In preparation for the upcoming NFL season, Coltzilla’s Greg Cowan sat down with bloggers that cover each of the Colts’ AFC South rivals. First in the series is an interview with Battle Red Blog writer Patrick Haughton. Blogging under the name UprootedTexan, Patrick mixes football knowledge, wit, and a great sense of humor to help inform and entertain readers.
In an effort to get to know the 2011 Houston Texans better we spoke about the changes on the defensive side of the ball, from new defensive coordinator Wade Philips to the Texans’ free agent acquisitions. We also spoke about standout wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster, and what kind of production we can expect from them this season. Finally, we spoke about quarterback Matt Schaub and head coach Gary Kubiak, and the pressure these two men are under to make the playoffs this year.
With the news that Manning is OUT for Week 1, sit back, grab a vodka, and enjoy:
Greg Cowan: The Texans seem to be the hot choice by the media to win the AFC South this year. The Texans, I think it’s fair to say, have had trouble living up to expectations in the past, how do you think they will deal with the lofty expectations from the start?
Patrick Haughton: In terms of schedule, it’s going to hinge a lot on their first six games. If they can get through stretch 3-3 or better, then I think they have a chance to finally, finally live up to expectations and make their first playoff appearance. But if we’re talking about how they as a team will handle it, I think it’ll be markedly different from years past. The Texans look like they’re playing with confidence and, dare I say, swagger.
This is not the Houston Texans I’ve been familiar with most of my life.
GC: Part of the reason for these higher expectations is the off-season hiring of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. How has the fan base reacted to the Wade Phillips addition, and how has the team looked in the new scheme so far?
PH: Every morning when I wake up, I say three “Hail Wades” and a “Stations of the Phillips” to show how grateful I am to have him as the Texans’ defensive coordinator. After four years of complete ineptitude in the forms of Richard Smith and Frank Bush, we’re just incredibly grateful to have someone at DC that has at least some idea of what he’s doing. The defense, even though it’s only preseason (obligatory caveat), looks miles ahead of last year’s defense.
Give you an example: Last preseason, the Texans got 8 sacks, 4 interceptions, allowed 296.8 YPG and allowed 12 touchdowns and surrendered a total of 88 points. In three games this year, the Texans have 14 sacks, 3 interceptions, allowed a league leading 248.7 YPG and given up all of 4 touchdowns and allowed 37 points. Again, it’s preseason, so I have to temper expectations, but quality defense is not something we are accustomed to seeing.
GC: Along those same lines, Mario Williams as a linebacker: Genius or madness?
PH: Is Mad Genius an option? Considering that Mario has a) never played linebacker at any point in his career and b) hasn’t had a whole lot of time in the offseason to learn the position, I think he’s doing pretty well. As he’s gotten more time in the role, he’s getting more and more accustomed to the position and it really showed in the game against San Francisco last Saturday. He nearly got a sack and this was after essentially hurdling over a running back to get to the quarterback. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the DeMarcus Ware clone everybody hopes he becomes, but I think he’ll be pretty damn good when it comes right down to it.
Not only that, but with teams fretting over how to stop a 6’7″ 280 lb. linebacker, it’s giving the rest of the defense a chance to get their licks in on the quarterback as well. And if the Mario at OLB experiment blows up in Wade Phillips’ face, it’s hardly the end of the world. As Rivers McCown posted over at Battle Red Blog, if Williams doesn’t work out at OLB, then they can franchise him as a linebacker (which would be $3 million cheaper than if he were still a defensive end) and move him back to the line and address the position in the draft or free agency with the money they’d save from Mario’s contract and, in theory, shedding Antonio Smith’s contract.
GC: The Texans were one of the worst defenses in the league last year, do you think the additions of free agent acquisitions Jonathan Joseph and Daniel Manning, along with the scheme change will turn the Texans into a top-16 defense?
PH: Top 16 might be a bit of a stretch, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happened. The Texans had a historically bad secondary last season, and most of the yardage gained against the Texans came against the pass. Having Joseph and Manning in the secondary and Quin moved to safety (which, from all reports I’ve heard, he’s been very good there) means that teams won’t be able to pass on the Texans all willy-nilly like they did last year.
What does concern me about this defense is how they’re starting to give up yards in the running game. Again, I don’t know if that’s just growing into the 3-4 or if it’s going to be a legitimate concern this season.
GC: Other than Mario at outside linebacker, who is the one Texans defender that needs to step up?
PH: There’s quite a few I can think of off the top of my head. Kareem Jackson’s the easy pick, because he had such an awful rookie year last year and hasn’t impressed much in the preseason. I don’t know if Shaun Cody or Earl Mitchell will start at nose tackle, and Brian Cushing needs to show that 2010 was an anomaly as opposed to 2009.
If I had to pick, I would say Cushing needs to step up, badly. He played middle linebacker in the 4-3 briefly last year after DeMeco Ryans went down with an achilles tendon tear and didn’t do very well. Inside linebacker is a different beast than MLB, and Cushing hasn’t played that position either. And again, if Cushing doesn’t do well, teams will be able to run at will against the Texans since the inside linebackers are responsible for stopping running backs that get through the line.
GC: Let’s switch our focus to offense now. Arian Foster has certainly won my respect as a cool guy after owning Colin Cowherd on twitter, but I’m still concerned about his on field performance. Will he be able to overcome a bad hamstring and a coach that likes to change running backs more than Jack Del Rio smirks to have a repeat of last year’s stellar numbers? Should fantasy players be concerned about Derrick Ward or Ben Tate stealing too many carries?
PH: I think that’s a bit of a misunderstanding. Kubiak isn’t like his mentor, Mike Shanahan (i.e. Skeletor). If Slaton hadn’t had a miserable 2009 season (and really the running game was virtually non-existent that year) he would probably still be the starter for the Texans. Generally the team just has had bad luck when it comes to running backs. The hamstring for Foster is something of a concern, however we’ve not been given any legitimate (ESPN doesn’t count) reason to worry that the hamstring will keep him out for any length of time, if at all.
I don’t know if he’ll be able to repeat last year’s numbers, per se. They’ll be good, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think he’ll get 2,200 yards from scrimmage again like last year; simply because teams now have a full season of film on him and will be game-planning for him more than ever before. Also, I don’t think Tate, and especially Ward, will cut too much into Foster’s carries. Last season, Foster received 76.4% of all carries last season. Plus Kubiak likes having one running back do most of the running for his team.
Also, you’re sick for asking me about Foster’s fantasy football implications!
GC: Andre Johnson is clearly one of the most physically gifted and talented receivers in the league, but he does show up on the injury report a lot. Is this the year Johnson can play a full regular season, and if not, can the Texans win the division without him? Are there any reliable receivers on the team outside of Johnson and Kevin Walter?
PH: Andre Johnson’s only missed 13 games in his entire 8 year career, and seven of those came in 2007-08. Sure he gets on the injury report sometimes but it doesn’t stop him from getting on the field. I think it would be a lot harder without him, but I think the Texans can win the division without him.
Since the Texans hired Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator, the team has put more of an emphasis on running than passing. Granted it’s been all of one season, but still the team has run the ball better, and more frequently than other seasons.
As for reliable receivers beyond Johnson and Walter? Unfortunately, I wouldn’t trust Jacoby Jones to catch a cold without dropping it and rest of the receiving corps will probably be in flux until final cuts are made. I think Jeff Maehl, who’s kind of a long shot to make the team, could be a reliable receiver, but he hasn’t shown enough in preseason to prove he deserves to be on the roster.
GC: Matt Schaub was lauded as a great quarterback before he ever took a snap as a starter. How do you feel about the Schaub era in Houston? Is the fan base comfortable with him? Does he take any of the blame for the team’s inability to make the playoffs? If the team has another 6-10, 7-9, 8-8 season does the team consider drafting a quarterback early in next year’s draft?
PH: I feel a lot better having Schaub than I did having Carr around. Considering we didn’t see a whole lot of Schaub when he was playing in Atlanta, I think we got a steal for him. For the most part, we think he’s been a great quarterback; even though he’ll make us nuts with the occasional underthrown pass and mind-meltingly stupid interception. And there are some who still, for reasons I will never understand, want Vince Young or some other quarterback other than Schaub; but those fans are few and far between.
I don’t think anyone can rationally say that he’s responsible for the Texans’ struggles. Schaub doesn’t cover wide receivers, he doesn’t rush the passer, and he doesn’t call the plays. I think most of the problems of the last couple of years, especially last year, have been on the defense for giving up scores like the easy girl in high school, and Kubiak for hiring Frank Bush and Richard Smith as well as making the more-than-occasional baffling play call on offense. Schaub has been everything as advertised and then some.
As for drafting a quarterback, I would say there’s no chance of it happening. Kubiak drafted T.J. Yates out of North Carolina just this year and he’s the current project quarterback. So I don’t expect him to give up on Yates any time soon and no reason to draft another quarterback.
GC: Outside of Schaub, Johnson, and Foster, who is the one offensive player that needs to step up in order for the team to have the kind of success they want?
PH: Owen Daniels had a really sub-par season last year, if this is going to become Gary Kubiak’s Flying Circus, Owen Daniels needs to step up again and show why he was a pro-bowl tight end in years past.
GC: Gary Kubiak – is he a good coach? How do fans feel about him? Is this his make or break season?
PH: I think he is a great offensive coordinator. Nobody can plan an offensive scheme and develop offensive talent like he does. But, that being said, I don’t think he’s that good a coach. His play-calling is suspect and the people he hires to call plays on defense have been nothing short of disastrous; which is why I think Wade Phillips wasn’t his choice for DC, rather it was owner Bob McNair’s call.
We Texans fans, since hiring Wade Phillips have been willing to give Kubiak another chance to make the playoffs. But make no mistake, if he fails to make the playoffs again, his tenure as Texans’ head coach will end. This year he has a competent defensive coordinator, an overhauled defense, particularly in the secondary, and a top-4 offense (based on total yards) to play with. If he can’t make the playoffs this year, he never will.
I want to thank Patrick for his time. If you want to hear more about your enemies, be sure to download this week’s Check it to Pancakes podcast, where I’ll have a live interview covering all of these topics, and more. We will also check back in with Patrick as the
nightmare season rolls on.