EARLY EXIT

5 things the Texans need to address in the off-season after losing to the Colts

The Texans could not cover tight ends all season, and it bit them again Saturday. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The off-season is here early for the Texans.

The season ended with a thud on Saturday, as they simply were outplayed in almost every way in a 21-7 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Texans fell in a 21-0 hole early and never recovered. The Colts did not punt until there was less than 11 minutes left in the third quarter. The Texans defense was better in the second half, but when the game was on the line, they had no answers.

In the first half, when it was decided, we saw a lot of familiar problems that haunted Houston all season. The Texans once again had nothing to stop T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck. They could not cover the tight end. They got no pressure on the quarterback. The defense could not get off the field on third down. They had untimely bad penalties on both sides of the ball.

On offense, Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins needed to be brilliant, and they were not. Hopkins looked hobbled and had just 37 yards on five catches. Watson completed 29 of 45 passes for 235 yards, one TD and an interception. He rushed for 76 yards on eight carries but was sacked three times and pressured throughout the game.

The result is a roller coaster season that comes to an early end. The Texans looked dreadful in an 0-3 start, then reeled off nine wins in a row before the defense struggled mightily down the stretch.

The Colts move on and will face Kansas City next week. For the Texans, the attention now turns to what the do in the off-season. Here are five things they need to address:

1) Get a legitimate NFL offensive tackle. Two if possible. That was an issue all season, and it needs to be addressed with high draft picks, free agency or even a trade. One big addition can make the entire line better. This is a must before next season or they will get Watson killed. Last year's third-round pick, Martinas Rankin, will likely be an above average guard at some point. With him, Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, Zach Fulton and Greg Mancz, there is enough to put together a decent interior. The two outside positions, however, HAVE to be upgraded.

2) Revamp the secondary. They need to get faster at cornerback, and find someone who can cover T.Y. Hilton. Jonathan Joseph still understands the game, but he no longer has the coverage skills to be a No. 1 corner. Aaron Colvin was a free agent failure. You could do worse than bring back Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson at safety, but they need at least two new corners. Free agency is the most likely path here.

3) Changes on the coaching staff. Bill O'Brien won't be going anywhere, but he needs to make changes on his staff. It's probably time to let Romeo Crennel ride off into the sunset. He has been an excellent defensive coordinator for a long time, but he is 71 years old, and the game might have passed him by. They never made any changes in how they defended the Colts in particular, and tight ends in general, until the game was decided. There will be some very good defensive minded coaches available that have been head coaches. A new scheme and some new thoughts could do wonders for the Texans. A new voice on the offensive line would not be a bad idea either. An offensive coordinator with head coaching experience could also make Watson even more dangerous.

4) Figure out what to do with Jadeveon Clowney. His contract is up, and he is going to want to be paid Khalil Mack money. Truthfully, he is not worth that. A franchise tag and then a trade is certainly worth considering. Ideally, he would be re-signed, but not in a record-breaking deal.

5) Add another set of wheels in the backfield. Lamar Miller is solid, and maybe D'Onta Foreman fills this role next season. But he missed almost all of 2018 with an Achilles injury and who knows if he will ever be 100 percent of what he was? Some reliable depth would be a welcome addition.

The good news is they are set at the most important position on the roster, quarterback. They are probably OK at wide receiver if Will Fuller can return healthy next season. If not, perhaps Demaryius Thomas will. Keke Coutee has potential if he can stay healthy. They will have enough cap room to make significant additions on both sides of the ball.

But there is a lot to be fixed. And the Colts - who were clearly the better team this year - should be even better next season. Jacksonville might bounce back. Who knows how many more All-Pro type seasons J.J. Watt has left in him? The window for this team is right now and big moves need to be made.

The Texans did not get the job done in 2018, so there will be a lot of work to do in the off-season.

An off-season that started too early.

Slow to make big moves hasn't equaled a drop in potential for Texans

Texans are better despite slow free agency

The Texans are better today than when the season ended. It isn't a huge improvement, and there is room for far more improvement, but they're better.

Despite some people's frustration with the Texans not making moves they really haven't missed out on much, the draft is where they will truly improve, and people aren't remembering how good, or bad, they were last season.

Tyrann Mathieu is not $20 million better than Tashaun Gipson. I don't even believe Mathieu was the right type of safety for the Texans. He was a mismatch problem on bigger players, specifically tight ends where Gipson thrives. Mathieu was the third best safety on the team last season not playing as well as Kareem Jackson when he was at safety or the total body of Justin Reid who impressed in his rookie season. While the leadership aspect can't be denied, the Texans praised repeatedly the locker room personality Mathieu brought, the team doesn't lack for leaders.

Gipson has had more success in recent years statistically than Mathieu and plays a different style. You'll notice far less tackles and no sacks to Gipson's stat line. He will be asked to cover more than Mathieu was and his success in recent seasons shows he can do that well. He hasn't had to clean up a lot of messes in the Jaguars secondary, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye held their own, his experience playing deep will hopefully help handle the lack of top talent at cornerback for the Texans.

Speaking of cornerback, if that is where Kareem Jackson was going to play for the Texans in 2019 then there is no loss whatsoever in seeing him leave. He was not good as a corner last year after a really solid start to the year as a safety. Bradley Roby is more physically gifted and took a prove-it deal to try to hit the market with more buzz than this year. I would have preferred Jackson sticking around as a safety but alas the Texans didn't seem to see his value there.

Wholesale changes on the offensive line did almost nothing to improve it last season so I am not sure why some fans and media have desired that again. Yes, they shouldn't have been outbid on Roger Saffold (Titans) by a division rival who has invested greatly in their offensive line. No, Trent Brown (Raiders) and his bloated contract wasn't the answer at left tackle. Matt Paradis is coming off a broken leg at the center spot though he would have been an upgrade at center.

It is clear help on the line is coming via the draft, a deep one along the line might I add. With three picks in the top two rounds there will be opportunities to find players to push Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, and Julién Davenport and it isn't out of the question. Seantrell Henderson despite his new contract is pushed by a rookie as well. This is a fine plan as only Nick Martin was a top round pick of any of the Texans current offensive linemen.

Also, this team won 11 games last season. Don't let a disappointing playoff performance skew how this team played. Deshaun Watson is going to improve and that is the most important thing about this team. He won't take as many hits as he did last season with draft investment and improvement of players on the roster. The rookie tight ends have a year of seasoning under their belt. D'Onta Foreman and Keke Coutee should be healthy and eventually Will Fuller will return. The defense returns or has replaced key figures.

Acting like this is a team that had to spend money just because they had cap space isn't a smart way to look at this team. Typically a team sucks when they have this much cap space, the Texans didn't fall into that category. Is there still room for improvement? No doubt. There's also room to find multiple bargains, be a destination for a trade post-draft, and pay Clowney. Relax, this is a long offseason. The Texans are better today than last week.

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