New Faces, Same Outcome, Texans Takeaways from 2016

The Houston Texans season has come to an end. Here are the takeaways from the 2016 campaign. What can spectators expect next fall?

Saturday night’s 34-16 loss to the New England Patriots sparked a familiar feeling for Texan fans around the nation. A third consecutive 9-7 regular season finish, poor quarterback play and another loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. However, the team finished atop the AFC South for the second straight year and a handful of new faces were impactful. Here are the takeaways from the 2016 season… laser pointers included.

 1. $72 million later and Houston still doesn’t have a QB

Last March I wrote an article for Toro Times claiming that the Texans “hit the lottery” during the 2016 free agency period. Upon further review, I was wrong. Fresh off his Super Bowl winning season, Houston signed ex-Broncos QB Brock Osweiler to a monster deal worth $72 million over four years, with $37 million guaranteed.

The buzz around Houston was that the team finally found their man under center. Right away, Osweiler took the reins as the leader on offense. He declined to visit the White House with his former team because he wanted to study the Texans’ playbook and he even flew to Arizona with some of Houston’s wide receivers to work on their passing routes and timing. Hard work pays off, right? Not in this case.

Osweiler’s career as a Texan started off exactly how he’d finish the season, with an interception. The fifth-year man threw one of his 16 interceptions on just his second passing attempt of the season, foreshadowing to Houston fans just how rocky the season will be. Osweiler continued to struggle through Week 14, which led him to the bench in favor of Tom Savage.

Becoming the starter again two weeks later, Osweiler finished out the regular season completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,957 yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The Texans had a clear shot at shocking the world and defeating the Patriots in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium, but Osweiler’s three interception performance was the team’s achilles heel.

If Houston wants to advance past the divisional round next season, they’re going to have to find a QB through the draft or free agency who can manage a game and protect the football.

 2. The offensive line needs some work

Although 20 teams rank ahead of the Texans in total sacks allowed, Houston’s offensive line still allowed their quarterback to be sacked 32 times. Having that kind of pressure put on an inexperienced QB can cost a team a lot of productivity on the offensive end.

The Oakland Raiders allowed the fewest sacks (18) and their QB, Derek Carr, is an MVP candidate. Looking at the sacks allowed statistics, all the teams with top tier QBs rank near the bottom of the list: DAL 24th, NO: 27th, NE 28th, WAS: 29th, NYG: 30th, PIT: 31st. Breaking down the Texans’ offensive line, everyone except LT Duane Brown and LG Xavier Su’a-Filo is replaceable.

Luckily for Houston, their 2016 second round pick C Nick Martin is expected to return next season after missing all of 2016 with an ankle injury. The Dallas Cowboys have showed the NFL time and time again just how critical it is to have a beefy offensive line and they achieved those assets through the draft. The Texans should do the same if they want to take the next step.

3. Houston’s defense is about to go from good to scary great

Despite losing three-time DPOY DE J.J. Watt and CB Kevin Johnson due injuries, the Texans’ defense pieced things together and played lights out. The unit finished with the No. 1 ranked defense for the first time in franchise history, but what people should be aware of is that the nation’s top defense is about to get a lot better.

With Watt off the field, the spotlight turned to a number of new faces in 2016. DT Christian Covington and DT D.J. Reader both saw extended action and looked impressive while ILB Benardrick McKinney led the team with 129 tackles. The big three that really stood out for Houston though was DB Quintin Demps, OLB Whitney Mercilus and OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney.

Demps led the team with six interceptions and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December. He accomplished a rare feat of getting at least one interception in four straight games. Mercilus began his breakout to stardom last season, but in 2016 he proved that his game is no fluke. The one-two pass rush of him and Clowney terrorized opposing offenses all season as the two combined for 13.5 sacks.

Last but not least, Clowney finally played a full healthy season and showed critics why Houston chose him first overall in 2013. Although NT Vince Wilfork is contemplating retirement, the position he plays is one of the easiest to replace. Both Covington and Reader have shown starting capabilities. The team will be getting Watt and Johnson back, pair them with the weapons that stood out in 2016 and Houston has the chance to produce one of the best defensive units in the past decade.

4. The Texans can compete against the league’s top teams

The last of my four takeaways from the 2016 season could possibly spark some debate and the inconsistency of the Texans is the main reason why. The Texans played five games against teams that made the playoffs this season (KC, NE, DET, Oak, GB) and walked away with a 2-3 record. Here’s the catch though, Houston defeated the AFC’s No. 2 seed the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 19-12, but then were blown out by a QB Jacoby Brissett led Patriots team 27-0 in Week 3.

The team matched up against the NFC’s No. 6 seed the Detroit Lions in Week 8 and defeated them 20-13. However, the last two matchups against playoff teams were still close, competitive games. In Week 11, the Texans played the Raiders, who at the time had a healthy Carr. The game was played in Mexico City and Houston was left at a full-disadvantage with the help of green lasers from the crowd and poor officiating.

Osweiler felt the force of a green laser to his face for more than half the game and the officials blew a number of calls that would’ve benefited the Texans; including calling back a clear WR DeAndre Hopkins touchdown. Two weeks later the Texans traveled to Green Bay, WI to take on the Packers on a snowy Lambeau Field. Unlike the Mexico City game, there were no questionable calls or laser pointers. The Packers beat the Texans fair-and-square by a final score of 21-13.

The game could’ve went either way towards the end, but Osweiler couldn’t lead the 4th quarter comeback. The most important game to look at is against the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. No one believed Houston would put up a fight at Gillette Stadium in a game of that magnitude. But I think the Texans raised some eyebrows and left a positive impression around the NFL.

The 34-16 final score doesn’t even begin to describe how close the game actually was. Houston pressured Brady all game and forced him into throwing two interceptions. It was the same amount he threw in 12 games combined in the regular season. If the Texans didn’t allow a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown and cleaned up their coverage, I believe Houston would be in the AFC Championship right now.

Houston Texans’ home and away opponents for 2017:

Home opponents (*playoff team): Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs*, Pittsburgh Steelers*, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans

Away opponents (*playoff team): Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots*, Seattle Seahawks*, Tennessee Titans

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