Texans’ coach DeMeco Ryans insists he doesn’t care about what players have done in the past because everyone deserves a clean slate, and when it comes to the team’s offense, that’s a good thing.
With the exception of the Gary Kubiak era (2006-13), which Ryans was part of for six seasons, the Texans’ offense has been statistically challenged.
Head coaches and offensive coordinators come and go, but the Texans have struggled to generate yards and score points.
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Over the last three seasons when the Texans have combined for 11 victories during general manager Nick Caserio’s rebuilding project, the Texans have finished 18 (2020), 30 (2021) and 30 (2022) in scoring and 13, 32 and 31 in yards. During the 2020 season, the offense was respectable because it was Deshaun Watson’s last year as their starting quarterback.
When you think about rules changes the NFL has made to generate more yards and increase scoring, it’s almost as if the Texans’ offense has been caught in a time warp of ineptitude.
Bill O’Brien was hired to replace Kubiak in 2014. He led the Texans to four AFC South titles and two playoff victories before getting fired four games into the 2020 season. During the O’Brien era, the Texans never ranked among the top-10 teams in offense or scoring – even with Watson excelling in 2018 and 2019 when they combined for a 21-11 regular-season record.
With Kubiak as the head coach – and with assistants like Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel and Robert Saleh on the staff – the Texans were consistent on both sides of the ball. Under Kubiak, they finished among the top-10 highest-scoring teams in four seasons (2009-2012). They also ranked among the 10-best offenses four times (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012).
Which brings us to the new era with Ryans and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who spent the last six seasons working for Kyle Shanahan at San Francisco. Slowik, who’ll call plays for the first time in his nine-year NFL career – all working with Kyle Shanahan – has been the beneficiary of some exceptional mentoring.
Slowik began his NFL career at Washington (2011-13), where Mike Shanahan was the head coach. He also learned from assistants like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel, all of whom were on the staff. Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris, defensive coaches who earned NFL head coaching jobs, were also on the staff. And Slowik got to work with his father, longtime NFL defensive coordinator Bob Slowik.
In his first season with the Texans, Slowik can draw on learning experiences from a lot of coaches he’s worked with. And installing a system and devising game plans for C.J. Stroud is nothing new for him because he was a huge part of Shanahan’s offense the last two years when Trey Lance and Brock Purdy were rookie quarterbacks who started until they suffered injuries.
“I’m fortunate that I'm friends with (coaches) across the NFL that have been through this process,” Slowik said during OTAs. “I'm also fortunate I went through it the last two years with Trey and Brock in a different way – getting the different styles guys play (and) learning and the process they have to go through to get to where you envision them getting and the patience that's required when you do that.
“At the same time (there’s) the urgency required when you do that. It's always a balancing act. Being able to bounce ideas off (coaches) or have guys tell you their experiences and what they went through and what to watch out for, which may or may not apply to the situation you're going through, but it's always beneficial when you have people around you that have been through it.”
Slowik was a freshman wide receiver at Michigan Tech in 2006 when his father was a defensive coach at Denver and Kubiak had left the Broncos to become the Texans’ head coach. The system he learned under the Shanahans – and Kubiak utilized with the Texans – is the one he’s installing and tweaking.
“I was a youngster back then, but the roots are all there,” he said about 2006 when Kubiak and Ryans were introduced in Houston. “I still remember watching, when I first got the offense in San Francisco, all these Houston Texan cut-ups and Andre (Johnson) and (Matt) Schaub and David Anderson and all these guys running the same stuff we're running right now.
“The principles and the foundation of what they did is all there, but like everything, it kind of evolves as it goes. The core’s all the same and probably the edges have branched off maybe a hair (because) the league has changed. There are some different defenses you see, so you have to find different ways to adjust. It was really neat when I first got to throw on some Houston Texan film and see all of them play.”
One thing Slowik should have is a strong running game with Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary. He’ll need a lot of help at receiver and tight end.
Here’s an amazing statistic: The Texans have players returning who caught only six touchdown passes last season. Receiver Nico Collins and tight end Teagan Quitoriano are tied for the most with two each. No wonder Caserio loaded up with veteran and rookie receivers in the offseason.
As the play-caller, it’ll be up to Slowik to make sure Stroud benefits from a consistently productive running game to take pressure off the rookie. But then he has to find ways for Stroud to get the ball to new receivers and tight ends like Robert Woods, Dalton Schultz, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson and Noah Brown. And with Slowik and Stroud’s help, John Metchie III could be one of the most inspiring stories of 2023 if he can make a successful return from Leukemia and a torn ACL.
With OTAs winding down and the rookie minicamp next week, the Texans will return for training camp with higher expectations than the last three years when a pitiful offense contributed to them being among the worst teams in the league.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes three columns a week and does two Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.