NFL 2014 Preview: Houston Texans

J.J. Watt is getting some pass rush help with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Houston Texans.

Last year’s record: 2-14

Coach: Bill O’Brien

2014 is about… Getting after the quarterback: Despite finishing with the worst record in the league, Houston still ranked No. 7 in total defence last season. The unit could be even stronger with the addition of 2014 first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans do not have a franchise quarterback with underwhelming veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick pegged to start so for Houston to be competitive right away, they’ll need to rely on the pass rushing tandem of Clowney and 2012 defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. The 25-year-old Watt has blown up opposing game plans quite a bit in his first three NFL seasons and adding Clowney, who has a downright scary combination of speed and power, should help make lives miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Core players: J.J. Watt (DE), Andre Johnson (WR), Arian Foster (RB).

But they lost… Matt Schaub (QB), who quarterbacked the Texans the last seven seasons and once led the NFL in passing yards (2009). The two-time Pro Bowler was shipped to Oakland after long-time head coach Gary Kubiak was fired. Ben Tate (RB), the former backup to Foster who was a very productive runner when healthy, signed with the Cleveland Browns. Tate averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his four-year stint in Houston. Owen Daniels (TE), a reliable veteran tight end who exceeded 50 catches and 600 receiving yards in two of his last three seasons. He joined Kubiak with the Baltimore Ravens.

Yeah, but they got… Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB), who will replace Schaub as the starting quarterback. Considering his history of erratic play, it remains to be seen if Fitzpatrick will be an upgrade; Romeo Crennel (DC), who may be the most impactful addition considering how little the team added in free agency. Crennel has been a head coach before and is one of the most experienced defensive co-ordinators around the league.

Growing from within: DeAndre Hopkins (WR), last year’s first-round pick should see a huge spike in production in his second season. Hopkins, who teams up with Andre Johnson to give Houston a dynamic pair of dynamic receivers, finished second of all NFL rookies with 802 receiving yards. With Daniels moving on, Garrett Graham (TE), who finished third on the Texans in targets, receptions, and receiving yards last year, has a chance to become a full-time starter for the first time in his career. He should have a significant role in the passing game. D.J. Swearinger (S), who finished third on the team in total tackles in his rookie year with Houston can improve on his ball skills. The five-foot-ten safety had just one interception in 2013.

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Why this team? It’s common for teams with new head coaches to go from worst to first. More than any other last-place team in the AFC, the Texans have the clearest route to the playoffs. They have a light schedule that includes only three playoff teams from last year and they play in the weakest division in the conference. In fact, the last two teams to finish with the No. 1 pick made the playoffs the following year.

Why not? With the quarterback position being so crucial in today’s NFL, it was a bit puzzling that the Texans didn’t add more capable talent to the roster. Outside of Fitzpatrick, the Houston’s only addition at quarterback was 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage, who has all the tools to be successful but is an incredibly raw prospect. Another large question mark for the Texans looms with Foster. His body began to show signs of wearing down last season and many wonder how he’ll adjust to a new offensive scheme that isn’t as running-back friendly as the Texans’ prior offence.

Perfect for fans of… Nashville Predators: Both are defensive-oriented teams that include a star (Shea Weber/J.J. Watt) mixed in with a potential superstar (Seth Jones/Jadeveon Clowney). Both are recent expansion teams that had a decent run of playoff appearances before falling back down to the bottom of the standings. Coincidentally, both teams happened to fire their long-time coaches following disappointing seasons where they were struck by injuries.

How much hope? 5/10: If not for Fitzpatrick, this number would be higher. The Texans have a lot of the pieces in place to compete for a playoff spot, but cannot have Super Bowl aspirations until they find a better option at quarterback. In the short-term, they can model themselves after the 2013 Chiefs, who finished last in 2012 but made the playoffs the following season thanks to a new head coach, solid running game, quality defence, and a risk-averse quarterback that limit his mistakes. Sound familiar?

Will you be mocked for front-running? Well, considering they had the lowest win total in the league last year, this question doesn’t really apply.

A Meme To Remember: The Texans are hoping this isn’t the case:

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