in more backups.
    Texans are fine and getting better.

  • seadog77471

    You may be right about the talent level, especially on the D but there is no way to replace the leadership that Ryans and Winston and Williams brought to the field. I don’t see any way the Texans can come together. Looks like the Titans by default in the South.

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  • papabear

    @seadog77471 Williams never had a leadership role with the Texans. Just not his personality. Ryan’s was steadily losing playing time to Daryl Sharpton before Sharpton’s injury…and was off the field frequently even without Sharpton there. He was most definitely the leader. Butler is likely a better pass blocker than Winston, though they’ll lose some in the run game. Briesel was a tenacious run blocker but he’s been banged up so much that Caldwell has basically been splitting time the last two years and should slide right in. The Texans have garret graham(coaches have called him an Owen Daniel’s clone) and James Casey who took a lot of snaps as a TE to fill the TE2 role. In a salary cap free world the Texans would love to have kept all those guys. They’ll probably need to find a couple immediate impact guys in the draft too, but nearly every guy that has left had someone behind them who’s had enough playing time to prove they could handle the job if needed. A step back is possible, but there’s no reason to expect it to be a big drop if you’ve paid close enough attention.

  • babrah

    I find it humorous that you think the Texans will take a step back, in fact I think you’re delusional for such a thought. My first and main argument is that losing Demeco will not cause the Texans defense to suffer, in fact if you were aware of some key statistics you would know Demeco Ryans only played 55.23% of the defensive snaps this past season (and it would have been less had Darryl Sharpton not been injured and missed the last 8 yes 8 games of the season and Demeco still only played a little over 50% of the snaps). While I agree that Demeco Ryans is a huge leader both on and off the field, Brian Cushing has as much if not more fire in him and he definitely holds the capability to lead the defense, which was proven last year. Oh yeah and Mario, that huge star, who typically plays 1/3 of the downs he is in full speed, the Mario Williams who has been injured the past three seasons and the Mario Williams who only contributed 5 games to the Texans top five defensive unit, yes the Texans could not resign Mario Williams but Brooks Reed took over his position with full force and made most Texans fans forget who Mario was. His loss sucks for the Texans but it will not be noticed like most “analysts” and ignorant fans of other teams are thinking. Now my second argument pertains to the offensive line. The Texans did in fact resign the “brain” of their offensive line and still have the strong side of their line (the left side which includes Duane Brown, arguably one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and Wade Smith who compliments Duane Brown very nicely). The Texans cut Eric Winston and it is a big loss being that he has been a part of the O-Line since the 2006 season but Winston was the weak spot on the O-line when it came to pass blocking this past season and while he does excel in the Zone Blocking Scheme, he gave up the most sacks between the front five. The positive to this situation is that Rashard Butler will take over for Eric Winston at right tackle. Rashard Butler filled in for Duane Brown in the 2010-2011 season when Brown was suspended for PED use. Butler filled the role and did a great job doing so and also has a cheaper salary compared to Winston who, in my opinion, was over payed for his performance the last few seasons. The second loss on the offensive line was Mike Brisiel (the bigger loss of the two). He played against the Bengals in week 14 with a broken leg more than half the game and he ended up missing the next 3 games after that where the combination of Arian Foster and Ben Tate still put up 389 yards with Antoine Caldwell playing right guard. Caldwell at the moment is the starter and the loss and replacement hurts to an extent but nothing drastic (Caldwell also split plays with Brisiel in the two playoff games). Losing Joel Dreesen doesn’t hurt, it is a loss that you would not want to see if you are a Texans fan but it is another case of depth loss. Concerns for this season for the Texans include depth on the offensive line and experience in the front seven, both can be fixed by the draft and bringing in veterans who are willing to compete in the case of the latter. In my opinion the Texans are another offensive play maker away from making noise in the playoffs and whether they choose to do so in the draft will decide their fate for the next season. There are pieces there to be drafted it is up to the Texans to make the most out of the opportunities that are there. The defense shouldn’t miss a beat and the offense may be able to put up big numbers, assuming no big injuries are to occur, with Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Ben Tate, James Casey, Owen Daniels and whatever pieces are added through the draft.
    kind regards,
    an unbiased NFL fan

  • seadog77471

    I have to comcur with most of the statements made here in defense of the Texans. I stated that the Texans do have some remarkable talent. I can’t agree that the Texans leadership did not take a hit. 40% of a line that has played together for 5 years is gone. Believe it or not, that counts even if there are players to step up, they don’t have the same “feel” for what the guy nest to them is doing. Another OL issue is that the 40% is on the same side, the right side of the line. To say that Mario wasn’t a leader or point out that Demeco played less than 60% of the plays are facts taken out of context. Mario is a huge leader, just not vocal!! Ryans was THE defensive leader and every player on the Texans defense has said so. In losing Ryans it should also be pointed out that part of the 40% he didn’t play, a significant part was when the were in nickel and dime defenses, that is 2nd and 3rd downs mostly. The AFC South is a very run oriented division now especially with Manning out and no QB in Jax and a has been in Tennessee. Ryans was the heart of the run D in the middle. I still expect the Texans to compete with the Titans for the division crown but I also expect a dropoff in D quality early. The O will be better with Schaub back and Andre healthy. Casey is not a TE any longer, but is a FB with Vickers being cut. He can still receive out of the H back position in the backfield. Bahbra pointed out all will be well with no injuries. Look what happened last year and be thankful for the backups and the quality of the bench. Very much of that is gone now. Finally, I repeat, I expect Texans to repeat but they have a huge job on their hands as stated by Rick Smith and Kubes when they lost so much. Are they too delusional?

  • dlago89

     @babrah U MAD BRO?!?!

  • http://www.blackandteal.com/ LukeNSims

     @babrah Very well put sir!  As stated in the article, I think the front office of the Texans has done a superb job of bringing in top level talent through the draft.  That’s how a good football team is built.  The 2011 Texans were a very good football team (one that should have won a Superbowl if Matt Schaub hadn’t been injured in my opinion – as I’ve stated numerous times).
    However, despite your thorough analysis (and it was very well done), I am inclined to still say that the cohesion of the team (specifically the offensive line) will be severely damaged.  It’s nice to have a backup come in as a role player and do well.  However, once given the keys as a starter it’s frequently a lot more difficult for that player.  I’m not going to chalk it up simply to the continual pressure to perform, but I would definitely say that knowing you’re a role player as a backup has it’s perks (namely knowing what you can do and doing it rather than trying to always outperform the person behind you).
    Speaking of role players, the numbers for DeMeco Ryans weren’t touched on for a reason.  In this pass happy league, three down linebackers are becoming more and more of a rarity in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.  A large number of teams play in nickel and dime packages.  In fact the Texans almost exclusively play a 4-1-6 on passing downs.  Having a linebacker play two downs is becoming average.  The Texans favor the dime package as their primary sub package leaving room for only one linebacker in the middle of the field.  Cushing is their man for that. Also, Ryans was on the field for 58.4% of all Houston’s defensive snaps (getting more time than other linebackers in the nickel package when employed).
    Further, I didn’t say that other AFC South teams would surpass them, just creep up on them.  You can disagree, but when it happens please note that you read it here first.

  • http://www.blackandteal.com/ LukeNSims

     @seadog77471 I think they’ll repeat too.  But expect the other AFC South teams to get much closer.  I wouldn’t count out a rebuilt Indianapolis with a new mentality.  Fresh blood can be a beautiful thing.