One of the takeaways from Bob McNair’s press conference is that he does not think the Texans are in rebuilding mode. Some assorted quotes:
We felt like that we had the best roster that we’ve ever started the year with and we really, really anticipated a very favorable outcome.
We’ve got a lot better talent than Jacksonville.
This is not a long-term rebuilding process. I want to make that clear. We’ve got core players who are outstanding players and we still need to fill a few holes. We had some injuries that hurt us in key positions, in terms of leadership on the field. We have some things that we need to do but we’ve still got a good core group of players that can make for an outstanding team.
I think it is commendable to want to win every year. Popular view too. Because who wants to pay to watch bad football? Dumb people. (Feel very dumb because I’ve already paid too much to see bad football. But football is inherently dumb. We care about highly-paid dudes in weird clothes toting an odd-shaped ball to and fro. Best not to think of that too much).
And turnarounds sometimes do happen quickly without a rebuilding period. Not for the Texans in their short history, but you know, other teams.
Not sure I agree with the viewpoint that national writers like Peter King and Ian Rapoport are suggesting that the Texans are a ready-to-win place and bouncing back from a whatever loss season is going to be easy. Rapoport calls the Bob McNair presser a “vote of confidence” in GM Rick Smith.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland makes the optimistic case in more detailed regression terms, claiming that they will be out of the cellar quicker than believed. Yes, the Texans had some unusual snakebit stuff with turnovers, but it’s hard to project anything about team without knowing head coach, quarterback, the new, if any ways of doing business. To me, for any team, there’s more utility and accuracy in using past numbers to predict future numbers when coaching/quarterback remains the same.
Doug Farrar of SI.com takes the opposing view with the aptly named, “Despite popular perception, problem-plagued Texans aren’t set to be Chiefs of 2014.” I don’t think there is some underperforming player like DT Dontari Poe lurking on the Texans roster, waiting for better coaching to have him excel.
Certainly, there are young players who could play much better once they get more experience. I think most of the Texans players are playing near their ceilings with the exception of DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Brooks. I think those players could become special with good development and injury luck.
Ultimately, if the Texans don’t accept that there were fundamental issues with this roster that went beyond the quarterback position, then they are likely going to repeat the same problems. An owner can acquire Ed Reed as his big off-season acquisition, declare it to be the best roster he’s ever had, but that doesn’t make it true or a useful mindset for improvement.
Divorcing coaching/system from players.
Though the Texans have a few athletic freaks on the roster, I never saw from top to bottom a roster that was more athletic, inherently more gifted than their opponents. The Texans, under Gary Kubiak/Rick Smith have always been a team that when they won, they had to out execute opponents with guys that fit what they do because they could rarely out athlete them. (J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson an exception to that).
As a group, I don’t think the Texans have an exceptionally fast team, and on special teams in particular, they seem very slow. When the Texans have been their best in 2006-2013, they have played smarter than their opponents, even ones that if you were doing roster comparisons, the opponents may have had more skilled or athletic players at many positions. For their offense in particular, their best years were more of a product of the system, execution, and working together, more than being more talented, bigger, faster, stronger than opponents.
The Texans in 2013, played a profoundly dumb form of football. Situationally, they were terrible. From a penalty standpoint, they were way over their normal averages pre-2012, which under Kubiak tended to be in the 5-6 penalties a game.
The team had some poor injury luck as well, and hopefully can escape the year without any more key injuries.
For all teams, it is hard to distinguish what in poor performance is coaching, and what is just the players not being that good. What is just a blend of offense putting defense on the field too long, defense making the offense play from behind by giving up early TDs, special teams putting offense in bad positions, and then everything folding in on itself like the house in the movie Poltergeist. Yeah, that’s a dated reference but describes 2013 the best, and movies are forever. Rosebud.
So who is this “core group” of players that Bob McNair is referencing?
Let’s define terms. In his interview with Peter King for the MMQB column in June 2012, Texans GM Rick Smith explained his view of “core players.”
One important thing I’ve learned is when your core changes, you’ve got to be willing to change your philosophy too,” said Smith. “Your core of players has to be a living, breathing thing, and you have to be willing to examine it all the time to be sure you’re comfortable with it. The good thing about making those types of decisions is being able to be emotionally detached a bit. I don’t have the attachment to the players that a coach does.”
Smith said he’s studied NFL history at length, and he’s studied business models of different business leaders. One that he’s adopted is former GE boss Jack Welch’s 20-70-10 philosophy: the top 20 percent of your employees are standouts and must be nurtured. The majority, the 70 percent, are the working class — needed but still able to move if the right situation arises. The lowest 10 percent have to be churned and replaced, because a company always is looking for ways to get better by importing new blood. “If you have a 53-man roster, maybe you’ve got 10 or 11 core players,” Smith said, “and then 25 to 30 role players, and then you’re always looking to churn the bottom of the roster.’
Well that sounds easy. Obviously isn’t.
Likely one of the problems that the Texans faced in 2013 is the struggle that many teams in NFL history have in replacing proven, solid players with young, promising players. Though they may not have been considered “standout” players by the Texans brass, the team has very much struggled to replace the snaps, performance and leadership of Eric Winston at right tackle and DeMeco Ryans at ILB for example.
After their departures, what were strong positions groups (Oline and LB) became weaknesses that the coaches had to coach around. Teams certainly can’t keep all their players, (no way Mario Williams could stay), but teams that can’t identify and develop replacement players fail. Sometimes it is hard to project how a inexperienced player will do when you give them more snaps that can potentially expose their weaknesses.
And though you do have your core players that make teams go, it’s a team game that depends on an entire line being able to do its job, or getting a pass rush beyond just J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Brian Cushing. If the last guy on the roster keeps getting flags on special teams, it hurts everyone.
An outside view at “core players.”
If you look at ProFootballFocus individual player premium rankings for this season, this is the list of players who played better than league average ratings. I am using this as an outsider shorthand, start of conversation, and it is not intended to replace your or my view of the players.
Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson (2nd overall). DeAndre Hopkins numbers are right at average.
Tight End: None.
Running Back/Fullback: Arian Foster (before injury), Greg Jones
Defensive line: J.J. Watt (1st overall for 3-4 DE), Antonio Smith.
Safety. Eddie Pleasant slightly above average in limited snaps.
Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph.
Punter/Kicker: Shane Lechler (1st at position), Randy Bullock (I’m not sure what their criteria is for plus type kicking for PFF. Overall, their rankings put him 20th. And there is only one kicker listed with a negative rating).
Of the players not listed who have had positive seasons in recent better years are Danieal Manning, Kareem Jackson. Garrett Graham, Brooks Reed and Earl Mitchell had slightly positive ratings when they had significantly fewer snaps.
If I were to do my own grouping of players who excelled in 2013, it would be grouped as follows:
Aging, great in any system: Andre Johnson, Shane Lechler
Prime, great in any system: J.J Watt
Aging, may be better in some systems than others: Chris Myers
Aging, contract an issue: Owen Daniels.
Prime Years Injured &/or Underperforming Contract: Johnathan Joseph, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, Danieal Manning, Kareem Jackson
Young, could excel in most systems: DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Brooks
Good players, who have no solid replacement on the roster, who are likely leaving: Antonio Smith, Garrett Graham, Ben Tate, Greg Jones (may not need replacement depending on system).
We could debate cut offs. Adding or subtracting players.
As for the rest of the players, so many unproven guys. A successful team isn’t just their core guys, but none of the rest are players I expect to be breakout players if only they had better coaching. They certainly could be improved players if they played smarter football but that applies to most players on this year’s team.
So who is the ready-to-win core group of your 2014 Texans?
So for 2014, in your front seven, your best players are J.J. Watt, and Brian Cushing (coming off of injury). Your best players in the secondary are Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson. (I believe they are, but oof, what a rough last game). Watt and Jackson are unrestricted free agents after next season.
For 2014, on offense, your best players are Andre Johnson, Chris Myers, Duane Brown, and Arian Foster (coming off of injury). DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Brooks are promising players at a learning curve positions.
The Texans end the year with high draft picks in every round which provides various roster options.
Is that a ready-to-win group? Free agency will likely be an unwelcome way to add players given cap issues and the looming Watt contract.
I think a fair summary of the Texans situation, came from Bill Cowher during his Sunday comments. (A former coach who has a perfect job right now and isn’t looking to go anywhere). Via the Chronicle’s David Barron:
Any time there is a coaching issue, you’re going to find a direct correlation with instability at the QB position…This is a football team that just has never been able to get out of this downward spiral, and unfortunately, the coach takes the blame…This is a team that’s got a lot of good talent, and they’ve got a chance to turn this around…Until they answer the question at quarterback, nothing’s going to change.
Basic football 101 stuff. Bob McNair may not think the Texans are in rebuilding mode, but whatever you call it, there are no easy fixes.
Source : http://blog.chron.com/ultimatetexans/2013/12/talent-houston-roster-2013/