2008 Weekly local football review

Andre Johnson (AP Photo/Dave Einsel; previous weekly reviews are here)

Texans 31 Bears 24

Well, at least this time, the Texans (8-8) beat the Bears’ (9-7) first-string rather than the Jags’ junior varsity to achieve only the franchise’s second non-losing season in seven NFL campaigns. The win also allowed the Texans to match my pre-season prediction for wins this season.

As usual, the Texans were led by their star WR Andre Johnson, who had 10 receptions for 148 yds and two TD’s. QB Matt Schaub finished 27-36 for 328 yards, the two TD’s to Johnson and, most importantly, no interceptions.

After the Bears jumped off to a 10-0 lead in a desultory first quarter, the Texans’ offense pretty well had its way with the Bears’ defense, rolling up 455 yds total offense. Surprisingly, after looking defenseless during the first quarter and losing stud DE Mario Williams to a pulled muscle for most of the second half, the Texans’ defense rebounded from the first quarter to hold the Bears to under 300 yds total offense.

So, another season, another 8-8 record for the Texans. There are definitely two ways to look at the Texans at this point in time.

On one hand, with another non-winning season, the Texans continue to be one of the least-successful new franchises in the history of the National Football League. Inasmuch as the team had a 7-9 record after its third year, one can make the case that not much progress has been made over the past four seasons. Yes, the offense is better, but the defense is arguably worse than it was after Year Three. Have the deck chairs simply been rearranged on the Titanic?

On the other hand, several signs indicate that the Texans are headed in the right direction. The offensive line and the receiving corps are far-improved and have more depth than at any time in franchise history. Schaub appears to have the talent necessary to become a consistently above-average NFL signal-caller. Rookie RB Steve Slaton is an excellent back who will only get better if the Texans can bring in another running back to take some of the load off of him in coming seasons.

Meanwhile, although the defense has not improved statistically from last season to this one, the Texans have a nucleus of good, young defensive players who should be able to gel into a reasonably formidable unit over the next several seasons.

What changes do the Texans need to make during the off-season? As I’ve noted several times during this season, the defense has not improved as much as it should have over the past two seasons based on the number of draft picks that the Texans have used on that unit. So, a case can be made that changes in the defensive coaching staff are justified.

However, what is the market going to be for defensive coaches during this off-season? It doesn’t make sense to make such a change and risk what could be gradual improvement in a young defensive unit that usually results from coaching staff continuity unless there is a reasonable probability that the new coaches will generate even more improvement.

Either way, as predicted before this season, the 2009 season is the one in which the Texans should emerge as a bona-fide playoff contender. If not, then owner Bob McNair will have harder decisions to make than merely whether to alter his defensive coaching staff.

Longhorns, Cougars and Owls

The Rice Owls (9-3) begin the local teams’ bowls season with the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium on Tuesday night (7 p.m., NFL Network) against Western Michigan (9-3).

The Houston Cougars (7-5) follow up on Wednesday afternoon (11 a.m., ESPN) in the Ft. Worth Bowl against Air Force (8-4).

And then the Texas Longhorns (11-1) take on Ohio State (10-2) a week from tonight, January 5th (7 p.m., Fox) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix.

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