The Houston Texans, despite their 11-2 record, have a few things to sort out before the playoffs. We have seen teams exploiting some of the Texans weaknesses recently, specifically on defense. If Houston wants to make a run at the super bowl, here are 5 things they must fix:
1. Improvement in the Secondary – The pass defense has struggled recently. Teams are starting to exploit mismatches in the Texans man coverage scheme. The pass defense is ranked 19th in the NFL after ranking 3rd a year ago. We have seen some great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers tear the defense apart, but we’ve also seen some not-so-great quarterbacks pick apart the Texans defense like Chad Henne and Jake Locker. Of course the pass defense hasn’t been bad all season, but in the past 4 games they have been torched. It does not help that Brice McCain, the Texans Nickel Corner, is injured. They must improve their play in this area.
2. Pressure from someone other than J.J. Watt –Saying J.J. Watt has had a great year would be quite an understatement. The second year pro is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. However, outside of J.J. Watt, the pressure on the quarterback has not been as good as it was last season. Watt leads the team with 16.5 sacks on the season; Whitney Mercilus is the next closest player with 6 sacks. Mercilus has emerged as a pass rushing threat, showing flashes of how he terrorized quarterbacks in college last season. Connor Barwin on the other hand has not lived up to his expectations following his 11.5 sack campaign a year ago. With Improved pass rushing, the secondary will be able to perform at a higher level. We saw in the game against Tennessee how Jake Locker was able to throw for over 300 yards. However, the Texans defense had 6 sacks, which also lead to 6 turnovers. The pressure from the front 7 in that game allowed the secondary to feed off of the mistakes Jake Locker was making. Improving the pass rush would fix two problems.
3. Penalties – Houston is tied for 5th most in the NFL with 74 penalties. Those 74 penalties have given up 708 yards, which is tied for 15th in the NFL. The yardage total is not terrible, but it’s the situation in which the penalties are thrown that is alarming. For example, last week against the Patriots, on the first drive of the game, the defense had the Patriot offense in a third down situation. Tom Brady threw an incomplete pass, but the Texans were penalized. Another example would be how seemingly every time Keyshawn Martin has a decent return, there is a holding penalty, or an illegal block on the return team. If the Texans are to make a strong run to the championship, they must eliminate these penalties.
4. Special teams – The Texans Special teams have struggled all season. The Texans rank 28th in the NFL, averaging 21.1 yards per kick return. The special teams have not been able to get even one score, and some of Keyshawn Martin’s big returns have been called back due to penalties. They have also struggled in defending returns, ranking 18th in kick return average allowed, with 24.2 yards per return, and 19th in punt returns, allowing 10.2 yards per punt return. Special teams plays can be game changers, just look at the NFC championship game last season. The 49ers fumbled on a punt return and the Giants were able to recover the ball, which led to a game winning field goal. We also saw DeSean Jackson have a game winning punt return in the final seconds of the game against the Giants in 2010. The Texans have already allowed 2 touchdowns on returns this season, so they must step it up in all of these categories.
5. Third down conversions – Lately Houston has not been moving the chains on third down conversions very well, completing only 30.5 percent since their week 8 bye. That rating is ranked 27th in the NFL. Against New England, they only converted 4 out of 14 third down attempts, good for 28.6 percent. Earlier in the season we saw the Texans offense sustaining long drives, and it became common. But they have struggled recently, and it has led to more opportunities for the opposing offenses. This also means the defense has had to be on the field more often. Converting on third downs will also help them win time of possession battles, which gives the defense more rest.
If the Texans can fix these problems before the post season begins, they will be able to make a solid run, especially if they have the home-field advantage. The team seems confident they will solve their issues.