Houston Texans season preview

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Following a 2011 campaign that included a division championship and their first playoff victory in franchise history, the Houston Texans are entering 2012 with high hopes and expectations.

Here are some key things to look for as the Texans attempt to improve on last year’s 10-6 season and maintain their position atop the AFC South:

1. No Mario, no problem

The Texans are equipped to fill the void left by linebacker Mario Williams’ departure to Buffalo. Second-year Brooks Reed is replacing him in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Reed, a second-round draft pick in 2011, had six sacks last year and can be expected to produce at a high level this year. In addition, Houston added another pass-rushing threat in this year’s draft, taking Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus with the 26th pick of the first round. With Reed and Mercilus rushing off of the edge, Texans fans have plenty to be excited about. Opposing quarterbacks, on the other hand, can’t say the same.

2. Keshawn Martin’s development

The rookie fourth-round pick out of Michigan State will be expected to produce immediately as wide receiver for Houston. The question is, how quickly will he be able to adjust to the speed of the NFL? With Andre Johnson consistently drawing double coverage from opposing defenses, Martin should get plenty of opportunities in one-on-one situations. The Texans like Martin because of his speed getting past cornerbacks on deep routes as well as his ability to get yards after the catch. Look for him to be effective in the downfield passing attack and screen plays.

3. Can Matt Schaub stay healthy?

Regarded by many as a top 10 quarterback in the NFL, the knock against Schaub has never been his ability but rather his durability. He missed six games last year and has only played two complete seasons since being traded to Houston in 2007. With Schaub as quarterback, Houston averaged 27.3 points per game in 2011. His presence was sorely missed following his season-ending foot injury, as the Texans managed only 18 points per game and lacked a legitimate passing attack. If the Texans hope to defend their division title and make a deep run in the AFC playoffs, they need Matt Schaub to remain healthy.