houston texans 2019 season preview
By Anthony Wood
2018 was both a disappointment and a step in the right direction for the Houston Texans. After an extremely poor 0-3 start to the year, the Texans went on their longest win streak to date and finished the season with the AFC Division title and an 11-5 record, their best under Bill O’Brien so far.
However, yet again he failed to guide them to even a semi-impressive performance in the playoffs. They were completely outclassed by their divisional rivals the Indianapolis Colts. Why? A combination of injuries, tired players, and predictable playcalling from O’Brien all played into their hands. Not to mention the worst offensive line in pro-football and a questionable secondary.
The Texans offseason divides opinion. They brought in some stable starting talent for their secondary in Tashaun Gipson and Jahleel Addae at safety to replace Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu. However, questions remain around the corners they brought in to rejuvenate this unit.
Bradley Roby is recovering from an injury and while he has all the assets you could want in a corner, he has been inconsistent at best in the NFL. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a solid backup at slot and safety if needed, but won’t set the world on fire. Rookies Lonnie Johnson and Xavier Crawford both have good upsides and decent ceilings. However, neither are ready to suit up come Week 1 and are widely seen as more developmental prospects.
They also did not manage to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney to a long term deal. While he will be with the Texans this season, playing under the franchise tag, him not attending training camp is far from ideal. Rumors persist as to why they haven’t resigned him. Some are saying it is down to a work ethic issue, others simply due to a lack of production. Whatever the case, they need all their guys there playing alongside one another.
Now former general manager Brian Gaine made a conservative effort to protect Deshaun Watson this year by bringing in veteran tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil has had some decent games in the past, but since has become more of a bench warmer or physio room attendee. Rookies Tytus Howard and Max Scharping are both coming in from smaller schools and lack big-game experience. Only time will tell if this proves a real issue, but many are concerned that not having faced up against top-end opponents in college will slow their progress.
The Texans also failed to address the lack of depth at running back. While this was not the best rookie class for that position, the chance that either of their undrafted rookie backs has any major impact is slim. They are relying a little too heavily on a disappointing Lamar Miller and only recently healthy D’Onta Foreman.
As previously mentioned, the offensive line is a big issue. Nobody has any idea what the starting lineup will look like, and this lack of continuity is a concern.
There will be new faces in the line, even if the rookies aren’t included. Seantrel Henderson has a good shot at the starting right tackle job, but he only saw the field for part of one game last year due to a season-ending injury. Kalil will likely challenge for either a backup role on the left or even potentially the staring job – which says a lot about Julie’n Davenport.
Veteran tight end Darren Fells will likely be used as an extra lineman for the most part. He will provide much-needed stability and quality in blocking.
This otherwise very young tight end group is promising. Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins are both coming off of solid rookie campaigns, however, the buzz surrounding rookie Kahale Warring suggests he will be someone who could end up a difference-maker. Extremely athletic and with a large frame, he lacks football experience but has all the physical attributes and abilities you could dream of. And with a former tight ends coach as his new offensive coordinator, he could do well.
The receiver corps is about as good as they come. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee have about a high a ceiling as you can imagine. Coutee is back from an extremely impressive rookie year and for the first time is fully fit. Fuller is still recovering but is set to be back for Week 1, and Hopkins is, well, the best receiver in the game.
Carl Smith comes in as the new QB coach fresh from Seattle where he coached Russel Wilson into one of the best dual-threat QBs in the NFL. He and Deshaun Watson should get along swimmingly.
The biggest question mark around the offense is the role of offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. A first-year coordinator in the NFL, he is a highly regarded young coach who has worked with O’Brien for quite some time. It seems unlikely that he will start the year as the play-caller so expect little to change, but that isn’t to say he won’t become play-caller at some point during the season – remember, O’Brien has changed play-callers midseason before.
This defense is both extremely solid and extremely worrying. The front seven is as good as they come. J.J. Watt is fresh off of a fully healthy and extremely productive season, and will finally have a full offseason at his disposal. Whitney Mercilus looks to be in good shape, Benardrick McKinney is coming off of his first Pro Bowl year, and Zach Cunningham is, in my opinion, one of the best young linebackers in the NFL.
As previously eluded to, the secondary is the concern, not so much the safeties, but the corners. Justin Reid is set to become a perennial Pro Bowler at safety, and the addition of Tashaun Gipson alongside him should ensure this safety duo will impress.
They all but gutted their cornerback group this year and replaced them with a group of one-year prove it free agents and rookies. Roby and Boddy-Calhoun, are one-year deals. Risky, but this will motivate them to perform. Crawford and Johnson have work to do if they are to become NFL starters. Aaron Colvin is coming off of a terrible debut year in Houston and must stay healthy. Jermaine Kelly is an unknown after missing his rookie year with an injury, and Johnathan Joseph is the only sure thing left out there but is well in the tail end of his career.
The Texans have an extremely tough schedule for 2019. The outcome of this season is entirely dependent on this offense. If they can simply limit the number of sacks Watson suffers, and if the receivers stay healthy, they will thrive. This will make up for any deficiencies in the secondary.
Will the Texans win the AFC South? It’s close, but no. The Colts are far too strong on both sides of the ball. Chris Ballard has built a stable side that protects their golden arm QB and gets the ball moving, not to mention their defense that is set to take a step up this year. Throw in Frank Reich who is arguably the best head coach in the division, and you’ve got a team that will be challenging for the Super Bowl this year.
Record Prediction: 9-7
Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports