The Houston Texans enter the 2021 season with plenty of improvements to make after falling to 4-12 last season. However, despite significant roster, front office and coaching changes since the turn of the year, some NFL critics believe the Texans are set for another dismal campaign.
In his 2021 NFL Power Ranking, Pro Football Talk's Peter King has placed the Texans at the bottom of the league at 32. Here is his reasoning:
Could this change if Deshaun Watson plays, say, eight games for the Texans? Slightly. But Houston won four games with Watson last year, and the team is significantly worse than a year ago. The franchise has the feel of an expansion team, with Tyrod Taylor scrambling for his life behind a shaky line while keeping the seat warm for Davis Mills, who may or may not be the quarterback of the future, handing to 30-year-old Mark Ingram, throwing to 31-year-old Randall Cobb . .. and somehow trying to score occasionally in the thirties. Because that’s what it’s going to take to win this year, with a defense that allowed 29 points per game last year and got worse in the offseason. You say they got Shaq Lawson, and he’ll be an improvement to the Watt-less pass-rush? Well, Buffalo needed pass-rush a year ago and let him walk to Miami. Miami needed pass-rush this year and dumped him in a trade to Houston. So a front seven led by Whitney Mercilus and Lawson (neither of whom has had an eight-sack season in the last five years) won’t keep the heat off perhaps the league’s most suspect secondary. Houston in 2020 allowed 70 percent completions, a 109.3 opponent passer rating, and had three picks while giving up 30 TD passes. Yikes. I didn’t even use the Houston, we’ve got a problem line, because that would be understating how bad the prospects for 2021 are.
Everyone has an opinion and many will agree with King's assessment of the Texans.
That being said, while his criticisms of their weaknesses last season are accurate, some of his projections feel... unwarranted.
Shaky Offensive Line
First of all, assuming the offensive line will be "shaky" once again is debatable. Yes, they have had issues for a number of years at this point and last year was no exception with the interior struggling, in particular in run blocking. But general manager Nick Caserio has in theory done a good job of solidifying this..
Of course, there is no way of knowing anything for certain until the season kicks off, but the line will look very different this year. Center Nick Martin and right guard Zach Fulton are both gone, and the left guard job is up for grabs with a number of capable players in contention.
Former New England Patriot Marcus Cannon looks a solid bet to start at right guard and should be an upgrade at the position. Justin Britt returns to the NFL after a year off and should, at the very least, play to the same level as Martin but at a lower cost … while bringing the potential to also upgrade the position. The additions of Lane Taylor and Cole Toner will both provide options on the interior and both represent upgrades as either backups or even starters from last year.
Combine these players with Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, and potentially Max Scharping and this line could be mid-tier. And then … considering the change of O-line coach to the well-respected James Campen, they should improve significantly on previous years under Mike Devlin.
Lack Of Weapons
When it comes to offensive weapons, King mentioned Ingram and Cobb. Yes, both are the wrong side of 30, but Ingram was a Pro Bowler with over 1,000 rushing yards to his name just one year ago.
King also failed to mention Brandin Cooks who had over 1,000 yards receiving last season, Phillip Lindsay, who had two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons prior to 2020, and the two drafted rookies, Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins, who both look like potential contributors from Day 1.
So while it may not be the potent trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Carlos Hyde from a couple of years ago, this offense is far from barren.
When it comes to Houston's defense and King's claims that it "got worse" this offseason, it really could go either way.
Nobody in their right mind would expect this defense to suddenly become a top-10 or maybe even top-20 unit in 2021. There is a new scheme, a new coaching staff, and an almost entirely new front seven to work with.
This will be a tough year, as most transitional ones are.
Did the defense get worse? Well, losing J.J. Watt will hurt. That is undeniable. He is one of the few players you can honestly say is irreplaceable, as much for his off-field presence as on.
Then throw in the number of player departures and predicting how this defense will line up is hard enough, let alone how well they will play.
They have added talent in the form of Christian Kirksey, Jordan Jenkins and Maliek Collins. And thankfully, they will have far more depth than last year also with the additions of the likes of Kevin Pierre-Louis, Vincent Taylor, Jaleel Johnson and Neville Hewitt, to name but a few.
And given that many of their issues in 2020 stemmed from player departures the previous offseason (i.e. D.J. Reader) and player injuries/suspensions during it (i.e. Bradley Roby) the fact that this time around they will have capable backups to take their spots should give Texans fans some hope that they will be more solid all-around in 2021 - not less.
It cannot be denied that Houston's secondary has been an Achilles heel. Their failure to nail down a starting safety alongside Justin Reid and to replace Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph at cornerback have been problems.
And while they did not draft any potential replacements this year to improve this situation, they do at least enter the year with the same starting safety duo that they finished 2020 with in Reid and Lonnie Johnson. That continuity has been lacking recently and can only help the development of both players.
At cornerback, Roby should be able to bounce back from his suspension and return as their primary corner, while former Pro Bowler Desmond King arrives to give them some much-needed options at nickel. Terrence Mitchell also comes in to battle Vernon Hargreaves for that second outside role.
Much like with the front seven, they may not have made massive strides in terms of starting quality, but the addition of capable backups is a luxury that has evaded them in the past and caused issues, particularly in 2020.
As such, again this defense should be either on par with or better than last season.
But will they remain suspect? Will the group as a whole be at the NFL’s bottom? Only time will tell. But right now is a time for some hope … and lots of analysis.
CONTINUE READING: How Many Texans Trade Offers For QB Deshaun Watson? Zero?