Everyone knows that the football offseason can be a bit boring. Rather than write a bunch of filler pieces that don’t really do much for you other than make you hate or love me depending on how stupid you perceive my predictions to be, I thought I would take the next three weeks and outline the divisional opponents that the Colts will face.
The AFC South is a much-maligned division, and they’ve gotten a lot of grief for being the worst in the NFL consistently. Last year they broke out of that mold and began showing signs that they may be ready to take a more significant role in the AFC. So let’s get started by having a look at the two-time AFC South Champion Houston Texans.
No matter what happens in the coming season, no matter how the rest of the team plays, it will all come down to this: How did the Houston Texans’ quarterback play? This is a question Texans fans have been asking for a very long time.
For too long they have suffered terrible quarterback play that has crippled great running games and defenses in the face of the Indianapolis Colts. For the last two years, they have slipped, tripped, and stumbled into the winner’s circle of the AFC South simply because none of the other teams have appeared to want to win it.
With a superstar, DeAndre Hopkins, and playmakers like Will Fuller and Lamar Miller on the offense, there is only one reason why this team shouldn’t be a contender. That reason is the same one the Texans have been trying to solve since they came into the league. They need a franchise quarterback. GM Rick Smith has leveraged their future in the hopes that Deshaun Watson is that man. If he outplays his projections and has a Dak Prescott-like season, this team will be scary. If he struggles, like many first-year quarterbacks do, the Texans may be in for another season of disappointment, likely ending in people losing their jobs.
There is reason to think he might be able to succeed though. The Texans drafted D’Onta Foreman, a big back who has good speed and cutting ability, in the third round to take some of the weight off Miller’s shoulders. Having a more dynamic running game will certainly take pressure off Watson to be great right away. Beyond that, having an outstanding receiver like Hopkins will always go a long way to helping your rookie quarterback out.
The problem is the offensive line. In the past, they have been painfully inconsistent. Given a talented, pro-ready quarterback with pocket presence and a quick release that might be okay, but an inconsistent pass blocking offensive line is not the thing to help instill confidence in your young quarterback. While they addressed this using two draft picks, it remains to be seen if the line will improve enough to be called above average.
This defense is just nasty. With J.J. Watt returning, every offensive lineman will be having nightmares that consist of J.J. Watt on one side and Jadeveon Clowney on the other. Clowney really came into his own in Watt’s absence, and that was with no Watt to draw the double teams. With those two back and healthy, they make both a terrifying pass rush, as well as pretty vicious run support. Many of us have blacked out what a turnover machine Watt can be, and adding him back into the mix after Clowney seems to have come into his own is bad for anyone who has to play the Texans.
The linebackers aren’t exactly a weak point for the Texans either, who beefed up their line adding Zach Cunningham in the draft at ILB and already had talented guys like Brian Cushing and Bernardrick McKinney. Whitney Mercilus has been a solid contributor at OLB as well and it is tough to say if there is definitively a better front seven in the NFL than these guys, especially if their rookies contribute at all.
In the secondary, the Texans lost cornerback A.J. Bouye to free agency, and that loss will be felt. Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph remain, and the Texans have drafted Treston Decoud to provide some depth, but this is an area where some guys will likely need to step up to strengthen the unit. At safety, the Texans lost Quintin Demps, the real defensive backfield leader in free agency as well. They saw good play from Corey Moore during Demps’ absence due to injury last season, and now they will be relying on him even further to bolster their defensive backfield. Andre Hal and KJ Dillon will be the likely starters there. If there is any weakness in the Texans’ defense, it is at the safety position. Having a couple of major contributors in the backfield, the Texans will have to rely on their ability to develop young talent to fill those gaps and remain a defensive powerhouse.
If the Texans hope to compete in any kind of real playoff run, they’ll have to fix their abysmal special teams play. Football Outsiders has ranked them dead last in consecutive years in total special teams play. Putting your team in good field position is a huge load off a defense and a big help to a developing quarterback. If they can’t get this right it will make things much harder for the defending division champions to keep that mantle, given the improvements going on around the league.
This Texans team has lost some talent on defense and missed big on their quarterback of the future in the whole Brock Osweiler ordeal. Even if Deshaun Watson is their quarterback in the coming years, I don’t think he will be able to lead this team like they will need him to this season. I also thought of the AFC South teams the Texans had the weakest draft. I look for them to fall out of the playoffs and fall to last in the division that has seen major improvements in the three other teams. In my mind, this is a 5-6 win team, unless Watson is a major surprise.