Texans are in better shape for next coach

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Regardless of who gets hired as the fifth coach in franchise history, the Texans are much better off compared to this time last year.

First-time general manager Nick Caserio inherited a deteriorating team crushed by appalling personnel decisions, and he was tasked by the McNair family with cleaning up the mess created by Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby.

Caserio hired David Culley to coach a team coming off a 4-12 record, a team with no first- or second-round draft picks and suffocating under a pile of salary cap issues and a dire lack of talent at too many of posts.

To make the situation even worse for Caserio and Culley, the Texans’ two best players – quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end JJ Watt – desperately wanted out.

Watt requested his release, and the McNairs granted his request. Watson, of course, is still on the payroll and about to see his base salary skyrocket from $10.54 million to $35 million. Caserio hopes to trade him before the draft for a surplus of picks. (But any deal is on hold pending resolution of the 22 civil lawsuits against Watson for sexual misconduct.)

The Texans had no quarterback to replace Watson and no pass rusher to replace Watt.

When the league’s new year began in March, Caserio went to work on the roster, tearing it down and trying to rebuild it knowing it would take over a year. Caserio brought in so many new players that they had to wear badges.

The Texans have won as many games under Culley as they have in 2020 under O’Brien and interim coach Romeo Crennel. Caserio and Easterby fired Culley after the season, and now the hunt is on for the new coach.

Whether it’s Josh McCown, Brian Flores, Jonathan Gammon, Joe Lombardi, Kevin O’Connell, Hines Ward or another candidate, the new coach will be in a much better position than his predecessor.

Let’s start with the draft. After making trades, Caserio found himself with five caps. Quarterback Davis Mills, receiver Nico Collins, tight end Brevin Jordan, linebacker Garret Wallow and defensive tackle Roy Lopez all showed promise as rookies.

The Texans have nine picks this year, including their first- and second-round picks, and 19 over the next two drafts. This is the maximum over a two-year period since the boom years of 2002-03.

If Caserio is able to trade Watson and possibly left-handed tackle Laremy Tunsil, who has missed the last 12 games after undergoing thumb surgery in October, the Texans will be loaded with draft picks for the new coach.

Looking back on last season, the Texans found some worthy free agents, three of whom need to be re-signed.

Cornerback Tavierre Thomas and kicker Cam Johnston are under contract. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, defensive tackle Maliek Collins and cornerback Desmond King II have played well enough to land new contracts.

Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Greenard emerged as the top passing thrower, producing eight sacks in the first eight games he played. But he missed five games and parts of two others. It is unclear how good it can be if it improves its durability.

Defensive players like Greenard, Thomas, Grugier-Hill, Collins and King played key roles in the Texans getting 25 takeaways under freshman coordinator Lovie Smith. It was an improvement from nine in 2020, when they forced the second-fewest turnovers in the NFL since 1980.

Going on offense, unlike Culley, the new coach will know who his starting quarterback will be. Mills will have a second season to prove he’s good enough to replace Watson. If he can’t, then Caserio will look for another quarterback in 2023.

Mills, the 67th overall pick, was the second best rookie quarterback behind New England’s Mac Jones. In 13 games, including 11 starts, Mills threw 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, compiling an 88.8 rating.

In his last five starts against the Seahawks, Jaguars, Chargers, 49ers and Titans, Mills has made substantial progress. He completed 117 of 171 passes (68.4%) for 1,258 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 102.4 rating.

Mills has been sacked nine times in those last five games, including two in the three-point loss to the Titans as they played for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They fired Joe Burrow nine times in the Bengals’ victory at Tennessee in the Divisional Round.

What made Mills’ performance even more impressive was that he was saddled with the worst running game in the NFL and there is only one consistently productive receiver in Brandin Cooks.

Two of Caserio’s goals were to establish the kind of culture he wanted and to be honest with the players so they knew exactly what was expected of them. It was a welcome change to have Easterby as the responsible interim general manager for three months before Caserio was hired and had authority over all aspects of the personnel side of the organization.

The players appreciated Caserio’s approach. Because he was on the training ground every day, they got to know and respect him in a different capacity than just being the boss overseeing the operation and making them giddy with the dizzying pace. list movements.

Now, as the late great Darrell Royal said when he won national championships at the University of Texas, a new coach never inherits a hot bed.

The Texans need a lot more skill on both sides of the ball, starting with their running game and their run defense.

They were the worst running team in franchise history, finishing last in the NFL with 83.6 yards per game. They were worse than in 2020 when they were 31st.

The run defense was 31st this season, giving up 142.2 yards per game. That’s an improvement from 32nd place last year.

The fact that the Texans were the last or second-to-last to rush and stop the run in back-to-back seasons shows what Caserio’s top priorities should be.

Additionally, the Texans were last on offense (278.1 yards per game) and second to last on defense (384.4). These are some of the reasons why they have only won four games in consecutive seasons.

Absorbing all these numbers – positive and negative – it should be obvious to anyone paying attention that the new coach is taking charge of a squad in better shape than this time last year, when Caserio had been working for 17 days and still interviewing. the head coach. candidates.

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