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Houston Texans: 2017 preview

The Texans may have won the AFC South in 2016, but can they repeat this in a rapidly improving division?


It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the Texans will perform in 2017. Their division, often viewed as one of the weakest in the NFL, is filled with predominantly young teams, who are widely seen as on the rise (for the most part). Now, while Houston also fits this mold the issue is that unlike Tennessee and Indianapolis the Texans do not have a franchise quarterback. However, after drafting Deshaun Watson this year, who has since had a very exciting preseason thus far, and with the franchise, it’s coaches and, most importantly, its players all backing starter Tom Savage, could they finally be heading for a Super Bowl challenging season?

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2016 recap

Entering 2016, many were pinning Houston to finish anywhere and everywhere in the division. The juries were well and truly out on this team and their somewhat unpredictable division. As is the norm in Houston, they entered Week 1 with yet another quarterback. The $72 million gamble Brock Osweiler was arriving fresh off of a Super Bowl winning season with the Denver Broncos, and while he was merely a backup to Peyton Manning for the majority - he was still a backup to Peyton Manning, and there's no shame in that. Naturally, expectations were high for someone with a price tag this large. I think it's fair to say at this point, that he turned out to be a monumental mistake of season ending proportions.

The Texans boasted the leagues best defense in 2016 and had their most productive season in franchise history in tight end play. And yet, thanks to the interception machine that is Brock, this indescribably poor quarterback, protected by a mismatched and injury plagued offensive line, let the Texans down. 

The expectations were that this tall and rangy QB would use his notoriously strong arm to power Houston to victory; instead he never threw less than 110%, meaning that the likes of rookie receiver Will Fuller V, who has always struggled with weak hands, had a real issue catching these rockets - not to mention that his accuracy was just appalling. To make matters worse was his inability to remain calm. Thanks in part to a weak line, he often found himself floundering and panicking amidst the collapsing pocket, frequently forcing turnovers and lost yardage as he never seemed quite sure what he needed to do with the ball. 

As a result, this potentially strong team had the leagues 29th ranked regular season offense, and missed a golden opportunity to beat the New England Patriots in the playoffs, which had they had another QB, was well within their grasp.

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Offseason moves

InOut
Bruce Ellington, WRVince Wilfork, NT (Retired)
Marcus Leak, WRQuintin Demps, S
Marcus Gilchrist, S
A. J. Bouye, CB
Deshaun Watson, QB (Draft)
John Simon, LB
D'Onta Foreman, RB (Draft)
Brock Osweiler, QB
Zach Cunningham, LB (Draft)George Godsey, Offensive Coordinator
Julien Davenport, OT (Draft)Tony Bergstrom, C
Sio Moore, ILB
Gerald Rivers, OLB
Carlos Watkins, DT (Draft)Dimitric Camiel, OT
Treston Decoud, CB (Draft)Kenny Hilliard, RB
Kyle Fuller, C (Draft)Tevin Jones, WR
Marcus Roberson, CB
T.J. Mutcherson, S
Breno Giacomini, OT
Max Bullough, WR
Germone Hopper, WR
Keith Mumphery, WR
Erik Austell, CJake Simonich, G
Dres Anderson, WR Shaq Hill, WR
Devin Street, WRZach Conque, TE
Wes Welker, offense and special teams assistant
T.J. Daniel, DE

Beginning with coaching changes, removing of George Godsey and his poor play calling has to be a good move. Head coach Bill O'Brien's playbook is notoriously complex and clearly, it simply didn't work for Godsey, who failed to get much out of this Texans offense in his tenure - as seen when O'Brien liberated Godsey of playcalling duties last season. Now, however, with O'Brien taking over offensive coordinator duties and having, reportedly, simplified the playbook, perhaps this QB Messiah (whether you believe that or not is another matter) can finally get this offense moving.

Bringing in Wes Welker was a great move, with the players having already spoken of their admiration of this great receiver and how his coaching has helped them improve - for example, WR Braxton Miller who spoke glowingly of him recently. 

Then there was the big defensive change. To fend off rivals from getting hold of LB coach Mike Vrabel, who has impressed in his time in Houston, the Texans opted to promote him to defensive coordinator, while moving his predecessor Romeo Crennel to assistant head coach. In this role, Crennel will still have his influence felt on defense while allowing Vrabel to continue his rapid growth as one of the NFL's best young coaches.

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In terms of free agency moves, it has been a mixed bag. Losing both Demps and Bouye in free agency from what was an impressive secondary last season will hurt. Replacing them is no mean feat, and will likely be an issue as the season develops and injuries mount. Bringing in Gilchrist and Decoud as replacements are good moves, but Decoud, in particular, will need time to settle and, most importantly, develop as a pro.

The most important offseason move has been, yet again, at QB. They dropped Osweiler as quickly as they could, and suddenly all seems that little bit better as they move forward with the extremely exciting, if not divisive, young talent that is Deshaun Watson. Tom Savage will provide an experienced presence as Watson develops, but given his recent preseason performance, it's safe to say expectations are high.


2017 schedule

Week Opponent
1vs Jacksonville Jaguars
2@ Cincinnati Bengals
3@ New England Patriots
4vs Tennessee Titans
5vs Kansas City Chiefs
6vs Cleveland Browns
7BYE
8@ Seattle Seahawks
9vs Indianapolis Colts
10@ Los Angeles Rams
11vs Arizona Cardinals
12@ Baltimore Ravens
13@ Tennessee Titans
14vs San Francisco 49ers
15@ Jacksonville Jaguars
16vs Pittsburgh Steelers
17@ Indianapolis Colts

With a reasonably comfortable start to the season from Week 1-6 (except the Patriots game), it's after the Week 7 bye that the Texans will really have to be wary. By this point, the depth will become increasingly important as injuries mount, and with six of their final ten games on the road, not to mention the fact that they're facing Super Bowl favored opponents such as the Seahawks and Steelers, they will need to make sure that against opponents such as the 49ers, Ravens, and Colts, in particular, they get every win that they possibly can.

Three players to watch

While their defensive line is relatively solid, the rest of the roster is very much up for debate in terms of who will start. With this in mind, who is worth watching out for this season?

Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson, quarterback

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It's Houston, how could I not go for the QBs? The Texans have one of the leagues most interesting QB battles ahead, with Tom Savage entering his fourth year in Houston, with the best knowledge possible of this playbook, and finally as the starter. In the past, I've liked what I have seen from him. He's poised, protective of the ball, and has a good arm. He has a good relationship with his receivers, has a good group of targets both from the backfield and out wide, and most importantly the expectations being hurled upon him by the press are manageable. He will be under pressure and scrutiny from day one, but not to the extent of Osweiler last season as, if I am honest, expectations of Savage simply aren't as high.

Then there's Watson who has shined thus far. Coaches and players alike have raved about how well he has been performing, showing leadership qualities of someone far beyond his years, and an aptitude for learning that matches his athletic ability. Only time will tell whether or not he ends up starting this season, but he is most definitely worth watching regardless.

Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller, wide receiver

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With starting receiver Will Fuller V now out with a broken collarbone, a spot has opened up for one of these receivers to take advantage of. Both had disappointing 2016 campaigns and have much to prove this season, in what is surely a vitally important year for these young men should they wish to continue in Houston. Miller, a QB convert, has had a year to adjust and should now be far more prepared to start out wide, and Strong, who had an injury plagued 2016, has shown glimpses in the past of his ability. 

K.J. Dillon, Eddie Pleasant, and Marcus Gilchrist, safety

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With Demps now plying his trade in Chicago, a big hole has been left in the Texans defense. At this point, the likely starter appears to be Dillon, who is entering his second year top of the depth chart. While that means little at this point, there are many who believe this hard hitting safety, who missed most of 2016 through injury, has the opportunity to become the starter. If not, then look for Pleasant, or former Jets safety Gilchrist who would provide experience in the position. There are other options, say Kareem Jackson moving from CB to allow Kevin Johnson to start, Dillon looks likely at this point, and is worth keeping an eye out for.

Prediction

It's going to be a tough season in Houston. With division rivals barreling down on them at an alarming rate, the Texans will have to improve on offense, fast. If this preseason so far is anything to go by, then their offensive line looks to have improved and there is increased confidence in their QB play. Whether or not this translates into the regular season is another matter entirely, but I do believe that there is bountiful talent on this roster, and I have faith that this defense will be as dominant again this season, with JJ Watt returning to partner Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. 

Back in June I said that I felt the Texans would go 10-6, while this is optimistic I still stand by this - providing that their safety gap can be filled, and a starting receiver is found by Week 1.

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Anthony Reinier Wood

Thanks for viewing my profile! I've been a writer with RealSport since October 2016, focusing primarily on the NFL, and occasionally Football (Or soccer for any Americans among you). I love hearing feedback and your opinions so feel free to comment, contact me via email, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

Houston Texans: 2017 preview

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