FIXING THE PROBLEMS

Lance Zierlein: Texans need a lot of work to repair the damage

Bob McNair needs to take his car to the shop. Now. Bob Levey/Getty Images

For all of us who drive, one of the worst feeling in the world is when your car doesn’t start. Obviously it’s not a good thing because you can’t get to where you want to go, but the scariest part is not knowing how bad the issue is and how expensive the fix is going to be.

Some of the worst issues with the car can be taking place even while the car is able to run. It is slowly deteriorating and the price of repair is mounting with every few times you drive. That’s the silent killer. Sure, your car issues might be as simple as a replacing the battery, but it could be much worse and much more expensive. You don’t know until you get it into the shop.

Under Drayton McLane, the Astros were a solid vehicle that ran fairly well for years, but he stopped changing the oil, starting grinding the gears and didn’t bring the Astros in when he saw the check engine light. The result? He ruined the car. He ran it into the ground. The price of repair was so costly that it made more sense to get a new car which is what the Astros had to do with their 100-loss seasons and their early round draft picks. They have a new owner that is taking care of the car so far. All is well.

Bob McNair’s car

The Houston Texans aren’t broken, but they aren’t running well and they could do substantial damage if they don’t bring it in for repairs during free agency and the draft. Their air conditioning (secondary) used to work fine, but it’s getting old and running out of freon (talent) and needs to all new parts. The tires (offensive line) were low quality to begin with and now they are completely worn and provide no traction. Oh, and they need another tight end.

Free agency is a chance to make quick fixes to your issues as a team. Sometimes they can be long-term fixes like when Johnathan Joseph was signed in 2011. Some of the fixes are short-term like with Danieal Manning from 2011. And of course, some fixes simply don’t work at all like with Jeff Allen and Ahman Green. This year, the free agent market isn’t great and it’s looking more and more like the Texans opportunity to fix their problems may be nothing more than patchwork options until they can get new talent drafted over the next couple of seasons.

Free agent opportunities

The Texans must sign an offensive lineman and they must sign someone in the secondary. We all know they have overwhelming needs at guard, tackle, cornerback and safety. Signing a guard and/or tackle is a must. They don’t have a first or second round pick so the opportunity to get a good offensive tackle who is ready to play early on is slim. The Texans could choose to sign Nate Solder away from the Patriots, but keep in mind that he’s a band-aid option and an expensive one.

Adding a guard via free agency is a possibility, but with three picks in the third round (they will get a third third rounder with a compensatory pick for A.J. Bouye), the Texans should be able to find a capable guard who has a chance to step in and start right away. Now I’m not saying one tackle and one guard is all it takes. They need at least one tackle and one guard. They could sign Andrew Norvell or even Josh Sitton who was cut by the Bears and still draft a guard.

In the secondary, Johnathan Joseph is done, Kareem Jackson is on his last legs and may need to try a move to safety to extend his career, and Kevin Johnson was largely disappointing last season. The Texans must sign a free agent like Malcolm Butler to give their secondary a fighting chance in coverage. And while signing a cornerback should be mandatory, so should drafting one -- or two. Safety is a need, but if you do a good job of evaluating, making a splashy signing or draft pick isn’t necessary to find help.

The Astros and the Rockets seem to be running like brand new models. The Texans better get their repairs made quickly to keep up with the rest of the teams in the neighborhood.

 

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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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