With a solid quarterback and a healthy Arian Foster, the Houston Texans can make a playoff run next season.
The Houston Texans performance against the Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t pretty Saturday afternoon. In the Texans 30-0 blowout loss to Kansas City, Houston failed to establish an effective running game behind running back Alfred Blue, and Texans quarterback Hoyer never got in a rhythm throwing the ball.
Hoyer completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions against the Chiefs as Kansas City limited the Texans’ primary source of offense this season, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. While Kansas City mostly contained Hopkins (69 receiving yards), the Texans needed a nearly perfect offensive performance to have a realistic chance of defeating the Chiefs. Kansas City’s trio of pass rushers, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford, forced Hoyer to throw the ball into coverage, resulting in critical mistakes that magnified when the Texans entered the red zone.
Although it seems the Chiefs are on a different level in comparison to the defensive-oriented Texans, the gap may not be as wide as many might think. Houston has substantial pieces in place on its defense, including two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who both can rush the passer and stop the run. Despite having no big names in their secondary, the Texans finished third in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game.
Solid NFL quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. While Houston seems limited at quarterback, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien could soon reunite with Penn State passer Christian Hackenberg, who O’Brien coached while he was at the university. Hackenberg has been inconsistent throughout his three-year career as a Nittany Lion, but the majority of his struggles were due to a lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position and a terrible offensive line. Penn State’s offensive line was last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed this season, allowing 39 sacks in 13 games, according to BigTen.org.
In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Hackenberg showed great touch on the deep ball and that he can make accurate throws into extremely tight windows. If the Texans can bolster their much-improved offensive line, Hackenberg could be the best quarterback to draft in the “win now” window Houston is in.
The Texans have a plethora of talent at wide receiver. Hopkins became a breakout star this season, thrusting himself into the category of elite NFL receivers. Given the amount of young talent that has burst onto the NFL scene over the last few years, Hopkins’ accomplishments shouldn’t be understated. In addition to Hopkins, the Texans relied on sure-handed veterans Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III this season. In the 2015 NFL Draft, Houston selected Arizona State stud wideout Jaelen Strong.
The Texans will go as far as a new quarterback, whether it be Hackenberg or someone else, and a healthy Arian Foster takes them. In recent years, Foster’s nagging injuries have plagued Houston’s rushing attack. With subpar signal callers on Houston’s roster, the Texans dearly missed Foster’s elite talent and dynamic ability out of the backfield down the stretch of the season. Given Foster’s inability to finish most seasons, Houston should consider developing a rookie running back to play alongside Foster in case he suffers another injury.
Arkansas Razorbacks running back Alex Collins could be that guy. Collins, a hard-nosed runner with a bruising style, could fit well into the Texans’ system and his skill set could complement Foster’s shiftiness. If Foster continues to show up on the injury report, Houston could begin to transition the talented tailback to more of a third down role.
The void at quarterback is a glaring gap on an extremely well-rounded Texans team. Because of Hackenberg’s previous experience with O’Brien, the Texans could remain a playoff team if they grab the Nittany Lions quarterback in the upcoming draft. If Foster can stay healthy, which he has had trouble doing throughout his career, and if Houston selects Hackenberg, the Texans could be in a position to make some noise in the AFC South next season despite it only being Hackenberg’s rookie year.