View Full Version : Carter Toole's Look Back at 2004

01-12-2005, 06:22 PM

Long distance dedication
By Carter Toole

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series analyzing the Texans' 2004 season.

Dom Capers is the only coach in the history of professional sports to take over two separate expansion teams. He often jokes it’s because he’s the only person crazy enough to do so. Building a team from scratch, in any sport, is the ultimate challenge. From the outset you’re running to stand still, just trying to catch up to your more established peers. The natural temptation is to arrive at that point as quickly as possible. The danger is that a quick fix might derail you from your ultimate goal.

Capers knew that when he arrived in Houston. His Panthers made the playoffs in just their second season, only to plummet from that perch by season number four. Capers vowed that the Texans’ progression would follow a steadier path. On that front, he has succeeded. The Texans finished 7-9 in their third season, two wins clear of last season’s 5-11 mark. Houston’s offense gained more than 50 yards per game more than it did in 2003 and scored 26 more points. Six starters just completed their third season or less, including wide receiver Andre Johnson, who became the Texans’ first offensive player to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, the defense cut its yards allowed by 40 per game, intercepted 22 passes and scored five touchdowns, despite starting three rookies for most of the season.

Improvement? Absolutely. Enough improvement? Ah, that’s where opinions differ. Well before her (ahem) memorable debut at Reliant Stadium, Janet Jackson had a hit song that sums up the feelings of most current NFL fans. “What have you done for me lately?” So what have the Texans done for you lately? Well, they’ve swept two bitter division rivals and won half their road games. Then again, they’ve also posted a losing record at home and dropped games to the likes of the Lions and Browns.

Right now the Texans are essentially good enough to beat anybody but just fragile enough to lose to anybody. A sloppy loss in Detroit is followed by a miraculous victory at Kansas City. A Battle Red win over the Jaguars precedes a blowout loss at Denver. A comeback win over the Titans is followed by a second-half meltdown at the Meadowlands. An historic triumph in Jacksonville comes before a humbling defeat to a Browns team that had lost its previous nine games.

Talent can be cannibalized by inconsistency. It’s a tough but necessary lesson to learn. The teams that are playing past the second day of January aren’t that much different from the ones that have already cleaned out their lockers. But for the most part those 12 teams have been consistent enough to gut out wins and hold serve at home. “In the NFL if you win the games you’re supposed to win and you win your home games, you’re probably going to be a division winner and in the playoffs,” linebacker Kailee Wong said. “We’re close. There’s no doubt about it, we’re very close.”

Most would agree. As frustrating as the season-ending loss to Cleveland was to people both inside and outside this building, the Texans remain on the right track. “We have to draw from our experiences,” Capers said. “The thing I feel good about heading into our fourth year is that I think we have a good foundation and nucleus of players. We have the right kind of guys that understand the kind of commitment it takes to move to the next level.

“Everything that we’ve done from the beginning here has been based upon trying to establish a foundation for our football team with the kind of work ethic and attitude that it’s going to take to eventually win a championship.”
In essence, Capers sees the forest from the trees. When he stares off into the distance, he can see a consistent playoff contender. Management shares that vision, forsaking the quick fix for the long haul. More pieces to the puzzle will be added in the off-season. And the Texans will take the field in August as a legitimate contender in their fourth season, which is what the franchise envisioned all along.

UP NEXT: Houston's offense

01-12-2005, 06:39 PM
By Carter Toole

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a four-part series analyzing the Texans' 2004 season. Click here for part one.

When the Texans first hit the field in 2002, their offense might as well have had a sign reading “Caution: Student Driver” hovering over the huddle. Houston started six rookies on offense and it showed. But the Texans endured those growing pains with the knowledge that this offense would grow – and eventually succeed – together.

After completing their third season, it’s obvious the Texans now have tremendous potential on that side of the ball. They’re not quite there yet, but they’re light years away from their expansion days. And the ultimate goal is to finish what they started. “We’re headed in the right direction,” head coach Dom Capers said. “Are we where we want to be on offense? No. But I know we’re headed in the right direction.”

His quarterback agrees. “I believe we can be in the playoffs next year,” David Carr said the day after Houston concluded its 7-9 season. “I believe we can compete with any team that we play against and we should beat them.” The day after the Texans’ previous two seasons, that response would have drawn snickers. But the truth is the Texans proved in 2004 that they can indeed compete with anybody, especially with an offense that improved immensely in Carr’s third season under center.

Houston improved from 31st in the league in total offense to 19th, averaging 52 yards more per outing under offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Capers cited 10 categories he targeted for improvement and the Texans’ offense advanced in all of them. “I keep very close track in all areas of whether we’re making progress,” Capers said. “For the most part, we’ve made significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball.”

The numbers are impressive. The Texans had 300 first downs, 63 more than a season ago. Their number of three-and-out series decreased by 27. Houston’s rushing game churned out 117.6 yards per contest, 14 more than in 2003. The Texans threw for 37 more yards per game. And for the first time, Houston could boast both a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver. Running back Domanick Davis set club records with 1,188 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ditto wide receiver Andre Johnson, whose 79 catches, 1,142 yards and six touchdown receptions earned a trip to the Pro Bowl – a first for a Texans player on offense.

But there were also stumbling blocks along the way. Despite the increase in yards, the Texans managed just four more touchdowns. The offensive line, while improving its run blocking, gave up 13 more sacks than it did last season. And that’s where the frustration sets in. Just as some close losses prevented the Texans from having a truly incredible season, Houston’s offense came agonizingly close to becoming one of the AFC’s best.

Johnson was unstoppable in the first few months of the season, leading the AFC in receiving yards after six games and helping the Texans rank fifth in the NFL in passing offense. But opposing defenses clamped down on Johnson soon after. Over the last 10 games of the season, his receptions per game dipped from 5.5 to 4.6 and his receiving yards per game dropped from 17.9 to 11.9. It’s a tribute to Johnson and the respect he commands that his defensive peers still voted him to Honolulu. “To me it just speaks volumes in terms of the respect that he’s earned on the field, when you get voted to the Pro Bowl your second year,” Capers said. “You don’t have to look at much tape to see that he gets an awful lot more attention now. No matter what kind of coverage there is, there’s going to be a lot of accountability for Andre Johnson on the field.”

It was the reverse for Davis, who was plagued by fumbling problems and injuries during the first half of the season. He was also adjusting, along with his blockers, to the Texans’ new zone blocking scheme. But Davis exploded in the season’s second stanza, averaging 103.5 per game over the final eight contests and scoring eight touchdowns. That bodes well for 2005. “The offensive line is a lot like our team,” Capers said. “When you look at our offensive line over the course of the year, I think we improved tremendously as we developed familiarity with the scheme. You just have to look at Domanick’s statistics and our rushing statistics over the second half of the season.”

The Texans inserted second-year pro Seth Wand at left tackle and shifted Chester Pitts from left tackle to left guard. Veteran Todd Wade played the majority of the snaps at right tackle. Continuity is critical to the offensive line more than any other segment of the team so Capers is encouraged that the line will return intact and can spend an entire off-season together. “I anticipate and expect us to have a real good off-season with our offensive line and to come back and have a more veteran, experienced offensive line,” he said.

Carr had easily his best season as a pro, setting career marks in yards (3,531), completion percentage (61.2) and passer rating (83.5). And for the first time in three seasons, he threw more touchdowns (16) than interceptions (14). Carr clearly has more command in the huddle, the product of absorbing the offense for 44 starts before his 26th birthday. “David’s had a unique situation coming in and starting from day one,” Capers said. “I think his experience will really benefit him as we head into year four.”

This season also produced the re-emergence of Jonathan Wells as a solid backup to Davis. Wells rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns and also caught two touchdown passes. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney had his best season, hauling in 41 passes for 632 yards and two scores. Tight end Billy Miller saw his catches decrease but that’s because veteran Mark Bruener was brought in to provide a more physical presence at the position.

Six of Houston’s offensive starters just completed their third season or fewer. The Texans appear to have all the pieces in place for sustained success on that side of the ball. If the 2004 season showed glimpses of the offense’s star power, the 2005 season just might be the season where the Texans put it all together. And considering where they started, that would be a truly colossal accomplishment, for players and coaches alike. “We have the talent,” Davis said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

UP NEXT: Houston's defense

01-12-2005, 07:06 PM

By Carter Toole

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series analyzing the Texans' 2004 season. Click here for part one and here for part two.

The role reversal was conspicuous to say the least. Just two seasons ago, Houston’s defense was the veritable rock of the expansion team, keeping the Texans in games that had no business being in with an offense that started five rookies. But early in 2004, while the offense was grooving along, it was the Texans’ defense that was breaking in rookies. And it showed. The Texans were giving up yards in bunches. Yet they were also doing something else – they were making plays.

Free safety Marcus Coleman picked off a pass in the end zone in Kansas City and raced 102 yards for a game-altering touchdown. Linebacker Jamie Sharper hit the defensive grand slam – sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown – on one play against Oakland. The Texans picked off reigning co-MVP Steve McNair four times at Tennessee. Cornerback Demarcus Faggins turned his first career interception into a game-clinching score against Jacksonville.

The mistakes were there, be they missed tackles or gap assignments. But the unit’s aggressiveness never wavered. And by the end of the season, it began to pay off. “I thought our defense made significant improvement over the course of the year,” head coach Dom Capers said. “The thing that jumped out at me was we cut our big plays given up by a third over the second half of the season.”

Over the final six weeks of 2004, Houston’s defense cut its yards allowed per game by 68. The Texans gave the Colts’ record-setting offense fits in a tight loss, launching a streak of 13 consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown, the longest such streak in the NFL in 2004. Houston recorded its first-ever shutout in Jacksonville. And the Texans kept making plays, upping their interception total to 22 (third in the AFC) and turning two more fumbles into touchdowns. “I like the fact we got a lot of turnovers this year and we turned those turnovers into points,” Sharper said. “You’re giving the ball back to your offense, you’re keeping the other team off the scoreboard and you score points so it’s three things where you can definitely help your team win. “If that’s going to be our identity going from this year to next year, I’ll be happy with that.”

The Texans started two rookies in the secondary for most of the season as Dunta Robinson lined up at right corner for all 16 games and Glenn Earl started nine games at strong safety. Normally that’s a recipe for disaster, but it actually benefited Houston quite well. Robinson led the Texans and all NFL rookies with six interceptions and earned a reputation as one of the league’s soundest tackling corners. Earl likewise became one of the team’s best hitters. Meanwhile, Coleman and cornerback Aaron Glenn gave the Texans a veteran presence. Glenn bounced back with five picks after an injury-plagued 2003 season in which he only intercepted one ball.

Sharper once again led the team in tackles with 177, adding two sacks and three forced fumbles. The Texans lost fellow inside ‘backer Jay Foreman to a shoulder injury in early December but special teamer DaShon Polk filled in admirably. Kailee Wong shifted from the left to the right outside linebacker slot and had his best season in Houston, registering a team-high 5 ½ sacks. Rookie Jason Babin manned the left side and improved as the season wore on, eventually collecting 76 tackles and four sacks. Antwan Peek was a high-motor super sub. Free agent pick-up Robaire Smith paced the defensive line with a career-high 100 tackles and three sacks. Seth Payne returned from two knee surgeries to play in all 16 games at nose tackle, posting 78 tackles and two sacks. But he tore his left hamstring in the season finale against Cleveland.

As good as the interception and takeaway totals were, the Texans know they have to increase their sack total. Houston registered just 24 sacks, fewest in the NFL and 13 off the league average. One of the primary reasons for the defense’s success in December was an increased presence in the backfield, which made things a little easier on the guys behind them. “That’s always the difference in any game,” Glenn said. “Anytime you can get pressure on the quarterback that makes the job for the secondary much easier. Deion (Sanders) said a long time ago, ‘You show me a front seven that’s not getting to the quarterback and I’ll show you four defensive backs that can’t cover.’ Those guys have really made a difference on how aggressive we can play back there as far as jumping routes and taking chances on getting interceptions.”

The Texans feel like the 2004 season provided the perfect trial-by-fire for their defense. Houston faced all five of the NFL’s top-rated offenses, while working in three rookies and moving two veterans (Wong and Coleman, who previously occupied Robinson’s spot). Those circumstances can only help as the Texans look to 2005. “I think our defense is on the upswing,” Capers said. “I knew at the beginning of the year that this was going to be one of those years that we were going to be a work in progress. Anytime you start three rookies on one side of the ball and lose some guys around position-wise and bring some new people in, it just takes time for all that to fit together. “But I’ve seen our defense really improve. We’ve played some excellent games the second half of the season and we’re a far better defense now than we were earlier in the season.”

UP NEXT: Houston's special teams

01-13-2005, 08:18 PM
Carter Toole designed the front page of the last program, and it is awesome!! For those of you who didn't see it, maybe someone can post it.

01-14-2005, 12:11 PM
i like to read that kind of stuff, this board is already pretty dead. does it get worse, until next season ?

01-14-2005, 02:04 PM
i like to read that kind of stuff, this board is already pretty dead. does it get worse, until next season ?

You might not get the same quantity but you'll get much better quality. There's talk of the draft up to the draft, then there will be talk about our picks and how they'll fare, free agent moves and signings, etc. So I don't think it'll be dead here on the MB but you definately won't have the same frenzy on the MB that occurs on gameday.

El Tejano
01-14-2005, 03:11 PM
You will also get the What was Casserly/Capers thinking, Fire Casserly threads when people don't agree with our picks.

01-14-2005, 04:25 PM
You will also get the What was Casserly/Capers thinking, Fire Casserly threads when people don't agree with our picks.

Yea!! Carr, Johnson, Robinson! What in the world was he thinking??! :heh:

I love reading the draft thread during the off season. Everyone is SOOOO passionate about who THEY think would be the best pick, and rarely do they agree with Casserly & Co. Seems to me like he's done a fairly good job, at least with the first pick.

01-14-2005, 04:30 PM
Yea!! Carr, Johnson, Robinson! What in the world was he thinking??! :heh:

I love reading the draft thread during the off season. Everyone is SOOOO passionate about who THEY think would be the best pick, and rarely do they agree with Casserly & Co. Seems to me like he's done a fairly good job, at least with the first pick.

I to get a charge out of everyones thinking before the draft. Other than the first round picks, few if any are even remotly close to what CC does. Gets pretty funny sometimes (and sad also) when they blow their stack because of what he does or doesn't do.

01-17-2005, 12:29 AM
i think C.C and company have done a great job of drafting thus far, it seems nearly every pick has been a big impact player for us !

01-19-2005, 01:22 PM
Five and counting
By Carter Toole


Time flies when you’re having fun. Or when you’re building a football team from scratch. Believe it or not, five years ago today the Texans hired Charley Casserly as their first general manager. Or should we say, Houston NFL 2002 hired Casserly. The franchise didn’t even have a name yet. “I can’t believe it’s been five years,” Casserly admitted Wednesday. Long before the days of sold-out games on national television under a retractable roof, there was Casserly with his 13 boxes of scouting binders on the 31st floor of the Pennzoil building on Louisiana Street. Every journey begins with a few small steps.

The journey to Casserly’s hiring actually began before Bob McNair even got the green light for an expansion team from the NFL on Oct. 6, 1999. McNair was seeking advice from numerous corners, including the former general manager of the Redskins. “I started talking to Bob even before he got the team,” Casserly said. “I emphasized that you need to hire someone immediately to start up the franchise. Owners around the league were telling him ‘Well, if you do it now, you’ll be a year ahead.’ My point was you weren’t a year ahead -- you were 75 years behind the New York Giants. You need to get going right away if you have any chance of being competitive.”

Casserly, meanwhile, was adjusting to his first fall without a team in 23 years. He managed to catch all of his daughter Shannon’s volleyball games at Georgetown Visitation in Washington. But he also managed to keep his pulse on the league. “I did three weekly shows for ESPN radio,” Casserly said. “Every Wednesday I would go up to NFL Films and watch tape all day with Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge as they prepared for their NFL Matchup show. That kept me on top of the NFL.”

And when the regular season concluded, Casserly’s phone started ringing. Not only did he boast 23 years of NFL experience, the last 10 as general manager, but the Redskins roster that he built had won the NFC East with a 10-6 record. The Steelers, Jets and Saints all expressed interest. But Casserly’s first interview was with the man from Houston he had met a few months earlier. And he was intrigued. “I remember I was on a scouting trip to the University in Houston in 1996, the year the Oilers were a lame-duck team,” Casserly said. “I was heading down I-45 and I saw the downtown skyline in my rearview mirror. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘How can an NFL team in the country’s fourth-largest city, and in a state that loves football, not be successful?’”

Casserly arrived at his initial interview armed with a detailed plan of how to build an expansion team. The task was a daunting one, especially considering the expansion Browns had just completed a 2-14 season in which they were outscored 437-217. McNair was impressed. Casserly flew to Pittsburgh the interview with the Steelers the following day but was called back for a second interview with Houston six days later. Casserly met McNair in New Jersey and flew back with him to Houston. “We completed the contract on the plane,” Casserly said.

A press conference followed on Jan. 19 at the Marriott Galleria on Westheimer. “All I remember is the ballroom was gigantic and there was nobody in there,” Casserly said. “You had maybe five reporters and all the TV cameras. “But I made the comment that day that I thought Houston was a sleeping giant. You had the fourth-largest city in the country and you’re in the state of Texas with a great tradition of football. This was a sleeping giant and the giant was about to be woken up.”

To do that, Casserly had to get right to work. Those 13 boxes were shipped to Houston. He hired Mike Maccagnan as his first scout and signed the team up with BLESTO, the national scouting combine that represented 12 NFL teams. That gave Houston access to scouting reports that would eventually come in handy as the franchise pointed towards 2002. “There’s no question I had a vision as to how the franchise was going to get to where it needed to be on opening day,” Casserly said. “I had laid that out before I got here. Obviously, some things change along the way. But the concepts I talked about when I came included emphasizing youth when signing free agents and emphasizing the draft.”

Chuck Banker, the team’s director of pro scouting, was hired in February. After the 2000 draft, Casserly completed his initial scouting staff, which, in hindsight, was probably even more essential than it seemed at the time. Why? In terms of football work, Casserly found himself running to stand still. There were plenty of other things on his plate. “When I took the job, I thought I would be able to spend a lot of time on football,” Casserly said. “But the majority of that first year was spent on facilities, speaking and researching to hire people.” It wasn’t uncommon for Casserly to find himself speaking three times a week. But it was a barnstorming tour by design. This was a team with no coaches, players or even a name. Casserly needed to get the word out.

Meanwhile, there was the small matter of working space. McNair’s offices at Pennzoil Place had become too crowded for the football staff so he purchased some office space on the West Loop, just a long spiral away from where the stadium was being built. Casserly spearheaded that move and then had to turn his attention to the practice facility. “They had the practice fields over where the parking lot is on Main Street so that had to change,” he said. “I toured 10 facilities over the next couple of months.”

The Texans got their name (and their website) in September. They hired Dom Capers as their coach four months later. Free agent workouts were soon to follow. And before you knew it, the Texans were a living, breathing football team that, as you may recall, made a pretty nice debut.

The plan worked. And five years after that press conference, the Texans have 16 wins, 30 sellouts and a solid nucleus of players, just as Casserly envisioned. Sure, there have been some speed bumps along the way, and more are sure to follow. But Casserly is more than certain that coming to Houston was the right move at the right time for him. “I tell people that I made the decision based on two reasons – the owner and the city,” he said. “And that hasn’t changed. We’ve made great strides here and now we just have to keep growing.”

12-05-2005, 11:00 AM
So much promise going into this season. What a difference a year makes.

12-05-2005, 01:05 PM
I would be better to read all of the board members threads as to what is really going on than to read the fluff pieces but out by the organization.