A Year of Very little on Kirby Drive

As Nick Caserio spoke with the media Friday, to discuss the release of Coach Culley, you could have easily been mistaken in thinking he’d only just stepped into the General Manager’s role. But it was his hiring of David Culley on January 27th, 2021, that was now deemed untenable. There was a slight change in tone from the former long-time New England executive. But Caserio didn’t pose as someone who was feeling the strain. Conversely, he’s “immune to pressure” to be precise.

As a first time general manager who’d just conceded his biggest decision to date was the wrong one, there was an aura of calm. This is not uncharacteristic of the Ohio native, but perhaps more of a sign of the unwavering trust placed in him by ownership. If Friday’s comments had of been borne out of a scenario where Caserio as new GM, had inherited the incumbent head coach, very little beyond the standard outbound pleasantries would have changed on the transcript.

The question will always loom. Was this always the plan? Perhaps it should have been abundantly clear they were only seeking a caretaker, when the three final candidates were Culley, Frazier & Caldwell. Perhaps Culley was complicit with the fact also? Few in his position, nearing retirement, having come nowhere near to his professions pinnacle after 40 years, could not have turned down a $22m pay-day. Sparing the condolences appears appropriate considering the renumeration for less than a year’s work.

As Culley this year, did not implement football his own philosophy, schematics, nor did he hire any of the staff. So the reported issues of differences in outlook and openness to change – is just PR smoke. It was a decision that was either always coming, or one that became apparent quicker than they would have hoped. After a series of decision making errors in-game & in front of the press. The prophecy became fulfilling rather conveniently.

But not for the first time, the public nature of the Texans “review of football operations” was questionable. We should not forget that’s the second time that phrase has been publicly flouted. The former was a process that lead to the premature and franchise-defining sacking of Brain Gaine. Despite decrees of being “philosophically aligned” with Gaine, that ended, leading to the ill-fated decision of a O’Brien & Easterby’s “unique model” that set this team back years.

There can be little doubt this time, that the club are in far safer hands. But this next HC hire will be Patriots South attempt 3.0. The inevitable groans of distrain will follow. But if it’s ultimately successful and the team wins, who will care?

This coaching hire will define Caserio’s tenure with the Texans, regardless of the McNair family’s resolute belief in his abilities. Will the hiring of Brian Flores or Jerod Mayo turn the dial? It’s legitimate to question if this approach will work as it has spectacularly failed for many teams. Much of that will be answered, by what coaches and players are acquired over the next 24-months. But the reneging of the Culley hire, added to multiple failed trades and dead-cap hits, gives little reason to say this team has even begun on the right track.

Year one was in essence a free-pass year & with expectations of organisational competence at rock-bottom, Nick had the cushion of fans being abused by the previous regime. As whatever was decided it was always going to pale into insignificance. It’s also been refreshing to hear Caserio’s clear public acknowledgement of the teams current plight, as realism hasn’t commonly been exhibited by the Texans. Perhaps the empty seats on Sunday’s crystallised that for ownership? Or maybe they are blissfully unaware of outside noise & are being endlessly managed by everyones favourite preacher.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

But as all eyes are now on Caserio, there is little room for further unjustified lauding of a man who is yet to kick this “major undertaking” into gear. Progress will again be limited over the ’22 season beyond embedding the new. Caserio was keen to stress that on Friday. As whether these changes will pay any dividends towards becoming a viable pro-football team, may only become clear in the midst of the ’23 season.

The road to redemption for Texans football is lengthy. Acquiring the services of bonafide pro-football head coach will at least provide a facade of progress towards the promise land & that’s something that could never have been said under the reign of David Culley. 

Nick you’re on the clock – lets see what you’re made of.

Are The Texans Finally Pivoting Towards The Future?

The news dropped rather suddenly Monday, following a performance of indignation in Indiana. There have been few inter-divisional games in recent memory, where the game was so heavily imbalanced as Sunday. The Texans were completely out-classed by the Colts, who only required 48-offensive plays to compile 31-points to Houston’s 3. That somber mood was reflective in Brandin Cooks’ post-game media conference, which then took a further turn the following day.

No Merci As Caserio Swings The Axe

The public sentiment of their parting being by mutual consent may have been agreed out of respect for previous service. There was similar motivation behind that ill-fated and widely predicted third contract handed out to Whitney Mercilus, late in 2019. As the Texans pass-rush was a clear weakness down the stretch, a perplexing $54m 4-year-deal was inked. It was just one of many ill-advised moves at that time. It in some ways seemed like a reparation payment after he clearly outplayed his previous 4-year-$26m deal, singed back in 2015.

After notching 57 sacks, some game changing plays added to his unrivalled benevolence in the greater-Houston community, the era of Whitney as a Texans ended Monday. After re-structuring his contract, the Texans will take a total of $15m dead cap over this season & next. The move will be a sting in Caserio’s budget for a team who are devoid of competitiveness this season. Regardless of why they may have felt compelled to make the call, it seemed pre-determined from the minute it was signed that the contract would not be fulfilled.

A Change in Tact?

The inevitable leak, prior to the official announcement was contextualised with a nod towards the future. The Texans reportedly wanted to get younger at the position. But this must beg the question, aside from this move, why didn’t they do that this off-season? Nick Caserio assembled an expensive, veteran-heavy roster, with so many mid to low sized APY, short term deals, that contracts were restructured to do so.

So far, a strategy this has not paid any dividends this season & it will continue to impact them into the future. There is no wonder why this isn’t the selected approach by other teams as a norm. Choosing quantity over quality, whilst shunning youth looked ill-advised then, just as its been confirmed to be the case now. So if Caserio and his entirely inherited staff were so convicted with the 4-7 year experience player mould, why the sudden move away after 6 weeks?

As for all the placement via the media around their culture and positive notions. This team is the oldest, nigh on the least talented but without doubt, the least disciplined. Brandin Cooks’ comments were jarring and pinned the Easterby-lead hot air-balloon of vibes that the team have expended so greatly to craft. Sunday and the subsequent actions seemed to hallow out this season for it is – empty.

The watching brief of Davis Mills’ development that is hemmed in by a limited ceiling aside, this season is verging on pointless. There is also just too much lamentable about this year. Money spent. Mis-placed training camp reps. Game time & coaching. All wasted. This team was badly in need of a youth movement in March. So why now, after 6 games?

Is there a true turn of focus or was this misplaced lip-service? And if so, why make an example of that with these players? Both Andre Roberts & Whitney Mercilus were not signifiant contributors. So the team is no worse off on a Sunday. But not for the first it’s not clear where this team is headed. The Watson situation is the ultimate wedge holding the door to once again enter football relevancy. But if youth & future years were to be the focus, why wait until now?

Only Caserio can answer that question with how he proceeds across the next twelve months. As to date, there are limited reason to say definitively he’s taken this team forward by any noticeable bounds. It’s hard to bought-in at this stage, based on the front office’s performance to date. 

Mandatory Credit: Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Entering The Gauntlet For A Fortnight

After Sunday, it’s difficult to see any further spawning green shoots than has already shown up. Some players may surprise but it would take significant, game breaking contributions. We can only hope. There is the task of a trip to Arizona, the undefeated Cardinals, who will line up with our two former favourite sons. It undoubtedly will be a tough watch.

There’s a clear mis-match against Lovie’s floundering Tampa-2 defence against a red-hot plethora of skill players. The gapping gulf in talent this Sunday and equally with the re-born Matt Stafford-speared Rams are equally frightening prospect, across the next two weeks.

There’s been an omni-present question of when the Texans might hit rock bottom. It’s been down right gut wrenching in Buffalo & against Indy. But make sure you have sufficient libations, good friends and great food over the next few weeks. As for their on-field demise it’s about to take a turn for the worse. But after theses next two weeks, there may be some light emerging from the tunnel. 

The Texans Are Getting To Grips With Hanging In Limbo

Last Sunday’s part performance against the Patriots was encouraging but it delivered yet another reminder of how this team is spinning their wheels this season. What can be accomplished or what payoff their plans may have are both unclear. But Sunday’s 22-25 defeat to New England was spiralled by coaching errors & a similar set of issues that continue to plague this team through 5 weeks.

Culley & Special Team Calamities

Game management, accepting a penalty that killed the the clock, burning time outs to buy decision making time, all undone a strong first half of positive 4th down calls. Culley’s inexperience of game-time calls, despite the attempted support circle around him, has made multiple inexcusable errors, Sunday was just the first time that it cost the Texans a result. 

The inconsistency of his errors, added to his unclear recollections post-game, when sitting in front of the media is borderline alarming. There were always fears around his hiring and some of those have now been justified, putting his glowing personality to one side. When choosing to attempting a career long 55-yard field goal, Culley burned a time out, then chose the field goal, after Fairburn had missed two PATs. But when faced with the same call at almost an identical position, he chose to punt against Carolina.

His poor calls were pre-faced by a special teams error, where they chose to fake, a fake punt. To then only have Punter Cam Johnson shank the ball of his teammate’s head and give the New England offence unmissable field position. It was a monumental swing in the momentum, handing the onus to their opponent. After this team was billed as well-coached with a strong focus on special teams, it suddenly became their undoing. 

Mills’ Best Performance Yet

Davis’ first half and a short-field drive into the third quarter was the most professional looking display thus far. A record breaking outing against a notorious rookie-quarterback planner, was something to take significant encouragement in. The offence was supported by a number of pleasantly aggressive third & fourth down calls which allowed them to stay on the field.

On another day, the 70-something yard throw to the surprising Chris Moore, is perhaps picked-off, as he was double covered. But the 18-play drive that concluded in an Anthony Auclair 11-yard touchdown showed a strong command of the offence. Overall, there was more growth on display than all of Mills’ previous outings combined. Though there was still too much left on the field, although most are easy fixes to address, more games are required, as it’s still very early days.

Bringing Jeff Driskel on to the 53-man roster, added to the cagey nature of the teams comments around Tyrod Taylor’s return timelines, Mills may have a minimum 2-3 games to show he can maintain the arrow pointing up. Finding a level that can be consistent for this team to feel comfortable in relying upon him must be the goal. The highs of last week versus the lows of the week prior in Buffalo, shows such a disparity to feasibly make any form of conclusion on his longer term suitability.

There are more concerns than reasons to hope but we are watching early stages development occur it real time, which will have a wild range of outcomes. But with a supporting cast with limited talent at the skill positions and zero run game, the odd’s are stacked against Mills. But a hamstring strain has brought about the most intriguing story line of this season & give’s a “why” to these remaining games.

Revolving Irons In The Fire 

Although there’s been no breakout-type performances through the first five weeks. The Texans have potentially acquired some future role players in Gruger-Hill at linebacker & John Greenard at defensive end. There may be more emerge over the season. As Roy Lopez has out-snapped his draft slot, Lonnie Johnson has made impact plays, despite his continual mistakes & there is a reasonable core of veteran players who could serve as placeholders.

The omission of Charles Omenihu from the game-day roster was a shock. Whether it’s linked to his agent’s position in removing the Texans franchise quarterback or not. Regardless, in his third-year, the former UT, Big12 defensive-player-of-the-year, hasn’t been up to scratch. The move to a 4-3 system was poised to benefit him more than most but it’s certainly not worked out that way. Charles may well be headed for the exit door, along with any player who teams are willing to offer value for. 

Zack Cunningham, at present appears to be at the top of that list but it would be surprising if Caserio doesn’t pull the trigger prior to the trade deadline. Teams will be aware they’re in a selling position and for contract-year players like Justin Reid & Jordan Akins may temp teams into offers.

A Trip To Indy Beckons 

Last week’s second half collapse against New England’s rookie QB was a game that the Texans had a real chance of a result. Their subsequent trip to Arizona & the visit of the Rams appear to be forgone conclusions. But the Colts who are surprisingly sat at 1-4 also, may be a game where Houston, playing their best ball, could scrape a result. Their defence, running a similar version of Lovie Smith’s scheme, has lost any notable corners and despite it’s strength up-front, can’t defend the pass. So there will be opportunities to move the ball. Hopefully the return up of Nico Collins this week can find some level of groove and re-start his season after promising much in the pre-season.

The trenches may well be undoing of the Texans game plan. If the Deforest Buckner lead-front is allowed to wreck the game. As Houston will need to keep Mills clean & healthy to form a path to victory. But there appears to be a mismatch emerging as the offensive-line will be without both Tunsil & Britt. Added to the struggles of the guard play, Charlie Heck will be making only making his second start of year, post his Covid set-back.

A somewhat stuttering start from Carson Wentz after a heavily priced trade from Philly, hasn’t sought the level of play that either he or Frank Reich would have hoped. The MNF showing against Baltimore, despite the defeat was perhaps their best performance to date. So the Texans may be a “get-right” game for Indy. Their talent on paper is heavily weighing the tie in their favour.

If the Texans can piece a complete four quarters, then they’re in with a chance. But if would seem likely the team will be sitting at 1-7 heading to Miami, prior to the bye. When Tyrod will return will rest on the performances of Davis Mills. He will have to lead Houston to at at least a couple of victories prior to the bye week, if they Texans are to resist that change. 

Texans @ Indy – Lucas Oil Stadium, 17th October, 12Noon CT, CBS

Buffalo Served As Recognition That The Texans Plight Is Yet To Be Concluded

The tenuous ground that this 2021 Texans team was build upon showed its fragility in the worst way, during a rain soaked encounter at Highmark Stadium on Sunday. As the elements withered the remaining hopes for the remaining optimists amongst Houston’s ranks, a definitive realisation emerged for many, just how far this franchise has fallen.

It pains to consider just how multi-faceted this free-fall has been. But quite how this was allowed to occur at the speed it did, is quite remarkable. The 40-0 blow out at the hands of a Super-Bowl contender, is perhaps only the start of a definitive demise that remains incomplete. At the very least Sunday was a clear sign of the weekly struggles facing this team on the remaining schedule.

The way Caserio chose to approach this off-season, will be lamented in due course. The excessive spending on a laundry list of weary veterans, at a cost to future years cap dollars, isn’t paying much dividends. At least losing by over 6 scores, with young players, who are developing and learning is at least a positive to be derived from within the expected misery. But instead of stacking un-drafted free agents to find young and inexpensive pieces, we are a roster laden with many players, who have zero current value, far less any in the future.

This week alone, losing two developing offensive linemen in Fjolholt & McCollum. Neither were wholly ready to contribute but considering the lack of production at both guard spots from the 2019 1st & 2nd round picks, there is an element of succession planning required at those positions, considering the current struggles. But losing them both was a choice, the front office had consciously chosen to not protect the league allotted practice-squad spots from other teams.

Despite a strong showing in the pre-season, Scottie Phillips chances have been nil.

Reflecting on the personnel choices of this season through four weeks, such as the Texans keeping 5 running-backs to create an anaemic running game hasn’t been fruitful. Ironically, the only young and vibrant possibility of those five, the team have point-blank refused to play him. For a team that preached competition in the off-season, it begs the question, how can all 4 vets earn snaps are part of that process. Caserio said it would be “process over results” but currently neither are in healthy level of operation to assist building the foundations of a competitive football team.

The wide-receiver group is similarly in flux, taking only 4-recognised bodies, was quickly undone by couple week-2 injuries to the 35-year-old Danny Amendola & Nico Collins. They’ve looked short-handed, as the choice of cutting Keke Coutee continues to appears an ever more short sighted call. Whilst considering Anthony Miller has posed limited impact or potential longer term value. Having a passing game so reliant on the five-foot-ten frame of Brandon Cooks is clearly unhealthy, considering his skill set. The offence with the removal of Tyrod Taylor looks incredibly disjointed and became entirely un-watchable on Sunday.

Davis Mills was at the centre of those struggles. It was not his fault. He should have never been placed in that position. Considering the opposition, his supporting cast, his required development points; he was set-up to fail. Once again, questions have to be raised about this Caserio-lead front office. Davis, like many players were placed in a situation where their chance of success was significantly hindered. Being the 3rd-string quarterback is about as much as you can feasibly ask from a guy with only 14 college starts since high school. He looked every bit of the unrefined, signal caller that his playing history would suggest. The output of that was a shut-out on the road, despite a 10-days of preparation.

Where do we go from here?

The hope has to be that the Texans offence & particularly it’s run game can find some level of cohesion this week, when the Mac Jones led Patriots visit NRG. That would seem wishful thinking, as Houston are currently 9-point underdogs against a rookie quarterback, at home. A rather sobering notion, one of many which will hopefully awaken those of influence on Kirby Drive into some fresh thinking & much needed action.

They may well look to the market for reinforcements, as few would take the gamble Tyrod doesn’t miss further time across the remaining twelve games. They may find a level of sufficient competitiveness with Taylor back in the lineup, following this weekend. We are all hoping. But with a sufficient stretch of quality NFC opponents to tackle, as well as four mismatches against a run-heavy divisional opponents, a repeat of Sundays blowout appears to be just around the corner.

The diverging fortunes since the 2019 play-off game with Buffalo shows how quickly it can change in this league. But the Texans will now, after postponing the required reset prior to rebuilding, will now need to be undertaken after this season. This only extends the timelines in regaining competitiveness for its suffering fanbase. Of course, they’ve been hindered by the unprecedented Deshaun Watson situation. But their most important step will be to navigate out of this with a ransom of assets. If so, this false start in a supposed new era will be quickly forgotten. But in the interim, we will continue to suffer, until the clouds finally clear over NRG, a day that can’t come soon enough. 

The Texans Are Reminded Of How Quickly It Can Change

In only a week, the Texans have gone from what seemed a promising start to the season, entering half-time in Cleveland, to now facing a very different set challenges. Team expectations were initially raised against the odds but the realities of the NFL have brought Houston much closer to their 2021 season predictions.

Tyrod’s Lack Of Luck

Taylor’s start to his Texans career was beyond most people’s expectations. His poise, command of the offence, recognition of defences & overall leadership, had this team poised to be at least, competitive. After a first-half of going toe-to-toe with last years play-off bound Browns, this ’21 Texans team seemed to be rounding into an admirable side. After Tyrod failed to emerge from the locker room for the second half, the momentum drain was visible, as the Cleveland run game took control the Texans slowly faded, in the face of a reduced offensive output. But they still ran Cleveland closer that many had predicted.

The injuries to both Danny Amendola & Nico Collins added to the loss of your starting quarterback, both perpetuated a lethargic performance from the offense against Carolina. The receiver depth beyond Brandon Cooks appears to be an issue and the run game became a non-factor. Despite the Panthers best attempts to keep Houston in the game, the Texans are now 2-1 with a testy looking three game stretch ahead of the team.

After Tyrod was placed on the minimum three-week IR list, enter the Stanford Rookie, Davis Mills’ who’s been immediately called into action. In the short term, he will give this team a reduced chance to win and a likely a more disappointing outcome than what Tyrod had initially promised. But with most aspects of this years Texans, can he lay ground work for future years?

What to Make of Mills?

Davis being thrown into the second half in week 2, then handling a red-hot defence, on a short week, in-front of a national televised audience was nor ideal, or fair conditions. He performed admirably for a guy with only eleven starts in college, he wasn’t going to be the anchor man of cohesive offensive football, just yet. Although, the question begs; are there enough signs of growth to build some encouragement, that Mills might be worth persevering with?

His performance on Thursday night was hemmed in by the coaching staff. For all the credit Tim Kelly had been given after the first six quarters for football. Kelly’s struggled to get Mills into a flow and his conservative approach palpably fed onto the field, putting the team in a downward cycle of failed play-execution. Bar the two-minute, up-tempo drive at the end of the half, there was only a single field goal drive to show for their efforts.

To make any material judgements on Davis this week, would be unfair. There are plausible conclusions to make about his raw, play-making ability. He is limited in that sense. But Davis is in the early stages of his mental atonement to the pro-level, in order to operate an NFL offence, that journey has only just begun. As it would seem there are the foundations there to at least, one day be be deemed worthy of the dreaded tag: “game manager”.

Culley’s Game Management Caught Out Twice

David Culley admitted they over-protected Mills, by means of a limited game plan, in his media availability last week. How much influence Culley has in material decision making, considering much of the circumstances, remains to be seen. But after three games, there have been many legitimate questions raised about his in-game calls.

After admirably admitting that he had made an error by not accepting a penalty in Cleveland the issue immediately rose its head again on Thursday. The Texans on their first drive of the second half, at the Carolina 39-yard line, chose to punt on a 4th & 4. His explanation was less than convincing and his tendency not to be aggressive is perplexing. There is a reason he continually harps back to the importance of turnovers. That’s an inadvertent omission that his team lacks talent and they are in need of a leg up to win.

Little landed in their lap this week or last, so they sit 1-2. About where many expected but his coaching staff will also need to come out as the victor in the game plan stakes for this team to win. They did not in weeks 2 & 3, the result then becomes superfluous.

Running Out Of Excuses

The Texans run game continues to underwhelm in a big way. They are a self-proclaimed “run-first type of team” but Phillip Lindsay, terrible start to this Houston career, aligns with his offensive-line’s inability to block at the second level. The Carolina & Cleveland front offer sterner tests than most, but the flat life-line of this offensive formula, being crushed in such a convincing manner, raises a multitude of questions.

The line’s re-configuration of personnel hasn’t helped. Tytus Howard’s switch to left guard has reduced a promising player to an ineffective one. The lack of core principles, imagination, and execution continue to snowball, despite the full effort of Mark Ingram’s 31-legs churning hard-fought yards, after contact.

Holes, Upon Zone Holes

The Lovie Smith approach on this defence also came firmly into question this week. As the continual issues of linebackers and secondary’s depth in their cover-two, zone coverages, consistently gives easy yards to opposing offences. It seems like this problem could be coached-up, despite the lack of talent, to at least make passing yards hard fought. As DJ Moore’s 100 yards in the first quarter was a clear sign of this scheme has sprung multiple leaks but had limited answers to plug any of them.

The use of a healthy Johnathan Greenard & Jacob Martin as the primary starters were justified changes and the athleticism up front nearly made a number of game-changing plays. Ross Blacklock flashed, in what was a reasonable night from the defensive front, but getting consistent pressure, bringing more blitzes and lining up in man-coverage wouldn’t harm this defences ability to influence games.

The Texans will need to refine their basics in this mini-bye week prior to the trip to Buffalo. Subsequently, they host New England & make the trip to Indianapolis, whilst considering the recent pace of change, those games will likely completely alter our view of the Texans once more. The job of the coaching staff will be to refine these clear structural weakness of this squad, how sufficiently they can cover them up & for how long, will be a question only answerable each Sunday.

The Texans Face An Afternoon Of History Revision In Cleveland

As the Texans come off a convincing 37-21 week one win against Jacksonville, they face a far sterner test on the banks of Lake Erie. On paper, the talent deficit is stark but there are many parallels between the two teams, who are now at very different stages of the NFL life-cycle.

Familiar Faces

It won’t just be the former Texans no.1 overall pick who will be on the field against their former team. As Houston will have Terrance Mitchell, Eric Murray, Pharaoh Brown, Christian Kirksey, Tavierre Thomas & Tyrod Taylor as former Browns suiting-up in Liberty white.

An unlikely result may be borne out of the motivation to prove their previous club wrong but the balance appears to be heavily weighted against the Texans, in terms of talent. Where JD Clowney is health-wise after a year in the injury wilderness & missing training camp, is a question but he still provides a dominating edge presence.

Clowney, was just one of the additions to this re-tooled Browns Defense. The Cleveland front with the elite Myles Garrett, added to the revival of Malik McDowell, Anthony Walker, John Johnson & Greg Newsome, have built a spine that already held significant positional depth and quality. Whilst both Denziel Ward & Malik Jackson are bonafide, impactful talent, that round off an upper end-tier defensive unit.

Tyrod Taylor will be the headline, in a game the Texans will want to keep close & continue to rely on their simple formula that served them well last week. To avoid this ferocious front, the ball will need to arrive on a sharp rhythm. The Browns weak spot can be the intermediate areas, with Walker facing hamstring troubles & heading to IR this week.

So the Tight End may be targeted early & often, Pharaoh may need to set the passing game free. Watch for Auclair to get his first reception as well as Brevin Jordan to be activated. Jordan Atkins remains a question of fit for this offense but could play a role in a game where passes to the boundary will be hard fought.

The Houston run game will be the fundamental in allowing this game to remain a spectacle. Perhaps a more balance distribution than 26 carries from Mark Ingram will be sought. But the offensive line will have the onus on themselves to find a new level this week. Both Sharping and Howard must assert themselves in the A&B gaps. A watching brief, will be what the team choose to do at Right Tackle, if Charlie Heck returns. Throwing him out there in pass sets may be the undoing of multiple drives, as there will be no hiding places against the Browns front.

The Defensive Run Fits

The strength of Kevin Stefanski’s offense lie within the zone-run game. A back-field duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, has fewer teams boasting that level of cutting ability through the lines. The linebackers, particularly Zack Cunningham at the WILL position, should be vital in stopping the run, as the Browns attacks will often cut across the back-side of the play.

The linebackers will be tested against the run & in pass coverage, when accounting for the duo of Njoku & Hooper. This game will be an acid test of the unit, who will be without Kevin Pierre-Louis who’s been placed on IR. Putting a stop to the run will be paramount, although few units across the league may have the ability. The game hinges on it the & the ability of the Texans front seven to influence this game.

The much lauded Bill Callahan coached offensive line appears to have health pitted against them, as all three tackles are on the Browns injury report. This may open the door for the Texans to pressure Baker Mayfield who has shown he can be flustered.

The composition of the Browns play-action pass offense poses an intriguing battle against the zonal pass coverage. Lovie Smith will need to disguise his coverages and ensure those wide open seems & those gaping buckets in the second and third level are blurred more than they were in week one.

Lessons To Be Learned

Most iterations of the Browns in recent memory have been struggling teams, not so dissimilar to the expectations for the current Texans. Houston are in-part looking to future years but are perhaps not quite as deep into the depths of despair that Cleveland once found themselves.

But there are parallels in coming back from the brink that the Texans brass can learn form. Houston, similarly may be required to undergo a regime change, after years of adding talent to re-establish as a perennial play-off calibre team.

Perhaps the biggest question for Cleveland: do they have a true franchise passer? Another test awaits Sunday against a Texans team, who many counted out but will have plenty of surprises left this season. The conditions in Ohio can always change in a hurry but instead of a weather delay, a more recent history revision for Houston may be one similar to last years match up: a hard-fought contest, ending in a 4th quarter loss.

TEXANS @ BROWNS, 12PM CST; CBS; FirstEnergy Stadium

A Week Of Realisations For The Texans

Uncertainty has gripped this team since the all-too-powerful Bill O’Brien was fired last October. Their troubles have loomed despite their efforts to mask the upheaval with mass change. But this week, as the Texans are set to kick-off against Jacksonville this Sunday, a glaring light will shine on these long standing changes. The differing factor this weekend, is that the outcome of much activity will become a reality.

It’s a Process, Don’t Expect Results Soon.

Realisation one of this week was the General Manager’s quote about this season being process orientated, rather than his concern for results. It was an interested admission from Caserio as he’s shown a well-crafted ability to answer the media with the skill of a seasoned politician. Has something changed? Or has he perhaps become clearer on his expectations for this team? Regardless, that omission was a rather specific one, post the roster cut down. “Embrace the slog, people!” may be a more apt slogan for your ‘21 David Culley lead Texans.

Tyrod Time In Houston

The fact Tyrod being announced as the starter made national headlines shows how little attention the broader circles are paying the Texans. As Deshaun lurks in the background, Mills nowhere near ready, the only feasible quarterback option is Taylor. How the former Virginia Tech products health fares will be an inflection point for the Texans season. The team is mooted to go 0-17 which is a distinct possibility, should Taylor miss significant time.

Aged Is But a Number?

After letting go the underachieving Keke Coutee the, comfortably the biggest shock of the roster trimming. The Texans address their lopsided roster composition by adding form Patriot Danny Amendola. The wide receiver position doesn’t typically allow 35-year-olds to be productive at this level. However, his output of 603 yards on a struggling Detroit team last years, showed theirs may be come miles left the man from the Woodlands.

But again, they chose the veteran over the developmental option. Caserio was asked about being the oldest offence in the league, it was dismissed as a non-issue. But this team had so few young players who will develop into cornerstones. The one you did have was moved out of his position! It’s perhaps a sign that Caserio sees it’s not time to start that rebuild, yet.

A Secondary Down A Roby

It emerged that the Texans after signing Jimmy Moreland & Cre’veon Leblanc to add some form support to the worryingly thin secondary. The not-so-unexpected trade of Bradly Roby to the Saints was announced. Corner was this teams worst position by some distance and losing their best player is going to bring back the pass coverage horror-show of last year. The Texans corners couldn’t cover in anyway viable manner and that looks to be the case yet again, new scheme of not.

The Roby trade, that acquire a ‘22 3rd round pick plus a conditional ‘23 6th, providing much needed assets for the future. A future that will start to build its foundations, after this year for the most part. It was a reminder, this ‘21 season won’t be an easy one for this limited roster to negotiate. There will likely be other players depart, should value be on offer. As we saw the first move focused on the future, if that wasn’t already obvious but it hit home, nonetheless.

A Final Comprehension Of The Week?

The prospect of Vernon Hargreaves playing a starting corner role isn’t one that you can ask people to pay for. But it’s the case for at least week one. It’s difficult to see without a handful of game breaking plays, backed up my extensive game planning from the coaching staff, that this week’s final realisation will be in the stadium.

Internally the team may finally gauge the fans reaction or distinct lack of people in seats, to publicly reveal where sentiment truly sits. Trailing the Jags early could perpetuate any of those heckles. And the fans will now visualise how far this team is off the pace, by NFL standards, which may hit people hard.

It won’t be a real shock internally, covered up by narrative of “competition” which Sunday, will have nowhere else to hide. There’s a chance this team could rally together as guys like Lindsay, Britt and others have called out. But talent is talent at this level & the teams ability to steer any positive “football feeling” will be null when the real action starts. It’s now within the white lines until January.

But at least we can all take a welcomed break from the off-files noise that has become synonymous with this ball club.

JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON; Sunday, Sept. 12; 12Noon Central; NRG Stadium; CBS; Paramount+

Saturday Texans Scroller – Season Preview

An tumultuous off-season only eclipsed by the threat of pro-football leaving the city, is the single reason for this period not being considered the worst in Houston’s history. An implosion of unrivalled proportions was allowed to unfold by a second generation owner, who has come across as inept and every bit of the billionaire’s child archetype. This was going to be an off-season of change but the entire future of this team was thrown into disarray as its disgruntled quarterback became embroiled in a flurry of allegations. A total of 22-civil suits & 10 legal pending.

This all occurred whilst hiring a new head coach and general manager, the circus buried the lead. Football is back but what are the area’s of this team that will define the 2021 season?

It’s Football Time In Houston.

A week on Sunday the newly, but untraditionally formed roster will welcome the number one overall pick, in Trevor Lawrence as the Urban Meyer leads Jaguars for his first foray into the NFL game. The limited pro-experience of the opposition should give a clear barometer of where this veteran heavy Texans roster team is placed. Regardless of the outcome, the refreshing element of actual football to discuss, however successful they will provide a welcomed break for a beleaguered faithful.

There’s a huge element of the fan base becoming alienated by the aforementioned turmoil, the atmosphere in NRG & the level of attendance will be something to note. Particularly if the Texans come out looking short against last years worst team, then a perpetual spiral may begin with another 8 home games still to play.

Defensive Lead, Once Again?

The defence has been often the leading unit for many of the previous Texans vintages & it appears to be heading that way into 2021 also. The loss of Mr-Houston, number 99, hasn’t left the hole it could have. In part due to the circus, in part due his physical decline but also due to the multiple role players acquired have given a sense of hope along the D-Line.

The acquisition of Maleik Collins, Vincent Taylor & Demarcus Walker, have all looked better than expected. In heavy rotational front, added to by Omenihu, Jake Martin, plus the development of Ross Blacklock & Roy Lopez, this unit will budren the weight of the team. If they can regularly disrupted up-front, they will give this team a chance.

The pass coverage, for what seems like the 10th season in a row, could be this teams undoing. It will be a baptism of fire against a Rookie gunslinger, with a serviceable cast of receivers, in Shenault, Marvin Jones & DJ Shark. The address of the cornerback position, underserved the issues of talent by only signing Terrance Mitchell & Des King. An improvement of last year of course, but will they be able to hold up in coverage? Part of that question, relies upon their ability but also in-part on the expected zone-coverage scheme and how they can manufacture pass rush without any game-wreckers in the trenches.

The depth of the linebackers, in relations to where the safeties line up will be perhaps the biggest hole in this Lovie Smith 4-3 scheme where they similarly lack talent in the linebacker room to cover the pass. It was child’s plays in the final pre-season game for Tom Brady. A test against the best, playing basic shell coverage, had a predetermined outcome. But Lovie will need to dig deep each week and game plan, relying on his experience as he enters his 42nd year of coaching.

The pre-season headline has been the defensive turnovers but an over-reliance upon that isn’t a feasible way to live in the league. Playing fundamentally sound defence will be first port of call, as turnovers is a mix of mentality but also mostly due to opposition mistakes. Undoubtedly a great habit to have and this team will need it to stay in games but they can’t hang their hat on that alone.

A Special Teams Chance?

Co-ordinator Frank Ross’ job on the special teams unit has shown that they may be the secret ingredient to claim a few more wins that this team may deserve. The signing of Andre Roberts as an all-pro-returner & the unrivalled punting ability of Aussie Cam Johnson gives a tint of excitement. It’s not sexy, it won’t sell tickets or jerseys but the unit may be essential to keep this team alive most weeks.

Running a Watson-less Offence?

Now Tim Kelly/Pep Hamilton want to run the ball with great regularity. But if they are able to against team first units, across a 17-game schedule is the big question. It appears Mark Ingram will lead the attack as long his health at 31 holds up. The age at the position, the underwhelming start by Phillip Lindsay, the errant David Johnson does not garner logical enthusiasm for the units productivity.

Many will hope, for the first time since perhaps the emergence of Arian Foster, the Texans will give carries to Scottie Phillips. It’s a young mans position for the most part. The Texans have persevered with veterans at the position, keeping 5 tail-back was a nod to not losing them to waivers. But Scottie has an extra gear than the rest of the position group. In a season where there is limited to gain, he could be a small silver lining.

What The Heck O-Line?

James Campen has provided a much needed and refreshing change to the offensive line rooms stewardship. But there is still work to do. The re-shuffle of Max Sharping & Tytus Howards into both opposing guard spots is a perplexing one. The planned unit may look different in early games due to the health of Marcus Cannon & Lane Taylor. But the overt desire to reward Charlie Heck with playing time, due to his much lauded off-season physical transformation, may be an ill-fated one. Heck showed a number of errors/being overmatched in the bull rush, that his position may not be tenable. If so, they’ve removing much needed off-season preparation for the the true, first-choice unit.

Whether this unit can be a platform for the team, most notably in the run game, will be the acid test of this offence’s ability to be productive.

Tyrod’s Health Or Floating Davis?

Taylor gives this team the best chance to be serviceable but his recent record of health would point to him missing time. The hopes of Davis Mills have been singed by his pre-season performances. The mere 11-collegiate starts has shown exactly his billing, the rawness & mental process needs refinement at the pro-level playing speed. Assuming Watson lurks in the back-ground for the foreseeable future, until off-field matters can be resolved, then Tyrod’s offence will be a grand departure from recent memory. The unit will rely on his mobility and the play action game to open up the lay-ups needed for the unit to stay on the field.

Efficiency and converting in the red-zone will be huge factor, as relying on field-goals, considering your pass defence’s ability won’t cut it. The formula will be tight end heavy, short-to-intermediate passing to compliment the run game. Highlight plays will be at a premium. The expected ground-and-pound will be symbolic of this teams season. Hard fought yards at every turn for 17-weeks won’t be for the purest but at the very least, we can put some of the mess behind us, for a few hours on a sunday.

Texans Schedule:

Given this teams flaws, 4-5 wins appears their ceiling. A lot can change quickly in the league, the assumption of all things being equal, never proves true. Three rookie quarterbacks, plus 5 games against either new or 2nd year quarterbacks, seems favourable.

Cleveland, Buffalo, LA, Seattle appear forgone conclusion on paper. Getting 2 wins in the four games against Tennessee & Indianapolis will be defining but there are winnable games, if the team, can avoid beating itself. A departure from that mentality would be a step forward in this Nick Caserio era of Texans football.

Saturday Texans Scroller – Pre-Season 3

NRG will host it’s first pre-season game since the visit of the Rams, August 30th 2019. A strange notion, with the impact of covid still a pertinent theme for teams as they make their first attempt to prepare for a 17-game season.

Did The Trip to Dallas Teach Us Anything?

The offence is starting to become a nagging concern, that will be hoping for greater production against Tampa, tomorrow night. In Dallas, they showed little reason to breed any confidence, as for three series, the Tyrod-lead starting unit almightily struggled. With the only notable omission Laremy at left-tackle, the team failed to move the chains barring a short-field, which was created by a defensive turnover. Going 0-10 on third downs, 131 yards through the air and only the feet of Jeff Driskel late padding of the 89 rush yards. We are still unclear on what this offence could be, if anything under Tim Kelly.

Mark Ingram was the lead-back in that scenario, with some relief from Phillip Lindsay. The use of the Tight-Ends, on the only offensive-6 of the day, showed that there appears to be a choice between Anthony Auclair as the 4th TE or keeping Paul Quessenberry as the old-school full-back. Now that ’19 3rd-round experiment Kahale Warring was released this week, joining the Patriots via waivers.

The lack of rush ability on offence for a team “committed” to running the ball, seems to be an imbalance they may be unable to correct. A mixture of scheme and talent deficiencies may be too great of a deficit, with the context of so many new players and limited padded practices to refine their ground attack. The adjustments to the incumbent interior offensive-lineman have added to the changes. Though, Charlie Heck seems to surprise everyone with his physical development.

Nico Collins was held-out due to a leg strain, the training-camp-star will be in much need of some live reps prior to the week one visit of Jacksonville. As it appears Nico will be relied upon early and often to be productive in the passing game.

His fellow rookie, Davis Mills, took a side step in his visible development curve. He was not helped by some questionable play from his team mates. However, there are too many fundamental gaps in his play at this stage, to feasibly rely upon him. For all his pretty looking throw’s there are missed protections, poor reads & questionable decision making. There’s a sizeable job for Pep Hamilton & Tim Kelly, to prepare Davis should he be required. But they will be without much opportunity, once the weekly cycle of game planning commences.

The defensive-front was the real stand out, beyond the bulging stat line, this unit has three core contributors in, Chuck’O, Jacob Martin, & Maliek Collins. And the defence looks far better placed to fundamentally stand-up opposing offences, with Lonnie Johnson making a splash pick-6 play as the highlight, among many turnover and negative yard plays.

Further encouragement must be taken due the clear depth, beyond the main contributors that will see time, in a rotation-heavy front. Vincent Taylor, Jaleel Johnson & to a lesser degree Roy Lopez and Ross Blacklock have rounded together an interior unit that is currently beyond expectations.

Whitney Mercilius & the disappointing Shaq Lawson’s respective contracts may well force a more capable edge-player out, but Greenard’s ankle injury may be timely in assisting that issue, for now. But Demarcus Walker shows interior & exterior flexibility, as well as the impressive Jordan Jenkins, is creating a difficult scenario for Caserio, when he cuts down to 53.

Trades, Transactions & Plenty More To Come

Caserio made another couple of trades this week. Sending a 7th round pick to Green Bay for Corner Ka’Dar Hollman, whilst attaining at 7th from Seattle for former 4th-rounder John Reid. It appears that they are looking for length and the prototypical 6ft-plus corners as they look for developmental players, who can add depth with a longer term view toward playing time.

They further added to that theory with the addition of Rasul Douglas, a former Philadelphia Eagles third-round-pick who’s had a difficult career to this point and wasn’t retained in Carolina last season.

Further Trades on The Horizon?

There are multiple candidates who could be trade-bait as the final roster is decided. A name to watch is tight-end Jordan Atkins – as the team have a ready made replacement in rookie Brevin Jordan. Atkins would be a loss but paying a F-type whilst resetting, before rebuilding, seems unlikely considering he’s set to turn 29.

David Johnson, is a name that could attract a late round swap or player deal, as his role appears to be limited to situational third downs. An out-ball that both Rex Burkhead or Scottie Phillips can supply, at a lower cap hit.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

If teams are in need of rotational defensive players, anyone beyond Omenihu, Martin & Collins, could provide the Texans some future assets, whilst not weakening their current line up. Shaq Lawson seems the most likely but that group is so closely matched, the team will be willing to listen, should the value be there.

The Visit of The Reigning Champs

By all accounts both sides appear to have agreed on minimum first-half of “starters” to be out on the field. This will give the greatest glimpse of their abilities against last year’s best side.

Continuing their aggressive defensive style, attacking to the ball against Tom Brady and his first choice accessories, will be a temperature check on last weeks highlights. They will also have to show they can move the ball on offence, most notably on the ground.

Finding out their flaws now is more attractive than come the real action, but there are issues that aren’t going away. The collective offensive players & coaching need to find answers, as a semi-functional offence will be an essential ingredient, if this team is to be competitive.

Tampa @ Houston – Saturday, August 28, 2021, at 7 p.m. CT; NRG Stadium; ABC 13

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Saturday Texans Scroller – Pre Season 2

Last Saturday night in Green Bay provided some level of football normalcy for Texans fans. Considering the vast array of 50 plus new players, the team looked well coached, disciplined and motivated. It’s a common mistake to take too much stock from pre-season performances. But there were some highlights, that warrant further exploration.

Does Mills Have Foundations of Something?

For a quarterback with less than 290 throws under his belt at Stanford, the pro learning curve was destined to be steep. But the Davis equipped himself well on Saturday, his 2nd NFL play however, was a sack, as Cole Tonner whiffed on a 2nd level block:

Mills dusted himself down and found some rhythm. His collegiate issues of missing the easy throws carried over, as he misplaced both screens and swing passes that were layups at the pro-level. For all his fixable issues, he showed command pre-snap, a decent semblance of reading pressures & solid footwork. His red zone efficiency, use of his eyes, identifying coverages and his varied release points off the football, will need to be cleared up.

The biggest questions for Mills to answer, will be can he show gradual improvement across the rest of the pre-season. The coaching staff should not hold back or even give any reps to Jeff Driskel who’s shown he provides limited value to this team. Giving the remainder of the reps, post Tyrod Taylors initial burst, will serve both Davis’ development and the teams understanding of what this year’s third-round-pick will be capable of. But rudimentary mistakes will need to be irradiated if he has a future in this league.

Scottie Phillips – Flashes Again

The level of competition is a constant caveat but the former Ole Miss Rebel continues to flash in a way that deserves closer inspection, ideally with starter type players. There appears to be a log-jam in making this roster at Tail-Back. But it’s young man’s position and Phillips has shown the signs of having potential as a spot filler, in the back-field for someone in this league.

It’s perhaps more of a question if the coaching staff are willing to side with youth, than if Scottie can keep taking the chances given to him. He’s showing he can run it, pass block and catch passes out of the back-filed on third down. His value extends beyond more than just this season, if Phillips can realise his clear potential.

Kamu G-Hill Adds Line Backer Depth

The core skills of reading the play, reacting and getting down-hill to the ball, is on full display in the pre-season, regardless of the competition. Those skills can translate regardless, when combined with the sheer athleticism that Hill showed on Saturday. He is circa 4th in-line to the three roles, in base formation. But Houston has long needed a rangy linebacker, who’s capable of covering ground both ways.

A number of plays showed why Hill was one of the earlier signings by Caserio in the off-season & there were clear signs are he could carve a role for himself, in sub-packages & on special teams.

Green Bay played very few players who will even make their roster, mostly 1st or 2nd year players with limited experience. The Texans conversely are comprised of steady experienced pro’s, so the gulf should have been there, it told us exactly what it should. What this Sunday’s first few series looks like, will provide a more in-depth peak at the 2021 Texans.

Rod, Crossen & Dunn Out

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

In the ever-evolving world of Texans roster management, special teamer and the fleetingly seen on defence, Kieon Crossen was traded to the New York Giants. The former 2019 trade acquisition from New England, netted the Texans 2023, 6th-round-pick. A admissible asset in the grand scale of things, arguably under valued considering his continued impact on special teams. But the move shows the faith placed in that position room, that remains one of the biggest question marks of this entire roster. Tremon Smith may well step into Kieon’s role & the duplicity of carrying both players was answered when another team offered some value, in a future asset for this re-building job ahead.

Rod Johnson barely would have had time, if at all, to get back in the building coming off the Covid list, prior to being told of his release. A vastly improved player, who filled in admirably for the 4 games that Tunsil missed last year at left tackle.

Rod Johnson (63) showing his willingness to find work in Pass sets – New England, November 2020

This may point to a decline in his training camp form. His lack of vaccination & therefore his ability to return quickly from close-contact may have deemed him un-reliable. The performance of Gareon Christian at left tackle in Green Bay may have shown a more-cost effective back-up option. His reported training camp performances had possibly seeded doubt and now the team have moved on.

Brandon Dunn, it seemed was given the benefit of the doubt by the coaching staff, to see if he could shake off his injury and lessened form of last year, to make this roster. The signing of Jaleel Johnson, was a direct replacement for PJ Hall. Johnson’s two fumble recoveries coupled with the performances of Vincent Taylor, it appeared Caserio has similar, if not more viable options and D-Tackle and has moved on, again, at a lower cap charge.

Inter-State rivalry, the inclusion of the Cowboys on Hard Knocks may dominate the narrative on Saturday, as the team travel to Arlington. This will be mostly where we see the most starters, at any point prior to week one & it will inevitably give us a truer understanding of this teams competitiveness, come real football.

Houston Texans vs Dallas Cowboys; AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Saturday, August 21, 2021, at 7 p.m. CT