Houston Texans' Core Players: Who's Better, Who's Worse Compared to 2013

Houston... where the quarterback's mistakes being merely crippling (as opposed to fatal) net you a two game improvement.
Houston... where the quarterback's mistakes being merely crippling (as opposed to fatal) net you a two game improvement.
Photo by Groovehouse

They say it takes a village to raise a child, a collective group effort whose results are ultimately indicative of the time, effort and most of all, capability of those doing the raising.

The same can be said of a 2-14 NFL season. It takes a village to go 2-14. A village of injuries, comedically egregious mistakes, and general under-performance and suckitude. Now, to be clear, not everyone did "his part" in order to drag the Texans into the bottom of the NFL abyss. J.J. Watt had the greatest season ever for a 3-4 defensive end (topping the standard set his previous season), Chris Myers was one of the top five or six centers in football, and somehow Andre Johnson still found a way to put up over 1,400 yards receiving.

But generally speaking, everyone else was pulling the rope in the completely opposite direction of where this team was thought to be headed at the beginning of the season, especially after a 2-0 start.

So now, nine games in, the team appears to be better. Their record actually is better. So where has the improvement come from? Who, of the Texans' 2014 core, is better in 2014?

We could subjectively argue about things we've seen with our eyeballs, and certainly there's no perfect way to do this empirically player by player, using statistics. Hell, for half the positions on the field, there are little to no traditional statistics by which to measure them. So to make it easy, we will use the advanced player scoring on the Pro Football Focus website to couch this post.

If you're unfamiliar with Pro Football Focus, I'll let them tell you what their player grades are all about:

You'll find page after page of intriguing, never-before-captured numbers and our brand of next-level scouting that will take your knowledge of the game to new heights. The tireless PFF team has worked for years with our mission of continual improvement in mind and, to that end, we're constantly adding even greater depth to the information we offer. What's more, analysis and data for each game goes up within 24 hours of the game being played so there's no waiting around.

So there you go. PFF is a site where a bunch of "experts" (I like to visualize it as a room full of people chained to desks and being fed bread and water, but all of them are wearing NFL Starter jackets) are watching every play of every game and grading every facet of every player. (Hey, I love football, but better them than me.) To get slightly more granular, they dish out grades for different facets of a player's role that all add up to one cumulative grade (typically, a positive or negative low single-digit number, unless you're J.J. Watt and routinely go positive double or near double digits all the time). A player's season grade is the sum of all his single game grades. The evaluation to arrive at the grade is complicated, the interpretation is simple. Thankfully.

So for this post, I picked out eight core Texans on each side of the ball (plus the kicker and punter) who were here in 2013 and are still here in 2014. To be clear, I am doing this having no idea if this is going to take us to any logical conclusion. I just kind of dork out over stats like this, and want to see where it goes. Come along if you like!

OFFENSE

DEANDRE HOPKINS, WR 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -5.4 (88th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 2.6 (21st) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 4.6 (+10.0)

ANDRE JOHNSON, WR 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 15.4 (7th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 1.7 (26th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 3.0 (-12.4)

DUANE BROWN, LT 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 9.8 (24th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -1.1 (31st) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -2.0 (-11.8)

CHRIS MYERS, C 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 16.4 (6th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 0.2 (16th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 0.4 (-16.0)

BRANDON BROOKS, RG 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 15.1 (10th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 3.7 (12th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 6.6 (-8.5)

DEREK NEWTON, RT 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -28.3 (72nd) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -5.9 (51st) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -10.5 (+17.8)

GARRETT GRAHAM, TE 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -6.8 (57th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -6.8 (44th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -12.1 (-5.3)

ARIAN FOSTER, RB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 4.2 (22nd) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 4.2 (13th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 7.5 (+3.4)

DEFENSE

J.J. WATT, 3-4 DE 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 99.8 (1st) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 53.8 (1st) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 95.6 (-4.2)

WHITNEY MERCILUS, 3-4 OLB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -18.1 (42nd) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 1.1 (29th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 2.0 (+20.1)

BROOKS REED, 3-4 OLB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank):-17.7 (41st) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -0.9 (36th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -1.6 (+16.1)

JARED CRICK, 3-4 DE 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -8.9 (38th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -4.6 (38th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -8.2 (+0.7)

BRIAN CUSHING, ILB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 3.7 (16th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -7.9 (48th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -14.0 (-17.7)

JOHNATHAN JOSEPH, CB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 6.5 (25th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -1.1 (54th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -2.0 (-8.5)

KAREEM JACKSON, CB 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -4.0 (81st) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 5.9 (17th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 10.5 (+14.5)

D.J. SWEARINGER, S 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): -6.4 (71st) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): -4.6 (70th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): -8.2 (-1.8)

SPECIALISTS

RANDY BULLOCK, K 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 20.3 (24th) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 3.9 (21st) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 6.9 (-13.4)

SHANE LECHLER, P 2013 PFF Score, Final (rank): 41.2 (1st) 2014 PFF Score, Current (rank): 8.6 (12th) 2014 PFF Score, Projected ('13 delta): 15.3 (-25.9)

Okay, here are my observations from this data and how it matches up to what we are seeing with our eyeballs:

 

Houston Texans' Core Players: Who's Better, Who's Worse Compared to 2013
Photo by Groovehouse

1. 2014 Eyeball Observation: The offensive line has been inconsistent and not very good. THE DATA SAYS: In our 2013/2014 core analysis, this observation is supported by the data. Duane Brown has gone from slightly above average in 2013 to around average in 2014, Chris Myers has taken a step backwards, and when you're the projected most improved player on the team and you're still 51st at your position (cough, Newton, cough), there's probably not a ton of long-term hope for you. The one bright spot, Brandon Brooks, has continued to perform, according to PFF, as a fringe Top 10 guard in the league.

2. 2014 Eyeball Observation: Man, Arian Foster has been amazing! THE DATA SAYS: Well, he has been really good, no amount of data can sour me on Arian Foster. But as good as he's been running the ball (and I personally think PFF is selling him short in that aspect), he's been a little inconsistent in the passing game, both catching and blocking. He's still way better than anything else on this roster, so it's nothing that is a hanging offense. Personally, I think Foster is the one player the PFF scoring is just way off on.

3. 2014 Eyeball Observation: J.J. Watt might be the best football player on the planet. THE DATA SAYS: He is. Next topic.

4. 2014 Eyeball Observation: Wow, Whitney Mercilus has really given the team some juice at OLB, but where the hell is Brooks Reed? THE DATA SAYS: Last season, this tag team combination was dead last at their position, Reed 41st and Mercilus 42nd among 3-4 OLB's. This season, overall, both have gone from bottom of the barrel to below average, although Mercilus has had three of the best four games of his career in the past month. I'd expect his 2014 final score to differ greatly from the final mathematical projection, especially with Jadeveon Clowney back. Reed may want to start looking at other teams' depth charts some time in December.

5. 2014 Eyeball Observation: DeAndre Hopkins is now the number one WR on this team. THE DATA SAYS: Hopkins's rise has been substantial, going from the 88th ranked WR last season to 21st thus far this season. This is a huge seven games coming up for Andre Johnson as pertains to his Texans career. You just can't have a second WR eating up $16 million in cap space. You can't.

6. 2014 Eyeball Observation: D.J. Swearinger has made strides in his second year. THE DATA SAYS: Swearinger might be the one guy whose score I was a little surprised at. PFF basically says he's the same guy he was last year, but he's definitely made a bigger impact on the turnover front. He still has many of the same inconsistencies in coverage and tackling, and I'm not as high on him as some others are, but I do think he's a better player than he was as a rookie.

CONCLUSION So basically, when it comes to these 18 core players who were here during both seasons, the offensive linemen have all gone backwards to varying degrees (other than Newton, who now just sucks a lot less), wide receiver is overall kind of a wash as is the secondary, the OLB's have gone from horrific to slightly below average, and J.J. Watt is still a superhero. Overall, not a ton of improvement on the core Texans over this two-year period. So what's the biggest reason they're 4-5 with a sliver of hope and not 2-7 and surfing YouTube for college QB highlights?

Well...... 2013 Texan QB's:

Matt Schaub -13.7 Case Keenum -6.2 T.J. Yates -3.4

Only four QB's (Terrelle Pryor, Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel and Chad Henne) were worse than Schaub. QB was a -23.3 overall for the Texans. In 2014, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been an entirely underwhelming-but-not-disastrous 1.4. Ironically, he is being replaced this weekend by Ryan Mallett (as he should be).

So there you go...Houston, where the quarterback's mistakes being merely crippling (as opposed to fatal) net you a two-game improvement.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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