#32 for 32 - Houston Texans

According to Ryan McLaughlin, Matt Schaub is the key to life, the universe, and everything in Houston this season.

#32 for 32 is a series of articles highlighting the key changes and things to watch for with each team leading up to the NFL season. This is the first post on numberFire in a series of articles being written by Ryan McLaughlin, where he has the Houston Texans ranked as the #6 team overall this season.

#6 Houston Texans

2011 Record: 10-6 (1st AFC South, L Div Round vs. Ravens)
Ryan’s Projected 2012 Record: 11-5 (1st AFC South)
numberFire Projected 2012 Record: 9.3-6.7 (1st AFC South)
nF Chance of Playoffs: 52.5%
nF Chance of Championship: 3.4%

Key Arrivals: LB Keyaron Fox, FB Moran Norris, RB Justin Forsett, S Alan Ball, QB John Beck, PK Shayne Graham, LB Bradie James, P Donnie Jones
Key Departures: WR Jacoby Jones, PK Neil Rackers, TE Joel Dreesen, LB DeMeco Ryans, CB Jason Allen, DE/OLB Mario Williams, FB Lawrence Vickers, QB Matt Leinart, OT Eric Winston

Let me present a few statistics to you before we get started: 153 rushing yards per game (2nd), 189.7 passing yards allowed (3rd), 98 rushing yards allowed (4th), and offset all that with 219.1 passing yards per game (18th). Those numbers all point to one crucial issue for the Texans: the health and safety of QB Matt Schaub. Earlier this offseason, the Texans and Schaub decided to put off contract negotiations until the 2013 offseason, the main reason being that the Texans need Schaub to prove that he can indeed play all 16 games in a season before they give him anymore big money. Last year’s playoff appearance marked the first in franchise history, despite Matt Schaub going down in Week 10 against Tampa Bay. Rookie TJ Yates filled in nicely and will be the team’s backup without a shadow of a doubt, Arian Foster returns off a 1200 yard/10 TD season and Ben Tate is back to resume the Texans two-headed rushing tandem (Tate rushed for 942 yards).

Andre Johnson is back from a season of on and off injuries, but gone is Jacoby Jones, who was more of a hit or miss option, and Joel Dreessen, a tight end who provided great hands. The team’s leading receiver last season was actually tight end Owen Daniels, who caught 54 passes for 677 yards (3 TD).

On defense, they have lost Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, two linebackers who were once huge for this franchise. While Mario Williams was hurt last season and only provided 11 tackles for the team, while Ryans was actually healthy and solid, racking up 64. Whitney Mercilus was drafted in the first round to assist with an already brutal pass rush, while Bradie James joins a still solid linebacking corps. The Texans defense is still going to be formidable.

Their schedule is a pretty good mix, especially early on. They open with Miami at home and travel to Jacksonville. In Week 3, they face their former proverbial hump, Peyton Manning, and then meet Tennessee. Around Week 5 they hit a rough stretch of games, heading to New York (Jets), coming home for Green Bay, Baltimore and Buffalo. They get a gauntlet of other games as well before ending the season with Indianapolis for two of three weeks, with the Vikings in between.

If Schaub can stay healthy, this is a dangerous team. There shouldn’t be a dropoff in their running game as they got a great addition in Moran Norris, and only lost Winston upfront. Their passing defense shouldn’t lose any touch either, the only two concerns here should be Schaub and their restructured front 7.