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Preseason power rankings: No. 18

After two straight 8-8 seasons, something’s got to give in Houston, right?

The Texans have the firepower to score with any team in the league. They have a reasonable amount of defensive talent. They’re solid in the kicking game with kicker Kris Brown and punter Matt Turk. They should be able to make a leap.

But there simply is no backlog of evidence that proves this team can play at an elite level consistently. So here they are, in the bottom half of the preseason power rankings.

One of the big issues is quarterback Matt Schaub. He’s certainly got the talent to be a top-tier quarterback. What holds him back are injury issues brought on by a tendency to hold the ball a little longer than necessary.

For two years, he has been the starter in Houston. In both years he was able to play only in 11 games.

And that stat becomes his most important one. Bigger than the 66 percent completion percentage or the 30-25 TD/INT ratio is how many games Schaub will be able to play.

When he can sling it, Schaub fixates on warrior receiver Andre Johnson. With good reason. Johnson caught 115 passes for more than 1,500 yards last year. But the Texans’ big tight end, Owen Daniels (70 catches in 2008) and second-year running back Steve Slaton (1,282 yards as a rookie) should be able to keep defenses from doubling Johnson and give Houston a nice complement to Schaub. Also, Kevin Walter is a good No. 2 receiver.

The Texans offensive line has been steadily improving with left tackle Duane Brown being the key to that group.

Defensively, pass-rusher Mario Williams is fast becoming a star and the signing of Antonio Smith in free agency puts another strong player on the opposite end from Williams.

DeMeco Ryans is a tackling machine at middle linebacker. One disappointment is that Brian Cushing, the 15th overall pick, missed the entire preseason with a knee injury and will have to play catch-up to get into the starting lineup as he was expected to. Young Amobi Okoye, a defensive tackle, could be in line to make a big jump for Houston given that he’s still just 23 and this is his third season.

Corner Dunta Robinson finally got around to signing his franchise tender just before the season began, which is a good bit of news for new defensive coordinator Frank Bush.

Head coach Gary Kubiak’s team plays just three of its first nine games at home, where they’re very tough to deal with. It’s important that Houston keeps its head above water during that stretch. They have a chance to start well, going against the Jets at Houston in the season opener.

Key player: Schaub. Behind him on the bench are Rex Grossman and Dan Orlovsky. Case closed.

Rookie to watch: Connor Barwin. The imposing defensive end should have been gone before the 46th pick when Houston got him. He will be a major force opposite Mario Williams one day.

Best veteran acquisition: Smith. Good pass rusher, excellent run stopper at defensive end. One of the underrated signings of this past offseason.

Key game: At Indianapolis, Week Nine. The test comes just before the Texans get a bye after a seemingly weak first half schedule. Three weeks later, they’ll see the Colts again. If they are truly ready for a postseason berth, the Texans need to do something they’ve never managed to do -- beat the Colts twice.