January 23, 2015
9-7 Texans Look to Improve in '15
by Bob Hulsey
Despite an uneven performance from four different quarterbacks, the Houston Texans somehow cobbled a 9-7 record in 2014, a surprising seven-game improvement from the year before. They did this despite getting little help from their top five draft choices, including first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney who had three surgeries and may still be rehabbing when next season gets under way.
Coach Bill O'Brien's secret to success was that he had his teams prepared to beat the teams the Texans were supposed to beat. Five of the seven losses were to playoff teams. Baltimore was the only game won against a playoff team. Their only losses against non-playoff teams came against the Giants and the Eagles.
Romeo Crennel's defense was also a big key to the improvement. Houston led the NFL in takeaways with 34. Their turnover differential (+12) was tied for second in the league.
If nothing else, the Texans know where they stand. Now they need better talent to defeat playoff teams without losing the edge against teams below them that causes backsliding. Particularly, they need to conquer their historic torturers, the Indianapolis Colts. Twelve seasons now, and they still have never won in Indiana.
Nobody thinks the Texans will get better until they get a dependable quarterback. Ryan Fitzgerald is limited and the others under contract are unproven. Ryan Mallett looked like he could be the answer but then he was injured after two games and lost for the season. Now a free agent, most fans hope he'll return but there's no assurance of that.
Houston also needs to answer some glaring salary cap issues now that J.J. Watt is no longer providing a rookie-contract discount. Andre Johnson and Jonathan Joseph are other open questions.
The Texans will draft 16th overall and could use it in a number of different ways, most likely for someone on the offensive or defensive lines although another corner or a linebacker could be useful too. Unfortunately, there are no solid quarterbacks projected for that area in the first round.
As easy as the 2014 schedule seemed, the 2015 slate could be even easier. They'll still have four games with Tennessee and Jacksonville as well as rotate to the NFC South and the AFC East, meaning they'll only have five games against 2014 playoff teams - one of them being 7-8-1 Carolina.
Besides the 2016 draft picks, the Texans will expect better contributions from Clowney, Xavier Su'a-Filo, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Louis Nix. The talent infusion from this spring's draft could be the next step needed to make the Texans a playoff team. A lot of things will need to go right for that to happen but the new coaching staff is off to an encouraging start.
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