If you were to tell me 200 days ago that the Houston Texans would have the number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, I’d laugh at you and ask what you did with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Alas, here we are, just months away from the NFL Draft. And the Houston Texans are picking number one.
How did this happen? How did a team just one year removed from a playoff victory win just two games the following season, going on a 14-game losing streak?
Well, there were a lot of reasons.
The best player on the Texans is, by far, JJ Watt. And I say that as an unbiased fellow JJ, too.
According to AdvancedNFLStats.com, Watt led all defensive players in Win Probability Added. Unfortunately, the defense as a whole struggled, and I’ll get to that later.
It’s really difficult to find good from any team that goes 2-14. In fact, the Texans were so bad that three of their four major numberFire metrics (pass and rush offense, pass and rush defense) ranked 26th or worse among all NFL teams. The run defense, for what it’s worth, finished 13th, which was the best unit on the team. Fantastic.
I suppose Andre Johnson deserves some credit, as he finished as the 15th-best wide receiver in terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP). But because Reception NEP looks at how a player performed on catches only, it often can skew towards players with high volume, like Johnson had.
If you look at his Target NEP, which measures the point contribution on all targets, Johnson’s season story gets a lot worse. Though he was a top-20 wide receiver on catches, he ranked 57th in Target NEP thanks to pick-six machine Matt Schaub, and the up-and-down play of Case Keenum.
I tried my best to fit in as many good things about the Texans above as possible, but really, it was a nearly impossible task.
As I said, the Texans finished no better than 26th in three of the four major team categories. Let’s start with the passing offense, where only the Jaguars and Giants were worse in 2013.
Matt Schaub started the season under center, and actually put together decent performances to start the year. But things got ugly fast, and he was eventually replaced by Case Keenum.
In truth, it wasn’t even close to a typical Matt Schaub season. He had only seen a negative Passing NEP score once as a Texan, his first season with the team. Meanwhile, Schaub has posted seasons of 74.28, 87.15, 99.52 and 137.81 Passing NEP. The latter two numbers can be associated with a top-five quarterback season.
But this year, Schaub was the ultimate detriment. Of the quarterbacks who dropped back to pass 200 or more times, he was the third-worst in terms of Passing NEP per drop back – only E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith were less efficient.
Case Keenum wasn’t much better, as his per drop back Passing NEP rate of -0.08 ranked just one spot head of Schaub’s. Quarterback problems? That’s an understatement.
The running game wasn’t much better, ranking 26th in the NFL in terms of Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points. Arian Foster went down with an injury halfway through the year, ending his season. But even before that happened, he wasn’t rushing above expectation.
Ben Tate wasn’t all that exciting as the lead back for Foster, either, though he suffered from his own injuries throughout the year. Tate finished with a career low in Rushing NEP (-10.35), as it was the first time he had rushed below expectation in his career.
The pass defense for the Texans allowed the third-fewest yards, but a lot of that had to do with the lack of passes they actually faced – no team saw fewer passing plays against than the Texans in 2013. When you look at how they actually performed when adjusted for strength of schedule – after all, yards never tell the entire story – Houston finished with the 28th-worst secondary in the NFL. It’s clearly a spot they’ll need to improve on this offseason.
What Should They Do?
With the first pick in the draft, the team seems ready to go after a quarterback. It’s clearly their biggest need at this point, but the actual player they select is still unknown.
The Texans could use a boost in terms of pass rush, so Jadeveon Clowney is certainly still an option. However, it looks as though they’re most likely moving in a different direction.
Matt Schaub is probably not going to be a Texan next year, regardless of what happens in the draft. If the Texans keep him, he’d be a $14 million hit on the cap, a figure far too high for someone who struggled so mightily in 2013. If they get rid of Schaub, it could free up a little cap room to make moves in free agency.
Generally speaking, the Texans can go in a lot of directions this offseason. The offensive line could improve, and the outside linebacker position is weak. With a new regime in town, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the team goes in. One thing is for sure, though – they can only go up.