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Know Your Enemy: Houston Texans

The AFC South closes out in Know Your Enemy with the Houston Texans. The Texans won their division at 9-7 in 2015 and have a very strong defense led by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and star JJ Watt. QB guru Bill O’Brien is the head coach entering his 3rd season and O’ Brien finally got a decent QB this offseason after two years of struggles with backups trying to be starters in Houston. However, the Texans turned to another backup with more potential in former Broncos 2nd round pick (2012) Brock Osweiler.

Offense

Quarterback

Brock Osweiler received a 4 year 72 million dollar contract to be the Texans starter after 7 starts with the Broncos. Osweiler played in 8 games for the Broncos last year for the Denver Broncos completing 61.8% of his 275 attempts at 7.1 YPA. Osweiler had 10 TDs and 6 interceptions with a QB rating of 86.4 and went 5-2 as a starter behind the Broncos strong defense and many weapons.

This potential was enough for the Texans to shell out the big bucks (18 per season). The Texans issue though is that their former starting QB Brain Hoyer completed 60.7% of his passed for a 7.1 YPA with 19 TDs and 7 interceptions for a 91.4 QB rating. Hoyer outperformed Osweiler in 2015; however, Hoyer was absolutely putrid in Houston’s playoff loss to the Chiefs. Hoyer was released and is now the Bears backup QB.

The Texans scored 21.2 PPG (21st) in 2015 under head coach Bill O’Brien with Hoyer, Yates, Mallett at QB. Hoyer was well protected though at only 29.4% pressure percentage.

TJ Yates was released after completing only 49% in 57 attempts with 6.5 YPA when Hoyer was hurt. Yates was not the answer as a backup and Ryan Mallett was released during the 2015 season after a terrible start (63.6 rating) and a bad locker room vibe. Brandon Weeden and Tom Savage are the new backups in Houston.

The Texans hope Osweiler can reach his potential quickly. The Texans proved somewhat they could win without a QB but Hoyer did have a 91 rating but went 5-6 as the starter with 3 of those losses in the 70 QB ratings. We will see if Osweiler can play well early and make a difference for the Texans, especially in the playoffs.

Protection

Duane Brown is a good left tackle and will protect Osweiler’s blind side very well. Right tackle Derek Newton struggles in pass protection as does left guard Xavier Sua’ Filo but Newton can run block well.

The Texans must replace starting right guard Brandon Brooks (Eagles) and starting center Ben Jones (Titans). Brooks was good in pass protection and Jones was average. The Texans drafted Nick Martin in Round 2 of the draft who could play guard or center and added Jeff Allen in free agency to play right guard from the Chiefs. Allen was average in pass blocking but a good run blocker in 2015 in 441 snaps. Martin most likely will be the new center for the Texans in 2016.

Run Game

Lamar Miller was given a big contract to replace the injury riddled and now free agent Arian Foster. Miller had 194 carries and 4.5 YPC with 8 TDs in 2015 and 216 carries, 1,099 yards and 5.1 YPC with 8 TDs in 2014. Miller clearly can be a good workhorse back and will jolt the Texans struggling run game. Houston was 28th at 3.7 YPC in 2015.

Allen, Newton and Brown can run block well and the addition of Martin in Round 2 could help the run blocking at center. Alfred Blue had 183 attempts at 3.8 YPC with 2 TDs in 2015 but Blue is now the primary backup to Miller. Tyler Irvin was drafted in Round 4 for RB depth. The Texans should have an improved run game in 2015.

Weapons

DeAndre Hopkins is a beast and true number 1 WR. Hopkins tallied 1,521 yards at 13.7 YPC on 192 targets with 11 TDs. Nate Washington struggled a bit as the number 2 WR with 658 yards on 95 targets (47 receptions) and 4 TDs. The Texans drafted speedy WR Will Fuller in Round 1 of the draft out of Notre Dame to replace Washington. Fuller has good size and speed and should help as a rookie. Fuller has great speed but must refine his route running.

Slot WR Cecil Shorts had 484 yards on 72 targets with 2 TDs. Shorts must stay healthy and step up in 2016 to help Osweiler. Former 2nd round pick Jaelen Strong is on his last chance with only 24 targets in 2015. Former Ohio State QB and now WR, Braxton Miller, was drafted in Round 3 to provide more competition in the slot.

CJ Fiederowicz is more of a blocking tight end and only had 24 targets and Ryan Griffen doesn’t offer much as the backup tight end.

The Texans have enough weapons for Osweiler and could have a nice balanced offense with an improved running game. Watch out for the Texans offense in 2016.

Defense

Defensive Line

The Texans were 7th in PPG allowing only 19.6 PPG. They have a true monster in JJ Watt at 3-4 defensive end.  Watt had 17.5 sacks, 34 hits and 37 hurries. He is absolutely unblockable and very good in run defense as well. I don’t know how he does it.

Vince Wilfork is the nose tackle who is a run stuffer as a mountain of a man. He doesn’t offer much pass rush. Ends Brandon Dunn or Devon Still will be other defensive end. Dunn only played 102 snaps and Still was a backup DT for the Bengals as a 2nd round pick. The Texans hope one end will step up and take advantage of all the focus on Watt.

Linebacker

OLB Whitney Mercilus finally rounded into form as a former 1st round pick. Mercilus had 12 sacks, 6 hits and 39 hurries with very strong run defense too. Mercilus and Watt is incredibly tough to block and Mercilus should be a terror for the Texans in 2016.

Jadeveon Clowney had a second disappointing season as the number 1 overall pick in 2014. Clowney had 4.5 sacks, 3 hits and 22 hurries. If Clowney ever reaches his potential, the Texans defense could be incredible. Clowney enters year 3 and has a lot to prove this season. OLB John Simon is a decent backup LB with 6 sacks, 7 hits and 14 hurries. Simon played more snaps than Clowney and Clowney will have to win the starting job in 2016.

The Texans have strong inside line backing crew in veteran Brian Cushing and Bendarick McKinney. Cushing had a down year in 2015 but finally stayed healthy. Cushing has had many stronger years in the past as a former 1st round pick.  McKinney was a 2nd round pick in 2015 that had a solid rookie season. Akeem Dent will be the backup ILB. The Texans allowed an average 4.1 YPC (17th) which could be improved upon with better play in the middle from Cushing and DE Dunn/Still.

Secondary

Houston was 9th in the league allowing only an 82.8 QB rating. The Texans were above average in 2015 with 25 takeaways. Kareem Jackson is a good top cornerback and can handle number 1 WRs.  Veteran CB Jonathan Joseph and former 1st round pick in 2015 Kevin Johnson will be the second and third CBs again for the Texans.

Andre Hal was good in coverage at safety but struggled in run defense. Strong safety Quentin Demps struggled but re-signed on a one year deal with Houston. Safety Eddie Pleasant hopes to rebound replacing veteran Quentin Demps. Antonio Allen was added at safety from the Jets recovering from a torn ACL. Allen could beat out Pleasant or Demps for the starting job. KJ Dillon was drafted in Round 5 for safety depth.

The Texans have a good CB trio and plenty of veteran starting safeties. Their coverage unit should be a top 10 again especially coupled with their strong pass rush. The Texans most likely will have another top 8 defense.

Overall

The Texans were 9-7 with QB and run game issues in 2016. They were 5-3 at home and 4-4 on the road in 2015. The Texans have added a new “franchise” QB, stud running back, slot WR, right guard and center in free agency and the draft. The Texans offense could rebound into a top 15 or top 10 unit based on the offseason changes. Houston already has a strong top 10 defense and the Texans should be the favorites to win the South again in 2016.

Houston hosts Chicago in Week 1 and travels to Minnesota in Week 5. Houston hosts Detroit in Week 9 and travels to Green Bay in Week 13. The Texans should win both their home games against North opponents and have a great shot to win on the road in Minnesota or Green Bay. Houston may be Minnesota and Green Bay’s toughest non-divisional home game. The Texans are a playoff caliber team in 2016 and are the jewel of the AFC South.