How 2020 Will Dictate the Texans Future

For about the last decade the Houston Texans have been pretty much around that area of being “not bad, but not great” of franchise. Houston has been primarily atop the AFC South post-Manning Colts Era save the year when they fell into the #1 pick and ended up with Jadeveon Clowney, and 2017. The Texans have won six division titles and 4 playoff games, but have yet to see an AFC Championship game. In fact, Houston is the only franchise in the NFL not to play in a conference championship.

The last few years there has been a lot of hope. Houston finally got that franchise quarterback that really has eluded them up until Deshaun Watson (the closest the Texans had to a franchise quarterback has been Matt Schaub). They’ve had solid defenses and then they had a true elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins where he dominated regardless of who his QB was. After a Wild Card win against Buffalo, the Texans went up to Kansas City and stormed up on the Chiefs 24-0 in the second quarter before Kansas City blew up and outscored the Texans 51-7 the rest of the way.

Then the off-season came and the trade was made. Houston traded Hopkins to Arizona for running back David Johnson. And the media and social media blew up. Hopkins, who was still under contract with the Texans for a few more years and a cap friendly one too, was traded by coach Bill O’Brien (who figured Hopkins would command a contract similar to what Julio Jones of the Falcons has and possibly worried of a holdout) for a running back that has really only one excellent season to his credit and has been oft-injured. Of course this has already been a trade that is being called “worst trade ever.” I would actually agree to that statement.

However, to play “Devil’s Advocate” for a minute on O’Brien’s trade of Hopkins. Let’s say he was right that Hopkins would likely have held out for a massive contract. One thing to really take note on is that the NFL’s offensive philosophy is changing yet again. The league is going back to an offensive mindset of run run run. Example: how did the 49ers get to the Super Bowl this year? How did the Titans make it to the AFC Championship? Why’d Green Bay win 13 games? How’d Buffalo do? These teams really emphasized on the ground game. Granted, Houston’s numbers were also pretty good on the ground in 2019 (9th overall in rushing yards, and Carlos Hyde netted 1,000 yards on top of it), but he is off in Seattle now. But was Johnson the best out there? Hard to imagine. I don’t think Tennessee would be interested in trading Derrick Henry to their rival, or the Giants parting ways with Barkley, or the Browns giving up on Nick Chubb or Dallas allowing their in-state rival to push for Zeke Elliott. So what we can easily see out of Houston in 2020 is a larger commitment to the running game, which has an offensive line that is led by All-Pro Laremy Tunsil.

Houston’s off-season even after the Hopkins trade still made waves. They traded their second round pick to the Rams for Brandin Cooks, which many were miffed as they traded a second rounder for a guy who fell off (583 yards and two TD’s in 14 games), and signing Randall Cobb to presumably offset the Hopkins trade.

But more questions should be on the defensive side. JJ Watt has not been able to stay healthy. in the last 4 seasons save 2018. O’Brien trade Clowney to Seattle prior to the 2019 season. Whitney Mercilus led the team with 7.5 sacks and the team only registered 31 total. And it showed the defense was inept not only in the Kansas City playoff game but the season in general when the Texans were one of the bottom 5 defenses in all of the NFL. The hope of a healthy Watt with their top pick Ross Blacklock from TCU would improve on that rush while the secondary is still a giant mess (though Justin Reid gives hope back there at safety).

So the Texans overall still have a lot more questions than answers at this point. Houston is trying to get an extension to Watson, who is in line to possibly be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL (or one of the highest because Mahomes) but he may possibly take less years given his rumored unhappiness of the Hopkins trade, which is possible. Or we could see a situation unfold like Houston fans are seeing just north of their state in Dallas with Dak.

Which brings me to the 2020 season. To say the Texans aren’t a talented team even with Hopkins gone is a lie. Watson is a great quarterback and there is a lot of veteran leadership on that team. However, they are starting to see some moves being put out in Tennessee and Indianapolis. Worse their schedule is not one to really be forgiving on paper, especially early on (open up with the season opener in Kansas City, then Ravens, Steelers, Vikings, Titans, and Packers are six of their first seven games-yikes!). If they start off 2-5 or 1-6, then things may change by then of having a new GM/head coach. But injuries plague throughout, the defense continues to sputter, and the offense completely crashes even with Watson, then you could see a major rebuild similar to what we’ve seen the Dolphins do and then we could see Watson finding a new home as well as others like Tunsil and others.

However, if the Texans keep their head afloat being 3-4 or 4-3 and the injuries are at a minimum, and Johnson starts to get going a bit, that schedule after the bye is very, VERY favorable for a playoff run and the future of the Texans will look decent and Watson will be around for a while

But right now, it seems like it’s more of a long shot.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC Wild Card Preview

Playoff time has arrived in the NFL. The Colts and Texans take it to round three while the Ravens and Chargers do battle for the second time in three weeks. And honestly, these may be the hottest teams in the AFC so this may be the best games we’ve seen in a while in terms of Wild Card games. And could the winners be more of the favorites than the Chiefs and Patriots? Time will tell with that. But today, let’s look at these two games.

Sep 30, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLTS AT TEXANS, 4:15 (SATURDAY), ESPN:

FOR THE COLTS: It will be very important on how they start the game. They need to take the Texans fans out of the game early. They jumped to a 17-7 lead at halftime in Houston last month not looking back in a 24-21 stunner. It gave Indianapolis that massive momentum of a team that doesn’t need to be messed with. Andrew Luck is getting stronger and better as the season continued while TY Hilton has been a monster in this stretch (while being “questionable” with his nagging ankle injury) and to me being one of the game’s elite receivers. Adding on top, the Colts may have found a stud at running back in Marlon Mack (25+ rushing attempts in two of the final 3 games of the season). The defense has been pretty good in this run and has a feel of the 2016 Falcons defense down the stretch of playing stronger and stronger with a young group of standout players led by Darius Leonard. But once again, they have to be on top of their game against DeShaun Watson and frustrate him as much as possible. Also, trying to find a way to keep DeAndre Hopkins from being a massive factor will be a key.

FOR THE TEXANS: Trust the stars. Houston has a bevvy of great players on both sides of the ball. DeShaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins on offense. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jonathan Joseph on defense. Those guys will have to play the games of their lives. Lamar Miller also needs to have a big game on the ground to keep Houston from sinking even at home. Last game against Indianapolis he only rushed for 33 yards on 14 carries. That needs to be better. Watson played decent, but was also sacked 5 times so the Texans need to do a better job of protecting their young quarterback. If Houston has no answer for the Colts pass rush, it may be a major repeat of last time out. The other major key is can the Texans put pressure on Luck the entire game? He was sacked twice but still threw for nearly 400 yards last game and nearly 500 the time before. Houston can’t shut down Luck, but they can’t let him take over a game like he’s been doing. Or the Texans (my AFC pick) will be going home Saturday.

OUTLOOK: This game will be FUN. I have no dog in the fight (and no, I do not bet on games) so I am going to enjoy seeing this game on how it plays out. I think we will see offense, but also I think we will see key stops being made and whoever gets that key turnover may win. I just think right now despite the hot streak they have gone on, the Colts are still a tad young and winning on the road against a team with a lot of veteran punch in the Texans is a tough task in January. I’ve told a few of my friends however that if there is one team I REALLY want to see win in the playoffs, it is the Colts. I just think the task is too great for a youthful squad. But maybe they aren’t smart enough to realize it and make that run. TEXANS 34, COLTS 31

Dec 22, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is pressured by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (99) in the third quarter at StubHub Center. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

CHARGERS AT RAVENS, 1:05 (SUNDAY, CBS)

FOR THE CHARGERS: The leader of the crew, Philip Rivers, needs to be composed. I know he is a fiery guy and people love him for that. However, when things go awry sometimes, it helps nobody on the team. That win in Kansas City the Chargers had in December, I felt Rivers kept his emotions in check well enough to give Los Angeles that W. However, one game later, it somewhat went away and the team lost at “home.” The team that frustrated him? The Ravens. And this time the game is in Baltimore. The weather forecast doesn’t play out to be a disastrous one for the team coming in from southern California (sunny and 55 is the kickoff forecast) and since I have joked a few times the Chargers have played 16 road games the last two years, it may not amount to much. But Baltimore really frustrated that balanced Chargers offense. And they went after the leader. So all the weapons of Melvin Gordon (12 carries for 41 yards vs. the Ravens), Keenan Allen (5 receptions for 58 yards), Mike Williams (1 reception for 7), and Tyrell Williams (1 reception for 12), would be useless. The good news is Hunter Henry, who has been out all season, may play Sunday so it will help out the offense and maybe spread Baltimore out. But if Rivers is pressured constantly (sacked 3 times in that game), there isn’t going to be much hope for the Chargers. Defensively, they really didn’t have Lamar Jackson completely take over the game in the win, but will have to be a little bit better and really win the field position war. The Chargers have studs around like Joey Bosa and Derwin James. They just need to step up in a big way to shut down Jackson & Co. The best bet however is for the Chargers to build a lead late and make Jackson pass.

FOR THE RAVENS: While the talk and love will be going to Lamar Jackson, the defense is what will be key. If they pressure Rivers and frustrate Rivers like last time, I don’t see the Ravens losing this game. Now if Rivers plays well and some hiccups happen, that is when Jackson will be brought in focus. He reminds me a lot of Michael Vick where he relies on the running and passing is still a question mark (for the record, I do think he will be a better passer as seasons progress). Part of it is the receivers have to make plays. But if the Ravens are down, that will be the big thing. But he can dictate the tempo of the game with his legs. If he doesn’t make mistakes with the ball, he should be fine. That means he better keep an eye out on Bosa because he won’t be fine for that long.

OUTLOOK: The more I have thought about this game, the more I like Baltimore at home. The issue isn’t really the Chargers playing on the road as they are pretty good and they’re accustomed to playing in front of crowds who pull for the other team. But it is how they can frustrate Rivers. I think Rivers had a great year, but he is one of those guys who wears his emotions on his sleeves. Baltimore is a team who feasts on those kinds of quarterbacks throughout its history. And while that isn’t Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on that side of the ball, CJ Mosley is coming into his own and a few other “no-namers” are coming into their own. The Chargers will put up a fight, but offensively will have issues I think while Baltimore does just enough to make the key plays needed on offense to win. RAVENS 20, CHARGERS 13

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed AFC South Preview-2018

For the last few years, the AFC South has been regarded as one of the worst divisions in the NFL if not the worst.  It felt like a 9-7 or an 8-8 team would win the division, thanks to injuries to star players within the division or just plain out ineptitude.  But it has a feel the AFC South from top to bottom will be a little different and maybe one of the more tougher divisions in the NFL in 2018, assuming that certain stars do not get injured.

Last year, Jacksonville’s defense was the talk for getting turnovers and having a physical play to their defense.  They won the division with it and were a few plays away from stunning New England in the AFC Championship.  Tennessee with their run game and Marcus Mariota took that next step and returned to the playoffs and stole a first round win in Kansas City before getting educated by the Patriots.  The Texans for a brief moment had looked to have a great offense to go with a great defense thanks in part to DeShaun Watson.  However, Watson was injured as well as JJ Watt and it derailed the season.  And the Colts, while looking pretty rough without Andrew Luck, weren’t as awful as the record points out to be and has some pieces moving forward.  Will it be Jacksonville’s year to take over the AFC?  Will Tennessee make a bigger jump and jump ahead of Jacksonville?  Will a healthy Texans team return to the top and will Indianapolis look like a threat with a healthy Andrew Luck?

Jacksonville

(1) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 

LAST YEAR: (10-6, 1ST PLACE, DEFEATED BUFFALO IN WILD CARD ROUND; DEFEATED PITTSBURGH IN DIVISIONAL ROUND; LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Cody Kessler (Trade-Cleveland), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Indianapolis), TE-Niles Paul (FA-Washington), G-Andrew Norwell (FA-Carolina), CB-DJ Hayden (FA-Detroit), CB-Dexter McDougle (FA-New Orleans), S-Cody Davis (FA-Los Angeles Rams), S-Don Carey (FA-Detroit), DT-Taven Bryan (Draft-Florida), WR-DJ Chark (Draft-LSU), S-Ronnie Harrison (Draft-Alabama)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Chad Henne (FA-Kansas City), RB-Chris Ivory (Buffalo), WR-Allen Robinson (FA-Chicago), Allen Hurns (released-Dallas), TE-Marcedes Lewis (FA-Green Bay), LB-Paul Posluszny (retired), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Houston)

Jacksonville, who had been the target of jokes throughout the last decade of being a stale team and ranking near the bottom of the NFL for a while, surprised many and made it to the AFC Championship.  And they nearly pulled off the upset.  Blake Bortles, who has been much maligned because of his play over the years, played solid throughout, not making porous decisions with the ball, thus earning him a contract extension.  But the running game of Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon really kicked it in gear last year and is the Jags bread & butter.  It is a key reason why they let two key targets in years past of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns walk.  On defense, which they were excellent lat year, they only improved their roster this year.  They added Taven Bryan from Florida and Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, two great defensive players on defensive oriented teams in college while adding more depth with Cody Davis, Don Carey, and others.  The Jaguars look primed for a late January run, even with Bortles, but if Bortles can continue to make smart decisions, who knows what might happen.  KEY QUESTION: Is Blake Bortles good enough to take the Jaguars to the Super Bowl.  If he just makes the right moves, it is possible with that defense.  He was a couple of plays away last year.

MY PREDICTION: 11-5.  Jags defense is a very young and tough-minded bunch.  They will not be easy for anybody on their schedule this year.

Henry

(2) TENNESSEE TITANS

LAST YEAR: 9-7 (2ND PLACE; DEFEATED KANSAS CITY IN WILD CARD, LOST TO NEW ENGLAND IN DIVISIONAL)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Arizona), RB-Dion Lewis (FA-New England), WR-Michael Campanaro (FA-Baltimore), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Houston), DT-Bennie Logan (FA-Kansas City), LB-Will Compton (FA-Washington), CB-Malcolm Butler (FA-New England), LB-Rashaan Evans (Draft-Alabama), LB-Harold Landry (Draft-Boston College

KEY LOSSES: QB-Matt Cassel (FA-Detroit), QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Houston), DT-Sylvester Williams (Released-Detroit), LB-Avery Williamson (FA-New York Jets) S-Da’Norris Searcy (FA-Carolina), RB-DeMarco Murray (retired)

Like Jacksonville, Tennessee ended their playoff drought and had a come-from-behind win against Kansas City before the Patriots had their way with them.  With DeMarco Murray gone, expect to see Derrick Henry be the main guy in the backfield, and he is a load to bring down.  And the Titans added Dion Lewis who can be a multi-purpose guy and change the climate when he is subbing for Henry.  It’s a great move for Tennessee and it will also take a load off of Marcus Mariota to throw and hopefully his targets of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews continue to trend upwards as they could have a very formidable offense in 2018.  On defense, which struggled at key times last year, the Titans added Bennie Logan at tackle and Malcolm Butler from the Patriots to shore up any shortcomings there.  The Titans also drafted Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, who could be a sleeper.  So while the Titans I believe are already a good team, the potential is there to be far better and be a threat in the AFC.  KEY QUESTION: How far can the Titans go in 2018?  As far as the defense takes them and Mariota is healthy.  The running game is there but with Mariota being a mobile QB, he is always at high-risk of injury.  Defense has to get better especially being in a division with the Jags and Texans (when they’re healthy).  KEY QUESTION: Can the Titans offense become multi-dimensional and have a quality passing game?  That’s a key one to look at.  Mariota can pass the ball.  It’s a matter of can Matthews and Davis keep taking steps upward?  Again, adding Lewis will help and I think they will take a step in the right direction.

MY PREDICTION: 10-6.  Maybe lofty, but the pieces the Titans have in place are excellent pieces like Mariota, Henry, Jurrell Casey and if the players respond around them, watch out.  

 

Houston

(3) HOUSTON TEXANS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (4TH PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Brandon Weeden (FA-Tennessee), QB-Joe Webb (FA-Buffalo), WR-Sammie Coates (Waivers-Cleveland), C-Zach Fulton (FA-Kansas City), G-Senio Kelemete (FA-New Orleans), T-Seantrel Henderson (FA-Buffalo), SS-Tyrann Matthieu (FA-Arizona), CB-Aaron Colvin (FA-Jacksonville), CB-Johnson Bademosi (FA-New England), S-Justin Reid (Draft-Stanford), OT-Martinas Rankin (Draft-Mississippi State), S-Jordan Akins (Draft-UCF)

KEY LOSSES: QB-Tom Savage (FA), QB-Josh Johnson (FA-Oakland), RB-Andre Ellington (FA), G-Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA-Tennessee), G-Breno Giacomini (FA-Oakland), S-Marcus Gilchrist (FA-Oakland), CB-Marcus Williams (FA-Arizona), LB-Brian Cushing (released),

Whatever could have gone wrong for Houston in 2017 pretty much went wrong.  JJ Watt was lost for the season after 5 games with a broken leg and has now only played 8 games in two seasons.  DeShaun Watson played great in his short time starting in 6 games and going 3-3 before he was lost to a torn ACL during practice.  And after Watson was injured, that was it for Houston.  That said, both Watt on defense and Waston on offense changes the entire Houston dynamic.  Watson has weapons with DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller and the Texans will have a couple of key additions in the secondary (which was lit up last year) in Tyrann Matthieu and Aaron Colvin, both of whom expect to play huge roles for the team.  Adding on, Jadaveon Clowney continues to get better and better for Houston.  So the Texans could have the potential to really be a massive threat in the AFC, if the injury bug doesn’t hitting key pieces of the team.  They have an excellent shot to win the division this year and I practically forgot Houston went 4-12 last year, which I think Texans fans can relate as it was a forgettable year.  KEY QUESTION: Will JJ Watt ever be the same player after the injuries suffered the last two seasons?  I won’t doubt a guy like JJ Watt ever, but it is a question people need to ask.  Two major injuries and only 8 games in 2 seasons what does he have left?  My guess is he isn’t going to be the same guy, but I also think the Texans are a better team defense than in years past this year.

MY PREDICTION: 9-7.  Of course, if the Texans are healthy they could be better than this, but will need guys to step up if Watt is lost for any time again.

San Francisco 49ers v Indianapolis Colts

(4) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

LAST YEAR: 4-12 (3RD PLACE)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Ryan Grant (FA-Washington), WR-Kasen Williams (FA-Cleveland), TE-Eric Ebron (FA-Detroit), T-Austin Howard (FA-Baltimore), G-Matt Slauson (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), DE-Denico Autry (FA-Oakland), DE-Chris McCain (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), Rakeem Nunez-Boches (Waivers-Kansas City), LB-Najee Goode (FA-Philadelphia), G-Quenton Nelson (Draft-Notre Dame), LB-Darius Leonard (Draft-South Carolina State), G-Braden Smith (Draft-Auburn), DE-Komoko Turay (Draft-Rutgers, DE-Tyquan Lewis (Draft-Ohio State)

KEY LOSSES: RB-Frank Gore (FA-Miami), WR-Donte Moncrief (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Jonathan Bostic (FA-Pittsburgh), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Seattle), Rashaan Melvin (FA-Oakland), CB-Vontae Davis (Released-Buffalo)

Andrew Luck has been the Colts franchise since he arrived in 2012.  For the first 3 years when Luck was on his game and playing at MVP caliber level, Indianapolis was near the front of the AFC.  When Luck struggled in 2015 and 2016 as the injuries came in, the Colts struggled.  When he wasn’t on the field, Indianapolis bottomed out at 4-12, though they were competitive in about six of those 12 losses and could have won those.  Jacoby Brissett served in admirably for Luck in that time.  However, Luck is back and he will have a new coach waiting for him in Frank Reich.  Of course the key question will be how well can Luck throw the ball?  Could he be Drew Brees 2.0 where he flings it everywhere or will he end up being a Chad Pennington where 10 yards is about as far as he can go?  But he does have good receivers in TY Hilton and Ryan Grant to throw at and maybe Eric Ebron can step up after a disappointing run in Detroit.  Indianapolis also made key moves on the line signing Austin Howard and drafting Quenton Nelson to make sure the hits on Luck are minimal. The Colts have more questions than their divisional counterparts though, notably on the defense.  Malik Hooker is a good pick from the 2017 Draft and the Colts signed Chris McCain who had 5 sacks with the Chargers last year.  But that is still a major work in progress.  The other concern with Frank Gore gone at running back there is a running back-by-committee where it includes Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Marlon Mack, and now 4th round pick Nyheim Hines from NC State.  So the Colts will be on the upswing, but right now, they are still a healthy distance behind their divisional foes to me at least.  KEY QUESTION: If Luck struggles throwing, would they consider taking him out?  It’s very possible.  A quarterback with a shoulder injury and had a hard time recovering from?  Luck is far from a lock being that QB who was a potential MVP candidate from 2012-2014.

MY PREDICTION: 6-10.  Colts will be better though the run game will be an issueand still have some gaps on the defense that need to be answered.

That’s it for this week.  Will be back in 2 weeks from now.  Be safe!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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