The Houston Texans came into the 2011 offseason with no shortage of question marks. While their offense was still a formidable force under the leadership of Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub, they received little to none recognition on the other side of the ball, and rightfully so. Led by defensive coordinator Frank Bush, the Texans “defense” ranked 30th in the league in yards allowed (376.9 per game), thanks to a NFL-worst 267.5 passing yards given up per game. It became clear at that point that improving the defense was head coach Gary Kubiak and General Manager Rick Smith’s priority as they approached the offseason.
A total makeover in the coaching personnel was due to happen. Just one day after the 2010 regular season came to a close, Kubiak held a press conference to announce the firing of Bush along with secondary coach David Gibbs, linebackers coach Johnny Holland and assistant linebackers coach Robert Saleh. The Houston Texans faithful were calling for a big-name coach with a proven track record to step in and take over the defense. And they got exactly what they wanted when the Texans announced two days later the hiring of former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips as the team’s new DC. Known for his 3-4 scheme and aggressive play-calling to pressure the opposing QB, Phillips was expected to implement a complete turnaround to the Texans defense system.
As the coaching staff was set, the Texans turned their attention to the on-field product, the players. Phillips’ playbook might look good on paper, but it requires the right players to make the plays work effectively on the field. Among others, upgrades on the secondary were essential; so was an additional pass-rusher or two. Houston managed to address plenty of needs on defense via the first-year player draft in April, spending 6 of their 8 selections on defensive players, most notably 11th-overall pick DE Justin James “J.J.” Watt out of Wisconsin and second-round pick Arizona’s OLB Brooks Reed. With Watt and Reed, the Texans got themselves a pair of young, talented, and explosive pass rushers to complement Mario Williams on the front seven, giving Phillips a great deal of versatility on his blitz packages.
The conclusion of the draft still left the Texans’ secondary as the area badly needed an injection of talent. As the NFL lockout finally got lifted on July 25th, Rick Smith and Co. immediately began their search for help on coverage. And they really meant business, promptly signing free agent CB Jonathan Joseph to a five-year, $48.5 million deal. 24 hours later, former Bears safety Danieal Manning was announced as the newest member of H-Town football following a 4-year, $20 million pact. These moves helped significantly solidify the pass coverage of the Texans defense, while making it hard for fans who previously had to endure the pains of seeing their beloved team getting burned deep every single time the opposing team’s QB threw the ball downfield, to contain jubilance.
A big-name defensive coordinator, a young talented front seven, a revamped secondary, it seemed as though Texans fans had been gifted with all the items on their offseason wish list. A convincing 3-1 preseason record highlighted by excellent play by Schaub and backup RB Ben Tate generated even more confidence among fans. Heading into the 2011 season, many fans were optimistic, some were cautiously hopeful, some still held various doubts. But on paper, with an ever-consistent offense and a new-look defense, the Texans seemed poised to pose a serious challenge at the Colts’ stranglehold on the AFC South.
Stay tuned to ToroTimes for a month-by-month comprehensive review of the Houston Texans’ historic 2011 season.