NFL

Houston Texans: Too Good To Be Great

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Since their inception, the Houston Texans have never really had a franchise quarterback.  They hoped they had drafted one when they launched the franchise and selected David Carr with the first draft pick in the team’s history, but Carr was bludgeoned behind one of the worst offensive lines in NFL history, and never gained the confidence to be a good starting NFL quarterback.

The years after Carr’s departure, the Texans always seemed to hope they could kind of get by with Matt Schaub at the helm while relying on stars like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster to carry the team offensively. The Texans were successful in getting by, as Houston was always a strong offensive team during most of Schaub’s tenure, but the team and the offense never was great enough to truly contend.

Schaub was a good NFL quarterback, but in this league you either have a star at quarterback, or you’re looking for a star at quarterback. For Houston, they’ve always found themselves doing the latter.

There’s a reason why you expect the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos (and formerly Indianapolis Colts) to be in contention every year, and that’s because of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. As long as 12 and 18 are healthy, you expect their teams to be in it.

For the Houston Texans, their entire existence has been the complete opposite of that scenario. Many seasons, the Texans roster looks like one that’s ready to contend for an AFC title, if only they could get better quarterback play.

The Texans began the 2014 campaign among the favorites in the AFC after finishing 12-4 the season prior. The team dropped its’ final 14 games, clinching the No. 1 pick in the draft.  Before the Texans 2-14 collapse, the team had been no worse than mediocre since 2006.

New head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t see what he wanted in a franchise quarterback out of prospects like Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater, and elected to draft Jadeveon Clowney instead.

While Clowney has yet to provide the spark the Texans had hoped when they made him their top overall selection in 2014, it’s the quarterback play that has held Houston back the most. Outside of 2014, Houston has rarely found itself in a position to draft a top level quarterback, and the talent on the football team may have them stuck in that position for some time.

Houston won at least six games from 2006 to 2012 culminating in a 10-6 season in 2011, and a 12-4 season in 2012. After four years of building their franchise, the Texans were finally a good football team. The problem is, the team was often too good to be in position to draft a potential star at quarterback, while not quite being good enough, often because of the quarterback position, to win a Super Bowl.

It’s a vicious cycle teams sometimes find themselves in, and the Texans might be the perfect example of a team that’s just too good to be great.

This season the team will rest its hopes on  Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage, who the team drafted in the fourth round in 2014.

Brian Hoyer showed flashes of solid play for the Cleveland Browns the last couple of seasons, but that’s about it. Hoyer might just be the Houston Texans of quarterbacks, so perhaps this is a marriage made in football heaven.

How could Hoyer be the Texans of quarterbacks you ask?

Think about it. Every time Hoyer has one of his three-game runs of “wow look at what Brian Hoyer is doing,” he falls flat on his face and reminds you that he’s not one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. Just like how the Texans went 12-4 and convinced all of us (don’t lie, you know you were on board) that they were Super Bowl contenders before falling on their faces at 2-14. Way to go Brian Hoyer of football teams.

Then there’s Ryan Mallett. Honestly, who the heck is this kid as a quarterback?

Mallett has played in seven NFL games, starting two, and has a grand total of 417 yards passing in his career. We know about as much about Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston as we do Mallett at this point.

The Texans defense should be very strong in 2015, especially if they can find a way to get Clowney to stay on the football field. There’s no reason to believe JJ Watt won’t be a complete animal and crush the souls of all of his offensive opponents, and even at his advanced age, Vince Wilfork will add a lot of veteran presence and straight up girth to the Texans defense.

Benardrick McKinney should fit nicely at inside linebacker next to Brian Cushing, and the team is deep enough at linebacker to overcome the loss of Brooks Reed who left via free agency.

The question is, will any of that matter?

Can Houston get the kind of quarterback play, and consistency from its offense to compete, even if they have one of the strongest defenses in football? A great defense and a strong running game will make you a good football team, but it won’t make you great.

Great football teams get great quarterback play, and the Texans haven’t seen great quarterback play since the team was created.

Somehow Houston is going to have to find a way to find the quarterback who can get this talented roster over the top, but it’s going to be difficult to accomplish because they are talented enough to win some games regardless of who’s under center. Regardless of who quarterbacks the Texans in 2015, they’ll likely be good enough to be ok, and that’s not going to get them a draft pick high enough to pick a potentially great quarterback. And the cycle of mediocrity continues.

The Texans are just too good to be great.

 


About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.