Why the Texans can contend for the playoffs next season

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts
Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The Houston Texans’ playoff drought stretched to three seasons after finishing their 2022 campaign at 3-13-1. Coincidentally, it’s also the third consecutive year that a head coach lasted for one season. David Culley replaced Romeo Crennel, who didn’t get the job after an interim status. Lovie Smith had his opportunity last season, but it didn’t bring any difference.

But there is the hope of better things to come with DeMeco Ryans’ hiring. Likewise, it’s worth noting that the Texans built some momentum by the end of 2022 after winning two of their last three games. These developments can turn the franchise’s fortunes around. Worst-to-first stories are not new in the NFL, and the Texans can write the latest chapter to that narrative in 2023 because of these factors.

An improved rushing attack

The Texans finished second-worst in rushing yards per game despite Dameon Pierce’s emergence during his rookie season. Bringing in Devin Singletary provides a nice balance between power running and zone schemes. Likewise, Pierce’s workload can be reduced with Singletary’s arrival. His speed also makes him an able receiver during obvious pass plays.

They must have offensive linemen adept at blocking for two running backs with varying styles. ESPN Analytics revealed that the Texans were tied for third-worst in team run block win rate last season at 70 percent. But adding another threat from the backfield makes the defense guess, especially during 20 or 21-personnel formations.

An up-and-coming defensive secondary

The Texans have much work to do in stopping the run after finishing last in rushing yards allowed per game. That’s how teams have attacked them, scoring an average of 24.7 points per game (fourth-worst last season). They've addressed that concern by adding Sheldon Rankins and Pro Bowl linebackers Denzel Perryman and Cory Littleton.

Conversely, their pass defense has done well, surrendering only 209.3 yards per game, ranking 10th in the league last season. Their secondary has a chance to become extraordinary in the years to come.

The Texans were tied for the third-most interceptions last season with 16, led by safety Jalen Pitre’s five. Cornerback Desmond King tied Pitre with eight passes defended, while Derek Stingley Jr. had five in nine games played. Having lockdown defenders like them is essential in a pass-happy league.

DeMeco Ryans' guidance can even elevate the Texans' defense from good to great. Just look at how the San Francisco 49ers gave up the fewest yards and fewest points per game last season. He has the personnel to make it work in Houston.

A young but talented quarterback

The Texans will most likely select a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The choice is between C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, two players with massive upside. Either way, Houston will get an upgrade from Davis Mills and Case Keenum. Stroud and Young have manifested incredible accuracy in college.

Whomever they draft will have a fair shot of being the Week One starter. Both quarterbacks have displayed maturity in their decision-making, which helps in running a pro-style offense. Therefore, it’s a matter of who lands at number two when the Carolina Panthers select their next franchise quarterback after Cam Newton.

A wide-open AFC South

The Jacksonville Jaguars won their last five games to take the 2022 AFC South title. However, it’s just a 9-8 finish, and they had a 4-2 record in the division. If not for the Texans’ Week One tie with the Indianapolis Colts, they could have had the same divisional record. The Texans also defeated the Tennessee Titans and the Colts in Weeks 16 and 18.

Winning the division gives Houston an automatic playoff berth. They’ve proven they can compete against the Jaguars, the Colts, and the Titans. Sweeping the division puts them closer to ending their postseason drought. Also, the Colts and the Titans face uncertainty at quarterback, possibly leaving their offenses in disarray. That’s an advantage the Texans can exploit.