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Better Know a Rival: The 2008 Houston Texans

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[Note by River City Rage, 07/18/08 12:28 PM EDT ] Edited to reflect that the Jaguars did not sweep the Texans last year, I had forgotten that the week 17 game when the Jaguars rested all their starters that the Texans pulled out the win.

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DeMeco Ryans: If he's smiling, the Jaguars are hurting

The Houston Texans: Things we already knew.

There is no surprise to the Houston Texans if you're a Jaguars fan.  We know that they're building a defensive core that will rival the best in the league.  We know that the best wide receiver in the AFC South is not in Indianapolis, it's in Houston.  Of the 31 teams in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the first hubris-ridden giant to fall to the Texans tenacity.  When we sit down and look at the calendar, it's the Texans that serve as a benchmark for the Jaguars season, not the Colts.  Sure, winning the division means running rampant over Peyton Manning and company, but to win the division means beating the teams you're supposed to beat, and the Texans have proved time and time again that they won't lay down for the Jaguars.

Face it, proving that the Jaguars are the cream of the AFC South crop means not falling for the yearly trap of the Texans.  Just as the team needs to remove the "yeah, but" about not beating the big teams, not dropping a game to the Texans is just as critical.  For the Houston Texans partisans who are inevitably reading this, I'm being complimentary toward your team.

This is a group that's done nothing but scare me every time we face them, and that's coming off a year where they were NEARLY swept by the Jaguars.  (The Jaguars were already locked in the playoffs)  Quite simply, everything goes out the window, everything that we know about Jacksonville is put to the fundamental test on Sundays in Houston.  Imagine the devastation to the Jaguars season if they offset an early season win against Indianapolis and Tennessee by dropping an "expected win" to the Texans.  These are the things that keep me up at night.

Better Know a Rival: The Houston Texans

Nobody knows a team better than a partisan.  Thankfully, my friends at Battle Red Blog were happy enough to entertain my questions and give very honest answers.  This is not the hyper-optimism you'd expect from a scrappy up-and-coming team, this is good stuff.  As usual, my questions are in BOLD.

Walk us through the Texans offseason. What's the biggest change coming off of last season? What is the most overrated move/underrated move. What issues still need addressing? Anything you would have done different?

You can't talk about the offseason without mentioning the draft. While a lot of "experts" thought that Duane Brown was a reach, he was immediately plugged into the starting lineup and has been going against Mario Williams in minicamp and OTAs. If he can learn to deal with the monster that is Mario, then I think he'll adjust well to the rest of the league.

Also from the draft we picked up several key pieces that have been garnering praise from the coaching staff. Antwaun Molden is said to be further ahead than Fred Bennett was at this point last year. Adibi and Slaton have also shown flashes of the athleticism that made them NFL worthy. Even the last two picks (Barber/Brink) have been tendered contracts.

Most underrated move would have to the Chris Myers signing. It goes hand in hand with bring Alex Gibbs aboard. He knows the intricacies of both the guard and center position within the ZBS, having started at both for Denver. As our new starting center, he already knows the calls and is being sort of on the field coach while the rest of the guys get up to speed. Second to the Chris Myers signing would have to be hiring of Ray Rhodes. He's serving in more of an advisory capacity, but he's been able to rework defenses time and again. Look to him to change up some of the coverage schemes to best suit the young secondary.

With that said, the secondary has to be one of the biggest question marks on the team. If Reeves turns out to the be CB that Dallas was glad to get rid of, then we're in serious trouble. If he adapts well to Rhode's tutalege, then we could have the makings of a solid secondary. Only time will tell.

Alex Gibbs brings with him a pretty solid reputation for helping to produce big running games and solid offensive lines, that and cut blocking. Will Gibbs find the missing piece in the Texans running game?

Alex Gibbs may - Chris Brown and Steve Slaton were extremely successful running in schemes that were made famous by Alex Gibbs. Ahman Green (if he has anything left) is slated to be the starter, but I see him being pushed by both of those guys. Reportedly, Chris Taylor looks to be a good fit for the new running scheme... as with Green and Brown, health will be an issue.

Suffice to say that high hopes abound with Alex Gibbs running the show.

I am an admirer of the Texans defense, especially the trio of Mario, DeMeco and Amobi. What are your expectations of these three, and perhaps more importantly, who aren't people talking about that is a playmaker on defense? How about the secondary?

Expectations are for unequivocal improvements. Amobi, a year older, wiser, and stronger should be able to power through the wall he hit his rookie season. Mario has proven to the the force he was brought here to be. He'll be seeing his fair share of double and triple teams... which should open up blitzing lanes for one of the speedy linebackers we picked up in the offseason (Adibi/Thompson) and allow for better pressure from the rest of Mario's linemates. Colvin could also find success playing opposite Mario.


 How will the Texans do in the ultra-competitive AFC South? Is this the year when the Texans find a wild-card spot? What is your best case and worst case season?


The Texans were outright dismal in the division last year. Five of our eight losses came in the division. If we pull out those two games against Tennessee last year, we would have been in the playoffs instead of the Titans. We were that close. I think the team has improved but our strength of schedule is going to be rough... A winning record in our division should equate to a playoff berth. Worst case is we slide back to 7-9, best case is that we split in the division 3-3 and we finish strong en route to the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

 What weaknesses do the Texans have that keep you up at night?

Injuries. That's about a bad of a weakness as you can have. Our guys have led the league with 17 players on IR each of last two years. Injuries on the o-line, at starting QB, starting RB, starting WR, starting CB, starting LT, starting C... the list goes on and on. A healthy season is imperative.

Thanks!  You can read more about the Texans at the fantastic Battle Red Blog

Expectations:

The Texans have something to play for this year.  Last year was their best season since their inception and there's enough unpredictability in the NFL to see the Texans surprise a few people.  Unfortunately, the Texans have two definite playoff teams in the Jaguars and Colts ahead of them, as well as the unstable but good enough for a wild card Titans on the docket.  

What I'd like to see out of the Texans is for them to surprise the Titans or Colts, actually, especially the Colts the way they surprised the Jaguars over the last few years.  When the enemy of your enemy is your friend, a "surprise" win over the Colts would do the Jaguars a fantastic service.  So, despite the pain, the Texans are a team to watch out for.  Their defense is scary, Andre Johnson is fantastic, and Alex Gibbs will punish defensive linemen.

Give them their due, but I fully expect the Jaguars to sweep the series.  Come on, what do you expect?  If the Jagaurs lose to the Texans early on, we'll know full and well that thinking about a Super Bowl is horribly premature.  More so than the early Colts game, the week 4 matchup against the Texans is a barometer for the Jaguars season.  An easy win is a good sign, a struggle to put them away will raise an eyebrow, and an outright loss changes everything.

When we consider the season, it's tempting to focus on Indianapolis, but don't forget the lesson of years past, never, ever, ever let your guard down with Houston.

-Chris