Lamar Jackson fakes a handoff and rolls out to the left, where there is nothing but green grass between him and a second rushing touchdown on the night. The Baltimore Ravens have taken a 31-10 lead, and the season is all but over for the Houston Texans. After a crushing defeat at M&T Stadium in the Divisional Round of this year's playoffs, it is time to take a look back on the 2023 season.
A Certified Nick Caserio Masterclass
After finishing with a lousy 3-13-1 record (the second worst in the NFL) during the 2022 campaign, there were low expectations for 2023. Many consider it a miracle that the organization turned things around in one year and won the AFC South at 10-7.
Enter Nick Caserio. Much of what happened this year boils down to the decisions made in the front office. Pieces brought in during seasons past, such as Nico Collins, Derek Stingley Jr., Christian Harris, and Jonathan Greenard, were far enough along in their development to take the next step.
The 2023 NFL Draft was also a major part of their turnaround. There was a significant uproar when the Houston Texans traded up to pick both second and third in the draft, and skeptics were dumbfounded when they chose to trade their own pick to the Cardinals instead of the Cleveland Browns pick, which was traded to them previously as a part of the Deshaun Watson deal. Looking back on this decision, the two players selected were quarterback C.J. Stroud, the current favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr., who is in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Other significant contributions from the 2023 rookie class include wide receiver Tank Dell, who broke the franchise record for receiving touchdowns by a rookie, interior offensive linemen Juice Scruggs and Jarrett Patterson, and linebacker Henry To’oto’o.
In the offseasons, key acquisitions including Dalton Schultz, Devin Singletary, Blake Cashman, Jimmy Ward, and Denzel Perryman helped round out the squad.
Changing the Culture
The biggest positive shift; however, was in the culture. There was a spark that hadn’t been in Houston for years. First-year Head Coach Demeco Ryans had a passion for the game dating back to when he played at backer for the Texans. It became contagious. Stroud emerged as a leader of the team, with plenty of on-field talent to back it up. The duo of Ryans and Stroud quickly convinced the entire team to believe that they were not the same squad as the year before.
Work to Be Done
While this young, gritty team showed promise and potential, not everything went well. The run game was not where it needed to be, and it was in large part due to running back Dameon Pierce’s regression. During his rookie year, Pierce looked like a decent back, ranking 17th in yards despite missing four games. This past year was not nearly the same, and besides an impressive kick return touchdown, he did not accomplish much besides losing his job to Devin Singletary. Additionally, the offensive line was in injured reserve purgatory the entire season. Former first-round pick and projected starting guard, Kenyon Green, had a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason, and rookie Juice Scruggs was out for most of the year with a hamstring injury he sustained. Pro-bowler Laremy Tunsil missed three games throughout the year, and others who missed playing time include Kendrick Green, Tytus Howard, Nick Broeker, and Jarrett Patterson.
Other issues plaguing the Texans this season were at defensive tackle and safety. While Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins both had games where they played stellar, the position group as a whole struggled to be consistent, and this especially showed during the divisional round, where Lamar Jackson and the Ravens ran for 229 yards. In the secondary, no one was particularly impressive besides Derek Stingley Jr. Jalen Pitre appeared to regress this year, and veteran Jimmy Ward battled injuries throughout the season.
Moving into the offseason, these issues will need to be addressed in the draft and free agency if the Texans hope to enter unseen territory: the AFC Championship, and eventually the Super Bowl. Overall, this season had a lot of ups and downs, but the Houston Texans ultimately blew expectations out of the water, and the future is looking awfully bright at NRG Stadium!
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