Houston Texans: Getting back on track

At the start of the season, the Houston Texans were coming of a rebound 9-7 season, with upgrades at defense and a rebuilding offense.  Defense was supposed to be the powerhouse, forcing turnovers and holding the opposition to low scores, giving the offense the edge they so desperately needed.  Offense was supposed to be plugging in holes lost with a veteran leaving, finding an answer to the ever-present QB question, and managing the time on the field enough to keep the team in the game.

Currently, the Houston Texans are 2-5, ironically tied for 2nd in the EPA superfund site that is the AFC South, and about to close out the 1st half of the season in a divisional game against a team with 1 less win.  They’ve been historically outscored in the first half and the defense seems to be circling the drain.  Offense, plagued with injury and a constantly changing O-line, as well as QB, has actually been pretty average.  The offense ranks in the top 5 for yardage, a little less than average in points scored per game (22) and is performing on par with what was expected.

However, we’ve concentrated on the drama of the QB train-wreck, which has ended in a fashion more befitting for a divorce court than an NFL organization.  Sorry guys, but if you thought Mallett was our problem and we’ll be smooth sailing from here on out, you are going to be disappointed.

But hey let’s look at the QB situation, again, and see where we went wrong.

In 2014, we brought in a consummate journeyman for a QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick, after cutting our previous “franchise” QB.  He did okay for the team, with a 6-6 record, but couldn’t manage to help bring home the competitive but close cames when we fell behind.  However, which need be stated, he was a place holder for Ryan Mallett, who was brought in to be a potential starter.  When Ryan Mallett got the opportunity to start, he wowed us.  However, a season-ending injury cost the Texans a pivotal game, and the team had season-ending injuries with both Fitzpatrick and rookie 3rd string Tom Savage, which left them scrambling to finish out the season (cue our beloved Case Keenum to finally swoop in and save the game).

For 2015, most figured that Mallett would come back from injury, Savage would continue to be developed, and we’d plug in another veteran as our #2.  What appeared to be happening was just that.  Mallett was resigned to a 2 year (really, 1 year and we’ll see) contract, and veteran QB Brian Hoyer was brough in on a 2 year (also, 1 year and we’ll see) contract.  However, at that same moment, Bill O’Brien announced that the starting gig was up for grabs and both QBs would compete for the job.  I’m not sure about you guys, but for me this was a head-scratching moment.  Mallett was brought in to eventually be developed to start.  He did just that in 2014.  He was injured, had a bad game due to injury, and ended his season because of that injury.

In my opinion, those factors are not enough to put a player’s job on the line.

Fast-forward to the pre-season and the decision to change QBs almost every game, along with the addition of a new play-caller, as well as a constantly changing o-line.  Those are some nasty conditions for any QB to survive in, much less flourish.  It speaks for a complete lack of confidence in your QB to hank him every time there is a struggle on the field.  There will be no consistency.  There will be no continuity.  The team will be lacking a leader if both guys go into the game knowing they could be pulled.  This style of coaching seems amateur at best, and a complete set-up for failure at worst.  The Texans got to see the failure.  The season’s record speaks for itself.  O’Brien should be embarrassed for having handled this so poorly.

One last thing about the QB drama – are we fully believing that Mallett had another bone-head “oops” moment when not catching the charter flight to Miami?  Did this former back-up in New England show the head coach of that organization the same attitude?  Think about that.  I hope the whole “just Mallett being Mallett” discussion doesn’t overshadow the fact that we had a coaching staff and front office that couldn’t keep a player in line and had to be embarrassed nationally in order to take some action.  Mallett came into the NFL with character and ego issues, but there was at least 1 team that kept him in line.

And now we’ve got what seems like the aftermath of a huge clash of egos that starts at the QB and coaching positions, and doesn’t stop.  It’s quite unfortunate that the QB drama that has unfolded has taken the spotlight on this team, when we’ve got failures in every aspect of the game, but maybe it’s for the best of the team (no pun intended) that essentially one of the least of our problems is the spotlight of this dysfunctional organization.  Let’s face it – QB struggles or not, the team was scoring the points necessary to win.  All things considered, the Texans offense should almost be commended for performing the way they have, considering the scrambling that has been done on that side.

Seriously – give them some credit.  An appropriate amount, at least.  They came in with an open hole where Andre Johnson used to sit.  The star running back, Arian Foster, was sidelined with injury (and is now out for the season, and likely for good with the Texans).  The O-line has been plagued with injury and has started a new rotation almost every game.  Offense, on a whole, has been a wreck. They’ve managed, though.  The lowest-scoring game so far has been on a win – 19 points.  With the adversity this group has faced, they’re performing a little better than expected overall. And coming into the season, they weren’t expected to really thrive.

The leadership in this organization is crumbling fast, and it shows on the field.  This isn’t a statement of the talent (or, arguably lack thereof) on the roster.  This is a statement of bad management overall.  This QB drama has gone on too long and has taken up too much attention – and action had to be forced by a (now former) teammate.

So how does the team get back on track?

There are 3 things to do.  First, and quickly, we need to assess and make adjustments on defense.  What I mean by this is we need someone other than Romeo Crennel.  Crennel has had a long history as defensive coordinator in the NFL.  He’s had this job with 3 different teams.  He should be able to do something with the names we’ve got on the field.  Instead, we’re almost putting up more yards in penalties than our opposing teams.  Penalties (averaging almost into the double digits per game) are a direct result of lack of discipline.  That’s a coaching problem.  Crennel should get 1 more week.  If defense doesn’t hold to a single digit score with Tennessee, that should be our cue.

Second, special teams needs an overhaul.  We were all impressed with what coordinator Bob Ligashesky did with 3 games left in 2013, but he’s done little to warrant being essentially the only coach brought over from the Kubiak era.  I wouldn’t even give him 1 more game to improve.  We probably will though, and maybe even beyond.  However, if this team’s about accountability, I would expect to see some walking papers during our bye week.  There’s just no excuse for the little production that has been seen with special teams over the past few years, and special teams has proven to be pivotal in the NFL when it comes to wins and losses.

Third, and most glaring, is our GM.  Rick Smith has been a source of heated discussion for several years now.  The big controversy has been how the Texans have handled their draft picks in the last few years, and why the organization hasn’t gone after QBs in the draft.  Well, the Texans did go after a QB in the 2014 draft, but he just wasn’t the QB that everyone wanted.  That’s for another column, though.  The real question is has Rick Smith been successful as a GM, with heavy scrutiny falling on the draft.  The answer, in short, is no.  Rick Smith can pick great players, but they end up playing their best games on another roster.

What Rick Smith can’t seem to do is pick the right coaching staff to assemble these players into a championship team.  The closest we ever came was in 2011, and that was primarily because we were unknowns.  Rick Smith has pretty big voice when it comes to picking talent on both the playing and coaching roster, and he’s failed to line them up effectively.  He’s also been given 9 years to do this.  It’s time to let him go, whether it be to outright fire him, or give him another job in the front office that has nothing to do with building a team.

Anything short of these 3 steps, and we’re looking at another top pick in the draft.

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