Texas special teams were a rare clear spot in 2021

The last time we stopped devoting bandwidth on this site to discussing special teams, the story wasn’t exactly the most positive. Nearly halfway through, the Texans placed close to the absolute bottom in terms of special teams. If you followed the DVOA calculations, the Texans placed 31st, and at one point during the season, the team was ranked last dead. Although the Texans were expected to be in the last place in all known categories, there was little hope that maybe, just maybe, the team in this department could be somewhat adequate. There were certainly every reason to expect it to continue throughout the season.

Still, an interesting thing happened: the Texans did not suck as badly as expected. After saying goodbye, the Texans managed to go 3-5, which is not great, but compared to 1-8, it would qualify as a performance step up. Along the way, the team showed some improvement in various areas. The attack on Davis Mills at the helm was not so offensive. While the jury is still out of his final future, he has in fact shown some improvement in his game. Defense … well, this pattern hasn’t changed, because they still lived and died when they gained key turnovers to alleviate their talent shortage. However, the special teams have seen remarkable improvements.

NFL: December 12 Seahawks in Texas

The coach can only do so much …
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the end of the season, special teams of Texan DVOA rose from the depths and placed in the top 10 (9th). For comparison, the offense ranked 30th in DVOA and the said defense, which had a higher DVOA rating at one point of the season, entered 23rd place. Nevertheless, DVOA’s special teams can really excel. For a team with the 3rd worst record in the league and which may have played some of the most watched matches this season or any season, such success is commendable.

How did the team get out of here? Maybe one area includes points for special team events. Fairbairn didn’t win any major Pro Bowl awards, and while he actually scored a legitimate 61-yard goal, he also had a few premature mistakes (missing against San Francisco, which broke the momentum, was perhaps his least valuable moment). When you think about it, maybe don’t look at the Fairbairn digging game. Well, Fairbairn was not responsible for ALL football boots for the team this season (the team employed 3 football boots this season). However, the team was ranked deep in the bottom tier this season behind FG and XP.

The main part of any special team upgrade must come from a kickback game. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tremon Smith has done something that no Houston player has been able to do since 2009: Undo the kick for Touchdown. This will definitely help the old DVOA rating. The fact that Smith performed this particular kick back for a touchdown helped a lot to alleviate the loss of Andre Roberts, who somehow managed to find the end zone as a kick returner for the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers. It also helped mitigate the success of the loss of Andre Carter, who found the end zone as a return kick for Washington. Otherwise, the team finished fourth in the league in a return yardage kick. One has to reckon with offensive clumsiness and many opportunities to return to the kicks after the opponents have scored, but as we saw in the second half of the season, some of the footage is actually a good thing.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans

Photo by Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Moving on to the introductory coverage, the Texans were rated very high in this department. They were the 11th in actual return kicks. This number may need to be taken with a grain of salt, given the team’s offensive battles and the fact that they didn’t have many excavations to cover. However, when the teams actually got a chance to return the kick-off, the Texans placed 9th in the league in kick-covered coverage. Maybe all those deep signatures paid off on the front of the special teams in the end.

As for the other areas of the team, the game of punting can be considered a plus for the team. It could be argued that the best free player for the Texans was gambler Cam Johnston. He proved his meticulous art even in the dark times of the first part of the season. By the time the season ended, the team boasted the 11th best average in the league and the 7th best net average. Not too bad. Although in terms of statistical variance, the team was actually ranked 30th in the allowed return points. Realize that the team covered the excavations to which it was less exposed compared to the coverage of the points, which they had a LOT of rehearsed.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts

Oh yes, this gentleman is here too. Also the key to the success of any special team
Photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images

All in all, the special teams, apart from questions about the digging game, managed to have a decent season when we looked at some DVOA statistics and calculations. Frank Ross could be the main coordinator of the team (insert a joke about the pride of some employees here). If nothing else, he could have the strongest reason to stay in his current coaching position, especially given the recent purges on the team. This probably doesn’t mean that Ross, looking at his background, wrote some time in New England.

Will it continue next season? TBD. Many players who were involved in special teams, and most of the team, had short-term contracts, so it is not a given that they will return to the team. Johnston should return. As for the kicker, it’s not so certain. If nothing else, the special teams will have a few positives to look back on entering the off-season.

David Berry

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