“There’s no doubt this team has taken a big step forward.”
-Gary Kubiak, in one of the many post-Patriot playoff loss press conferences.
Oh, I beg to differ. In fact, you can’t even make a coherent argument that supports the above quote.
As fans, unless you just hate your life and are constantly miserable – you can deal with your team losing. If not, I feel bad for your family. The focus should be – is the team getting better? Is the team doing everything it can to get better? If you’re an Astros fan, you know the answer to that during the last several years of the Drayton McLane era was decidedly no. They weren’t trying – at all. For that reason, I couldn’t even stomach watching them.
With the Texans? The answer has been a resounding yes. They don’t make every correct move, they don’t make the best decisions – but it is clear that both in the area of effort, personnel, and resources – the Texans have absolutely done everything they possibly could to get better the last few years. If you’re one of those people that thinks Bob McNair is cheap and he is only interested in the bottom line – I’m actually kind of surprised you can even read.
So the Texans find themselves in a strange place at the end of the best season in their history (record-wise). They have done everything they can to get better. They have spent free agent money, they have made difficult personnel decisions to survive the salary cap hell they were in going into 2012… but they did not improve on the field in 2012. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Safeties – Glover Quin, while an absolute contract priority for next year, was inconsistent in the 2nd half of the season, and Danieal Manning was significantly worse than he was last year. The safety depth was TERRIBLE, with several glaring examples we don’t need to relive. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward.
Cornerbacks – Kareem Jackson obviously came into his own, much to the shock of pretty much everyone save for a few people who are apparently okay with a starting player being terrible in his first two years. Johnathan Joseph was not as good as he was last year when he was healthy, and when he was hurt, he was awful. Jason Allen was replaced as the third outside corner by Alan Ball, who was mostly awful. Despite what crazy people were saying, Brice McCain was NOT having a good season when he got hurt, especially compared to how he played in 2011. You know how the rest of the corner depth went. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – level, due only to the emergence of Kareem Jackson.
Inside linebackers – Hahahaha! HA HA HA HA!!! Injuries, yes – but part of running a team well is putting good depth together. Reference the article I wrote BEFORE the season on the two positions I believed were most likely to sink the Texans in 2012 – the inside linebackers and the offensive line. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – plane crash.
Outside linebackers – No matter what the Texans brass says, Connor Barwin was nowhere near the player he was in 2011. This whole idea that “he got close and got good pressure” is absolute bullroar. Yes, toward the end of the season, it was true. Before then he was CONSTANTLY getting single-teamed, and handled rather easily. Yes he plays the run well. So what. At his position, he has to get pressure, and not just pressure but sacks. Brooks Reed was also solid against the run, but the league pretty much had him figured out on his pass rush. Whitney Mercilus was up and down. He almost always was awful against the run. He got some effort sacks and showed some flashes as a pass rusher. He will be better next year, I have no doubt. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward.
Defensive line – All by himself, JJ Watt has taken this entire position group on an upward trend. But individually, Antonio Smith trended slightly down, Shaun Cody trended Shaun Cody, and Earl Mitchell also trended Shaun Cody. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – upward, due solely to JJ Watt’s historic season.
Offensive line – We all know what happened here, and it was rather predictable. Well, once Rashad Butler turned out to 1) be terrible and 2) get hurt, then it got predictable. Nobody on the offensive line – literally nobody – trended upward from 2011. Duane Brown was great, but not as dominant as he was in 2011, and that’s fine. No problem with that. Inexplicable Pro Bowler Wade Smith was often awful this year. Chris Myers, not as good this year. The right guard position went from Mike Brisiel to a revolving door of disaster, with some glimmers of hope for the future (but not based on results). Right tackle – absolute flaming pile of crap disaster. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – watching a movie about a plane crash on a plane that crashes.
Tight ends - Owen Daniels looked pretty good when he was in the game plan. Then he wasn’t. Garrett Graham – also pretty solid when he was getting looks. Still, this group doesn’t compare to last year’s, especially with the loss of Joel Dreessen, who myself and others said would be an underrated loss for this offense in 2012. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward, but close to level.
Wide receivers – This is a strange one. The play of the group as a whole is probably elevated, but that’s only because Andre Johnson was so hurt last year, and so not hurt and great this year. But Kevin Walter continued his steady decline (as a pass catcher) and at this point should put on 100 pounds, concentrate on his AMAZING BLOCKING and finish his career as a journeyman swing tackle. CampStar Jean was a total zero during the year, and Devier Posey was just starting to emerge as a legitimate target for Matt Schaub when he ripped his Achilles. He will not be ready to go for the start of the 2013 season. So far, Keshawn Martin is Jacoby Jones 2.0, but with better hands in the punt return game. As a receiver, he’s actually MORE drop-prone than Jacoby was. But he’s just a rookie. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward. I say downward because there was no improvement – NONE – in the guys not named Andre Johnson, and that is a MUST.
Running Backs & Full back – This is of course largely a function of the decline of the offensive line, but as good as Arian Foster was this season, he wasn’t as good as he was last year. Still, he’s a top-5 back and with top offensive line play, the only guy I’d take over him is that cyborg who plays for the Vikings. Remember, we’re talking about position groups here. Ben Tate was basically a nothing in 2012, and while Justin Forsett is a MAJOR improvement over Derrick Ward, the group as a whole clearly took a step down. James Casey is, I think, a star waiting to happen as a tight end, or as an H-Back if Kubiak had any idea how to maximize his potential. Instead he’s just kind of stuck. If I were James Casey, I’d want to go somewhere where I can get my hands on the ball a lot more. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward.
Quarterbacks – Matt Schaub, largely because of the lack of a play action attack, was not very good in the second half of 2012. But you can’t assume all things are going to be perfect, or even above average – so your quarterback has to be able to make plays with his arm. Schaub did that all season in 2009, but it didn’t work out so well in 2012. I have defended Schaub for a long time, and as I said – I think he is pretty much the same guy he has always been, it’s just that when he doesn’t have the play action game going, he’s average at best. Couple that with the fact that Gary Kubiak’s play-calling didn’t seem to back up the (repeated) assertion that Gary had all the confidence in the world in his QB. Bottom line on Schaub – he’s a plus NFL QB when the running game is at its best, and when he’s getting excellent pass protection. But again, that’s just not going to happen every year, and when it doesn’t – you have to make plays anyway. But he didn’t. 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward.
Special teams – Shayne Graham was fantastic for anything under 50 yards. Over 50 yards, he was terrible, except inexplicably in the playoffs in New England. Yeah, one 55-yard kick doesn’t erase the rest of the season. It doesn’t matter anyway, because his kickoffs were abhorrent. Donnie Jones was solid a lot of the year, and then went to hell late. Kick and punt returns – awful. Kick and punt coverage, awful. Again, one good performance in the playoffs means NOTHING. Except that it will for Joe Marciano, who will obviously return since he has a lifetime contract.
Coaching – Play-calling lapses, some irritating stubbornness in a few of Wade Phillips’s game plans (no doubt spurned by personnel and injury issues), an unwillingness to make realistic in-season changes to special teams, bad challenges, poor or non-existent halftime adjustments, confusing lapses in player involvement (Casey, Foster in the pass game, Owen Daniels disappearing, overloading Foster early on, etc., etc). 2011 to 2012 trajectory – downward.
So there it is. Basically every position group trended down. The team collapsed at the end when it had a chance to sew up home field advantage, and they lost in the same round as last year against an opponent who beat them in the regular season the exact same way they beat them in the playoffs. You cannot convince me that the Texans playoff loss to the Patriots was significantly less ugly than the one on Monday Night Football. Making the game close in the first half doesn’t count for anything. Getting blown out in the second half, only to score some points on offense when it was out of reach – also doesn’t count for anything.
Sure, they went 12-4 in 2012 as opposed to 10-6 in 2011 – but that was a bit of fool’s gold because last year’s team was clearly at least a 12-4 squad had they not lost their QB. Schaub was simply better last year than he was this year, again, due to many factors. The defense last year – MUCH better. The running game last year – MUCH better.
So there you go. Sure, this is a largely negative post – but I’m just trying to inject some realism here. The Texans need a great offseason – not just a good one – to get to where they need to be. They need to be better next year, not at the same level again. They need to be able to beat the Patriots. This year, it’s not that they didn’t beat the Patriots, it’s that they were not even CLOSE to beating the Patriots. Not even close.
Improvements need to be made. Depth has to be addressed. An NFL team should never, ever go down the tubes because of a non-QB injury. The Texans actually were very fortunate with their health in 2012. I will not accept injuries as a reason for the drop-off, and you shouldn’t either.
The Texans will have a good amount of compensatory picks in the upcoming draft, and there’s no reason they can’t dip into free agency a bit more in 2013 being that they aren’t going to be in as much cap trouble as they were last year.
I say all this because I’m afraid the Texans think they are right on the cusp. In a way, they are. This team, in my opinion, can absolutely go 12-4 again next year. I think Schaub can rebound. I think the O-Line and the running game can rebound. With some defensive improvements and focus on depth, the defense can be better. But this isn’t about going 12-4 again. It’s about being able to beat the Patriots, the Broncos, the rising Colts, and the other teams that will emerge, IN THE PLAYOFFS.
So that’s where we are. It was another fun, great season, though ultimately frustrating in the end. What needs to happen next is that the Texans focus on going further, not just getting better.
As you might expect, I’m gonna go on hiatus for a while. Fill in your jokes about how long I’ve already been on hiatus, yes. I deserve that.
Thanks to all who came by this season, took the time to read, comment, follow me on Twitter, etc. We’ll talk during the offseason… you know, after hiatus.