In 2011, the Texans’ defense was a revelation but their offense was still solid as usual. While not as explosive as in the past due to injuries to their two most important pieces to their passing attack, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, the offense still finished 13th in the NFL in total offense with 372.1 yards per game. They were 18th in passing with 219.1 yards a game and 2nd in rushing with 153 yards a game. They were also 10th in scoring with 23.8 points per game so it is safe to say that the Texans had a well above-average offense in 2011. But how different will the offense look in 2012?
This offseason has hurt the Texans in that they lost four main offensive contributors (five if you want to include Jacoby Jones), including two starters from one of the best offensive lines in the league. (RT) Eric Winston and (FB) Lawrence Vickers were cap casualties while (RG) Mike Brisiel and (TE) Joel Dreessen departed to the AFC West via free agency to the Raiders and Broncos, respectively.
As of now, it looks like Rashad Butler and Antoine Caldwell will be replacing Winston and Brisiel. Derek Newton also has a shot to play RT but he is only going into his second NFL season and has never started a game. Rookie Brandon Brooks could push Caldwell but it sounds like he is already in Kubiak’s doghouse with weight issues. Butler started four games at LT during Duane Brown’s suspension two seasons ago and is known as more of a finesse tackle. He should be able to pass protect as well as Winston but the Texans may lose some production in the run game. At RG, Caldwell is a former third round pick from Alabama who has been hindered by injuries. With a whole offseason to heal, hopefully he will be able to justify his relatively high selection. While he is probably more physically talented than Brisiel, any Texans fan knows that you would be hard pressed to find a tougher guard than Mike Brisiel. If Caldwell can play with the same tenacity and toughness as Brisiel, he should have success.
Vickers and Dreessen also need to be replaced. While the Texans don’t use the FB a bunch, Vickers was a hard-nosed lead blocker who wasn’t afraid to hit the hole hard. The Texans don’t really have anyone proven like him on their current roster (Edit: Texans just signed Moran Norris, a physical lead blocker and former Texan. He will turn 34 on Saturday though). If the season began today, it looks like Norris or the versatile James Casey would be the fullback. Casey is known more for his hands and receiving skills than for his lead blocking abilities. While Dreessen was not the starting tight end, the Texans used numerous two tight end sets, so he was essentially a starter. He also filled in admirably when Owen Daniels was injured. Dreessen was a good run blocker and an underrated pass catcher with reliable hands. You could tell that both Schaub and T.J. Yates trusted him. Out of all of the Texans losses on offense, I think he is the hardest to replace based on his role and the fact that the Texans don’t have any proven replacements on the roster. Both Garrett Graham and James Casey are undersized and unproven blockers, and Casey will also have to split time at fullback.
With the departure of these four players and essentially the additions of Schaub and AJ, as well as rookies Devier Posey and Keshawn Martin, expect the Texans’ offense to become more balanced than last season as they are now healthy and have some new players to work with. If no second tight end steps up, expect more three receiver sets with Lestar Jean, Posey, or Martin alternating with Kevin Walter outside and in the slot. The Texans can still run the ball out of this formation but they can open it up more now that Schaub is back. The losses of Dreesen, Vickers, Brisiel and Winston all negatively affect the running game, and there will probably be a downgrade in run blocking by all of their replacements. Meanwhile, the additions of Schaub, AJ and the rookie receivers all vastly improve the overall talent of the passing game. It only makes sense that the Texans will take advantage of this opportunity to balance out the offense and get back to the feared passing attack they once were, all while maintaining a top ten running game.
The Texans are still going to be a team that wants to control the clock by running the ball and playing good defense but all signs point to a more explosive and talented passing and overall offense than last year’s. Here’s to hoping that we see some of the 60-yard play action bombs that we have seen in the past, but that were few and far between last season.