We can joke around about the Houston Texans laboring to mimic New England on the path to becoming "Patriots South,'' while all the time realizing that if new GM Nick Caserio, with his Belichickian roots, brings to Texans even a fraction of the devious Patriots' success, few Houstonians will mind.
We can also joke about the relative anonymity of the present 2021 Texans roster and how "you can't tell the players without a program.'' Indeed, this summer, new coach David Culley paraded his team onto the field without names or numbers on their jerseys.
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“This is a different football team than it was last year and basically what it is just that we’ve created competition,” said Culley, when asked about the incognito nature of jersey ID's. “We’ve created competition at all positions and that’s what we want to see and that’s what we want to get done out there.”
Yeah, that and secrecy.
But in the end? Some teams, in order to send a message to players that "we're all starting at zero,'' will remove the decals from the helmets. Or the rookies will have to wait a while to "earn'' their decals. Maybe, as much as trying to hide truths from the Houston media, it was about that.
During the hiring process of new coach Culley, the Texans decided to retain offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. Kelly had made strides as a play-caller as Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards while throwing 33 touchdown passes last season.
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Watson, who subsequently requested a trade and is dealing with legal problems that include 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints and hasn't been charged with a crime, had strongly endorsed Kelly.
Now, the Texans will be going in without the in-limbo Watson but are blending Kelly’s philosophies with Culley’s belief in a physical running game. The Texans became a one-dimensional, pass-first team last season as Watson excelled, but the team had the fewest runs in franchise history and finished 4-12.
The process is ongoing in the shift from a previously dynamic passing game headlined by Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, to a more controlled passing game led by new QB1 Tyrod Taylor, a less freewheeling style of passer, to a run-centric offense built around a committee approach of running backs Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and third-down back David Johnson.
Toward that goal, that means Kelly adapting his play-calling style. And it means Houston had better be successful on the ground - or else.
It would be hard to deny the impact new Houston Texans defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has made on his unit. He’s a preacher of getting takeaways, and that has been Houston's strength this offseason.
Last year in a 16-game season, the Texans recorded nine total takeaways. In three preseason games, they recorded 10.
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Yes, Houston's defense still has work to do before Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars arrive on September 12. But the switch to a 4-3 defense is working. The budding stardom of linebacker Zach Cunningham is obvious. Newcomer vets like defensive tackle Maliek Collins are upgrades, too.
"We got a lot of fight in us," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "Obviously, we're not where we want to be exactly. We still have some stuff to clean up.''
Some of the "clean up'' is philosophical. Some of it is physical. But all of it is needed, because the Texans are seemingly going to be a defense-first team in 2021.
Texans Record: 4-13
Expected Depth Chart
QB: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills
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RB: Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WR: Brandin Cooks
WR: Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Nico Collins
TE: Pharaoh Brown, Jordan Akins, Ryan Izzo, Brevin Jordan
LT: Laremy Tunsil
LG: Max Scharping, Justin McCray
C: Justin Britt
RG: Tytus Howard, Lane Taylor
RT: Charlie Heck, Marcus Cannon
DE: Whitney Mercilus, Charles Omenihu, Jacob Martin
DT: Maliek Collins, Ross Blacklock
DT: Brandon Dunn, Roy Lopez
DE: Jordan Jenkins, Jonathan Greenard
LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Joe Thomas, Garret Wallow
LB: Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill
LB: Zach Cunningham, Hardy Nickerson
CB: Terrance Mitchell, Vernon Hargreaves III, Rasul Douglas
CB: Bradley Roby, Desmond King, Ka'dar Hollman
SS: Eric Murray, Lonnie Johnson
FS: Terrence Brooks, A.J. Moore
P: Cameron Johnston
K: Ka'imi Fairbairn
LS: Jon Weeks
PR: Andre Roberts, Desmond King
KR: Andre Roberts, Desmond King