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Behind Enemy Lines: Houston Texans

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. This phrase was coined by a famous Chinese military strategist and philosopher named Sun-Tzu. Essentially, what Sun-Tzu was trying to say is to always keep tabs on your enemy so you will be prepared to face whatever they will throw at you.

In the NFL teams are always changing, for better or worse. One season, a team could be 12-4, the next, they have a top ten selection in the NFL draft. However, you would rather be safe than sorry in this league. Underestimating a team based on previous performance is a risky proposition. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers were stunned as they lost to the then lowly 4-8 Oakland Raiders. To ensure this does not happen to the Colts, we will examine each opponent week by week. We’ll start with the Texans.

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How they are built: The Houston Texans are built in a similar fashion to the Colts. They have a powerful passing game led by Matt Schaub who can distribute the ball to a bevy of weapons featuring Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. As soon as they open up the scoring, this allows their defense to tee off on the quarterback, using their top pick of 2006, Mario Williams. However the Texans are still slightly off in trying to emulate the Colts. Although Kevin Walters is a good up and coming receiver, they still do not have a viable second option to complement Andre Johnson and help take the pressure off him. Their offensive line, though improved, can still be shaky at times and still have problems opening holes for running backs, despite running a zone blocking scheme.

The defense’s problems mirror their offense. There is no one opposite of Williams to complement him and thus far, the tenth overall selection of the 2007 draft, Amobi Okoye has been a bit of a disappointment. In the backfield, the Texans’ secondary has shown improvement, however, players like Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson are only temporary fixes to a still glaring problem.

What they did last year: The Texans started off on a roller coaster ride as they went back and forth between winning and losing for the first five weeks before reeling off a three game win streak. After beating the Buffalo Bills, their final opponent in that streak, they lost to the Colts and subsequently lost the following three games, before closing out the season with four wins.  These struggles were due mainly to an inconsistent defense and a non-existent running game, and it just barely cost them a trip to their first-ever postseason appearance.

When they play the Colts: The Texans strategy has been very consistent against the Colts and quite frankly, it’s been very effective despite only beating the Colts one time in the past four years. Offensively, the Texans will try to run the ball whether it’s effective or not. Off the run, the Texans use a variety of play-action bootleg’s to get the Colts defense to over pursue, which they usually do as Matt Schaub does an excellent job of selling it. Schaub does so well at selling the play fake, that even the camera guy loses sight of the ball. This creates plenty of room for Schaub to pass and puts him out of harm’s way from the Colts dynamic pass rush tandem of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Defensively, they rely heavily on their front four to stop the run and generate pressure. This strategy is inconsistent. While they do a pretty good job of stopping the run, it seems that their line generates pressure only half the time and when the Colts make an adjustment their strategy is neutralized, as we witnessed in the Colts Week 12 match last year.

Off-Season moves: To gain consistency on defense and to bolster a rather porous running game, the Texans invested their top two draft picks on those areas, respectively. In the first-round the Texans selected Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson in hopes of allowing the pass defense to become a more aggressive unit. In the second, the Texans took Ben Tate in hopes that he will be the premier back that Steve Slaton has failed to become.  Though the Texans did select pass rushing defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in the third-round, one has to wonder why they were not seeking out another pass rushing end to complement Mario Williams. Additionally, selecting Ben Tate is nice, but he cannot run if his offensive line is not opening up holes. We shall see if the Texans offensive line has found enough cohesion to improve, or if one of their later selections surprises.

Outlook: Though the Texans still have a few concerns, I believe that they are a team primed to break through the regular season barrier and make their first postseason appearance. They were a few near victories away from the postseason in 2009 and appear to have the pieces to make that final push.

Prediction: 11-5