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What went wrong? Cornerbacks

1/22/2014

We approach the end of the defensive half of our position-by-position series examining what went wrong with the Houston Texans.

This wasn't a team that lacked talent, but one that often became enveloped by an impending sense of doom when things went bad, especially late in the season.

Defensively, the Texans faced a strange dichotomy for a while. They weren't allowing many yards, but were allowing too many points. Part of it was the fact that their offense turned the ball over so regularly and they themselves couldn't create many turnovers.

Having already discussed safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive linemen and offensive linemen, let's wrap up defense with cornerbacks today.

Key Players: Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Brice McCain, Brandon Harris

What went wrong: Week after week Jackson committed costly penalties he didn't understand. Each time came the same lament of defensive backs leaguewide: How do they expect us to play defense with these rules? Jackson vowed not to change his style. He finished the season having committed seven penalties for a league-high 174 yards during the regular season. Six of those penalties came in the first half of the season, and they hurt the Texans, who weren't always in agreement with the calls. In the Texans' final eight games, Jackson only committed one penalty, albeit a 35-yarder.

Per Pro Football Focus's player ratings, Joseph was the Texans' highest-rated cornerback. He ranked 24th among corners who played in at least 50 percent of their team's defensive snaps and allowed the fifth-lowest completion percentage. The lowest-rated corner among all players with the same participation filter was Texans cornerback Brice McCain. McCain, the Texans' nickel corner who often looked lost, was also the lowest-rated when you expanded the filter to include all players who played in at least 25 percent of the team's snaps.

Reason for hope? The future of this position will be interesting to watch. Jackson will enter a contract year if the Texans don't opt to extend his deal this offseason. Joseph's cap number is astronomical in 2014: $11.25 million. That's huge, but the Texans need him so I'd be surprised if he were a cap casualty. They need to upgrade from McCain in the slot.