Jul 27, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) practices during training camp at Methodist Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
For the past two seasons, the Houston Texans have been the class of the AFC South, along with winning twice in the Wild Card round of the postseason.
With the ’13 regular season a few weeks away, the question is: Are the Texans capable of a 3-peat in the AFC South?
I believe they are, but it won’t be easy, as I also believe the Indianapolis Colts are a very dangerous opposition of the three-peat this season. The Texans were 12-4 last season and behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck the Colts were 11-5.
Here are five things I believe the Texans must do in order to win the AFC South for a third straight season.
1. Keep quarterback Matt Schaub upright
This one is a no-brainer, right? Every team in the NFL must keep their starting quarterback off the ground and healthy if they want to win games, and this is especially true for the Texans.
I know they won a playoff game with T.J. Yates when Schaub went down two seasons ago, but, honestly, who would you rather have under center for you this season – Schaub or Yates?
The Texans’ offensive line did a serviceable job of protecting Schaub last season, as he started all 16 regular-season games and two in the playoffs. He was sacked 27 times in ’12, the same number as New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles.
Who was the QB that was sacked the most in ’12? In a surprise, it was Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers who was sacked a league-high 51 times, followed by Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers at 49 times.
So, to win games and repeat as division champs, the offensive line must keep Schaub off the ground again this season.
2. Finish the regular season stronger
The Texans can’t have the same type of finish in the final month of the regular season as they did last season and expect to defend their division championship.
In the final four games of the ’12 season, Houston went 1-3. They suffered a humbling loss to the Patriots by a 42-12 score, then defeated the Colts 29-17 in Houston. The momentum didn’t last for the Texans, even though they managed to win the division title. Houston lost their final two games by a 23-6 score to the Minnesota Vikings and a 28-16 loss to end the regular season at Indianapolis, both playoff teams.
I just don’t see a scenario where the Texans can finish the regular season 1-3 in the final four games and win their third straight division title in ’13.
3. Another wide receiver must step up
This is a no-brainer as well, right?
We all know what Andre Johnson brings to the table, as he’s done nothing but produce for the Texans his entire career. Now the Texans must find a wide receiver to play opposite of the veteran wide receiver to produce on the field.
The number-one option is rookie DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round draft choice from Clemson.
Plenty has been written about Hopkins, as he is being compared to a Roddy White-type of player. If Hopkins can produce like White has throughout his NFL career, and those are very lofty expectations, the Texans will be fine at wide receiver, and they will have found the player to complement Johnson on the other side of the field.
4. Having a healthy Arian Foster
With Foster being on the PUP list right now, I believe he should stay there a little longer and get 100-percent health before the start of the season.
Let’s be honest, how many reps in the preseason or training camp does Foster really need? He’s a proven and capable NFL running back, and the way I see it, the less wear and tear he gets on his body this preseason, the better it is for the Texans in the regular season and beyond.
Preseason games are for those fighting for a spot on the roster. We all know where Foster fits on this depth chart, so there is no reason to chance another injury this preseason.
5. Defense wins championships
The defense of the Texans also needs to stay healthy. Last season, they had the luxury of having J.J. Watt have his breakout season, but now teams have a season’s worth of film and an offseason to figure out ways to try and stop the All-Pro defensive end. Even with all the film on Watt, that will still be a tough feat to achieve.
Watt is going to need the linebackers of the Texans to stay healthier than they did last season for this defense to play even better than they did one year ago. I believe they will have to play better on defense to hold off the Colts and even the Tennessee Titans to an extent this season.
Houston doesn’t have Connor Barwin or Bradie James to bail them out from injuries like they did last season, so healthy seasons from Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed, Darryl Sharpton and Whitney Mercilus is a must for the Texans.
Also, the health of the defensive backs could be a concern, as Ed Reed has yet to practice, and Johnathan Joseph didn’t play in all 16 games last season. Heath is a key for the defense.