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In Depth 2015: Houston Texans

Injuries and inconsistent play at QB from Matt Schaub led to a 2-14 finish for the Houston Texans in 2013 that meantin-depth the end of the Gary Kubiak era and the beginning of the tenure of Bill O’Brien.

And O’Brien got things turned around quickly. Improved play from the defense, including a monster season from J.J. Watt, and solid play by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick kept the team more competitive in 2014 and while a 9-7 finish did not send the team to the postseason, it did reinvigorate the fan base.

But Fitzpatrick is gone, so the QB position is likely to be manned by one of three barely proven entities in 2015. Additionally, Andre Johnson is gone to Indianapolis and Arian Foster is aging. So while there is improvement, there also are questions. So how far is this team from revisiting the playoffs and possibly making a run?

Patrick Starr, owner and editor of the blog State of the Texans, which covers the Texans independently and for Sports Talk 790 in Houston and Scout.com, shared his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Houston went from 2-14 to 9-7, finishing 4-1 in the last five games. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: San Francisco 49ers

With San Francisco coming off three consecutive conference championships and a trip to the Super Bowl two seasons in-depthago, hopes were high heading into 2014. But injuries, infighting and the regression of Colin Kaepernick took the 49ers down a peg.

Now, Jim Harbaugh is coaching at the University of Michigan and Jim Tomsula is taking his place. Frank Gore is gone to Indianapolis and LBers Chris Borland and Patrick Willis have retired. Reggie Bush and Torrey Smith are newly signed. Carlos Hyde steps into Gore’s role. And, perhaps most importantly, Kaepernick has another shot to take the next step in his development.

So how does this team stack up in the NFC heading into the 2015 draft?

Al Sacco, who covers the 49ers for 49erswebzone.com, Ninerfans.com and Sportsoutwest.com, returns to Zoneblitz with some thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The 49ers fell from 12-4 and conference championship game to 8-8 and out of the playoffs. What caused the problems and how would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Miami Dolphins

Miami was 7-5 at the three-quarters point of the 2014 season with at least an outside shot at the postseason. A in-depthpromising season came to a crashing end, however, when a 1-3 finish dropped the Dolphins to 8-8 for the second consecutive season.

It was the sixth straight season on the outside of the playoffs and 10th in 11 years the team has failed to win double-digit games. But the offseason started off at a frenetic pace, with the signing of Ndamukong Suh as a free agent, the trade of Mike Wallace and the acquisition via trade of Kenny Stills. So management is not complacently sitting on its hands.

So are the Dolphins a better team now than at the end of the 2014 season? Is this the year Miami heads back into the playoffs with a chance to make some noise? Or is the Joe Philbin era on the brink of ending the same as so many of his head coaching predecessors have in Miami? Brian Miller, editor of PhinPhanatic.com, owner of Phinatics.com and co-host of Finsradio.net’s On the FinSide shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The Dolphins were 7-5 at one point with a chance to at least knock on the door to the postseason before losing three of four to finish 8-8. What was your assessment of the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: New Orleans Saints

A season of high expectations fell apart quickly for New Orleans in 2014. The defense gave up 424 points and the in-depthSaints lost their last five games at home to finish a deeply disappointing 7-9.

Urgency reigned at the beginning of the new league year, as well. Stud tight end Jimmy Graham was sent to Seattle for Max Unger and WR Kenny Stills was sent to Miami – both deals netted picks in the first half of the 2015 draft. Mark Ingram was re-signed and CJ Spiller was added to give the offense a new dimension.

Can these changes bring the Saints back to postseason relevance in 2015? Travis Dauro, previously a writer at Canal Street Chronicles and now a freelance writer covering the Saints, re-joins Zoneblitz with his thoughts and observations on the 2014 letdown and the team’s efforts to recover heading into 2015.

Zoneblitz: Though the Saints were in playoff contention until late in the season, New Orleans finished 7-9 and out of the postseason in the weak NFC South. What’s your assessment of the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Cleveland Browns

It was an up and down year for the Cleveland Browns, who used a mid-season surge to get into playoff contention in-depthbefore sliding to 7-9 in 2014.

But for a team on its third head coach in three seasons – one that made two first-round picks, neither of whom produced in their first year – and missing its biggest weapon in Josh Gordon for most of the season, to still produce the team’s best record since a 2007 10-6 mark shows signs of growth.

Can they sustain the indications of momentum? Or will the failure to solidify a long-term QB solution keep this team in the doldrums for more than the foreseeable future? Pete Smith, a contributing writer for Football Savages and former editor of Dawg Pound Daily, rejoined Zoneblitz to share his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The Browns looked for a while like a postseason challenger before falling apart a bit at the end. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

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