Einstein’s definition of insanity is widely believed to be “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The Texans are the NFL’s own definition of insanity. But DeMeco Ryans Texans look set to break the mould.
Ok, so there are bigger problems in Houston than who is nominally the head coach. One of those problems is they seem intent on firing head coaches who seem to be building something that resembles a good team.
Since they fired Bill O’Brien (who was also GM) in 2020 they have had three different head coaches. Romeo Crennel was the interim head coach for 12 games. He won four of them, which isn’t exactly great but due to injuries, COVID and suspension it’s understandable. The Texans were without 18 players during the 2020 season. The following season Crennel became “Senior advisor of football performance”.
What Have You Done For Me Lately
David Culley was the head coach in 2021, Culley had spent the 2020 season as the Ravens “assistant head coach, wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator”. In 2022 the Ravens were 32nd for passing yards so it appeared an odd choice. In his first game the Texans allowed 395 yards of total offence against Urban Meyer’s Jaguars but rattled off 449 yards of their own. They ran out 37-21 winners. That was one of the biggest false dawns in recent times as Meyer’s Jaguars turned out to be one of the worst coached teams in living memory. Culley’s Texans didn’t win again until the 21st of November.
Despite the less than stellar results on the field Culley appeared to be the most sensible and competent member of the Texans leadership group. Ownership and the other front office staff became embroiled in the DeShaun Watson scandal. In March 2023 the Texans were fined $175,000 and lost their fifth-round draft pick after they failed to report a payment to Watson. Culley’s team won two of their final four games in 2021 (although one of those wins was, again, over the Jaguars). The Texans would end the season with a 4-13 record. Even though some green shoots of recovery began to appear, the Texans decided to fire Culley. Culley’s contract ran until 2025!
It was Lovie Smith’s misfortune to sit in the hottest seat in the NFL next. Smith had been Culley’s defensive coordinator in 2021. Employing someone who was a part of the previous regime seemed odd, it was almost an admission that the team had improved during the 2020 season. Similarly, to the beginning of Culley’s reign the Texans surprised a few in week one as they managed to tie with the Colts. Unlike Culley’s first game in charge the Texans allowed a whopping 517 yards of offence! They didn’t have to wait long for their first win though, they beat the Jaguars (again) 13-6 in week 5. Again, similarly to Culley’s iteration of the team, Smith’s Texans won two of their final three games. Smith’s team would end the season with a 3-13-1 record, and he was fired too. Smith still had three years left on his contract.
They’ve Learned Their Lesson Though, Right?
Maybe they’ll fire DeMeco Ryans too if he doesn’t perform miracles? But after playing in Houston for six seasons, he’s the perfect man for this job. He’s already making a positive impact.
Football Outsiders ranked the Texans offensive line 31st overall in the league last year, so that’s a good place to start. The worst facet of their game was run blocking at the second level. Only the Commanders and the Buccaneers were worse in 2022. Indianapolis ended the 2022 season 31st in the league for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as they scored just 7.
DeMeco Ryans’ Texans
The first step toward fixing that is bringing in new offensive line coach, Chris Strausser. Strausser has been coaching for 34 years, he’s been in the NFL since the Broncos hired him in 2017. That season C.J Anderson ran for 1,007 yards on what was a pretty terrible Broncos team. In 2018 Strausser was promoted from “assistant offensive line coach” to “offensive line – tackles coach”. That season Phillip Lindsay ran for 1,037 yards at 5.4 yards per carry and Royce Freeman added 521 yards. For the last three seasons Strausser has overseen an Indianapolis that has seen Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor put up some massive numbers (Taylor averages 5.1 yards per carry for his career so far). Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary should benefit from that in 2023.
On The Field
They’ve already signed 17 free agents and 15 of them are newbies, so it seems like NFL players and the team owners have already bought into DeMeco Ryans’ Texans.
Hassan Ridgeway and Jimmie Ward have followed Ryans to Houston from San Francisco and six other new defensive players have arrived. Sheldon Rankins and Chase Winovich will be on the defensive line with Ridgeway. Alongside Jerry Hughes who led the Texans in sacks last season, those four bring some much-needed experience and leadership to a unit that had 9 players under 25 last season.
The headline name in free agency is Shaq Mason, the guard spent last season in Tampa. Prior to that he had been a Patriot for six seasons. He won two Super Bowls during his time in New England. If he lines up next to Laremy Tunsil, the left side of the offensive line should provide both excellent protection and run blocking. That pair should also provide some guidance if the Texans decide to draft some offensive lineman. They could use another centre, or some depth on the interior of the line.
Dalton Schultz will be a massive upgrade at tight end too. Schultz has a career 70.1% catch rate and has caught 17 touchdowns in his last three seasons. In 2022 Schultz was rated the sixth best run blocking tight end in the NFL. He’s definitely going to mentor Brevin Jordan who suffered from sophomore syndrome a bit in 2022.
There are rumours swirling about the Texans picking a quarterback with their second pick in the draft this week. They deny those rumours though (so they probably will take one). With Case Keenum and Davis Mills they could realistically wait until later in the draft or even next year’s stellar quarterback class. There will definitely be game changing talent available in this draft but not at the quarterback position. But there are teams who would love to select a quarterback with the second pick. The Texans could trade out of that position and collect some extra picks.
These Things Are All Relative
With some sort of defense and a running game the Texans will be better than AFC compadres the Colts. If the Texans decide to trade down, they could well be in the hunt for Jalen Carter or Will Anderson Jr. both could really add some pop to their defensive front. It’s not unimaginable that Anderson could become Ryans new Nick Bosa.
The AFC South is a rare case, all four teams are in some sort of transition. Technically the Texans transition period is self-inflicted. But their desire to extend it on an annual basis for no apparent reason is puzzling. The Titans might be about to draft another new quarterback and start again, again. They may, or may not also be about to offload Derrick Henry. With a new head coach and no Matt Ryan the Colts look to be rebuilding everything not named “Jonathan Taylor”. And The Jaguars seemed to be hitting some sort of form late last season but everyone who’s followed them knows the Jags are anything but consistent.
Ryans has already started to build a competent coaching team and improved the roster. If the Texans draft is as successful in 2023 as their 2022 version they will be vastly improved. Whether “vastly improved” will be enough to stop the Texans firing another head coach after one year remains to be seen.