THE BOTTOM LINE
By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com
In his first NFL head-coaching job, Dom Capers led the expansion Carolina Panthers to a berth in the NFC Championship in only their second year of existence. This season is the fourth for Capers' second expansion adventure, with the Texans, and if the chances of advancing to a conference title matchup are remote, it seems that everyone in the organization expects at least a winning campaign.
Houston has increased its victory total each season, and last year's seven victories was a plus-two jump over the 2003 results. Finding three more wins on the schedule, while competing in a division that includes powerhouses Indianapolis and Jacksonville, and a Tennessee team that will play hard every week, won't be easy. But Capers and general manager Charley Casserly, not surprisingly, feel this edition of the Texans is the most talented roster they have assembled. So while the expectations have been ramped up, so has the pressure on Capers and his staff.
It's an oversimplification to suggest the Texans' fate lines with whatever strides are made by quarterback David Carr. Fact is, the Houston defense must show improvement if the franchise's first winning record is to be achieved. In the last two years, the defense rated just No. 31 in 2003 and No. 23 in 2004, and totaled only 43 sacks.
By Merril Hoge, ESPN.com
The Big Question?
The defense is defeinitely the key in Houston. The Texans have to make more plays and be more consistent on the defensive side of the ball. It's not about making the big play because they can do that, but it's about getting opposing offenses into third-and long-situations and getting them off the field.
With David Carr, Domanick Davis and Andre Johnson, the offense should be OK, but the defense has to be better.
By Scott Engel, ESPN.com
Sleeper: Jerome Mathis, WR: Someone has to become a viable target opposite Andre Johnson. Jabar Gaffney doesn't seem like he will ever live up to his potential, and Corey Bradford is way too inconsistent. Mathis is a potential big-play target who has more upside than any other Texans receiver except Johnson. He's a long shot, but why not take a chance on him in the final rounds?
Bust: David Carr, QB: While there is no denying that Carr has the makeup and skill to eventually become a fantasy standout, it might be another year or two before he reaches his statistical potential. Carr still doesn't have a dependable receiver other than Johnson, and his O-line is still going to have trouble consistently protecting him.
From ESPN the MAGAZINE
The Big Number140 David Carr has been sacked 140 times in three seasons, one more than Peyton Manning has in seven. Not quite the Manning stats Houston hoped Carr would exceed when it drafted him.
STRENGTH --> THE LAST LINE
Speed and playmakers -- Houston's got plenty of both. CB Robinson (left) excelled as a rookie last year (with 87 tackles, 6 picks, 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles) and 10-year vet Coleman easily transitioned from CB to FS. Newly acquired CB Buchanon, now teamed with his best pal from the Hurricanes, WR Johnson, will shed the malcontent label he earned as a Raider.
WEAKNESS --> BLINDSIDED
Scheme changes, inexperience and personnel shuffling are three big reasons Carr (left) has taken such a wicked beating in the pocket. But the QB's poor decision-making hasn't helped. And with Carr taking too long to make his reads, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer needs to call fewer plays relying on deep dropbacks. Until he does, Houston's protection problems will persist.
Over the last four games of 2004, the Texans' D gave up just 3 TDs and went 13 straight quarters without letting opponents into the end zone. Their record in those games:
2-2. Put simply, the young roster didn't know how to close out games. But this season, for the first time since joining the league in 2002, the Texans will not start any rookies. And coach Dom Capers is stressing situational play in practices to help players avoid losing focus in tight games. "This is the biggest step for us," Capers explains. "You can't talk about the playoffs until you get out of the middle of the pack." Houston has increased its wins total every year -- from four to five to seven -- and nine wins isn't unreasonable for 2005. That would be good enough for the playoffs -- if it played in the NFC.