It was a season of transition for the offensive line of the Houston Texans, as they had to replace 40% of their starting o-line from 2011. When former RG Mike Briesel left via free agency and RT Eric Winston was released in a salary cap move, the Texans were faced with replacing the entire right side in 2012. The initial plan going into training camp was to plug veteran backups RG Antoine Caldwell and RT Rashad Butler into the lineup.
However, second year player Derek Newton beat out Butler in a training camp battle for right tackle. Butler then suffered a season ending torn triceps in the preseason finale. Caldwell started the first six games at right guard, but injury and ineffectiveness caused him to be replaced by rookie draft pick Ben Jones.
For the majority of the season, Houston had a rookie and second year player starting on the right side of the line. Throughout the second half of the season, Jones was rotating with another rookie, Brandon Brooks, while Newton was rotating with the veteran Ryan Harris, whom the Texans acquired after Butler went down.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual at the other three o-line spots. Captain and center Chris Myers, LG Wade Smith and LT Duane Brown started every game this season and all three made the Pro Bowl. Brown, who signed a contract extension in training camp, was also named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press. It’s no secret that the left side was the strength of the unit, and the numbers, especially in the running game, reflected that as well.
In 2012 Houston had 508 rushing attempts and averaged 4.2 ypc, down slightly from 546 and 4.5 in 2011. They had 19 rushing touchdowns, up from 18 in 2011 and 114 rushing first downs, down from 130 the previous season. The Texans had 47 first downs running left, 41 running right, and 26 running straight up the middle. There was actually one area where they did have more success running to the right. Houston had 25 runs of 10+ yards to the right, barely edging the 24 they had to the left side.
Overall, the run game was the strength of the Texans offense, as they finished eighth in the league in rushing. The offensive line also did a good job in pass protection, allowing only 28 sacks, down from 33 allowed in 2011. That number was tied for the fifth fewest in the league. The Houston quarterbacks were hit a little more in 2012. Opposing defenses had an additional 77 quarterback hits for a total of 105 sacks and QB hits. Those numbers were 68 QB hits and 101 total hits in 2011.
The offensive line can improve as a group on running the ball in short yardage situations. Arian Foster did lead the league with 15 rushing touchdowns, but there were too many times when Houston had a third and short situation and couldn’t convert the first down. All in all, the men up front did a good job this season, especially considering they had to replace two quality players in Briesel and Winston.
The young guys, Newton, Jones and Brooks will have an off-season to improve and learn from their first year of NFL playing time. They will come back improved in their second seasons in the Texans system. That, combined with the steady and stellar play of Brown, Smith and Myers should make the Texans offensive line even more of a strength in 2013.