Let’s welcome the Houston Texans back to the NFL after spending a couple of seasons in no man’s land following the abrupt end of the Deshaun Watson era.
The 2021-22 Texans managed a 7-26-1 record for multiple one-and-done coaches while never having any identity on offense or defense. It was rough, but those days are over.
The team is no longer wandering aimlessly. They have a new head coach (DeMeco Ryans) who fans will recall was a Pro Bowl linebacker for them as a player. They have an exciting rookie quarterback (C.J. Stroud) to build around. They also traded up for the best edge rusher (Will Anderson Jr.) in the draft albeit for a king’s ransom.
The Texans finally have a plan again, but will it be any good in Year 1? The offshore sportsbooks only give Houston over/under 6.5 wins and the worst Super Bowl odds in the AFC, but at least the team should be worth watching again this year.
Changes That Matter
The Texans have a new coach, a new quarterback, and a new pass rusher who will form a trio that largely determines if this era of Houston football is going to be a success or not.
Welcome Back, DeMeco Ryans
One of the best coaching hires for this 2023 cycle should be the Texans bringing back former linebacker DeMeco Ryans to lead them in this new era.
There is a negative stigma attached to hiring defensive coaches, but some of the most successful head coaches in the NFL right now are defensive-minded coaches (Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Sean McDermott, etc.).
Why Is Hiring Ryans a Smart Move?
Hiring the 39-year-old Ryans is not like promoting a 64-year-old Lovie Smith after his defense was poor in 2021 like the Texans did last year. That was clearly a mistake. Hiring someone young who oversaw the best defense in the league over the last 2 seasons like Ryans did in San Francisco is smart.
Ryans was not a 1-year wonder with the 49ers where he was part of Kyle Shanahan’s staff since 2017. Thanks to having those connections, he also was able to bring Bobby Slowik along with him to be his offensive coordinator in Houston.
Slowik has been with Shanahan dating back to 2011 in Washington. He was the passing game coordinator for the 49ers the last couple of years when the team was in back-to-back NFC Championship Games with Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy. He will be able to bring good concepts to this offense that he learned from the Shanahan family.
The mistake people make with hiring defensive-minded coaches is they hire the “dinosaurs” type who are stuck firmly in their own ways and do not understand how much the game has changed offensively. Ryans is not going to have this problem for Houston. It was a fine hire.
Will C.J. Stroud Break the Ohio State Drought?
Suppose Ryans is doing his part to end the stigma against hiring defensive coaches. In that case, C.J. Stroud faces a bigger hurdle in showing Ohio State quarterbacks can be legitimate NFL starters.
Not that every Alabama prospect is a knockout pick (see Mac Jones), but many analysts had Bryce Young ranked ahead of Stroud, creating an interesting draft dilemma in the way Houston ended up getting the No. 2 pick instead of the No. 1 to take Young.
Maybe the Texans would have drafted Stroud anyway if they had the No. 1 pick, but with Chicago having it, Carolina acquired the pick and took Young off the board for Houston.
Stroud vs. Young will likely be a talking point for years to come just as you would expect when a draft starts with quarterbacks at No. 1 and No. 2. However, it has only happened 7 other times in the common draft era (1967-present), and it is hard to say there was ever a time where both drafting teams ended up happy with their choice:
- 2023: Bryce Young (Panthers) and C.J. Stroud (Texans)
- 2016: Jared Goff (Rams) and Carson Wentz (Eagles)
- 2015: Jameis Winston (Buccaneers) and Marcus Mariota (Titans)
- 2012: Andrew Luck (Colts) and Robert Griffin III (Redskins)
- 1999: Tim Couch (Browns) and Donovan McNabb (Eagles)
- 1998: Peyton Manning (Colts) and Ryan Leaf (Chargers)
- 1993: Drew Bledsoe (Patriots) and Rick Mirer (Seahawks)
- 1971: Jim Plunkett (Patriots) and Archie Manning (Saints)
Facing Challenges With a Young and Inexperienced Offense
Hard to believe Goff and Wentz in 2016 may be the closest both teams came to being satisfied, though their Super Bowl wins were ultimately quarterbacked by Nick Foles (2017 Eagles) and Matthew Stafford (2021 Rams). It is hard to say either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota were good picks for the teams who drafted them, but maybe this time both teams will end up happy.
Stroud is going to have to show more willingness to use his legs and mobility, which he did not do often at Ohio State. He will also have a decline in receiving talent around him as the Texans let go of speedster Brandin Cooks.
They have Robert Woods, Noah Brown, and Nico Collins listed as their top wide receiver trio, which could be the weakest group in the league this year. At least tight end Dalton Schultz from Dallas should help, and running back Dameon Pierce was solid as a rookie last year, but there will be many growing pains for this offense in 2023.
Was the Will Anderson Trade Too Much?
Not to be outdone on defense, the Texans made draft night a huge one when they traded back up with Arizona to also acquire the No. 3 pick after taking Stroud with the No. 2 pick. Their move this time was Alabama defensive end Will Anderson, considered the best edge rusher in this class.
Ryans knows he is inheriting much less talent on defense than he had in San Francisco, which might be the most talented defense in the NFL now. But he has to have a centerpiece at edge rusher like Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa became for the 49ers.
Expectations and Pressure to Excel
The hope is Anderson can be that player, somewhere in between Mario Williams and J.J. Watt for this Houston franchise.
Hopefully, he is far more impactful than Jadeveon Clowney was as Houston’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014, but that is the gamble with these highly-touted defensive prospects, Anderson better be closer to Watt when the Texans gave up a 2nd-round pick and picks in the 1st and 3rd rounds in 2024 for him.
If Anderson is a legitimate edge rusher who contends for Defensive Player of the Year awards, then people should ease up on this trade in the coming years. The draft is such a crapshoot, and it is never a guarantee that those high picks will turn into anything productive, but it does put some added pressure on Anderson to be a star and to do it quickly.
2023 Schedule Analysis and Pick
Playing in the AFC South in a 17-game season certainly helps the Texans improve their win total, but doubling up to 6-11 would be a solid debut for this new trio. The rest of the roster is not very strong yet as it was going to take more than one offseason to get this team back into playoff contention.
The Texans are going to be an underdog in most games, and they may not win a non-division game any earlier than Week 8 after the bye when they see Young and the Panthers in Carolina.
Drawing the NFC South is also a good schedule boost this year, but a defense like Tampa Bay or New Orleans can most likely shut this offense down cold. The Falcons have more offensive talent to outscore the Texans, and that game is Atlanta. So, a 1-3 record may be more realistic against the NFC’s weakest division.
Texan’s Logical Rebuild
The moves the Texans made to become relevant again are all logical and worth supporting. You just may not see it show up in the win column in 2023, so the best bet at the NFL odds is to take the under, but getting people to watch and care about Houston again is priceless.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.
2022 Recap: Competitive for a 3-Win Team
For much of the season, it sure looked like the Texans were a lock for the No. 1 pick in the draft. They were 1-12-1 at one point, and the tie against the Colts in Week 1 only happened after Houston blew a 17-point lead in the 4th quarter and the Colts missed a game-winning field goal in overtime.
But despite the poor record, Lovie Smith kept this team more competitive than expected. Houston did not get blown out that often. Even the 38-20 loss to the Raiders was a game where the Texans led in the final quarter before Vegas went on a run.
When the Texans played the undefeated Eagles in Week 9, most expected a blowout as the Eagles were putting teams away before halftime in that part of the season, but the Texans kept it a game and never trailed by more than 12 points.
QB Shuffle & Close Calls Against Elite Teams
Eventually, the turnovers started piling up, and giving Kyle Allen a pair of starts after benching Davis Mills was an ill-advised decision. If Mills started the game against Cleveland, the Texans may have had a shot as the defense stepped up, not allowing a single touchdown drive to Deshaun Watson in his first game since 2020. However, the Texans surrendered 3 return touchdowns in that 27-14 loss.
With Mills back at quarterback against the Cowboys and Chiefs, the Texans took both teams down to the wire despite being underdogs of 14-to-17 points, but the Texans failed to hold a late lead in both games, and they lost to the Chiefs in overtime.
But that strong play against elite teams did help the team finish 2-1 in division games to end the year. The Titans had a major quarterback issue with Ryan Tannehill injured, and the Colts were ready to get their embarrassing season over with in Week 18.
The Costly Win
However, the Texans coming back to beat Indy and finish 3-13-1 could go down as a costly win depending on what happens with this draft class. The Texans scored a late touchdown and went for a 2-point conversion to win 32-31.
The Chicago Bears claimed the No. 1 pick with a 3-14 record despite beating the Texans earlier in the year. But between Houston’s tie and comeback against the Colts, it was enough to only finish with the No. 2 pick, which set the Texans on a new path going forward.