Behind Enemy Lines: Preseason Texans Edition

With the Texans set up to play the Jets tonight, our friend Stepanie Stradley, the Southern Belle of Sports Blogging, who writes for the Houston Chronicle, reached out to us to answer some questions about the Jets, we asked her the same for our site.  We’ll post the Jets preview as soon as it’s live on Chron.com.

What to watch for MNF from the Texans perspective:

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has said that this first preseason game will be pretty typical.  The first team will play for a series or two. A bunch of players with nagging injuries will not play.

The Texans have most of their offense returning in 2011. Have had some minor hamstring injuries to Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate so they are going into this game thinner than they’d like at running back. Only main player not returning to this offense is fullback Vonta Leach who went to the Ravens. Athlete/tight end, James Casey will be getting his first starts as fullback, a position he has prepared for in previous seasons.  He’s not shaped like a traditional squat fullback type but is a good pass catcher, speed guy.  Kubiak has said that Casey will line up as fullback, tight end, and third wide receiver.  This is designed to create mismatches and better disguise run or pass.

The wide receiver position is one that Texans fans will be watching.  The top 3 receivers are set with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones, but after that, the Texans have a number of inexperienced guys. Many that are huge, athletic physical specimens.  They are hoping that a couple of these guys are worth developing for the future (and hopefully not too needed short term)..

Matt Leinart is now the backup quarterback instead of Dan Orlovsky. He likes Gary Kubiak’s offense, and is seen by most people with eyeballs as an upgrade. Leinart should get a ton of snaps this game.Third string quarterback, TJ Yates is a rookie and ran the second team snaps in camp until Leinart was eligible to be back on the field post-CBA signing.

The defense has been completely overhauled with the Texans hiring Wade Phillips in the off-season.  Phillips has claimed his defense is easy to learn and has concepts not that different than the 4-3 they were running.  Many of the players are now playing completely new positions for them.  As Jets fans likely know, the Texans defense and secondary in particular has been terrible, so the big question is whether the Texans can sport a defense that resembles NFL quality.  If this defense looks any good at all, Phillips is a miracle worker.

The Texans punting last year was terrible.  This year there’s a punting competition between ex-Bear punter Brad Maynard.and UDFA Brett Hartmann.  Will be interesting to see what the new kickoff rules do to scoring.

What Texans fans are looking for in the season.

When Gary Kubiak took over the Texans in 2006, both their offense and defense were terrible.  He fixed the offense but the defense was near league bottom in most measurables after being run by two first time coordinators. The story of this season is whether Wade Phillips can save Kubiak’s Texans.  Not an easy task.  Some of the best players on the defense are recovering from injuries last season: Mario Williams, Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing.  Both Ryans and Cushing are being eased back into camp, with Cushing missing most of it.  They are relying on first round pick JJ Watt on the defensive line, not an easy spot for a rookie to excel at right away. The secondary looks to be improved with the additions of free agents, Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, though with a short off-season, the defense really hasn’t had much time to work together.

The Texans early season schedule appears particularly tough–including Colts, Saints, Steelers–teams that have made few changes from last year.  Not a great schedule for learning a new defense. The only benefit the Texans have is that there won’t be much film opponents can rely on predicting what the Texans will do on defense. The thought is if they can even fix the defense to just average from abysmal that this could be a playoff team.

The Texans hope that they can be the new Saints/Packers.  Teams that acquired experienced coordinators to pair up with quality offenses to win a Super Bowl.  They should have got an experienced coordinator years ago.  Bygones, I suppose.

Stephanie Stradley writes a popular Houston Texans blog for the Houston Chronicle. You can find her on Twitter @StephStradley where she sometimes can be found annoying the powers that be and is always hoping for providence to smile in her favorite team’s general direction and a universe where the Texans sport a defense that looks like something that should be on a NFL field.