Whether you think the Texans, as evidenced by consecutive 8-8 records, are on the verge of true success or are mired in mediocrity, the truth is a few breaks here and a few breaks there and the Texans can make their first trip to the NFL playoffs. The Texans played meaningful games in December last season. Playing in January must be the goal this season. The Arizona Cardinals played in the Super Bowl last season, for crying out loud. Surely the Texans are capable of making the playoffs. The more of the following that happen, the higher the Texans chances of making the playoffs are.
1. Matt Schaub plays 16 games. Schaub, when healthy (or when Jared Allen doesn’t cheap shot him) is capable of becoming a top ten NFL quarterback and can lead the Texans high-powered offense into the playoffs. Imagine if the Sage-en-copter game never happened. Imagine if Schaub had been playing against the Colts in Week 3. Would he try and hurdle over the Colts defense? Not likely. Would he have led the Texans to victory in that game. Maybe, maybe not. But we all know Sage Rosenfels did not. With the chemistry between Schaub and All-World Andre Johnson, along with Owen Daniels and Steve Slaton, the Texans offense is capable of playing at a high level. All that is needed is a constant leader under center.
2. Another pass rusher emerges. Last season, the only constant source of pressure was Super Mario Williams, who netted nearly half of the team’s sacks. If another player capable of constantly applying pressure develops or arrives, the Texans front seven will be playoff ready. Imagine if teams were forced to game plan blocking more than just Mario. Whether the pressure comes from Antonio Smith, Amobi Okoye or a rookie linebacker or rush specialist, pressure must arrive for the Texans to take the next step.
3. Amobi Okoye lives up to the hype. Drafted as the youngest player in the NFL out of Louisville, Okoye has had a few seasons to grow up into an NFL player. If he can apply pressure from the middle of the defensive line, the Texans can enter the second season for the first time. Even if he does not register double digit sacks, pressure from the middle, flushing quarterbacks towards Super Mario, will push the Texans toward the playoffs.
4. The offense cuts down on turnovers. This one is easy enough: cut down on fumbles, cut down on interceptions. Even with horrendous turnover numbers and an awful turnover ratio, the Texans were competitive and boasted superior offensive numbers. Playing smarter football will be a key in playing playoff football.
5. Improve in the redzone. Both the offense and the defense must play better in the redzone. Offensively, perhaps finding a bigger back to compliment Steve Slaton can increase the Texans redzone performance. Settling for field goals contributed to the Texans losing 4 games by a touchdown or less. Scoring opportunities must be converted into touchdowns if they Texans want to play anything other than golf in January. On the other side of the ball, tightening up in the redzone is a priority. Whether the improvement comes from the front seven or the backfield, better and smarter play is a must.
6. Play aggressive defense. When the Texans began playing more aggressively toward the end of the season, the team won more games. Bringing heat from all angles is the hallmark of recent Super Bowl winners Pittsburgh and New England. Now, I’m not saying the Texans have to sport one of the top defenses in the league or lead the league in sacks. Even middle of the road defense, when coupled with a top offense, can lead the Texans into the playoffs. Letting players attack and dictate the action, rather than sit on the hands and react to the offense, is a step in the right direction.
What do you think is needed for the Texans to take the next step?