What is the key ingredient needed by the Houston Texans to unseat the Indianapolis Colts atop the AFC South?
We know the Texans can score, but they have to change their defensive identity, develop more of a backbone and start to get some stops in critical situations.
<table align="right" width="315px"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <content:static src="/widgets/custom/packages/latest_debates.html"></content:static></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> The Texans know this. It's not a revelation.
And they're going to do whatever they can after the lockout to fix it. Bringing in Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, a superior play-caller, was a big first step. His 3-4 scheme will create a few more big plays for the Texans, I reckon.
The next step will be adding components to the secondary, an area sorely lacking. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will get no shortage of attention from Houston. In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up with Johnathan Joseph or Antonio Cromartie. And safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who played for Phillips in Dallas, will be a target as well. Having players around who already know the defense will be key, especially with all the time lost to the lockout.
The obvious answer is that Houston has to vastly improve on defense. The Texans were an open gate to the end zone last season and made any quarterback they were facing a fantasy stud. Everything from the pass rush to the secondary has to improve under new coordinator Wade Phillips or the Texans could be out of the postseason again -- not something they want to consider with each team in the division vulnerable, including the Colts.
The Texans also have to be better in the AFC South, going just 4-8 over the past two seasons and have failed to sweep a single division foe over that span. That's not good enough. Playoff teams tend to "own" at least one rival and finish with a winning record within the division (the Raiders were an abnormality when they swept the AFC West in 2010 but didn't make the playoffs).
Houston is 2-16 against Peyton Manning, who has thrown 42 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in those 18 games. The Texans' secondary isn't good enough to slow Manning down, and unless they add a quality corner like Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph they will miss out on the playoffs again.
Secondary. Houston's back four helped light up the scoreboard last season. And that's not a good thing. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is trying to do something about it by creating pressure. I get it. But that's like putting mozzarella cheese on a bologna fold-over and then saying it's a good sandwich. It's smoke and mirrors. That's unless the Houston pass rush can create 40 to 50 sacks worth of pressure. Cornerback Kareem Jackson gave up 50 balls for 920 yards last season -- that's over 18 yards per catch. The other corner, Glover Quin, allowed 59 completions for 801 yards. Just for comparison's sake, Nnamdi Asomugha only allowed 13 receptions for 205 yards.
Keep in mind, outside of Peyton Manning, the Texans played against Rusty Smith, Trent Edwards, Kerry Collins, and David Garrard in their division last year. So it's not like they were facing world-beaters every week. While Mario Williams, J.J. Watt and the front seven get the pub, to beat the Colts, or anyone else, the back four has to show up.
The Texans might have already found their key ingredient when they hired Wade Phillips to be defensive coordinator. For as bad as Phillips is as a head coach, he always puts together a stellar defense. The Texans might be the biggest challenge for him to date, however. And that defense will be even better if Houston signs Nnamdi Asomugha.
That's the easy answer.
The real key is Matt Schaub. Much like his in-state rival Tony Romo, Schaub has yet to truly make his mark as an elite quarterback. He has the numbers, the receiver and now a running game. If Phillips can make that defense play well enough, then it's up to Schaub to make his team a winner. I have never seen the evidence or killer instinct in him to do it.
The Texans need better play from their defense to win the AFC South. Although their offense is more than capable of winning a shootout against any foe, the pressure of having to score every time they have the ball puts a tremendous strain on Gary Kubiak, Matt Schaub and the rest of the Texans' offensive personnel. They have to play nearly perfect in matchups against elite teams because they haven't been able to depend on their defense to get critical stops.
The addition of Wade Phillips, however, should bring about improved play based on his previous success as a defensive coordinator. He utilizes an aggressive pressure scheme that makes quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. His defenses routinely rate near the top of the charts in sacks and turnovers. With Mario Williams poised to play the role of the designated pass rusher, the Texans have a stud in place to build their rush package around. If they can get better play from the secondary (signing Nnamdi Asomugha would certainly help), the team would have the firepower to come after opponents relentlessly off the edge.
If the defense can climb up the middle of the pack in total defense and turnovers, there is no reason why the Texans couldn't overtake the Colts in the AFC South.
They need better skill position players.
Nah, I kid.
The Texans have to fix their secondary. Or should I say, they have to continue fixing their secondary. Getting Miami (Fla.) CB Brandon Harris late in the second round of this spring's draft was a coup. The highly pedigreed Kareem Jackson has nowhere to go but up. Wade Phillips is installing his attacking 3-4 for potentially scary pass rushers like Mario Williams and Brian Cushing, which presumably will put more pressure on opposing QBs and take a little pressure off of the callow secondary.
Now, all that's left for GM Rick Smith to do is add Nnamdi Asomugha. Or Ike Taylor. Or Johnathan Joseph. Easy!