Going into the offseason, the Texans were in need of help along the defensive side of the ball. The offense was at times inconsistent but definitely high-powered and explosive. Rookie Steve Slaton was a steal in the third round and led the team in rushing. Andre Johnson was, well, Andre Johnson, at worst the second or third best receiver in football.
Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter were highly effective in the passing game and the offensive line, anchored by former whipping boy Chester Pitts, played strongly. Hopes that Matt Schaub can stay healthy and lead the Texans into the playoffs are still strong, despite some injury issues (cheap shots from Jared Allen aside). The offense is not the problem.
What kept the good guys out of the playoffs (where the Dallas Cowboys also found themselves, but that’s another story for another time) besides the Sage-o-copter was the defense, specifically in its inability to generate turnovers and sacks. The Texans ranked 22nd in overall defense, had only 25 sacks (12 from Super Mario), 12 interceptions and forcing 15 fumbles. In order to take the next step, the Texans need to generate more turnovers and keep their defense on the sidelines.
In free agency, the team added defensive line depth with Antonio Smith and Shaun Cody. Neither of these additions is on the same level as Mario Williams but will add pressure from the other side (Smith) and depth (Cody). Amobi Okoye may turn the corner this year and develop into a pass rush threat from the interior of the line, but the real difference maker or makers will come via the draft.
An outside linebacker who can cover the tight end and rush the passer is a must. Options include Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing from USC and Virginia’s Clint Sintim. Problems exist with each of these players, however. Matthews did not start until his senior year.
Cushing did not cover the tight end and actually came off the field in passing situations. Sintim played in a 3-4 and may not be bulky enough to cover the AFC’s elite tight ends.
Another idea is to take the best available player in Round 1 and target a ball-hawking safety such as Oregon’s Patrick Chung or Missouri’s William Moore in round 2 and a pass rushing specialist in round 3. Utah’s Paul Kruger comes to mind. Perhaps Georgia Tech’s Michael Johnson will fall to the Texans in round 2 or 3.
While football traditionalists will claim that a strong pass rush can hide a suspect secondary, adding reinforcements in the defensive backfield is another direction the Texans can go in the first round. Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins or Illinois’ Vontae Davis are thought by most to be the only first round talents at corner in this year’s draft.
If the Texans select a pass rusher in the first round, other corner options lurk in later rounds, including DJ Moore of Vanderbilt and the all-powerful ESS-EEE-SEE, small but quick Alphonso Smith from Wake Forest, and UConn’s Darius Butler.
Whichever direction the Texans go in is likely to help the team. Keep in mind this regime is the only in football that can claim 3 Pro Bowlers from the 2006 class, including Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels.