Walking the Talk

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June 22, 2005
Walking the Talk

by Ric Sweeney

At a time when the Astros and Rockets have recently tasted the sweet taste of postseason, the Texans, to this point, are still forced to only talk about them. But in this case, talk isn’t cheap; not when your owner put up $700 million to have his own place at the postseason trough.

Sure, last year we all got to wrap ourselves in consecutive victories and a first-ever win against the former Oilers, but honestly, the Texans spent most of last fall being bumped from the spotlight by the Astros, whose postseason antics ran roughshod over David Carr and company in a way only defensive ends going man against Seth Wand could appreciate. It didn’t help that the Texans’ season was a universally forgetful campaign. I know the team made progress in the win-loss column for the third consecutive year, but, truly, did anything happen last year to light any fires under any of us?

Looking back at 2004, good teams beat up on Houston. Of the seven playoff teams they faced, the Texans lost by a combined score of 209-107; on average, 30-16. Their nine other games saw the Texans outscore their playoff-less opponents, 200-130 (or, 22-14, per game), but among those games were uninspiring efforts against teams that, frankly, the Texans should be beating in year three. So, where, exactly, are the Texans in their ascent to NFL powerhouse? Bill Parcells believes a team is what a team is, meaning you can find ways to spin 7-9 into 9-7 just as easily as you could spin it into 5-11. So the Texans are a 7-9 team with a lot of holes to fill. Can they make the leap from that platform to playoff contender in 2005? Offseason movement has given us a definitive answer of, “Yes… No… Well, maybe.”

The pursuit of Orlando Pace had a definitive “win now” whiff to it, but the release weeks later of Jamie Sharper didn’t. Trading two picks in April’s draft for first round talent like Phillip Buchannon would also seem to tilt the scales toward the Texans loading up for a big run this year, especially when you consider Buchannon may be the Texans’ first-ever acquisition of a “problem child,” something, they have steadfastly maintained they would avoid filling their roster with. But Buchannon’s arrival meant someone else had to go, so, good luck in Big D, Aaron Glenn.

Trying to insert Pace into any offensive line would rate as an upgrade – you don’t question its dare-to-be-great proposition. But jettisoning Sharper and Glenn? Teams that win seem to have guys like them dotting their roster, don’t they? Could Sharper find a place on a team like the Patriots, who thrive on quiet, productive soldiers? Maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe Sharper’s lost a step; maybe he’s a cancer in the locker room. But there’s certainly been no empirical evidence to suggest either scenario. His performance last year was still productive and stints with both Baltimore (where he won a ring, by the way) and here have yielded nary a whisper about any backstabbing insubordination.

If Sharper had to go to make room for Pace, fine. You do that deal every day of the week and 38 times on Sunday. But you don’t throw the tub out before the bathwater, and with Pace tucked safely in his bed somewhere in Missouri, there’s no real reason for Sharper to be gone. It’s not that I, or, really, any of us, are that attached to Jamie, but the move smacks of a franchise timid about its next few steps.

Same goes for Glenn. Buchannon, a recent first round pick with an impressive collegiate pedigree, certainly tantalizes the intrigue. But all we really know about him at this point is the Raiders, who traded for Randy freaking Moss, grew tired of his attitude. Maybe the time-honored change of scenery will do young Phillip some good. Maybe it won’t. Regardless, whatever he brings to the table is still on paper; Glenn’s contributions were not. Maybe the deal merits a wash. Maybe.

But remember, this is the same franchise that, just last year, traded a boatload of draft picks in order to get what they thought would be an impact defensive player (Jason Babin). A boatload of picks, mind you, to a division rival facing Dante’s Seven Levels of Salary Cap Hell, in essence, giving them a chance to restock their foundation. Did anyone get glassy-eyed at the Texans’ seemingly innate ability to mold Babin into a force? Yeah, me neither.

So what is this team? What are we to make of their strange behavior? And who’s to blame for this seeming lack of vision? If we were to evaluate Charley Casserly and Dom Capers, I’d give both passing grades, but nothing near exceptional. They’ve generated C-level performances. Three years into this thing, and our first-ever game remains the franchise’s water mark. Think about that… not exactly an upward progression. Sure, we’ve had thrills along the way, but nothing to top 19-10. Our offense sputters, even when it wins, and the defense has actually gotten progressively worse in three seasons. Dunta Robinson and maybe Babin have been nice additions, but we still give up crucial big plays and can’t get after the quarterback with any consistency.

Personnel-wise, Casserly has hit with his first pick in each of the first three drafts, but, let’s be honest, he had the luxury of picking among the top 10 prospects each of those three years. Otherwise, his draft record has been a little sketchy. Carr, Andre Johnson and Robinson aside, his best pick has probably been Domanick Davis, who the team seems so high on, they’re intent on finding fewer carries for him. Further, while the expansion draft was expertly managed, free agency has failed to yield a single impact player. The Texans may be in good shape, cap-wise, but has that yet to manifest itself on the field?

In short, the Texans are now, by far, the least successful franchise in the city (though the Astros seem determined to steal that title). I say this not necessarily to pile on, nor would I necessarily rate such a judgment as fair, but I promise you, I’m not the only one who’s noticed, and my guess is that among said observers sits a respected owner and businessman who’s watching his investment slink into nowhereville. Which means the clock is officially ticking on this regime. Tick, tock, tick, tock – what’s the next move? At long last, the Texans have something on the line. Unfortunately, it’s the job security of key front office and sidelines personnel because the team has yet to play for anything meaningful between the stripes.

Ric Sweeney is still licking his wounds from an ill-conceived game 7 purchase of Rockets-Mavs tickets. Donations are requested, in leiu of flowers.

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