A LOST SEASON

5 key things the Texans must address after Sunday's season-ending 22-13 loss to the Colts

Brian Cushing likely suited up for the last time as a Texan. Houstontexans.com

The Texans wrapped up their lost season with a 22-13 setback against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. They finished the year with a pathetic 4-12 record, losing six in a row to close out the season. They won’t even benefit from having a high draft pick, since they traded both their No. 1 and 2 to Cleveland.

It would be easy to let the coaching staff hide behind the injuries, but that also masks other key issues. Here are five things the Texans must address in the off-season if they plan to be back in the playoff mix in 2018:

1. What happens with O'Brien and the GM position?

Mark Berman of Fox 26 reports head coach Bill O'Brien will be back as head coach next season, which has been a question for the past few weeks. However, GM Rick Smith is taking a leave of absence to take care of his ailing wife. So figuring out the new structure is priority No. 1. Does O'Brien get an extension? More say over personnel? A GM he can work with? Hopefully, O'Brien's return comes with some caveats: He has to hire a new defensive coordinator, preferably one with head coaching experience. (Chuck Pagano, perhaps, who was fired on Sunday? Marvin Lewis if he gets let go?) He should also be required to bring in an offensive coordinator. O’Brien can still call plays, but he needs another voice in his ear. If he agrees to that, the Texans could look a lot better next season. But all indications are O'Brien will be the coach again in 2018.

2. Fix the offensive line

The Texans basically have one average offensive lineman in center Nick Martin. The rest is pretty much a disaster. They won’t be able to get impact players in the draft, and have little capital to trade. So they will need to hit free agency hard. Last year’s draft pick, Julien Davenport, might be a possible answer at one tackle position if he improves in the offseason. But the Texans need another tackle and two new guards at the very least. That will cost serious dollars, but there is cap room and potential for a lot more, if...

3. Say goodbye to some stars

Some mainstays need to be sent packing. Brian Cushing and his PED history should be the first to go. Cutting him will free up $8.5 million in cap space. He has little impact and that money could be used elsewhere. Jonathan Joseph will be a free agent, and unless he comes back on a significant pay cut, that should be the end of his time in Houston. He would also need a reduced role if he returns; it is clear he is not a top cover corner anymore. On the offensive side, cutting Jeff Allen and Derek Newton saves another $9 million. Newton will have missed two years when next season starts and was not a great player before his crippling injury. Allen has been a free agent bust. A legitimate backup quarterback should be a priority as well.

4. Retool the secondary

Joseph will have to be replaced. Ideally Kevin Johnson -- a.k.a. the human holding penalty -- would be the guy, but he seriously regressed in 2017. It’s too early to give up on him, but he will need to have a big offseason. Even if he does, corner will need to be addressed in free agency. They also need to invest some money in the safety position, which has never been a priority. Perhaps Joseph could be a solution at a significantly reduced salary. Regardless, at least two new players need to be added.

5. Pray to the health gods

The most important thing for the Texans will be a healthy Deshaun Watson. He was well on his way to becoming a superstar when he was injured, and with him they instantly get better. A healthy return for Whitney Mercilus will help the defense. Of course, J.J. Watt  would be a boost as well, but it is unlikely he will ever be the player he was after missing essentially two years with different injuries. Still, he is capable of making a big impact on defense. With those guys back, the defense will have a nice core group with Watt, Mercilus, Clowney, Bernardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Kareem Jackson. A few parts here and there could make them an elite defense again.

Regardless, it will be an interesting off-season. Unfortunately, it started long before Sunday’s game.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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