1. Look for a greater number of “gap” plays in the run game
The Texans zone scheme didn’t flow quite as expected last year thanks to numerous breakdowns along the offensive line. The Texans have always prided themselves on being able to run their offense based off of a successful outsize zone rushing attack, but teams have become much more aggressive against it and I’m not sure the Texans are positioned to be much better at it this year than they were last year.
Look for the Texans to add more gap plays in their rushing attack where they rely more heavily on lead plays behind the power of RG Brandon Brooks and the hammer-head stylings of FB Greg Jones. The zone scheme needs a more fluid, consistent approach from the offensive line and if they don’t get it, I think they will change things up somewhat this season.
2. Johnathan Joseph is not feared by opposing quarterbacks
I was speaking to a former NFL man this weekend who keeps up with the Texans, and we got on the subject of the secondary. One of the first topics we both agreed upon was that somewhere along the line, teams stopped fearing Johnathan Joseph. Joseph may have been playing hurt at times last year, but a CBs biggest asset is a QBs fear of testing him. Even if you’ve lost a step, it won’t be discovered if your reputation scares teams and QBs away.
Nnamdi Asomugha had his reputation tarnished in Philadelphia, and it was open season on him after that. I don’t care how good you are, a CB is going to give up some big plays if teams keep looking his way. Joseph’s technique got very loose at times this preseason and he paid for it. If JJo doesn’t make some plays early in the season to back teams off and regain that respect, teams are going to continue to attack him.
3. Ben Tate will have lots of work
Arian Foster has been worked hard as a Houston Texan RB, and no matter how productive he is or how young he is on that birth certificate, the wear and tear of being an NFL RB will start to take its toll sooner rather than later. The Texans understand just how talented Foster is and I’m sure they are going to take greater care of keeping him from as many touches as he has last year.
Ben Tate got off to a solid start last season before getting hurt and then landing in Gary Kubiak’s doghouse, but he’s a free agent after this year and there is no reason for the Texans not to lean on Tate to take some of the pounding away from Foster. Tate doesn’t have Foster’s vision and he isn’t as complete a back as Arian, but he does have the ability to hit a big play as defenses begin to wear down and the Texans need to use him to save Foster.
4. This very well could be the last hurrah for some good starters
Brian Cushing just got paid and J.J. Watt is closing in on being the highest paid defensive player in the league so there will have to be some re-allocating of salary. LG Wade Smith’s contract is up after this year and there is no way the Texans bring him back considering the cheap labor (David Quessenberry or Ben Jones) they have waiting in the wings.
Antonio Smith probably won’t be back after his deal runs out since the Texans can go with Jared Crick, but the Texans have to find more pass rush from their OLBs since Crick isn’t the pass rusher that Antonio is.
Unfortunately, I think Owen Daniels may be a cap casualty after this year with Garrett Graham coming along and with rookie Ryan Griffin looking like a good selection by the Texans. Every little bit will count as the Texans look to get their finances in order before giving Watt an extension and the Texans have to be able replace veterans with good, cheap talent.