NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - INSIDE SLANT


Based on his first nine seasons and what the coaches saw in his three preseason games, the Houston Texans are going to have consistency and production issues with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

If the Texans hope to get within breathing distance of a .500 record, Fitzpatrick must improve on his preseason performance. And that might be difficult considering the problems that have plagued him during his career.

Fitzpatrick's temperature runs hot and cold, and when the Texans begin the regular season against Washington at NRG Stadium, he won't have to win the game, but if he struggles the way he did in preseason, the team will be doomed.

The Texans are hoping to get off to a fast start against what looks like - based on preseason, at least - a relatively easy schedule.

After opening at home against Washington, they visit Oakland and the New York Giants before returning to NRG Stadium against Buffalo. None of those opponents made the playoffs last season.

But if Fitzpatrick doesn't get a better handle on head coach Bill O'Brien's offense, the Texans could get off to a bad start and then plunge into the kind of tailspin that caused them to lose their final 14 games last season.

Under O'Brien, who calls the plays, the quarterbacks were below average for much of the preseason, as was the offense overall. They combined for two touchdown passes - one by Fitzpatrick and the other by rookie Tom Savage.

With running back Arian Foster sitting out a second consecutive preseason schedule but going full speed in practice, backups did the heavy-duty work in a running game that was mediocre. So the pressure on offense fell on the quarterbacks.

Fitzpatrick was wildly erratic during the first three preseason games in which the Texans were 2-1. He sat out the last loss against San Francisco. His preseason rating was 61.4.

Only once - the 32-7 home victory over Atlanta - did Fitzpatrick look like a legitimate starting quarterback. He engineered two touchdown drives and threw his only touchdown pass.

Savage, a fourth-round pick, showed he needs to watch and learn during his rookie year. He's not ready to be the backup.

Case Keenum was mediocre at best. So much more was expected of him after he started eight games last season.

Beginning with the Washington game, what the Texans desperately need is for Foster to become the runner he was from 2010-12 when he was the second-best back in the NFL to Adrian Peterson.

If Foster, a genuine three-down back who can catch and block, stays healthy after undergoing back surgery last season, he can help the offense control the ball, take some pressure off Fitzpatrick and keep the defense fresh.

Romeo Crennel's defense, specifically the front seven, could be special if they stay healthy.

O'Brien was overly cautious about injured players in camp and preseason, protecting them with the idea of everyone being ready for the Redskins. Barring injuries in practice, they should be in outstanding physical condition for Washington.

Defensive end J.J. Watt (resting), outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (injured), inside linebacker Brian Cushing (injured) and outside linebacker Brooks Reed (resting) barely broke a sweat in preseason. All are ready for the Redskins.

The reemergence of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in the last two preseason games gives them another pass rusher if he continues to make progress in the new system. He had two sacks and four big plays starting for Clowney on the weak side, where he recorded 13.5 sacks in his first two seasons.