The Houston Texans Passing Game, Or Lack Thereof
Despite the Houston Texans first-year head coach Bill O'Brien's philosophy to employ a run-heavy offense, today's NFL requires teams to air it out more often than not. Rule changes in recent years practically beg for the passing game. And frankly, teams that don't will not see much success.
Houston will depend on its defense to prevent high-scoring affairs, and they will allow Arian Foster and company to keep the pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But, as mentioned above, today's NFL protects the quarterback and lets receivers roam freely. Therefore, even the stingiest and most potent of defenses will not hold a team to less than 20 points per game. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, were the only team last season to average less than 15 points allowed per game.
The defending champions defeated the Texans, 23-20, in a week four matchup on September 29. It would be the second consecutive defeat in what would be a 14-game active losing streak. During the skid, Houston scored more than 25 points in a game a grand total of one time.
Undoubtedly, it's a forgettable three-month stretch in the midst of what was the most trying season in franchise history. Going into this season, the team's defense is sure to be improved, but there is no question that the Texans will need to exceed 25 points in a game more than three times, as they did last season.
Assuming Foster has recovered from his injuries and is primed for a comeback season, Fitzpatrick and the rest of the offense will be fine -- not great, but fine. Even then, lighting up the scoreboard is not to be expected. Foster and Houston's complementary running backs keeping the opposing defense honest will set up a few playaction long balls, and Fitzpatrick's arm is capable of throwing it deep.
The question, then, becomes to whom is Fitzpatrick throwing the deep balls too?
It hasn't gone unnoticed that Andre Johnson is disgruntled and holding out. There was a sliver of hope earlier this week when Johnson picked up the offensive playbook. The holdout remains, however, and the 33-year-old still prefers a trade and would rather avoid a rebuilding season.
Side note: If the face of the franchise is certain that the Texans are not going anywhere this season, then why should anyone think otherwise? Perhaps the Texans should have worried about improving their subpar offense, starting with drafting a quarterback or obtaining a better prospect through a trade or free agency, than going with Clowney to shore up an already solid defense. I've said this before and I'll say it again: If the fate of your season was riding on a journeyman who has done next to nothing since signing a six-year, $59 million ($24 million guaranteed) contract with Buffalo in 2011, then you should look around the league for a better situation.
Anyway, Johnson's 1,407 yards ranked second in the AFC last season and his 109 receptions more than doubled Houston's second receiver, DeAndre Hopkins.
Needless to say, losing the former All-Pro would leave a big hole in O'Brien's offense and put immense pressure on Hopkins, heading into his sophomore campaign. But that's probably not going to happen. The Texans aren't going to take the significant financial hit — an $11.96 million hit, to be exact — and the team has Johnson signed through 2016.
Accoring to Texans reporter Tania Ganguli, "Despite his absence, Johnson remained in contact with first-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien, whose public comments about Johnson have been consistently positive. O'Brien said he had no concerns about Johnson being able to pick up the team's offense when he did arrive."
With or without Johnson, O'Brien and Fitzpatrick will need stellar play from the receivers. The aforementioned Hopkins accumulated 802 yards on 52 receptions —18 of which came in the first three games of the season. Presumably a deep threat, Hopkins is expected to surpass the two touchdowns he scored last season.
DeVier Posey, who appeared in 14 games last season and caught 15 balls, will be in the mix, as will fellow third-year receiver Keshawn Martin. The former Michigan State standout snagged 22 receptions for 253 yards, including two touchdowns last year.
Fitzpatrick will likely depend on his tight ends Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin, and C.J. Fiedorowicz. Graham was efficient in 11 starts to the tune of 49 receptions for 545 yards and five touchdowns. Griffin added 19 receptions, and will compete with the third-round pick Fiedorowicz for playing time.
Of course, Foster is as capable a pass-catching running back as there is in the NFL. His career-high 66 receptions in 2010 have been decreased each season since: 53, 40, and 22 in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Still, Hopkins, Posey, Martin, Graham and Fiedorowicz are not keeping opposing defensive coordinators awake at nights, especially not with Fitzpatrick taking snaps.
With Johnson, and superior quarterbacks (Matt Schaub and Case Keenum) last season, the Texans ranked tied for 10th in the NFL with 371 receptions, 15th in receiving yards, and tied for 25th in touchdown receptions.
And they struggled to score.
Let's pretend Johnson is traded and/or takes his holdout into the season. We already mentioned the inevitable struggles from the team's starting quarterback, the run-heavy offense and the lackluster remainder of the offense. So if last season's formidable team struggled to score, then what is to be expected from this year's squad?
Moreover, how great does the defense have to be to keep the team in contention?
The answers to those two questions, if you ask me, are: not much and one of the greatest of all time.