Despite The GM Hire, McNair Is Unable To Take A Step Forward

Tone deaf, indifferent and inept, Cal McNair is showing once more, he isn’t fit to own a pro-football team. As the hiring of his new GM is over-shadowed by his lingering, unaddressed mistakes.

The announcement of Nick Caserio would have struck a raw nerve instantly with many of the Texans faithful on Tuesday. A hire that with any objective lens on Caserio’s track record, would seem a desirable franchise leader. And it of course would have been, if not for the source of his experienced being intrinsically linked to the source of previous failures. Notably the last 7 seasons were design by those of a similar ilk.

When removed from Foxborough, MA., the “Patriots Way” rarely pays dividends. After seeing this first hand, to reach out again, in hope of it transferring to Kirby Drive, appears an ill-fated premise. As the mistakes co-signed by both Bill O’Brien & Jack Easterby reverberate around every facet of the Texans. The most notable output being it’s talent deficient roster, which lent itself to 4-12 season, despite the talents of Deshaun Watson under centre.

O’Brien was sent packing after week four, some three months ago, allowing Cal McNair and his search firm significant time to jump start their efforts in the 2021 hiring cycle. Despite that, the preferred option was to resurrect a previous failed hiring attempt from July 2019, as the Texans opted for Caserio. A clause in his contract inhibited him from joining Houston then, now out-lawed by the league, the Patriots subsequently filed tampering charges. Though the Texans had fired Brian Gaine on the premise they had their man.

Left red-faced, Houston opted to allow O’Brien and Easterby to dual-control the franchise, that ultimately sent the team on a collision with the depths of mediocrity. McNair stood idly by allowing the incumbents to run riot. The very mistakes his new GM will be tasked with correcting.

Financial cost seems to be secondary to McNair which is admirable in a sense but it more likely an output of his ineptitude. He had also hired a search firm, Korn Ferry, paying an exclusivity fee to then only ignore their final candidate list. A rather expensive exercise to conduct so publicly, to then hire someone who could have been previously available whilst still having outstanding interviews scheduled with prospective candidates. But the trigger was pulled and Caserio is now in the top-three GM’s in terms of salary.

The end result in arguably a good one but it’s the cloud of controversy that Nick enters the building with doesn’t allow his to start his reign on an even footing. His ties to Jack Easterby, the man who orchestrated the Brian Gaine firing to bring over his former colleague, could well be his undoing in Houston. Though Easterby is widely credited with pushing the search firm’s advice off-course, it should be noted his role in the firing of O’Brien. Caserio may be advised to tread carefully when handling footballs most maligned character.

Even the faintest murmur of Easterby’s name incites instant vitriol across the Texans fanbase. Added to the fact, the players have intimated they would like to see him removed. He provides a toxic influence that has eroded the culture every bit as much as the talent in the building. Easterby’s position is one that whatever he brings to the organisation is overwhelming outweighed by his drawbacks. So in Caserio’s initial assessment of the franchise, if this isn’t an obvious early course of correction, then yet more rockier waters may lay ahead. But if there was ever a way to get the fans & players alike to back you in the early days as the Texans GM, then theres an easy call to make.

The next part in the Texans off-season process is for Caserio to appoint a head coach. A task, if not successful, appears to perilously close for a consecutive off-season of counterproductively. This team cannot afford that. They cannot afford to get this wrong as they face a disgruntled quarterback and locker room, never mind the already indignant fan base.

An uphill task faces Nick Caserio and his early decisions will likely follow him, for however long he see’s out the freshly inked 6-year deal.

2020 – A Year To Forget

Failing in the backdrop of a global pandemic, the Texans football operations have been a localised epidemic of inadequacy.

2020 has been a challenging year, that most will want to banish its memory when said “normality” rolls around. Similarly, Houston’s on-field fortunes have been a low point in our recent memory. The global impact of covid-19 and its origins are still yet to become wholly clear.

However, Cal McNair’s inherited franchise has knowingly stumbled into dissolution. The wrongs were correctable and entirely within the realms of control. Never the less, decisions were allowed to continue with obvious consequences. A global health crisis and a stumped football owner’s imparted misery aren’t truly parallel but have compounded by their timing, none the less this year.

Though the current pandemic and the Texans do have a characteristic in common – a struggle to define its turning point. Like a public health trauma, addressing cultural rot is not visible. So when can we truly declare a change?

The time-lag of vaccine distribution to quell societal fears of an ever changing threat is one thing. But similarly for Houston, medication is only the beginning of a long journey. Neither have easy fixes. Neither can make up for the lost time. Neither can cure, only lessen symptoms. Both have issues that will linger and could feasibly become worse before it getting better.

As the world attempts to address its imbalances into 2021, Cal and his various hired-help will look to people around the football community. Who they entrust with the keys to address the Texans current plight is anyones guess.

Though quite how far the Texans have fallen from the top-tier of football in two years, we will likely only know the true extent of the damage, once the rescue is attempted. The notion that ’21 season could well have the O’Brien & Easterby stench still permeating around it, not being in play-off contention, is a realistic one.

Regardless of the quality hired in the front office and coaching staff, there are limits to what the regime will be able to achieve in a single off-season. Considering they will have less than two months to prepare for free agency. Less than 4 months to prepare for the draft, amongst the fragmented landscape of college football. These are restrictive conditions that even the self-claimed “optimists” will need to thoroughly consider.

Time and perspective is 20-20 clarity for most, but can be clouded by the emotive on looker in a sporting context. The 2018 season was a talent-peak in Houston but a combination of a poorly coached team and the missing final few pieces, left this team short. The defence had already reached it’s peak in 2016 – see the admirable New England play-off defeat. This defensive unit was already two years into a decline when helpless watching their 24-point lead in Kansas City disappear. That watershed moment, if it had been addressed that off-season, the 2021 outlook may be vastly different. Never mind the meek play-offs loss the year prior to a divisional rival no less.

Alas, it was not and we are now standing at the bottom of the pro-football totem pole, reminiscing about it used to be like, when the top was almost in sight.

The lone jewel in the crown is of course Deshaun Watson. A player who if paired with the level of Houston defences of years past, you have a championship calibre roster. The irony of allowing defensive talent to erode so grossly whilst having the most coveted need in all of team sports filled, is a feat of certified incompetence.

This franchise, is required to deep clean more than its surfaces after Sunday’s NRG finale against Tennessee. There will be casualties that would seem unfair but starting with Jack Easterby, the remnants of the O’Brien debris needs to be cleared from the crash site. The only way to admit you have a problem, is to hit rock bottom. A team with Watson only winning a handful of games, is indeed the floor that none us will want to be left on ever again.

Cal is faced with the biggest decision he will ever make, getting it wrong or even partly right will leave this team confined to what they always been – irrelevant. But previously the odds were stacked against his expansion franchise. They were stacked even more firmly against him when they incorrectly selected & managed David Carr’s career. However this time the odd’s should be stacked in his favour with the asset of Deshaun as the teams centrepiece.

By no means can we underestimate C-19 and it’s impact on families and people or comparing Houston Texans football is any attempt to belittle the threat. But hopefully 2020 has taught us all to be grateful for the finer points in life and taught us to be better at whatever we try our hand at.

Just as some day we will cheers a beer at the tailgate, morn the previous weeks loss whilst chewing on some BBQ. Hiding under a gazebo from the searing Houston heat, talking to complete strangers about the team we share a love for. Just like those days will come again, so will a winning Texans team, it may just not be next year.

The Curious Case Of The Texans Football Operations Department

In a season plighted by Covid-19, the Texans true to form, reached new heights of embarrassment yesterday. Houston’s operational deficiencies came to the fore with a spectacular level of absurdity. As both Bradley Roby & Will Fuller were suspended for 6 games after violating NFL rules for PED’s. This, with only five games left in the 2020 season.

This now leaves a harrowingly poor cornerback group and a thinning looking receiver room. The latter is particularly puzzling considering the recent release of Kenny Still, when the team must have already known these suspensions were quickly approaching.

Their announcements broke in unusual way as the players took to social media which on the whole, is an uncommon route for stories to become public knowledge. As league and media sources, merely screen-shotted or re-confirmed Fuller’s post, to surprisingly reveal the decision. Then merely seven hours later, Roby confirmed he’d suffered the same punishment from the league office.

The timing also stood out as being odd, how the two players, who are both are the Texans best players in their respective position groups, were found guilty on the same day. It begs the question did both players consume the same substance? Did they both visit the same ill-advised specialist? Perhaps based on the recommendation from their team mate? But the ailments requiring attention are still unclear.

Did anyone inside NRG know of this referral or did the players go off-piste and consume something they knew, in their heart of hearts, that it could well be a risk their careers? As there are NFLPA signs in locker room stating these rules – that ultimately the player is responsible for what they consume.

But this failing also shines, yet again, on the Texans in an unflattering light. They have duty of care towards steering these 20-something millionaires. They are in need of guidance and to be reminded of their responsibility to the team and the fans. Both Fuller and Roby are 5th and 6th year players, so their is little room for their excuses of being wrongly advised. It was their responsibility was to check with the team’s medical staff. Why they didn’t is only a question they can answer. But the fact that it was not just one but two players who fell foul of this, comes back to reflect on the team.

The person responsible for football operations, is the much maligned Jack Easterby. Anyone in that position under normal circumstance would be the accountable lead responsible for such a systematic club failing. But the likelihood of him being held to account or the team’s public response being of any note is doubtful, as such poor expectations have been set by this dismally run team.

Many will cite this hurting the momentum built through the previous two wins. Although it undoubtedly will, the reality remains a team who lack a run game, would be promptly undone. Even if they were to be the 7th or even 8th play-off team. These final 5 games will add more strain on the brilliance of Deshaun Watson. The changes around the 4th year quarterback continue to detract from what he brings to the field, adding to his challenges.

Bradly Roby will likely be with the team in 2021 but the new coaching staff’s ability to move in a different direction is eased by the loss of his year-2 guaranteed monies and bonus. The future of upcoming free-agent Will Fuller will be one of interest. Fuller has now lost $3million in earning this year. Whilst he likely has suspended himself into a situation that will have teams questioning their willingness to place any seizable offers on the table, when coupling this with his injury history.

Yet another bad day off the filed in this 2020 season, that only adds to the list of challenges that will be in need of conquering, if they are to become competitive in the years upcoming.

Can The Texans Fix Their Run Game?

The Texans run attack is a mess and has been all year as they trail the league in rushing. But why has it become so inept? They were a serviceable attack in 2019. The lack of off-season preparation due to C-19 cannot be accepted, considering last years late arrival of Carlos Hyde. The cut-down-day trade acquired a journeyman running-back who eclipsed 1,000 yards, with zero pre-season preparations.

When considering the sample size of 9 run plays against New England on Sunday. What are the central issues preventing Houston is complimenting its passing attack? As the out dated mantra of running to set up the pass, has been flipped on its head in modern football. So within the context of Watson’s best passing performance of the season, why were they still held to only 19 yards on 13 attempts?

Note, three of these were obvious running plays to kill to the clock, late in the fourth quarter. A further was a failed RPO play that should have been thrown to Fuller deep for an easy 6.

When taking the remaining 9 true/honest run calls: Is there a common theme that can be pinpointed to fix this structural issue faced by Tim Kelly? Is there a scheme of personnel issues at the heart of their plight?

  • Run 1

    Scheme – Pre-Snap, it’s an obvious run look with Brown as the H-Back. Cooks motions towards the formation to block against 8-man box.
    Personnel – Howard footwork is sloppy, blocking the running lane and Cook’s blows his block. Improved execution and this play may get 4 or 5 yards.

  • Run 2

    Scheme – Outside/Stretch Play, in 11-P Grouping – no clear indication pre snap it’s a run play. 6 blockers against a 7 man box.
    Personnel – Duke isn’t able to break to outside as Tytus doesn’t finish the combo block against Guy (93) who makes the tackle. Rod gets thrown to the ground against the DE (50).

  • Run 3

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping appears as an RPO with Watson reading the outside rusher. The TE motioning across the formation this leaves them short on near side and a free run at the back.
    Personnel – Considering Simon (55) is unblocked the line need to slide left. Martin could combo block with Sharping to allow them to seal the B Gap. This would allow the edge to be sealed and free the back to the outside.

  • Run 4

    Scheme – 21-P an obvious run look. 7 on 7 in the box. The line gets no push considering an equal match-up
    Personnel – Not enough juice at the point of attack. Fulton’s block is shed, Duke it too close to the line who’ve barely moved the pile, not able to cut it back with the free backside defender bearing down.

  • Run 5

    Scheme – 12-P inside Power Play. Centre & Fullback to clear the 2nd level. It’s a clear 7 on 7 match up.
    Personnel – Brown misses his block. Both Guards Fail – Sharping loses his footwork and Fulton is overmatched being driven back.

  • Run 6

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Outside-Zone Run, facing a 7 man box
    Personnel – Linemen aren’t athletic enough to get to point of attack to seal the edge fast enough. Rod Johnson gets his angle wrong, panics turns back to the ball. Nick Martin is slow off the snap, to then allow Sharping to move with the flow of the play. Rather than picking up the edge defender and allow Rod to get up on the next level, he contributes little.

  • Run 7

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping Outside Zone to the strong side. WR at the X Spot kills that play, thats set up perfectly.
    Personnel – This play breaks decent yardage if Cooks doesn’t blow his block. Getting a better blocker in that spot/correcting Cook’s attitude towards helping the team then this is reasonable gain.

  • Run 8

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Inside Zone/Option Play. The Slot Motions to Strong Side, leaves 5 versus 4 blocking for short gain.
    Personnel – The play is set up well but the lack of push from the line. Sharping doesn’t control the line man once Martin comes of the combo. Martin can’t even clear out a DB. Both Fulton and Howards can’t hold up on a double against Guy (93).

  • Run 9

    Scheme – 12-P Grouping Inside Power Play, FB & C to Clear 2nd level (same as Run 5) but a 6 man box.
    Personnel – Sharping and Martin Botch the combo block. Martin does a mildly better job getting to the DB but Sharping not able to set his stance, loses leverage and Cowart (99) makes the stop.

Scheme verdict – the schematics are overtly vanilla and Tim Kelly needs to better disguise the run fits pre-snap. The use of RPO’s seems to be fundamentally broken down, in terms of player decisions and any ability to fool opposing defences. The Texans need to simplify and refine some of the technique taught and hone in on a variation of a few plays they can master. If they are given the right set up at the line and defensive look, they could benefit form motions, use of pitch plays and QB designed runs. If they stack up the possibilities defences will need to consider be key in creating space, as they can’t do it on a purely talent basis.

Personnel Verdict – Nick Martin and Sharping need to work out, when Martin comes off the Combo-Block to reach the second level how they ensure the rusher remains blocked. As this was an issues on 3 of the 9 plays. They don’t have the talent to run outside zone due to lack of agility and the limited playing strength of the Centre and Guards, limits the leverage to maintain blocks hold or gain push at the line clearing A&B gaps. Brandon Cooks lack of blocking killed two plays so not running to his side would sensible.

Final Thoughts – The running games outlook appears bleak and there are too many issues to fix mid-season. The biggest failing is the coaching of Mike Devlin. These linemen and the unit as a whole have regressed and it’s hurt this team. Being selective when over matching opponents in the box and taking advantage of those looks may be the only way to stay balanced. The run game will have to be redistributed into screens, dump-off and running back routes, to consistently move the ball and be less reliant on the BQ dropping back in the pocket.

The 2021 outlook will need to move on from Fulton and possibly Martin if they can find a way around his 8.75mill cap number. However, assessing these players who’ve been coached so poorly could easily be deemed unfair.

Rare Blue Skies Above As The Texans Shine Against Former Mentors

The 2020 season hasn’t taken the shape that many would have predicted at its outset but Sunday provided some future hope. The infamous NRG stadium roof was left ajar above the field, on a day where Texans posed as a team with a new lease of life.

The 27-20 win wasn’t only marked by the sublime passing attack of Watson’s offence, the defence also imposed themselves to seal the third win of the season. Lead by a career-best performance from Justin Reid who dawned every bit of the swashbuckling safety, that the third-year Stanford man is billed to be. His day was highlighted by three TFL’s and career-first sack on Patriots Quarterback Cam Newton. It provided a much welcomed return to form in the midst of a sub-par season to date.

The defence has undoubtedly held the team back from an improved record of 3-7. Though it appeared the vociferous press conference of co-ordinator Anthony Weaver translated to the field. The Texans held a top-three rushing attack to 86 yards which acted as the catalyst for the unit. On a day that was clouded by an uncharacteristic slew of penalties for New England, the Texans bar the two Touchdown drives, held firm.

The day will likely be remembered as Johnathan Greenard’s first sack, the 4 batted passes by JJ Watt or the stop of fourth down as Weaver continued calling double safety blitzes. A call that New England failed to provide an answer for, which ended the game on a fourth down attempt. But the manner of the defences aggression throughout was the biggest positive takeaway, as they held in to give the offence a chance to play with the lead for much of the day.

Sunday wasn’t without its hitches as Randall Cobb appears set to miss time with a toe injury and PJ Hall will miss the remainder of the year with a torn pectoral. The former Sam Houston State DT, will be a candidate for the new coaching staff to bring back, after flashing this year as a waiver pick-up.

Against his mentor, Watson looked imperious in the first half, almost completing 80% of his passing attempts. The acknowledgment of the failing run game was channelled in allowing Deshaun to find 9 different target for 344 yards. Scoring three first half touchdowns, the second of which was a barnstorming run by Watson who dragged two defenders into the endzone with him. That play typified the offence’s intent in the first half. Jordan Atkins would have sealed his 88 yard day, if it weren’t for the missed tripping call as he broke free with no defenders in sight. The Texans were forced to settle for a field goal and the defence duly complimented them with a stop, so Houston could kneel out the contest.

The Texans will now travel to kick-off the Thanksgiving triple-header, in Detroit, a team that is fresh off being shut-out against Carolina’s back-up QB, PJ Walker. Building from this win and delivering another is now the Texans challenge. As the players and coaches can build some additional credibility before the next phase of Houston football in 2021.

Questioning Cal’s Passive Stance – As The Texans Appeared To Be Collapsing From Within

Cal McNairs comments prior to the trade deadline, were deemed naive and it seemed yet more blind faith being bestowed in those who don’t deserve it.

The hesitance to move salaries off the books, is admirable at a time when revenues are dipping, but there’s been no sign of spending cuts, quite the opposite. The Texans, at 2-6, are the most expensively assembled team, in terms of 2020 cash flow. What is behind the hesitance to save cap dollars, isn’t necessarily clear for a disappointed fan base. As the remaining games leave little to play for, it appears more hope is emanating from the owner than most football people would logically conclude.

There’s little doubt that personnel moves have set this team back, at a minimum, of two years. There’s no overlooking the fact that Cal deserves his share of blame for allowing these moves to happen, as the team has drowned in the current of the NFL’s premier talent, faced early on the schedule.

There are talented players on the offence, the most investment a single unit has seen at any point in team history, across the draft, trades and free agency. Although this has been wholly at the expense of an ailing defence which continues to undermine their fortunes every Sunday. Regardless if the investment had been astutely acquiring talent, their inability to win appears to be evermore routed in poor coaching and schematics.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

As will be common for these preceding years, many of the teams issues will be born out of the decisions O’Brien was allowed to make. The position coaches, bye-week interviews were particularly telling. Many of these coaches have limited track records but were hired due to perceived alignment to O’Brien’s sought personality or footballing philosophy.

When considering the lack of player development, there will be little for these coaches to proclaim at their next interviews, once they’ve are inevitably relieved of their duties, come the close of Week-17. Many players, particularly the skill positions, haven’t been drafted and moulded into quality starters. Look no further than Jordan Thomas, Keke Coutee, D’onta Foreman, Jalen Strong or Braxton Miller as concrete examples over a number of seasons and coaches.

Ultimately, too many players have left the building no better at football than when they arrived. 

Also there is the clear issue of the scheme, which hems in the talent of the Texans skill players. This offensive line still suffers form the same fundamental issues they faced when their talent was arguably far more sparse. The constant has been re-appearing mistakes and wildly variable levels of play. It’s often point towards “the fundamentals” – something the players cannot improve upon, with the absence sufficient coaching. For too long, Texans players have been devoid of the requisite standard to be successful at this level.

Not many coaching staff’s around the league would still have Danny Barrett and Mike Devlin around considering how these units have failed. As the Texans have been held back due to their inability to run the ball in 2020, despite the pass attack’s ability.

The biggest win for this offence, retention of said skill players aside, could be accurately assessing a running back’s fit and implementing a scheme that gets the best out of their available talent. Adding Watson’s ability to that, it’s difficult to see how that wouldn’t improve their offensive output, in the years ahead.

Though it cannot be misunderstood, this team will never be in a position to progress unless it removes Jack Easterby and allows the next regime to flourish. His actions continue to implode this organisation and detract from its ability to improve. His firings of Brian Gaine, Chris Olsen and now Amy Palcic, are clear indications that he should not been given such autonomy when every moves strikes universal uproar. Just as these coaches done, just their mistakes are week by week and shown on a third down, rather than a media headline.

Again, all of these have been under Cal’s watch as he seems to be developing a sizeable list of moves, which are becoming even more egregious in the eyes of their fans and on lookers alike. He continues to pay people who aren’t able to help this team to win, swiping the prime years of Deshaun Watson.

If Cal can oversee a search that can attain effective levels of coaching, then and only then, they may stop holding back a star quarterback and build towards a level of sustained success, in a quest for an inaugural championship. But correcting this team’s course off the field, appears to be more imperative before they derail their efforts of the new regime, prior to even being hired.

Defeat and Discomfort Amongst The Texans Ranks

Another Sunday passed with an all too familiar result for the Houston Texans. As Aaron Rodgers ripped through their defence with ease, putting up 21-points at the half, a familiar feeling echoed around an empty NRG Stadium. Downtrodden with limited signs of positivity.

Their inability to run the ball, through a troubling mix of asinine play-calling and a destitution of defensive talent, hinders a talented offence. This despite having Deshaun Watson, who is playing at a high level, throwing for over three-hundred yards again this week. There is now an inconceivable situation – his talents are ineffective on game day, due to lack of help around him, defensively and coaching on the sidelines.

It’s lead to a worrying state for the team, one that has been driven into the ground by 18-months of tyranny, filled with woeful personnel decisions, as Jack Easterby has the gaul to idly stand watch the mess he co-created.

The Packers were dealing with loss of their starting Tail-Back, Left Tackle, Safety and Corner entering this week 7 procession. It was a ‘get-right game’ in the truest sense, as the result rarely seemed in any doubt, after they made it 14-0, with 13.33 left on the clock in the second quarter.

The Texans did score on their opening drive of the second half as a switch to field two-back sets allowed them to march down the field. The defence aided with two three and out’s and a blocked punt on special teams assisted but the offence’s lack of rush attack, stalled out in the red-zone. As they settles for multiple field-goals, after Fairburn missed a 41-yard attempt before the break.

This Texans team can ill-afford first half shut outs, as their defence was deciamted further with the loss of corner Bradly Roby. As Davante Adams laid on two touchdowns and 196 yards on the day. Phillip Gaines, Eric Murray and Vernon Hargreaves, though not assisted by some suspect safety play, were left helpless as Rodgers found his main target 13 times on 23 completions.

Perhaps even more worrying, were the displays of growing factions within the team, as they spilled out into post games media calls. The sentiment from Brandon Cooks being that practice has been poor. Watson’s reaction was one of both scorn and dismissal when asked about that comment. It’s a rare position the former college national champion finds himself in, as he isn’t used to losing at all, let alone in this painful manner.

The Texans now head into a bye week, with decisions to make. Will they trade out any players who they receive a credible offers for? Will the coaching staff cut bait with players not bringing enough value to the field? So to experiment with younger and less experiences players. As as this stage of the season, the results can’t get any worse but the demeanour in the way they are being achieved, is the hardest part for fans to swallow.

This year’s rookie class needs game time so they can be evaluated and expensive under-performing vets need to be shipped for any value sought. As it’s now a question of the future for this team rather than the present. Though ironically, they’ve chosen to live in the latter, which has cast doubt about their speed and flexibility to rebuild this ailing roster.

As they were dismantled by a Green Bay team who’s quarterback finals years may well be crowned with a final title. But the personnel mistakes that have surrounded Aaron Rodgers career, will see him retire with nowhere near the success his generational talent should have commanded.

Let it be a lesson to all those inside the building. A quarterback is the most important piece, but it’s only the start.

FINAL: GREEN BAY 35 – HOUSTON 20

Another Epic Loss Compiles The Reasons For Their Plight

Sunday’s overtime loss added to the Texans litany of games where Watson’s offence, left the field with a lead, yet to only suffer a loss.

Memories of Seattle, New England 2017, Philadelphia 2018, New Orleans 2019 quickly came to the fore. As Houston added another moral victory to their extensive catalogue. Deshaun trudged off the field after an ill-fated two-point attempt and would not return, as the Texans were confined to their 5th loss in six games.

Watson’s reaction to the loss of the overtime coin-toss was telling. The Texans defence has now cemented themselves in unwanted history, total ineptitude against the run. For only the fourth game since the merger, they allowed an average of 9.7 yards per carry whilst hemraging over 600 total yards on the day.

Adding to their woes, their long standing issues with Tight Ends reared at Nissan Stadium. Anthony Firkser went for 113 yards as Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence continues, throwing for 364yards on the day. The Tennessee run game, was not just Derrick Henry as he and their third stringer, Jeremy McNichols, ran for 263 yards against a porous Houston front.

Despite the highs of two fourth-down touchdowns, a 53-yard bomb to Fuller were all bold statements of intent. And for long periods in the second half, momentum felt like it was swinging in Houston’s favour. They were further aided by a JJ Watt strip sack and Bradly Roby’s athletic interception, but ultimately the game slipped out of Houston’s grasp.

The Titans comfortably marched to scores either side of overtime. Whilst notably, Vrabel taking an intentional 12-man on the field penalty, to stop the clock on Houston’s final possession. As the offence helplessly looked on from the sidelines in the 4th quarter.

The two-point attempt that Romeo Crennel understandably went for, will take much of the headlines. Though situation was rooted in Fairburn’s missed PAT attempt, which was a catalyst in the Texans losing game they should have won. Whilst also providing reminder how fine the margins of error are for the offence, when propping up a defence that cannot play the run.

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

It begs, the question – why aren’t the rookies getting more of a run on defence? Can John Reid be worse than the current output of of Vernon Hargreaves or Phillip Gaines? Is John Greenard any less capable than Brennan Scarlett? As both positions pose a glaring weakness to opposing co-ordinators. As the Texans defence, from 2018 has disintegrated into a sorry resemblance of its former self. The unit continues to hit new lows by the week. No more so, than on the game-sealing wild-cat call, as Henry walked in the score.

Crennel’s comments post game were telling: “that play was run in practice and they should’ve been prepared … the responsibility had been vacated.” In plainer terms, their current defence is not only lacking in talent but in the mental aspects of the game. Change is on the horizon for this team but of course, it will take time. And this unit will plague the remainder of this year.

Sunday was a timely reminder of the offensive talents on the this team. But those investments have been at the sacrifice of the defence. The Texans have a star in Watson but how quickly or if at all, they can address the other side of the ball is their looming and unavoidable task. If Watson is to captain a competitive team in the seasons ahead.

FINAL: HOUSTON 36 – TENNESSEE 46.

The Texans Stand Finely Between Building Momentum Or Fading Out

The Texans travel to Nashville with the hope of building on their maiden win, after last weeks victory over Jacksonville. Securing a consecutive victory would seem unlikely against an undefeated Titians who handled the 4-0 Bills on Tuesday Night, 42-16. A game that many decried a statement win however, upon closer inspection, the game was not as convincing as the box scores would suggest.

The Titans are on limited rest and with signifiant injuries that may well factor later in the game. Though considering their early enforced week-three bye, due to positive Covid tests, they’ve played less football and had an improved consistency in this weeks preparations.

Since Mike Vrabel left Houston to take the Tennessee position the team are split 2-2. Though the most recent, a Titans win on the final day of last season, Houston rested their starters, allowing the Titans into the play-offs. A game that paved the way for Tennessee to reach the AFC championship game. 

That post-season run was characterised by Derick Henry’s bouldering running style, controlling the clock and suffocating opposing defences. The Texans have a glaring weakness against the run, currently 32nd in yards through 5 games, which may be an overbearing component in this game. Though Henry’s yards-per-game and per-attempt are down, he will remain a strategic consideration for Anthony Weaver’s game plan.

As Houston’s inability to get off the field and stop the run has translated to the offence. As they sit 4th in total yards-per-play, they rank last in time of possession. Simply, the offence hasn’t had the ball due to opposing offences dominating on the ground.

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Last week, provided the Texans an opportunity to win but they will have to take a similar step forward again if they are to come close. Failing would confine their season as over, with the trade deadline approaching. Jack Easterby fielding offers for your best players is something many can ponder as a frightening hypothesis that may be realised post a defeat, in the coming weeks.

KEYS TO THE GAME

THE WATSON FACTOR – who’s yet to have an ineffable performance this season, will need to come alive. If his teammates can play fundamentally sound defence, providing a QB-vrs-QB clash, which presents a chance for the Texans to finally shape up into their pre-season vision. The notable improvement in pass protection, will have to hold against, Landry, Simmons, Jones and (sighs) Clowney, who’ve not influenced games in ways the team would have hoped. 

DEEP PASSING ATTACKING – Tennessee’s ability to rush the passer in terms of pressures sits at 4th fewest and their secondary, missing Adore Jackson, is there to be exploited. As the Texans skill group who are slowly becoming synchronised with Watson. Former Texans-Great Johnathan Joseph, at 36 years old, is a guy who the Texans can target deep.

RUN OUTSIDE – David Johnson is not a running-back for inside the guards. The Texans line don’t block well on with inside concepts, either power or zone. Thought Johnson has shown his ability to find space when stretching plays to the edge of the box. A concept that can be worked against the Tennessee front and can arguably be run with the far more elusive Duke Johnson. A player the Texans continually to criminally underuse through the air and on the ground.

HANDLING PLAY-ACTION – Houston will have to handle play-fakes better than they did against the Vikings, where Kirk Cousins torched them them with a passer rating of 127.1. The 2019 week 15-encounter showed a heavy package of blitzing form Romeo Crennel, it would be to expected this may be Weaver’s most aggressive call-sheet to date. Otherwise AJ Brown could find himself slipping the grasp of Bradly Roby.

JONU SMITH – treating the former FIU standout in the same vein as a star tight end would now appear a reality for opposing defences. As versatile third-year player has given the Texans their fair share of highlight reel plays since entering the league as 3rd round pick in 2017.

THE RUN FITS – bottling Henry to a performance similar to the 86 yards he was held to in week 15 has to be the aim. If the Texans show regression against the run, after much needed progression just a week ago, their chance of a meaningful season may be over by the conclusion of week six.

HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE; 12pm CT; NISSAN STADIUM NASHVILLE; CBS

Devoid of Changes, The Texans are Entering into a New Era

A new era of Texans football will begin on Sunday, after the departure of Bill O’Brien. But how much materially changes, as it pertains to this seasons success, will likely be inconsequential. The change was much celebrated but perhaps such rejoice was premature, as it will take time for any marked difference to reach the field.

Often teams show a short term improvement when making a move at head coach. But ultimately it will be the the same players in deep steel bue, who weren’t executing last Sunday, dawning the field against Jacksonville. A fixture that many would have seen as the most winnable of the 2020 slate, will be a test of how far the franchise has fallen over the last 18-months, due to decisions that eroded their talent.

Player, Head Coach disconnect had made its way on to the field, rather unmistakably in the opening four games, which may well dissipate this week. Quite how much of a transformation the Texans show, may be testament to how strong that disconnect had become. Jacksonville, lead by Gardner Minshew, will hope to arrest a three game losing streak and improve on his performance from London, last November. That was last time the teams met and was perhaps Houston’s strongest outing of the year.

The Texans went stale under O’Brien as he juggled his front office responsibilities. Perhaps his broadened role was the undoing of his coaching abilities. As he seemed fixated on coaching fallacies such as, “establishing the run”, i.e. running the ball incessantly, inside the tackles. He continued to double down on errors and chased shadows on expensively acquiring offensive personnel, at the expense of the defence. So Sunday should provide a test-bed, if his personnel mismanagement was either heavily weighted on the front office or on the practice field.

The Texans regardless of their figurehead will need to show-up as an offence that matches their talent. Can they move the move ball putting up scores on a semi-regular basis? Can their defence stop the run? All rudimentary questions, they’ve failed to answer. Can Romeo Crenels’s calming presence, remove multiple fatal flaws on this football team? It would seem unlikely but stranger things have happened.

Twelve games remain this season, games that at very least provide a new complexion to the roster. Regardless if the Texans were to win 10 games and get to the play offs, they are a fundamentally flawed roster. It will require significant iterations and considerable time to correct, if their true aspirations are a championship.

The Texans will perhaps hope they can trade out some players and acquire some value to reinvest in their roster. The concern must be – that process will need to take place prior to bringing in a new GM. As the looming threat of Jack Easterby’s ability to implode the inner sanctum of this franchise’s future, more than he already has, is highly plausible.

Either way, if he’s allowed to do that then, the timelines to correct the very mistakes he has personally overseen, will only have lengthened. 

JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON; 12 NOON CT; NRG STADIUM; CBS