If the Texans are to make a big splash in 2009, their hopes rest on the right arm of Matt Schaub. He has been electric and, at times, unstoppable in his two seasons with Houston, when healthy.
Schaub staying healthy is a key to the Texans' hopes
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The issue with Schaub lies in that "when healthy" disclaimer. He has a quick release, excellent mechanics, above average accuracy, and has a knack for running Gary Kubiak's offense. If he can start 16 games for the Texans in the coming season, they have a chance to be the breakout team that many are predicting them to be.
One of the many things that Colts fans have not had to worry about at the quarterback position for the last 11 years is durability, as Peyton Manning has not missed a start in his NFL career and very rarely misses a snap.
If anything happens to Manning, backup Jim Sorgi is at least comfortable with the system and fits the bill to hold Manning's clipboard as well as anyone that is currently available.
This time, Addai plays the part of the grizzled veteran, but that's where the similarities end. Both Addai and Brown have the speed and versatility to push the edge catch passes out of the backfield. Mike Hart adds depth and is hoping to build on the momentum he established last preseason before he lost his 2008 to a knee injury.
Since the inception of the franchise, the Texans have struggled to run the ball. Steve Slaton gives Houston their first hope of repeat success since the days of Dominic Williams (Davis). Slaton exploded in his rookie campaign with 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns. Behind Slaton, though, lies Ryan Moats, Chris Brown, and Clifton Dawson.
The knock on Slaton coming out of West Virginia was that he couldn't withstand the pounding of a 16-game season. He had better be able to withstand it if the Texans are to meet expectations.
Kevin Walter stepped up last season as a viable complement to perennial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson. Jacoby Jones will look to build on a successful rookie season and hopes to establish himself as a go-to guy at the third receiver position, as the Texans frequently deploy three wide receiver sets on offense. Behind those three, though, the depth chart starts to get sketchy.
Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez are established players that know the system. After them, things become muddled, with Taj Smith, Austin Collie, Roy Hall, and Pierre Garcon fighting to become the team's third receiver.
This is the first season in a long time where the third receiver for the Colts was not decided going into training camp. It will be interesting to see how this mix of talented youngsters shakes out.
This is a very close race, as Dallas Clark finished 2008 with 77 receptions for 848 yards (11 yard average) and six touchdowns. Texans tight end Owen Daniels had fewer receptions (70), but more yards (862) for a higher average (12.3), but fewer touchdowns (two).
Daniels will turn 27 in November, but will still be three years younger than Clark, who turned 30 in June. Daniels is younger, but Clark has been more productive for longer and was more valuable in the red zone, so the ultimate edge goes to him. But not by much.
If gauging by depth, however, the Colts win this battle pretty handily. Tom Santi, Jacob Tamme, and Gijon Robinson are better than any three other tight ends on the Houston roster, so Daniels would have needed to win the matchup of the starters by a fairly wide margin in order to swing this category in favor of the Texans.
Slight Edge: Colts
The 2008 season proved that the Colts have a talented, young set of guards that will be starting for the team for a number of years. Jeff Saturday is getting up there in age, but is still the leader of this unit. Ryan Lilja returns from injury, the staff knows what to expect from Ryan Diem, and Tony Ugoh should have settled in at left tackle at this point. This was a group that struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2008, but should see a great deal of improvement in 2009.
Houston, on the other hand, has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness on the offensive line since they entered the league in 2002. Although they are slowly showing signs of improvement under Gary Kubiak and John Benton, they still have a long way to go until they're considered to be as talented, deep, and consistent as the Colts in the front five.
If Duane Brown builds on the momentum he gained in the second half of 2008 and the unit has a chance to play together some more, the Texans' line should improve in the coming season.
But even a sizable improvement wouldn't get them as far as they need to go to catch the Indianapolis line.
Big Edge: Colts
Although it's easy to fall in love with the talent, athleticism, and production of defensive end Mario Williams and Houston does have two former first round choices at tackle in Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye, this is a group that is still more about potential than professional results so far, even with free agent addition Antonio Smith.
The versatility of rookie Connor Barwin could turn the tide for this group in 2009, but, at this point, they have not yet been able to live up to the hype.
The Colts added a good deal of bulk up the middle through the draft and, if nothing else, have strength in numbers at defensive tackle.
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both made the Pro Bowl last season and Freeney has been to Hawaii multiple times. What this unit lacks in first-round pedigree, they more than make up for in terms of production.
Ryans headlines a solid Houston linebacking corps
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Indianapolis has depth and experience at the position, but they lack a true game-changer like DeMeco Ryans of the Texans. Ryans was voted the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2007.
Jordan Senn, Gary Brackett, Clint Session, Tyjuan Hagler, Freddy Keiaho, and Philip Wheeler all fit Larry Coyer's system well, but none of them have the propensity or the ability to make the big play like Ryans does and has.
Add former Colts Buster Davis and Cato June to the mix, as well as first round selection Brian Cushing, and Houston has a deep, formidable, and athletic linebacking corps that Indianapolis simply can't compete with.
Franchise player Dunta Robinson is the star of this group, but has yet to live up to his Pro Bowl potential — like so many players on the Houston roster — and did not help matters by missing the first half of the 2008 season.
Jacques Reeves, the starter opposite Robinson, was a serviceable player for four years in Dallas before joining the Texans in 2008, but, again, doesn't possess above average ability. Fred Bennett, AJ Davis, and Brandon Harrison give the team some depth to fall back on and are quite capable in nickel and dime packages. This is a position that, overall, is plain from top to bottom, but doesn't have any glaring weaknesses or deficiencies.
It's a unit that is very similar to the Colts cornerbacks. Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson — if fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2008 campaign — are solid, but unspectacular, which is exactly what Indianapolis is looking for in the position.
The Colts have sufficient depth if Jackson or Hayden were to miss time and have always proven that they can develop young talent into productive players at the position.
Still, with Bennett and Harrison, there is more starting experience in the sub packages and coming off the bench in Houston.
Slight Edge: Texans
They fought injuries in 2008 and were rarely on the field together, but Melvin Bullitt and Jamie Silva stepped in and made sure that there wasn't too big of a dropoff while Sanders and Bethea were out — although you always would expect a dropoff when two Pro Bowl players are missing at the safety position.
Tremendous Edge: Colts
Kicker Kris Brown and punter Matt Turk are both consistent performers that aren't flashy, but get the job done. The Texans weren't flashy and got the job done on kickoff returns and kickoff coverage and Jacoby Jones was very flashy on punt returns, with two touchdowns and a 12.1 yard average.
However, Houston also allowed 11.2 yards per punt return and gave up a punt return for a touchdown in 2008, so they were generous with the yards and touchdowns all around.
Although Indianapolis did not give up any return touchdowns on punts or kickoffs, they also didn't score any touchdowns on punts or kickoffs and were generally impotent in the return game and just satisfactory in coverage. Adam Vinatieri is still one of the greatest kickers of all time, but, no matter who wins the starting punter job, they'll still be a rookie.
The Texans are just more consistent and more dangerous on almost all levels. That's not hard to accomplish when facing off against the Colts special teams, but it doesn't change the result.
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