2005 preview: Texans

2005 preview: Texans
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
July 29, 2005

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
AFC South predictions
   1. Indianapolis
   2. Jacksonville
   3. Houston
   4. Tennessee
Houston Texans
Head coach: Dom Capers, fourth season
2004 record: 7-9
2004 rankings: Offense, 19th (320.5 yards/game); Defense, 23rd (341.1 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 14th
From SportingNews.com: AFC South overview

The Texans took another step last year in their patient building process, bringing along the three cornerstones of their offense in quarterback David Carr, running back Domanick Davis and wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Despite a late flurry of success, the season produced plenty of questions on defense, where inside linebackers Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper struggled and became salary-cap cuts in the offseason.

While Houston took care of inferior competition last season, it couldn't compete with the AFC elite, going 0-7 against playoff teams. Changing that will be this season's step.

OFFENSE

Johnson showed all of the skills that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft, and Carr improved his completion percentage. Houston has committed to Davis as their franchise running back, but he has to stay healthy for once and prove he's more than just a grinder. This might be the last chance for receivers Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney to become consistent performers.

Once again, the chief worry is the offensive line, which continued to struggle last season. Carr has been sacked a horrific 140 times in the last three seasons. Giving him better protection might help raise his touchdown-to-interception ratio (it was 16-14 last season).

Houston really needed to shore up the left tackle spot to protect Carr's blind side, but failed to acquire Rams tackle Orlando Pace via trade. The Texans then missed out on Oklahoma tackle Jammal Brown in the draft. That means incumbent Seth Wand will have to improve, or Carr faces another long season.

DEFENSE

If cornerback Phillip Buchanon can be more disciplined, he could pair with Dunta Robinson to make one of the most exciting young cornerback combinations in the league. Despite Robinson's size (5-foot-10, 174 pounds), he has the physical nature of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. He appears ready to step forward this season and be the leader of the defense – as long as he doesn't hurt himself by throwing his body around too much.

The pass rush is a serious issue, as the Texans were once again in the league basement in sacks. That's not really a strong suit for defensive end Robaire Smith, so most of the pressure is going to have to come from end Gary Walker, who had a poor showing last year.

With Sharper and Foreman gone, the linebackers are a bit of a mystery. Kailee Wong and free-agent pickup Morlon Greenwood will comprise the new inside tandem in the 3-4 defense, while Antwan Peek will get an opportunity on the outside. It might be wishful thinking for Peek or Jason Babin to provide a significant pass rush, but Houston has to produce one somehow this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rookie receiver Jerome Mathis showcased ridiculous 4.2-second speed in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and he's going to get the opportunity to return kicks and possibly punts. Buchanon could also handle punt return duties, although he may be too important to risk in that role. Kicker Kris Brown and punter Chad Stanley both guide solid units.

PREDICTION

The Texans will finish 7-9 and third in the AFC South.

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Jul 29, 2005 1:01 pm, EDT

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