NFL

5 Critical Questions For The Houston Texans

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The Houston Texans got back on track somewhat in 2014, as they went from having the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, to a winning season (9-7).

Can the Texans take the next step and return to the playoffs in 2015?  These five questions will likely determine that.

Who will be taking the snaps?

When you talk about the Houston Texans, the first question that comes to mind is that gaping hole at the quarterback position.

Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer will be trying to win the starting duties (along with second-year pro Tom Savage).  The sooner head coach Bill O’Brien makes a decision the better off the entire offense will be.

Mallett seems to have somewhat of a leg up, as he was with the team last season and Texans sources told FootballInsiders.com that he was a priority to be brought back in free agency.  They liked the way Mallett led the team in his limited action last season.  Mallett has a great arm, but questionable footwork and struggled in college in big situations with a messy pocket.

Brian Hoyer is the quintessential good backup/borderline starting quarterback.  Hoyer is the definition of a game manager who uses his smarts and toughness more than his limited athleticism.  Hoyer won’t be egregiously bad, but he won’t be spectacular either.  He’s enough to win with, but not the sole reason why a team wins.

As for Tom Savage, he is more of a project player who didn’t develop at the rate the team had hoped last season.  He would be a very big long-shot to win the starting job although his roster spot is not likely in jeopardy.

Can Jadeveon Clowney return to form? 

Texans fans were excited when the team used the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.  The visions of pairing this absolute freak athlete along with the biggest “freak” in the NFL in J.J. Watt would surely have opposing quarterbacks nearing incontinence.

Unfortunately for the Texans, Clowney had an injured knee which caused him to have micro fracture surgery last year.  

Houston Texans’ team doctor Walt Lowe explained to Forbes.com that a microfracture surgery like Clowney’s could cause a player to lose up to three centimeters of girth to their quadriceps muscle, making recovery very difficult.

“Even if they’ve recovered well and healed what we’ve repaired, the weakness is so profound that it takes months to get it back to a guy that needs to do what JD needs to do on his leg to be successful playing pro football,” Lowe told Forbes.com.

According to Lowe, Clowney lost between half a centimeter, and a centimeter because the team employed, “blood flow restriction training.”

Lowe went on to tell Forbes.com that Clowney, “Looks spectacular,” although the team is still unable to determine a hard timetable for his return.

“The real goal in the end is to have him be who he was before he got hurt,” Lowe explained.

If Clowney can indeed return to pre-injury form, the Texans should have one of the best pass rushes not only in the NFL, but that the NFL has seem in decades.

Can they be more than just the “Arian Foster Show” on offense? 

When the Texans have been best in their brief franchise history, they were a run-first outfit led by Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster.  With the question marks at quarterback, undoubtedly that is the type of ball control, clock killing offense that Bill O’Brien would like to employ.

Houston should be able to “bully” some teams on their schedule on the ground, but teams will be stacking up boxes to force Mallett or Hoyer to beat them through the air.

Can they make enough big plays to keep defenses honest?

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins emergence in 2014 made Andre Johnson expendable, but there are still question marks about the overall depth at wide receiver.  Cecil Shorts, III came over as a free agent from Jacksonville, but he’s struggled staying healthy and his career has been plagued with drops.  Aside from those two pass catchers, there is veteran Nate Washington and the diminutive Damaris Johnson and Keshawn Martin.

The team drafted tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz who will certainly help, but he’s not an elite game breaker over the middle.  Neither is veteran tight end Garrett Graham.

Aside from Foster, Houston really has a set of mediocre weapons with a lot of question marks.

Who will patrol the back end? 

The Texans defense is certainly loaded up front with the best defensive player in decades in J.J. Watt.  Add in veteran Vince Wilfork, Louis Nix and Jared Crick and teams will have major issues running against  Houston.

The Houston linebackers are full of potential pass rushers in Jadeveon Clowney, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Akeem Dent, and that unit has a lot depth as well.  The cornerbacks featuring Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and A.J. Bouye are more than solid.

The biggest question mark on the Texans defense comes on the back end where free agents Stevie Brown and Raheem Moore have injury and production issues, and Eddie Pleasant and Josh Aubrey are unknowns.  Although the mighty pass rush will certainly help the safety position, there is still a major lack of talent with huge question marks there for Houston.

Can they dominate the AFC South?

No matter how you slice it, the AFC South figures to be one of the worst divisions in the NFL this season. If Houston is going to take the next step toward a playoff berth, they must dominate the division.

If the Texans can split with the Colts, and beat up the Jaguars and Titans respectively, those five wins will go a long way in not only putting pressure on Indianapolis (who will have a first-place schedule), but also get them halfway to the number needed to make the playoffs.

The Texans will face the AFC East and NFC South, and finding five wins against teams like the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins is attainable.  Houston also hosts the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that they will be favored.

The schedule is very favorable for the Texans to make a return trip to the playoffs, as long as there are no slip-ups against Jacksonville and Tennessee.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.