NFL Nation: Gary Kubiak
Now that the veteran safety's had his hip scoped, owner Bob McNair said Reed should be back for training camp, or by the middle of camp at the worst. (Here's Tania Ganguli's story from the Houston Chronicle.)
As Reed misses offseason work, second-round pick D.J. Swearinger should be the beneficiary -- playing with the first team before shifting into a reduced role once Reed is full speed and taking his full load of reps.
That's a silver lining.
A highly-regarded rookie gets significant action right from the start in a bit of a baptism by fire while the veteran is in his ear.
Reed, in turn, is a smart, experienced player who won't suffer much for having missed the time and will have enough practice to get a solid sense of the guys who will be lining up around him.
Swearinger will be better equipped to play as the Texans' third safety after working as their second safety.
I do think the Texans could look to trade down to a team wanting a quarterback before the needy teams come around again in the second round. Then Houston could get its receiver early in the second round instead of late in the first.
Keenan Allen has nice size and sufficient speed and quickness, and even if he doesn’t grow into Johnson’s successor, I believe Allen can be a quality No. 2 receiver. The question is how quickly?
Gary Kubiak and the staff will work hard to get him up to speed and he could do some things in their offense right from the start.
The draft so far:
1. KC: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
2. JAC: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
3. MIA: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (Trade)
4. PHI: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
5. DET: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
6. CLE: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
7. ARI: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
8. BUF: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
9. NYJ: Barkevious Mingo, OLB-DE, LSU
10. TEN: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
11. SD: Jonathan Cooper, G, UNC
12. OAK: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU (Trade)
13. NYJ: Tavon Austin, WR, WVU
14. CAR: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
15. NO: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
16. STL: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
17. PIT: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
18. DAL: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
19. NYG: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
20. CHI: Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
21. CIN: John Cyprien, S, FIU
22. STL: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
23. MIN: Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC
24. IND: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
25. MIN: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
26. GB: Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
27. HOU: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Follow our draft as it continues to unfold, right here.
I was really surprised when he said this: “I know they’re installing the same offense that I’ve been in the past seven years. It’s a fun offense to be in. It’s going to be a good transition, a smooth transition.”
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesKevin Walter caught 41 passes for 518 yards for the Texans during the 2012 regular season.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is a disciple of the late Mike Heimerdinger, and Heimerdinger was a disciple of Mike Shanahan, just like Gary Kubiak is.
In language and philosophy there will be a lot of similarities.
It will usually be a run-first scheme with a lot of play-action. We will see Jake Locker rolling out and running the sort of bootlegs Matt Schaub executes in Houston.
But I think it’ll look more like Houston’s offense from Walter’s vantage point than it will from ours. I don’t expect we’re going to do a double take and look to the sideline to see if Kubiak is calling the plays.
The Titans will utilize plenty of zone blocking, but I don’t think they will be close to exclusively zone the way the Texans are. If they add Chance Warmack in the draft, they’ll be adding a major power element.
Walter’s new team lacks the clear-cut No. 1 receiver who keys much of what the Texans do in Houston thanks to Andre Johnson.
And the Titans' use of an H-back will be completely different than what Houston does.
Mike Munchak hired the tight ends coach, George Henshaw, who was with the franchise when Frank Wycheck (now a radio colleague of mine) was putting up big numbers as an H-back. Tennessee signed Delanie Walker to operate in much the same fashion, and that’s different than what Houston does.
When Heimerdinger landed in Nashville in 2000, he absorbed some of the offensive principles left behind by Les Steckel, particularly the use of the H-back since it rated as a strength of the offense that was in place.
While Chris Palmer’s term as offensive coordinator rated a failure, Loggains worked closely with him and will likely carry some Palmer stuff that he liked best.
So in terms of offensive foundation, there will be a lot of similarities and Walter will feel right at home. The final product, however, will hardly be a carbon copy.
It’s one of the objections to the Texans offense for Robert Mays of Grantland, too.
"As teams find new ways to use players who don’t fit certain boxes, the Texans are trying to shove their players into them," Mays writes in a piece about the shortcomings of the Houston offense.
“... Offensively, the Texans have a specific plan, and against most teams they execute that plan well. The run game wasn’t nearly as effective last year as it had been in years past (mostly due to a lack of consistency and the resulting shuffling on the right side), but the run-first, play-action-later Houston offense still had plenty of moments. It’s when the running isn’t an option -- either because of ineffectiveness or a big deficit -- that the plan falters. Former Texans lineman Ephraim Salaam refers to it as 'staying on schedule,' but with offenses like the ones in New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay, relying on point production that can so easily come off the rails just doesn’t feel like an option anymore.”
It doesn’t feel like an option when the Patriots, Saints or Packers are blowing a game open early. And to succeed in the playoffs in the next few years, the Texans are almost invariably going to have to get past Peyton Manning’s Broncos or Tom Brady’s Patriots, if not both. (Manning was still finding his footing in Denver when the Texans won there last season.)
It’s a very well done and well-argued article.
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsUsing a run-first offensive philosophy, Houston is tied for the NFL's fifth-best record during the past two regular seasons.
"These days, very few teams lean on the straightforward zone running game for the majority of their offense," Mays writes. "[Mike] Shanahan’s new team did plenty of zone blocking this year, but it was combined with read-option looks and the constant running threat of Robert Griffin III. No offense to Matt Schaub, but I’m not sure teams are too worried about his feet.”
But what’s it matter how many or how few teams lean on a zone running game for the majority of their offense? With such a philosophy the Texans are 22-10 over the past two regular seasons.
Yes, games against some good teams with high-powered offenses came apart and couldn’t be salvaged.
That’s a problem heading forward. I’m not sure, however, that the way to fix it is to decide that a primary tenet of your organization has to be scrapped.
They've got a lot invested in this system and only four teams have a better two-year record -- Green Bay, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta. (Baltimore has fared the same in the two-season sample.)
Say you have the sixth-best team in the league, but not one of its preeminent quarterbacks.
How do you improve enough that you can get past the teams that do?
Well, Schaub needs to play better in games against those high-caliber opponents, and he needs more help to do so. Part of that help might come from enhanced schooling that gets him ready for, and gives him freedom to make, adjustments to what a defense is doing on a given play. Houston’s defense, meanwhile, needs to get a better handle on the league’s top quarterbacks, right from the start of games against them.
Yes, the Texans offense needs to evolve. Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison need to develop the new talent that is drafted, but they also need to tinker with their system, and the needed tinkering goes beyond strengthening the existing scheme or getting better at it.
What changes can they make to the scheme to ensure that it’s not over-reliant on being run-first and play-action second? How can their offense, lacking a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers at the helm, still stand toe-to-toe and be in games against those talents at the end?
I’m better at asking the questions than answering them, but I don’t doubt football minds far better than mine can solve the puzzle and increase Houston’s chances.
Is the only way to beat a high-powered team these days to become a high-powered team? If so, then no, the Texans aren’t going to find themselves getting past the second round of the playoffs, where they’ve stalled the past two years.
It’s a quarterback league, but not everybody gets to have a complete stud. The Texans aren’t going to magically land a Colin Kaepernick, particularly as they pledge their fidelity to Schaub and just gave him a giant deal a year ago.
I still believe a unique team centered around a strong running game and a strong defense can make a run with a quarterback like him, provided he doesn’t wither at key moments.
Schaub isn’t going to get more dynamic. They can get him more dynamic weapons, field a more forceful defense, peak at the end of the season instead of at the start and have a chance.
It seems better to me than suggesting they completely revamp the offense when such a revamp would require a different kind of quarterback who’s not readily available and who a lot of other teams are looking for, too.
If Glover Quin signs with the Lions, it will be a significant blow to the Texans, who also lost fullback James Casey to the Eagles.
Without Quin, a starting safety to go with Danieal Manning would rank as Houston’s top priority. It’s a good year to draft a safety, so perhaps they will be patient and start a kid in their secondary in 2013. There are a lot of quality veterans available, too. The Giants' Kenny Phillips could be a fit.
I say it’s a good time for Gary Kubiak to jiggle his offense and do away with the fullback, just allowing an H-back/tight end type to do the job as needed.
Some financial details on the Colts' signings have emerged. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus will count $7.5 million against the 2013 cap and collect $15.5 million in cash this year between bonus and salary. Adam Schefter says guard Donald Thomas’ deal is for four years and $14 million.
Jim Irsay tweeted that safety LaRon Landry was in Colts headquarters and that the team is not finished adding veteran players. He also said Robert Mathis is “going 2 RT OLB pass rusher,his perfect fit,[Erik} Walden coming n2 hold the edge at L.OLB.”
Fair or not, there is some symbolism to the first free-agent visitor for a team, particularly one under new leadership. The first known visitor for the Jaguars is uninspired: cornerback Alan Ball played poorly for the Texans last season.
As Ball's visit became known, the Jaguars announced they've signed veteran linebacker Geno Hayes, who played under Gus Bradley in Tampa Bay in 2008, when he was a sixth-round pick out of Florida State. Hayes played last year for Chicago and finished the year listed as a backup for Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker. Also not real exciting. Is he a starter in Jacksonville?
The Titans will introduce their newest players at a 5:30 ET news conference. Guard Andy Levitre and tight end Delanie Walker should be there. Running back Shonn Greene and/or defense tackle Sammie Lee Hill could be part of it as well. I’ll be there and let you know what’s said.
There have been two different reports floating around about the value of Levite's deal. It's six years, $46.5 million. Levitre will count $4.25 million against the cap this year while collecting $13 million in cash between bonus and base salary.
Walker's contract is for four years, $17.5 million.
He was a square peg in a round hole as the Texans' fullback, and while he was fine in that role it limited the Texans use of his best attribute: His hands.
On and around the team it was unquestioned that he had the best hands on the team. Yet they took advantage of that by feeding him just 1.08 catches per game in 61 contests.
The Philadelphia Eagles pounced on Casey in the first day of free agency with what John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says is a three-year, $14.5 million deal.
I know I am going out on a real limb here, but I am guessing that innovative new coach Chip Kelly is going to get the ball in Casey’s hands more than 1.08 times a game in 2013.
As he does, I’m envisioning us discussing what could have been if the Gary Kubiak and the Texans had used him more creatively and more assertively instead of relegating him to second-class citizen status in the pecking order of passing-game options.
Cap status: Pretty tight, with just over $9 million in cushion. But the Texans can gain room with a cut (receiver Kevin Walter is the prime candidate) and have lots of room for restructures with receiver Andre Johnson and/or cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
Strategy: Lay back. They are most concerned with their own guys, and safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin head that list. Lose them and they could be shoppers for replacements, but we're talking midlevel to low-level guys, not the high-priced, top-tier guys getting all of the hype as free agency opens. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has an affinity for guys who've played in his system before, so keep an eye on safety Gerald Sensabaugh and, if he's released, defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. They could patch in some guys later, but anything big early would amount to a big surprise.
Cap status: The Colts have just under $40 million of room. They pledge not to behave like it's burning a hole in their pocket.
Strategy: They will look to strike the right deals with some key new people who can fill holes and add production and leadership. It's easy to draw lines that connect Pagano to guys he's coached in Baltimore such as outside linebacker Paul Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams. They are still looking to fill out the roster with people who can play in Pagano's 3-4 front. The scheme requires at least one more cornerback who can play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Maximizing Andrew Luck's chances for success is a priority, and a couple of linemen are necessary to stay on that mission. Another receiver could be a target, too. But Grigson won't force free-agent moves and hopes to have another impact draft that will have a big bearing on how this team fares, too.
Cap status: They've got more than $26 million in cap room, but they also have a couple of empty spots on the depth chart, such as strong safety, right tackle and left guard.
Strategy: All indications are the Jaguars will slow-play free agency. They are unlikely to jump out and sign a guy or two to big contracts, as some bloated free-agent contracts are one of the issues Caldwell inherits. But Tier 2 guys who the team thinks can be pillars of a new program and lead the way for young players will be the core of the franchise moving forward. They have two guys heading into the market in linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox. They won't overpay, but losing them will create more holes. And this team is super thin at cornerback already.
Cap status: Over $16 million of room with easily makeable cuts that will save more as the team needs the room and finds guys to add to the roster.
Strategy: More aggressive than usual, in both willingness to spend and number of people they will bring in. This team needs an infusion of talent and leadership. Their top free agents -- tight end Jared Cook and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks -- are expected to leave. Look for one big signing, perhaps Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, and several more with a lower price tag. Positions that could be addressed include guard, defensive tackle, tight end, cornerback and safety. They may be waiting on their pass-rusher until the draft. This is a huge time for Webster and Munchak, who will really be putting their stamp on the roster with guys they need to lift the team to a better level of play if they want to hold on to their jobs.
Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC South team needs to address the quarterback position.
Matt Schaub didn’t finish the season with a high popularity rating among Texans fans. While he was part of a first-round playoff win over Cincinnati, he did not finish strong as the team lost three of its final four in the regular season and a divisional round game in New England. That did nothing to dent the franchise’s faith in him. Put simply, Gary Kubiak loves him. Schaub got a big contract extension before the 2012 season and is going nowhere. The backup is T.J. Yates, who played as a rookie in 2011 after injuries to Schaub and Matt Leinart. He’s a good system fit but not necessarily a dynamic player. The Texans could easily go into 2013 as is, though Kubiak said they are always on the lookout in the draft for a QB who can play 10 or 12 years.
Andrew Luck is coming off a excellent rookie year. While he threw too many picks and took too many hits, he effectively pushed the ball downfield the way coordinator Bruce Arians asked him to. The team will upgrade his protection and we’ll see a higher completion percentage as Pep Hamilton, Arians’ replacement, installs an offense with more West Coast principles. Drew Stanton was the backup in 2012 and is heading toward free agency. He could find a situation where he has a better chance to play, perhaps reuniting with Arians in Arizona. If he leaves, the Colts will be in the market for a veteran backup for Luck. It’s hard to imagine Chandler Harnish, the final pick of the 2012 draft, being ready for that role.
Blaine Gabbert is going to get a solid crack at winning the starting quarterback job. But the new regime is not married to him as the group that drafted him was. Chad Henne will be Gabbert’s primary competition. Both of them showed severe limitations during their turns as the starter in 2012. New coach Gus Bradley and new general manager David Caldwell both have been emphasizing how they want to create as much competition as possible. So a draft pick or a veteran -- or one of each -- is likely to be added to the mix as they look to sort out roles at a position where expectations are low. Jedd Fisch is the third cordinator in three years who will try to get Gabbert good.
Jake Locker is the starter heading into his third season, and the offseason will be spent crafting a team that is better equipped to take advantage of his strengths. The interior offensive line is a big rebuild project, and better play inside will help him. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over the post with five games left, will make things simpler for Locker. He was shaky in his first year as a starter, which included only 11 games because of a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck is the backup heading into the third year of a three-year contract. With a $7.5 million cap number this season, the Titans could look to extend him to cut costs and hold on to an experienced guy they like. Rusty Smith is third in line but seems unlikely to have a chance to advance beyond that.
Connor Barwin is a core player: Sure he is, as long as he’s affordable. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and there was an offer on the table as the 2012 season kicked off. He passed, and was far less productive after his gamble. General manager Rick Smith can call him core, but to me a core guy is one you can’t survive without, and they certainly should be able to replace him if he finds a free-agent deal that compels him to leave.
They seem content with what they have on the right side of the offensive line: They platooned at both right tackle and right guard in 2012, and it sounds like they’ll be content to allow Brandon Brooks or Ben Jones to slug it out at right guard (or perhaps split time again) and see Derek Newton as the right tackle going forward.
They will keep the option of a franchise tag for Glover Quin as a possibility for as long as possible: The safety tag is about $7 million. It’s a palatable number, but the Texans have only $5.768 million in cap room. If they can’t reach a long-term deal that will produce a lower salary-cap number for 2013, tagging Quin will force the team to restructure a deal or two or cut someone that helps create room.
Brooks Reed could play inside: But that doesn’t mean the Texans are planning to move him. Gary Kubiak made it sound like they want more of a contingency plan if they have the sort of issues inside like they did last season. Move Reed inside and you create a hole outside, especially if Barwin leaves.
They’re still a young team, experiencing what they need to in order to make a jump: Yada, yada. This was quite a bit of spin, but what else can Smith say at this point when evaluating where the team stands? “We’re going to continue to add players, which is what this weekend is all about,” he said. “But I see a group of men that have gotten the experience that’s necessary to go make a real run at it and I think that’s where we are right now.”
A young quarterback is always a possibility: Said Kubiak, "In this business, you better be looking for young quarterbacks you think have a chance to be a 10-, 12-year guy. This year will be no different." T.J. Yates isn’t a sure thing. But the Texans only carried two quarterbacks in 2013, so the team would have to find someone it prefers to Yates in order to draft a QB. I don’t think they spend a premium pick on the position.
The Texans still have high hopes for DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin, though Posey’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered in the playoff loss in New England. They still like Lestar Jean, too.
But Houston’s being honest: It needs a dynamic second receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and eventually, potentially, take over his mantle.
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsHouston needs a receiver able to stretch the field. Is Cal's Keenan Allen a solid fit for the team?
"So I think it’s important that we continue to strengthen our team in that area. Andre is in Year 11 or something like that now, so we’ve got to find some other guys to continue to produce alongside of him.”
The team's current No. 1, Kevin Walter, could wind up a salary-cap casualty. He does dirty work that doesn’t get enough credit, and that’s important. But if your dirty-work guy is also the second receiver on the field most of the time, it helps the offense if he’s a bigger threat against the one-on-one coverage he’s likely to draw.
Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee is likely to be gone by the time the Texans draft 24th in the first round.
Cal’s Keenan Allen and Terrance Williams of Baylor probably rate as possibilities at the spot.
Evaluators say Allen can line up outside or inside and is a smooth route runner and at 6-foot-2 and about 210 pounds, he’s got some size. Allen rates himself as a physical, Anquan Boldin-type of receiver.
He won’t run at the combine because he tweaked an old knee injury in training so questions about his speed are likely to linger until his pro day on March 14.
“I feel like I'm a starter, self-motivated, a humble guy,” Allen said. “My work ethic is there. I'm a film junkie so I'm definitely doing that type of preparation for the game.”
Williams ranks as more of a vertical guy, and stretching the field more is something the Texans need to do to pen space for Arian Foster and Owen Daniels.
“I can stretch the field in a hurry,” Williams said.
He dismissed concerns that he’s only a vertical route runner, saying that when he’s asked to run other routes he’ll prove he can do so reliably.
West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is most different from anyone the Texans already have. He’s a smaller, slot-type of guy and should bring a spark to the team that lands him. But like anyone who’s 5-8 and 174 pounds, durability is a concern.
Austin admires Wes Welker, who’s pretty much the patron saint of up-and-coming slot guys nowadays.
“I think I’m a little quicker and faster than him,” Austin said. “So I figure if he can do it, I can do it, too.”
It’s not a great receiver class overall. Pro Football Weekly rates it as a "C" group.
Houston went for guys in the middle of the draft last year and didn’t find immediate impact. A choice near the top of a middling class could do a lot for a team that could be one big piece away from being a constant matchup problem.
Tom Gower of Football Outsiders and Reading and Thinking Football sees it as a bigger need. He argues, basically, that if the Texans had a better inside linebacker to go with Brian Cushing, they wouldn’t be so quick to get out of their base defense.
That versatility would be helpful and give defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more options for how to, say, cover a tight end like Rob Gronkowski.
It’d be good if Phillips had extra alternatives, sure. The Patriots' quick-snapping offense gave the Texans all kind of troubles last season, twice. Perhaps if Houston could simply have stayed in base, we'd have seen less panic and more preparedness to matchup with what New England does so well.
So what’s general manager Rick Smith think about an inside linebacker spot where injury-prone Darryl Sharpton is the primary option at this point?
“Obviously you want the best players you can find, a guy that can stay on the field,” Smith said at the scouting combine. “You make a mistake if you try to limit yourself just to trying to fit a particular player in a particular role. I think what you try to do is you get the best football players and you let it sort itself out.”
If the team adds an inside backer who could be a three-down player, how much might Phillips change how he deploys his personnel?
“What I think is it gives him some options,” Smith said. “If we have two inside backers who can stay on the field in passing situations and matchup better against [tight ends], I think that’s a positive. If he wants to employ a three-safety system in other situations whether it’s longer distances or a blitz package or whatever it is, if he wants to employ those he can. I think the more you have players who can stay on the field and impact the game I think that’s the option, that’s the ultimate for him because it gives him the flexibility that he likes.”
There is one other possibility at play here.
If the Texans re-sign Connor Barwin, as they say they want to, then they’ll have Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus as outside linebackers.
Coach Gary Kubiak indicated they could look at Reed inside.
"He's very capable of being a stack player, playing inside in our 3-4,” Kubiak said. “Yes, that could happen. But we'd liked him as a Sam, he's a heck of a Sam player. But you've always have to have some flexibility with one player or two players in various situations when you come across like what we did last year.
“Depending on what happens with our football team moving forward right now with Connor (Barwin) and some other things, we're always looking for some flexibility."
We’ll have to stay tuned.
But with or without Barwin, I expect the Texans will be adding a linebacker in free agency or the draft. The questions remain, with how much of an investment or with how high a pick?
It wasn’t flagged, but it was illegal.
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesA low block from behind against the New York Jets ended Brian Cushing's season.
It’s too tidy to say, the Texans (legally) cut block in creating space for Arian Foster and there is irony in Cushing falling victim to a low block being a central image in this.
It’s not. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Still, any significant restriction of low blocks could hurt the Texans as much as any team in the league.
Texans general manager Rick Smith, who’s on the competition committee, and coach Gary Kubiak both discussed the potential for change regarding low blocks at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday.
“Obviously it’s a big part of what we do, I mean we cut offensively,” Kubiak said. “It’s part of the game, but I understand what the league is doing. There are some peel back situations where players are coming back toward their own goal line and cutting people, which I think we need to find a way to get cleaned up. I think the league took some steps to doing that outside the box if I am right and now they’re working on doing that inside the box. Anything they can do to make the game safer and protect players, I understand that.”
Said Smith: “That block [on Cushing] is already illegal. Where we’ve had conversation with effect to that is, in the box, it’s legal. The question that we’ve got to answer is, should it be? And I don’t think anybody thinks so, so that’s something that we’ve got to talk about and think about.”
That’s a relatively minor rule alteration and safety improvement that seems easy enough.
Let’s work together to slow the snowball that seems to be rolling regarding much more drastic measures.
Kubiak was asked for his reaction to the idea of something radical like a total ban on low blocks.
“Me? I think you know that answer,” Kubiak said. “It’s part of what we do. I think it’s part of football. We teach it the right way. Hopefully that part stays with us.”
In July, we looked at an assistant to watch on each of our four teams.
Here’s what we said then and what we think now.
Then: “While [Gary] Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will be heavily involved in the offense, a new [quarterback] coach [Karl Dorrell] is certain to have a bearing on [Matt] Schaub’s performance. And Schaub’s performance may be as important of a story as there is in the AFC South this season.”
Now: I don’t think Dorrell did a bad job, but he certainly didn’t help stop a late-season slide for Schaub, who finally got into some big games and didn’t perform particularly well in them. All three coaches didn’t do well enough to get Schaub to play up to the moment.
Then: “Can [offensive line coach Harold] Goodwin help the new group jell and have it provide quality protection for Andrew Luck and some push for a group of unproven running backs?”
Now: The line was not good, but Goodwin did not have a lot to work with. Given the patchwork nature of the group and some injuries that forced lineup shifts, I’d say Goodwin did good work. Bruce Arians certainly thought so, as he took him to Arizona to be his offensive coordinator. Goodwin’s been replaced by Joe Gilbert, who served as Goodwin’s assistant last year.
Then: “[Receivers coach Jerry] Sullivan and those receivers are all reliant on improvement from quarterback Blaine Gabbert. But they are all reasons the team expects that improvement, too.”
Now: Laurent Robinson did little before he was sidetracked by concussions and Justin Blackmon took a long time to get going. But ultimately Sullivan, a good get by Mike Mularkey as he put together his staff, did good work with Blackmon and Cecil Shorts and he was held over by new coach Gus Bradley.
Then: “An improved pass rush is a must if the Titans' defense is going to improve. [Pass rush coach Keith] Millard will be right in the middle of what happens, or what doesn’t, in that department.”
Now: The Titans jumped from 28 sacks in 2011 to 39 in 2012 with non-defensive linemen contributing 13.5. Young linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown certainly got better as rushers later in the year, a good sign regarding Millard’s influence.
We’ve just got to make more plays, they said.
It’s a blanket, clichéd and too-easy solution to a loss like this one, five weeks after a 42-14 drubbing here at Gillette Stadium.
In many ways, the 2012 Texans maxed out, and here they finished at the same stage as last year’s team, an overachieving bunch that lost several key players to injuries and rallied behind a third-string rookie quarterback.
It’s the nature of an NFL player to defend his teammates and to believe his locker room is filled with the ingredients needed to be a championship team.
“We’ve got the guys right here in this room capable of getting the job done,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “We got the job done all year to win 13 ball games. There a lot of teams out there that won three, four ball games. Of course we’re capable of doing it. It’s just about doing it all the time. I have no problem with the people we have here on this team.”
Hopefully, coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith will see more need for change than Joseph does. The Patriots aren’t going to come back to the pack in the AFC. Houston has to hunt them down. And with these two losses the Texans simply proved they don’t have enough, in scheme or in personnel, to do so.
To catch and pass the Patriots, they don’t need cosmetic surgery, they need genetic alterations.
On offense, the Texans have developed a power running game that comes out of the zone-blocking scheme and a play-action passing game that plays off of it. But they bog down in the red zone and need a receiving threat or two that can present an option in the end zone. Houston, too, needs to alter a generally conservative mindset. Sunday, it allowed for Matt Schaub, taking a snap from the New England 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with time running out, to throw a quick pass to Andre Johnson short of the end zone that allowed him to be tackled for no gain.
Defensively, the Texans need more quality depth at linebacker and in the secondary to match New England’s variety and depth of weapons. And the Patriots' attack rarely makes mistakes and typically scores a lot.
New England can simply rotate through different pieces on offense to present problems. In the regular-season game, Houston did nice work limiting Wes Welker but got clobbered by Aaron Hernandez. This time Welker turned eight catches into 131 yards while Hernandez was also an issue again.
Houston struggled with the combination of pace and personnel the Patriots weave together.
“The hurry-up, again we weren’t fully prepared for some reason,” said outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who didn’t play in the first matchup because of a groin injury. “It’s extremely hard to get the call in and line up when they are going hurry-up. They’re not going to wait for you. They’ve got plays planned out and one audible and they’ve got their play ready. Whereas we’ve got to get the call from the sideline, get lined up, recognize the formation.
“It takes us a lot more time to get lined up than they do. That’s the challenge and again that’s what kind of got us today. And making plays too, it’s them making plays not just them hurrying up. I think we could have been a little bit more prepared. We knew that was going to happen. We saw it on film, them lining up quick and defenses not being ready. We didn’t think it was going to be us and in some cases today it was.”
And questions about mental toughness will linger in the offseason. At 11-1, they controlled the AFC. They blew a first-round bye and home-field advantage and a chance at a deep run with a 2-4 finish.
Like Joseph, though, Kubiak didn’t talk of change but of staying the course.
And owner Bob McNair didn’t help with his immediate reaction, saying at least three times in his conversation with reporters that the Texans are close. (If you’re that close and you get every officiating break in the game, you should win, shouldn’t you?)
Schaub put up 343 yards in a come-front-behind effort, but was uneven. He has the continued unwavering backing of Kubiak and the franchise.
“I’ve got a ton of confidence in him. I think he’s one of the top quarterbacks in football,” Kubiak said. “You don’t get over that hump unless you’re willing to keep going back there and keep getting yourself in that position. It’s very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted for where we are tonight; it’s very hard to get there.
“We’re going to continue to push him to a new level as a player. And that’s all of us. But he’s definitely the one leading the way.”
Schaub was asked if he belongs on a list with the quarterbacks who will be playing next weekend -- Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, Matt Ryan of the Falcons, Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Tom Brady of the Patriots.
Logic at this point says Schaub does not, or he’d have advanced as they did.
“No doubt I belong,” he said. “I think I belong up there with every one of them.”
I don’t think he’s delusional, just well-programmed in what he believes a confident quarterback is supposed to say. I hope when he and his coaches review this game, that is not the conclusion they come to. They have to address the sense of panic that creeps in at moments like the middle of the third quarter, when flushed to his left from the pocket Schaub simply dropped the ball as he ran and had to dive on it for a 9-yard sack.
I’m not sure the panic problem is completely fixable. He can improve still, but he’ll be in his 10th season next year, and that deep into a career most players have become what they will be.
The Texans need to surround him with better players, particularly on the right side of the offensive line and at receiver beyond Johnson, to maximize his chances and theirs.
There is only so much they can do with the roster given salary-cap constraints. While they’ll be looking to chase the Patriots, they’ll also need to hold off Indianapolis in the AFC South, and the Colts have plenty of money to spend as they look to build on a breakout season.
After the playoff loss in Baltimore last season, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and his teammates made a pact to get to the Super Bowl this year.
“This was not an achievement to any of us,” he said of finishing a second season in a row on the road in the divisional round. “It’s the biggest disappointment you can have.”
“It’s always a gut-check, proving the naysayers right.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 41-28 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium:
What it means: The end of the road for the Texans, who finish 13-5. A season that once looked like it could end at the Super Bowl in New Orleans crumbled at the end, with two losses at New England in five weeks. This is a team that is still not complete enough to rank as a legitimate championship contender and that certainly doesn’t measure up to the Patriots.
What I didn’t like: Matt Schaub had his moments, but there is no way to come out of this game convinced he’s a championship quarterback. On one panicked scramble, he simply dropped the ball. Later he threw a pass for James Casey that had no chance not to be intercepted by dropping end Rob Ninkovich. The Texans took too long to figure out how to get their run game going, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen consistently hurt the defense. The Texans overestimated their ability to contain Wes Welker based on what they did in the first meeting and he ate them up with eight catches for 131 yards. Tom Brady topped 300 yards against a pass rush and defensive backfield that couldn’t do much to slow him at crucial moments.
What I did like: Arian Foster carried 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown and caught seven passes for 63 yards and another score. Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 95 yards and grabbed a 2-point conversion. The return games were a major highlight, but Danieal Manning lacks breakaway speed that could have turned big returns into touchdowns. The two scores for 13 points late in the first half to get it to 17-13 at intermission were impressive. But the Patriots came out of the break, drove to a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter and never looked back. Houston fought to within 38-28 in the fourth quarter, and they can talk about fighting to the end.
A lot of breaks: Gary Kubiak won a fourth-quarter challenge that resulted in a 25-yard DeVier Posey touchdown reception. Bill Belichick lost a fourth-quarter challenge on a fourth-down spot that went in Houston’s favor. The Texans also had a Foster touchdown run upheld. Owen Daniels got away with what looked like a fumble when officials made a quick call on forward progress being stopped. Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a ball at an official when he may have just been tossing it back to a zebra who wasn’t looking. The Texans may have gotten away with a running into the kicker penalty after a Zoltan Mesko punt. Even with all those going in their favor, the Texans couldn’t finish closer than 10.
What’s next: This team needs an honest assessment of where it stands, and that means some additions of note in the offseason beyond the return of Brian Cushing. The Texans platooned mediocre people at right tackle and right guard and need to get at least one big-time guy who fits their system to plug in there, not count on the development of the three youngsters involved to graduate into solid players. They need depth at the inside linebacker and the secondary needs an upgrade. Better mental toughness and play in the clutch from Schaub is a lot to ask, but is something else they need to have a chance in games like this. They could wind up in more of a fight with Indianapolis for the AFC South crown than battling teams like New England for AFC supremacy.