- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Five of us asked to pick the AFC South have the Texans finishing second.
While Peyton Manning's injury in Indianapolis can be a factor in the division, I have some trouble putting too much faith in the Texans based on their long-term lack of killer instinct and overall team personality. (More on that coming later today.)
Here’s my intelligence report on Houston. You can find it along with the predictions, a draft element from Mel Kiper and a look inside the numbers from Stats & Information here.
Five things you need to know about the Texans:
1. Revamped and coordinated: Wade Phillips' restructuring of the Texans into a 3-4 is not as radical as it's been painted to be. Most of the guys up front will have the same responsibilities they've had in the past, and offenses will have a much harder time predicting where the fourth pass-rusher and any extras are coming from. If Mario Williams is more comfortable as an outside linebacker by opening day against the Colts, things will really be on the upswing defensively. DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing stand to be tackling machines in the system, and along with Williams, Connor Barwin and rookie Brooks Reed stand to be impact rushers from the outside linebacker slots.
2. Run game sets the tone: The Texans ran all over the Colts in the opener last season and won, then forgot the formula for success in the rematch. Gary Kubiak is a passing-game guru, but fewer throws mean better things for Houston. Arian Foster, despite a nagging hamstring, can be magic behind the Texans' line, and the team will have a deep stable of changeups at running back as well. And the better they run it, the more effective Matt Schaub's play-action and bootleg passing game will be.
3. Secondary should be better: The 2010 Texans were simply overwhelmed in the secondary and gave up yards at an alarming rate. Pass targets simply ran with too much room and too easily gained separation. The plan that had so many kids playing together was a flawed one. Enter free-agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free-agent safety Danieal Manning. Each should be a major settling force. They will be resources for Glover Quin, the best corner last season who's shifting to safety, and to Kareem Jackson, if the team stubbornly leaves him in the starting lineup rather than going with Jason Allen at the start. The unit has contested far more balls in practice and it should translate. Move from terrible to average and the big picture improves a great deal.
4. Targets are sufficient: Much is made of the steady but unspectacular Kevin Walter and the inconsistent Jacoby Jones as the team's receivers beyond Andre Johnson. But the fact is that tight end Owen Daniels is the second option in the passing game. The Texans can, and will, sometimes line up with Daniels, Joel Dreessen and tight end-turned-fullback James Casey on the field together with the ability to bunch things up or spread things out depending who's on the field defensively and what matchups are most favorable.
5. Killer instinct: It's a theme the Texans probably get sick of hearing about, but they can easily do away with it by showing a good deal more of it. This was a slow-starting offense a year ago, and in crunch time it was a team that too often failed to throw, or land, the needed knockout punch. Players know people are tired of hearing about Houston as a potential breakout team and a new playoff entry. That doubt can be a driving force. But if this team fails to quiet it, major change awaits.