The Texans' inability to surpass the divisional round of the NFL playoffs is not a frustration that is latent or bubbling under the surface. It's a very obvious issue. Fans are vocal about, Bill O'Brien openly acknowledges it. That said, the Texans have been the clear superior team, year over year, in the division. That declaration probably says as much about the dilapidated state of the AFC South for the last 10 years as it does about the Texans' consistent better-than-average-ness, but it's true.
Division champions in the AFC South from 2010 through 2019 go like this:
2010: Indianapolis Colts
2011: Houston Texans
2012: Houston Texans
2013: Indianapolis Colts
2014: Indianapolis Colts
2015: Houston Texans
2016: Houston Texans
2017: Jacksonville Jaguars
2018: Houston Texans
2019: Houston Texans
Granted, it took career threatening injuries to Peyton Manning to open the door for the first two division crowns, and career ending injuries to Andrew Luck (or at least injuries that robbed Andrew Luck of the will to play anymore) to open the door for O'Brien's mini run the last five seasons, but that's football. You play with the hand you're dealt.
I don't say all this to celebrate these division crowns like they are some end all. I'm not here to (virtually) hoist O'Brien on our shoulders and carry him off the field celebratory style. I am pointing out the Texans in-division success as a preface to a feature ESPN.com has been running for the last week, in which they've been naming the All Decade team for each of the eight NFL divisions.
Here was the All Decade team for the AFC South, for seasons 2010 through 2019:
ESPN's AFC South All-Decade Team
Voted on by ESPN's AFC South reporters.
QB: Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012-18
RB: Arian Foster, Texans, 2009-15
WR: Andre Johnson, Texans, 2003-14; Colts, 2015; Titans, 2016
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, 2013-19
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts, 2012-present
T: Duane Brown, Texans, 2010-17
G: Quenton Nelson, Colts, 2018-present
C: Ben Jones, Texans, 2012-15, Titans, 2016-present
RG: Wade Smith, Texans, 2010-13
T: Jack Conklin, Titans, 2016-19
TE: Delanie Walker, Titans, 2013-19
DE: J.J. Watt, Texans, 2011-present
DT: Jurrell Casey, Titans, 2011-19
DT: Calais Campbell, Jaguars, 2017-19
DE: Robert Mathis, Colts 2003-16
LB: Darius Leonard, Colts, 2018-present
LB: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans, 2014-18
LB: Paul Posluszny, Jaguars, 2011-17
CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars, 2016-19
CB: Johnathan Joseph, Texans, 2011-19
S: Kevin Byard, Titans, 2016-present
S: Michael Griffin, Titans, 2007-15
KR/PR: Marc Mariani, Titans, 2010-13, 2016
K: Adam Vinatieri, Colts, 2006-19
P: Shane Lechler, Texans, 2013-17
OK, a few thoughts now:
The Texans were the big winner with TEN players!
The final tally on the spots for this All Decade team goes like this (keep in mind, Ben Jones and Andre Johnson have played for multiple teams in the division, so the Colts and Titans are getting credit for one season each of a washed Andre. Actually, the Titans didn't even get a full season, but whatever) — Texans 10, Titans 8, Colts 7, Jaguars 3. Man, how bad was it to be a Jags' fan this decade? They didn't place a single player on the All Decade offense. What a miserable ten years to be a fan. For what it's worth, when my radio cohost (and former Texan) Seth Payne and I tried to predict who would make it from the Texans, we each thought it'd be around seven or eight players, with Foster, Watt, and Hopkins as sure fire locks, and Brown, Johnson, Clowney, Joseph, and Lechler as safe bets. Wade Smith and Ben Jones were pleasant surprises, although at center, I will always be a Chris Myers guy.
How weak was the quarterback field? Here's how weak it was.....
Andrew Luck is certainly the most deserving of any quarterback to play in the division in this decade. (For those asking, Peyton Manning only played one season in the division in this decade, back in 2010.) So if you had to go with a backup selection, as if it were the Pro Bowl, than who's in second place? Weird as this may sound, because he's only played 2.5 seasons, but it's probably Deshaun Watson. Here are the quarterbacks who attempted the most passes each season for all four teams in the division:
2010: Schaub, HOU; Manning, IND; Gerrard, JAC; Collins, TEN
2011: Schaub, HOU; Painter, IND; Gabbert, JAC; Hasselbeck, TEN
2012: Schaub, HOU; Luck, IND; Henne, JAC; Locker, TEN
2013: Schaub, HOU; Luck, IND; Henne, JAC; Fitzpatrick, TEN
2014: Fitzpatrick, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Whitehurst, TEN
2015: Hoyer, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
2016: Osweiler, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
2017: Savage, HOU; Brissett, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
2018: Watson, HOU; Luck, IND; Bortles, JAC; Mariota, TEN
2019: Watson, HOU; Brissett, IND; Minshew, JAC; Tannehill, TEN
Man, that is a whole lotta suck, to the point where that degree of ineptitude in one division might deserve it's own post. Needless to say, Deshaun Watson is the clear cut number two in this exercise, and Matt Schaub is just as clear cut a number three. Wow, let's keep it moving.
This entire exercise was a referendum on the Texans' handling free agency, at first it was good....
If you look at how the Texans acquired their ten players that were selected in this exercise, it goes like this:
DRAFT (6): Andre Johnson (1st, 2003); Duane Brown (1st, 2008); J.J. Watt (1st, 2011); Ben Jones (4th, 2012); DeAndre Hopkins (1st, 2013); Jadeveon Clowney (1st, 2014)
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENCY (1): Arian Foster (2009)
FREE AGENCY: Wade Smith (2010), Johnathan Joseph (2011); Shane Lechler (2013)
Man, Wade Smith and Johnathan Joseph were absolutely GREAT signings by Rick Smith. Lechler was pretty solid, as well, although he was clearly on the back end of his career. Those were good times ....
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....then... well... not so much....
Then free agency's worm turned. How about this fun little factoid? The marquee names that the Texans let walk in free agency from 2012 through 2015 are pretty clear to me — defensive end Mario Williams in 2012, safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin in 2013, and offensive linemen Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks in 2015. Of those five players, an astounding FOUR went on to make their respective division's All-Decade team. FOUR! And the only one that didn't was Barwin, who still became a Pro Bowler for the Eagles in 2014 with 14.5 sacks. It's funny, if you go back and look at the Texans' 2009 draft, if you'd told the world after the 2009 season that Brian Cushing (who was freaking Defensive Rookie of the Year that season) would have the third best career of the DEFENSIVE players in his draft class, people would have thought you were nuts. Quin having the BEST career from that draft class is a major upset unto itself! By the way, here are who the Texans replaced each of the four All-Decade players with:
2012: Mario Williams, replaced by J.J. Watt becoming a super hero beast (this is actually acceptable)
2013: Glover Quin, replaced by Ed Reed (this is one of the biggest embarrassments in team history)
2016: Ben Jones, replaced by Nick Martin (jury still out)
2016: Brandon Brooks, replaced by Jeff Allen (see: Quin, Glover under "embarrassment")
What a decade! Seriously, let's hope that when the Texans get ten players on this team in 2030, it's because they actually made a few deep playoff runs, and maybe won a Super Bowl. That would be nice.