Railroaded By The Ravens As The Texans Are Found Wanting In Consecutive Weeks.
The Ravens never drifted from their course throughout Sunday’s late afternoon defeat of the Texans, who failed to pose any credible threat to last years top AFC seed. Bar the thanksgiving tie with Detroit, the Texans will be confined to noon kick-off’s and that decision by the broadcasters appears to have beeen a shrewd one.
Week-two resonated in a similar tone to last Thursday, with the overriding sense of distain which was symbolically presented by yet another, Will Fuller hamstring complaint. The perennially injured, muted-star receiver, didn’t register a catch and missed snaps, whilst being worked on by the trainers.
Providing this weeks deep-set despondency, was the turn of the offence, when a regression almost seemed inconceivable. Deshaun and the offence struggled to piece drives together which lead to two unthinkable play-calls form Tim Kelly. Both failed in finding a yard, the third down attempt was followed by calling a series of over-adventurous developing crossers on the resulting 4th. The play-call was changed as Baltimore shrewdly used a time out to adjust personnel. Jackson was then presented with a short-field, who eventually found his fullback in the end zone, Cunningham appeared to be the trailing defender.
The offence stumped up the only touchdown of the day, to make it a 10-7 game. After much clamour for the offence use of the play action, Watson found Cooks for a 38 yard again, prior to the 10 yard TD-pass to Darren Fells. Cooks was one a few bright spots in the Houston offence, as was the announcement of Jordan Atkins as Tight-End one, as Darren Fells saw his snaps decline but still poses value in the red-zone.
After the defence held to another Justin Tucker Field-Goal, who was 4-4 on the day, the path was laid for the offence to compliment the defence’s unexpected solidity. Though the feeling of deja-vu once again unwelcomely found itself, as Keke Coutee added to his string of high-profile fumbles, as the Ravens defence returned it for 6. After gifting two scores, the Texans were confined to another defeat in a home opener. As for Coutee, that moment drew more angst at unfulfilled potential, the former 4th round pick’s release date may hinge on the return of rookie Isaiah Coulter from a neck strain.
Often with Deshaun, hope is a constant, but even his performance just at the whole offence didn’t meet a standard worthy of winning a pro game, far less defeating the 2019 MVP. If there was any doubt, it was then sealed, as Watson delayed his release, Brandon Cooks was jumped by Marcus Peters (who the Texans overlooked in the 2016 draft, due to off field concerns) intercepting the ball to kill another Texans drive. The Texans for all their speed, failed to stretch the field and a missed shot to David Johnson up the sideline was atypical of an absent big-play ability.
Despite this, Houston only found themselves down 10 at the half. After trading field goals, on a pivotal fourth & 1, running back Mark Ingram took the direct snap to the house. The running back subsequently celebrated on the Texans logo in the same way his teammates figuratively handled a weary looking Texans team.
There were some minor positives from the defence. JJ Watt came alive, chipping in with 2 of the four sacks. Charles Omenihu and Zack Cunningham also contributed to tally, in a much improved front from last week. Cunningham again, positioned too high to make the tackle, missed two big stops on third down, when the team need a momentum swing.
The team are definitively carrying passengers on that front seven, Carlos Watkins and Whitney Mercilius continued to be limited in their effectiveness. The latter is looking like a toxic investment, versus paying DJ Reader. There were some flashes in the secondary but just as the offence did with pass protection, the run defence’s damn finally burst in the 4th quarter. Although Weaver’s game plan was again effective, considering the void of talent on the Houston defence.
The ejection of Rookie Ross Blacklock, typified the night, when called for unnecessary roughness, much to the displeasure of JJ Watt’s post match comments. Not that it contributed to the downfall, as his comments may have suggested.
At this stage of the O’Brien era, considering the autonomy given, the capital invested in the offence (at the expense of the defence), to have that output in the first two weeks, should put the Tim Kelly OC era on notice. The Texans were handed the most difficult start to the season imaginable but they have been the masters of their own downfall. Similarly, this should not be the product of a 4th year, $40m quarterback, nor should that be the level of pass protection with the CONSTANT failure to recognise hot routes.
The holes in this Texans roster have been exposed in the first two weeks by the AFC’s elite. The contrast being thag both KC & Baltimore have improved their rosters, whilst OB was allowed to regress his.
It’s perhaps a positive that only 15-thousands fans will be inside NRG stadium for the next Texans home game, for the visit of Minnesota in a fortnight. As filling the stadium based on Sunday would be a tough ask. The down-trodden Texans travel to Pittsburgh this coming week, a task which would pose another factor to only further their current plight.
The Texans week-one disappointment was layered in the various questions that surrounded the, 34-20 loss. Were they prepared? A resounding No. Were they a better team this year? A similar answer. The choice of no tackling in training camp proved detrimental when defending the run. As Kansas City moved the ball with ease, sustaining long drives, they asserted their dominance in the second and third quarters, which effectively ended the contest.
The Ravens, who pose that exact threat this week, due to their unrivalled running game, that in 2019 saw them reach a 14-2 record fuelled by their 3,296 rushing yards. An offence which displayed that with aplomb in Houston’s 41-7 loss, in week 11. The Texans now face a distinct possibility of starting 0-2 against team who have improved for a year ago. Houston’s last win against the Ravens was the injury-forced return of Case Keenum, in the penultimate game of DeAndre Johnson’s Texans career, in 2014.
Though the Ravens have show a formula for defeat in the play offs, as fellow AFC South foes defeated them in their own back yard, in the divisional round. That formula was capitalising on turnovers, taking the lead and forcing a running team to chase the game, that resulting in 4th down stops and fundamentally sound defence, whilst running the ball in the trenches.
There are many questions in need of answers, if the Texans are to have a chance of making something of their treacherous start, handed out by the schedule makers. Though the many reservations that existed in the tie last year, still hold validity, the variance being the Texans depleted defensive talent.
Clean football – O’Brien noted in his press conference that teams not beating themselves was a key factor in week 1. A long held belief by Bill but even a hint of self-destruction in penalties and turnovers then the void between the two teams will only be greater than we saw in week 1.
The Run defence – If the defensive unit cannot show substantial improvement against the run, then this tie is over before it starts. Being Fundamentally sound in gap assignment was something the unit, mostly a four man front, were unable to do against the Chiefs. Setting the edge, ensuring contain will be vital, so not to undo any good work instantaneously if a reverse or QB-keeper leaks to the outside.
Jacksons Improvement as a Passer – It appears from Anthony Weaver’s press conference he plans to stack the box and to stop the run. That in theory is the obvious inclination but they will have to be prepared when the Raven set up in Trips/Bunch formations as they use to scheme open easy completions for Lamar and aid his offences rhythm. Greg Roman does a sterling job, based on the run strength at creating wide-open passes for Jackson, so getting creative with rush will be important as delayed rushes can provide more effective that a spy would against a player so elusive in space.
Play With Pace – O’Brien seemed dismissive of the question that his teams week one offence was slow. It lacked urgency and conviction, but its clear that Watsons rhythm is positively correlated to the up-tempo offence.
If there is to be a Devine interventions today, running the ball to set up Play-Action passes against an aggressive defence is an avenue to attack, in a week where play-calls and creativity will be closely scrutinised and will need to show improvements, versus a week ago.
Dealing with Pressure and Hot Routes – something that the Texans have struggled with in the Deshaun Watson Era. The simple concept of breaking off their routes in to the space left by the blitzer or the zone for an easy completion. The only way to stop the relentless pressure, is to show the savy Matrindale that Watson and the offence can’t handle it and pick up easy gains.
Can they bounce back – Losing games back to back isn’t something that Watson has made a habit of in his career to this point, in Houston. This game, following the Chiefs, was likely to be their worst match up of the season. It’s a game that can change the completion of a season instantaneously, however unlikely on paper it would seem.
The Awaited Return of Football Only Validated The Assertions Of Both Teams On Thursday Night Football
Football’s much anticipated return began in Missouri with the the clash of it’s two highest paid quarterbacks, in front of a limited capacity crowd. A crowd who made themselves heard, in only one of two stadiums where fans will see live action, this weekend.
The fans appeared to voice their displeasure at the stand in solidarity of the two team pre-game, who were opposing racial injustice. A stance that has become synonymous with sports, as players continue to contribute to the cause. The crowds reaction was a pre-cursor to a game that failed to deliver as the spectacle craved by millions. Mahommes and the Chiefs comfortably saw off a Houston team, who after taking the lead, will draw few positives to take into their home opener, next week.
The back-field motions, screens and levelled drag routes that we have seen Mahommes execute masterfully were as ever, on show. Eric Bienemy’s offence will have success against many defences but the addition of Clyde Edwards Hellaire was new dimension to their attack. The former LSU stand-out followed up his breakout season in Louisiana with a 138-rushing yards, displaying his ability to run inside zone as he did in the SEC. His elusiveness and patience was aided by the addition of left-guard, Kelechi Osemele who’s 330lbs frame gave the Texans interior problems and added an element of steel to the KC line compared to a year ago.
The Texans defence under Anthony Weaver mixed up coverage looks, which Mahomes wasn’t expecting and held him to the third lowest yards per attempt to date and was scoreless in the first quarter. But as the game continued the Chiefs grew offensively and the Texans departed from any realms of potency. The Chiefs offence appear to now pose a more daunting task, that the one that won them Superbowl 54, back in February. Mahomes stated post-game “we have confidence in every single person in that huddle” and justifiably so.
The potential balance of the Chiefs will require the AFC to take note. Next they face a sterner test in the LA Chargers defence which will give a more accurate barometer of how potent the reigning champions attack appeared to be. An attack who easily sustained long drives through their varied approach in scheming open their array of skill players. It will be a hard task for any team to hang with their free scoring ability. Particularly, if their defensive front continue to win on the line of scrimmage. As the unit, lead by Chris Jones, who contributed 1.5 sacks on the night and asserted his will on right-guard Zack Fulton. As the Houston front made too many mental errors in their blocking assignments.
After taking the lead, it provided a reminder to all that David Johnson isn’t finished yet. and Johnston looked in great shape, where his lethal one cut ability and pass catching versatility gave the Texans 109-yards on the night. But the key question, in the absence of Breshad Breeland, could Watson and his cast of receivers take advantage of the inexperienced Chiefs corners? Fuller, who had 112 yards on the night, form 8 receptions, dropped a key pass on the first drive. The rookie Louisiana Tech Corner L’Jarius Sneed had a night to remember, on his debut performance. The fourth round pick broke up that pass early, when he was a target for the Houston offence and he later picked off a ball that sailed after Watson’ arm was struck mid-throw by Tyran Mathieu.
That moment, mid-third quarter, was the end of Houston’s hopes, on a night where they failed to build any offensive momentum. On another night the Texans would have had three interceptions, two were ruled out by flags, the first of which was a key point at the end of the half. Houston kicker, Kiami Fairburn, missed a field goal attempt and then despite only have 25 seconds on the clock, aided by a Horse Collar penalty on Zack Cunningham, the Chiefs duly marched down the field and tacked on three, from the foot of Butker.
That 6 point swing was then compounded, on the first drive of the second half, Edwards-Helaire notched his first touchdown as pro, where again the Houston front was exposed and some abject tackling saw Kansas City put up 31 unanswered point. A story line all too familiar for Houston, in Arrowhead Stadium, who did little to banish the nightmare of that blown 24-point lead in January.
Deshaun Watson and the Texans offence, play called by Tim Kelly for the first time, will need to use the extended break to understand how they can start faster and execute with greater fluidity. The view of many this off season was that Watson and Co.’s attempts may be in vein, if their porous defence doesn’t find a way to shore up its holes. A view that held substantial validity last night. Another acid test awaits next week with the visit of Baltimore.
O’Brien summed it up in post match presser stating “there’s a lot of things to fix” and he certainly has work ahead of him as the Chiefs made light work of his Houston team in a rather imperious manner, without getting into third gear. Andy Reid’s comments were casual in the same manner as his teams performance. “Let’s keep rolling” and it would seem it will take a sizeable effort that only a few teams may pose, in order to hault their quest for a successive championship this season
Even if the Texans can emerge with a victory on Thursday night, then justifiably questions may linger: Can they deliver in the post-season? Can they improve their regular season record? Can they put up more points every week? A tumultuous off-season has lead to many having reservations about this Deshaun Watson lead offence, that is striving for consistency to better their 15th passing and 9th rushing ranking from 2019.
Ultimately, Houston’s fortunes start and end with number 4. Watson was the recipient of a deal worthy of his potential, character and highlight performances. Thought it’s reasonable to question, when considering Watson’s 41 career appearances, have the lows have been too frequent? However, considering at 24, the former Clemson Tiger has everything ahead of him, entering year-four as a pro.
The Texans have not capitalised on Deshaun’s rookie deal to build up quality around him. That window seems to be fading as his new contract will consume a great proportion of the salary cap with each year. The bi-product is a thiner roster composition in term of overall talent, with less dollars to share around and an over reliance on the draft.
It’s without doubt time to rejoice that he is now secured until 2025 and his main task is to find answers to why the Texans offence in 2019 was so inconsistent. The highs of Atlanta, Kansas City and New England were duly eradicated by the forgettable performances of Carolina, Denver and Jacksonville. Hence the train of thought to have a more varied passing game which is less predictable.
Reviewing the foundational questions in understanding if these changes can turn the Houston offence into the powerhouse it will be required to be:
Can they run the ball?
In the O’Brien era the Texans have perennially mismanaged running backs, look no further than Lamar Miller. A lead back, that fits their responsibilities has been absent since Arian Foster. The undoubted pinnacle was last years one-thousand yard season from Carlos Hyde, who rejected a contract from Houston, then subsequently ended up taking less money and years with Seattle.
The acquisition of David Johnson( proportionate trade value aside) has potential to be a sizeable part of the offence, if healthy. The shape Johnson has reported in camp has drawn universal awe and poses an aura of man, who’s out to prove a point. If David can show that lethal one cut ability in zone concepts effectively, it could be the perfect compliment to the passing game. Furthermore his route running ability should provide a greater level of versatility than Carlos Hyde who was not a threat when flexed out of the backfield.
After trading a compensatory third-round-pick for Duke Johnson last year, he was lethal when given the ball averaging 6.5 yards per possession. Duke was under-utilised in terms of targets, despite contributing 820yards and 5TD’s on the year. Simply, the more Duke has the ball in his hands, things will happen for this offence. Providing a punishing matchup for linebackers when receiving the ball out of the backfield, the all time Miami U. leading rusher can equally contribute in the rush attack.
Lining up in 20-personnel looks could give the offence a significant advantage against linebackers challenged for lateral quickness and create a range of possibilities for Tim Kelly. Having two pass-catching backs on the roster could prove a valuable wrinkle and adjustment in games where the run is being stifled.
Can the Line Take the Step Required?
The eventual starting five offensive-linemen of 2019 are set to return, so by inference, their play should benefit from greater level of cohesion. The more consecutive games that Tunsil, Sharping, Martin, Fulton and Howard are healthy, then that is be positive for the pass protection.
The necessary growth must come from the run game. Thought this off-season hasn’t provided conditions to further that ambition, it’s something that no team will truly gauge until the midst of week-one. Tytus Howard showed year-one flashes and his loss to injury at Right-Tackle was seismic. Howard’s proficiency in the run game was in contrast to that of Max Sharping, who needs to translate his 327lb mass into power, to move bodies in the run game. Year 2 is still too early to make an appropriate judgment on a lineman’s NFL credentials, but the franchise did a notable job in selecting both in the 2019 draft class.
The player best placed to improve, is already the most talented, in Laremy Tunsil, who agreed a $66million three-year extension early in the off-season. By having more than a week to acclimatise, will aid in reducing the false start penalties that plagued the former Ole Miss Rebel. The contract showed the Texans value him as the best lineman in the game, so Tunsil has to now to repay that faith but few would doubt that feat is beyond his grasp.
This unit is tasked with providing the the foundation for Watson, who will take his share of sacks due to his hell-bent focus on keeping plays alive. But by giving 2-4 seconds, in a clean pocket, will allow plays to develop and help in utilising the deep threats now on this roster.
What does Speed leave behind?
Will Fuller’s variable health record has created unmanageable fluctuations in offensive output in previous seasons. Fuller’s elite ability to stretch the field coupled with Watsons deep ball accuracy was a component, that this scheme floundered without. Yet with he introduction of Brandin Cooks to pair with Fuller, the Texans now pose two elite deep threats. This will force the respect of the coverage and engender a choice to be made on how defence will attempt to cover the duo.
The Texans receiver group is the deepest in franchise history. This passing attack will have to be the strength of the team, unequivocally to the point that it’s the reason they win games. Not forgetting Kenny Stills who had a knack for big plays, extending drives and contributing scores when needed. The former ‘Sooner finished in the top-five receivers yards-per-reception, in his first year in Houston.
Albeit, he was given a questionable contract for a player at the latter end of their career, Randall Cobb should bring veteran nous and the understand the required to navigate over the middle of the field. Something that has been previously missing for Watson in the short and intermediate game. The ability to understand when additional pressures are coming from other levels of the defence and cutting routes short to provide simple completions should come from Cobb’s wealth of knowledge.
Along with Cobb operating in the slot, Keke Coutee remains being a complete unknown, if he’s able to show mental maturation in year three and be consistent in assignments, it would add significant depth. But looking at the collective wide-receiver room, there isn’t a clear towering presence that can be targeted to win possession catches. Hence the Tight End’s value in the passing game will be greater than in years prior. Particularly if the speed of the receivers can regularly stretch the coverage and provide winnable match up’s, closer to the line of scrimmage.
Fells even at 34 years-young was a valuable red-zone outlet for Watson, chipping in with 7 TD’s last year. The former basketball-pro was heavily relied up as the primary Y but faded in terms of blocking down the stretch. So an improved rotation of the three players will be key. The unknown is Kahle Warring, in year-two, who poses a figure to fill the role as primary blocker. The 86th overall pick in the 2019 draft is yet to make his competitive debut but is thought as the perfect hybrid between Fells and Joran Atkins.
Going into his third year, Atkins has the ability of the most accomplish route runner and pass catcher off the trio. Watson often overlooked Atkins who’s athleticism allows him to regularly get open against safeties and backers. The Texans have the ability to line up in 12 & 13 personnel groupings, adding a number wrinkles to their passing game on what are traditionally viewed as running formations.
What Are The Logical expectations for This offence?
Tim Kelly, must feel a sense of gratitude, considering the skill players and quarterback at his disposal. The additional time and planning he’s been able to add, was pin-pointed by Watson as an important step in game planning. His creativity and nous will be tested early considering they defences faced in the early weeks. But Kelly has a real chance to show that the off-season decisions made were in the best interest of the offence that finished 14th last year in points.
Deshaun’s potential has heights that he is yet to reach and this offence seems placed to assist in that growth. His improvement points were covered in the Saxtrax Project, this offseason.
The questions of supporting cast will be duly answered but as in the case of every team, they are only as great as their quarterback can make them. Just how great Watson will become is a journey, which continues Thursday night, on his quest to become “legendary”.
After this weekend’s roster cut down the Texans 53-man squad now prepares to face the reigning Super Bowl champs, on Thursday Night Football. The Texans will have to rise to the occasion, just as they did during the regular season slate, at Arrowhead Stadium. The game poses a chance to banish the memories of the blown 24-point lead, in that very stadium back in January, at the first chance of asking.
That collapse was attributed to an ailing defence who appeared toothless against the Mahomes & Kelce lead attack of the Chiefs. With a new co-ordinator at the helm, can this unit improve on last years showing which left them in the bottom 6 teams in yards, points, pressures and hurries? Undoubtedly, the talent has been allowed to age & eroded whilst the focus turns to arming Watson’s offence. Though if this team is to be successful in 2020, the defence cannot not lose games as they did in New Orleans and not protect the lead with only 37-seconds left.
The Key questions that lay heavily on this 2020 defence:
Can They Stop The Run?
Last years run defence saw Houston drop from 3rd best to the 7th worst, a further decline isn’t palatable but is a distinct possibility. The loss of DJ Reader, accounted for 22 tackles and 2 run stuffs in 2019. Though his numbers didn’t necessarily warrant the market resetting deal for a nose guard, handed out by Cincinnati but his presence consumed multiple blockers and offered some rush. The loss of Reader’s posture will be determined how well Brandon Dunn can fulfil that role. Dunn was rewarded with a new contract and he will have to find a new level in holding up the A-Gaps. The Texans are set to continue their migration to preferring a four man front, as a base look under Weaver.
The biggest stand out from the rookie class is Ross Blacklock, who’s speed at 290lbs, will be an asset required to contribute early. The release of Angelo Balckston shows the faith held by coaching staff in the former TCU standout. Who will be required to translate his first-step agility into consistent play-making. His snap count will grow, if the Houston native can contribute on passing downs as 2i or 3-technique creating any form of central-pocket pressure. The Texans have seldom posed a lineman with that unique skill set and realising that that potential would create an entirely new complexion to the rush. Expectations should be tempered due to the lack of pre-season live action, that will test all rookie players.
This defensive unit, for 1st year play-caller, Anthony Weaver, doesn’t appear to have the luxury of surviving when not holding up against the run, based on the raw talent. Weaver’s system appears to have some subtle differences in gap-responsibilities and how the linemen are asked to attack. A wildcard addition could be PJ Hall, the former second round pick and Sam Houston State grad, has a chance to re-build his career in Texas, once more.
Consistently Creating a Pass Rush?
The obvious answer lies in J.J. Watt’s health and if he can remain on the field, at this stage of his career. His use as a situational rusher on passing-downs, as per the play offs may have to become a necessity. As the previous reluctancy to remove him from the field, contributed to his raft of injuries. Watt has spoken about his level of health being akin to the 2015 version, another year removed from a serious injury, which should see his influence rise. His 2019 week-one performance against Ryan Ramzcyk was notably quiet, so a fresher, impactful version of the former x3 defensive MVP is beyond imperative.
Over the extended off-season, Jacob Martin has added 20lbs of muscle mass in order to quell doubts as a run defender. But Martin’s speed and athleticism is clear, his contribution in terms of pressure off the edge, will be a crucial from Outside Linebacker. Acquired as part of the Clowney trade to Seattle, only days before the season, further acclimation to the playbook will serve him well. As Martin grew into his role in 2019, despite only playing 20% of snaps, he racked up 3.5 sacks over a 3 game span. His ability to bend around tackles, is rare at his speed, weekly contributions is now the benchmark for the former Temple product.
Charles Omenihu felt wronged after slipping to the 5th round in the 2019 draft. Despite being the former Big 12 defensive player of the year, his inconsistencies showed in the trenches. At times there were flashes of an accomplished veteran and in others he looked like a rookie finding his way. Charles’ arm length and agility are prototypical metics of the defensive lineman and the signs of piecing it together may well be there after O’Brien described him as “a different player in year 2”. If the UT alumni can continuously use his size to leverage as an inside rusher – the front seven has a chance of being serviceable.
If the unit is to improve from the 4th least in QB pressures, then they will need to be reliant on players beyond Whintey Mercilus and Watt’s latter years. The addition of a pass rush as a reliable factor could be just enough to help out the secondary, in coverage.
Can the Pass Coverage Improve?
The perenial issues of pass coverage is one that the Texans will look at with considerable uncertainty. The carry over of personnel will be a benefit to communication but talent levels are still a doubt. As the unit began the 2019 season with 8 new faces, which based on their opponents success in point & air yardage was telling. Poor communication led to the Texans yielding 32 touchdown passes, which tied for the fifth-most league-wide. This group also allowed the eighth-most EPA per pass play and the league’s 10th-highest passer rating (PFF.com).
Bradley Roby, inked a new 3 year, $31.5m contract to be the Texans number one corner. Roby was playing into perhaps an even bigger deal prior to missing time post a hamstring injury in wk6. More performances of the New England primetime level will be required to fulfil that role. Roby can play on the parameter and in the slot, where he lines up week-to-week may vary but his impact on stalling opposition receivers will need to be unwavering. His admirable record against Tyreek Hill will be put to the test on Thursday Night Football.
The Texans first choice cornerbacks, in nickel formation, will be Roby, paired alongside Gareon Conley and Lonnie Johnson. The concept of acquiring former first round picks in the secondary will need to pay-off in 2020. Mid-season when the unit was injury stricken, the Texans traded a third round pick for Conley, who flashed particularly in the Buffalo, Wild Card Round. The former Ohio State man is dealing with off-season ankle surgery, which has halted his training camp preparations thus his likely impact early this year.
Therefore Lonnie Johnson may have a baptism of fire in year-two with Kansas City & Baltimore in as many weeks. The former one-year Kentucky corner has been working to hone his technique to support his 6-2, 219lbs frame. So there is some clear upside to the 2nd round pick form 2019, after a turbulent rookie campaign. Lonnie poses the ability to play as a sub-backer/safety role, should the match up required it but necessity may move him to predominately on the outside.
The Texans inability to cover Tight End’s and the over the middle, in the passing game continues to be an unaddressed achilles heel. The health of linebacker Dylan Cole is an essential factor, coupled with the investment in 4th Round Pick John Reid who was described by Weaver as a “5-Year-Vet.” Reid will likely take snaps away from 1st round re-tread Vernon Hargreaves, who was also a mid-season pick-up after being released from Tampa.
Safety In Numbers?
The theme of uncertainly and questionable optimism is a constant one, personified by the most notable unknown in this team – the safety position. The decisions to move on from Kareem Jackson and Tyran Mathieu looms with an ever-present air. Justin Reid, if fully healthy, has the potential of achieving a Pro-Bowl nod but beyond him, is where the concern lies.
The surprise contract of the off-season was unequivocally the 3-year $18million deal given to Eric Murray, who figures to be the starter alongside Justin Reid. Consider the role of a full-time starter is something missing from his record. Going into year 5 as a pro, post three seasons with the Kansas City and a single year with Cleveland. There are limited flashes from his film but the exact role carved out for Murray is watching brief for many.
With the only other listed player being long-time special teams ace Michael Thomas, that now signifies the emergence of A.J. Moore as the tertiary safety. The former Ole Miss product who was released by New England in 2018, has been a training camp stand out. He was giving some blitzing roles later in the year after over coming concussion issues which stemmed his year two progress. Many are high on Moore but once more the team are relying on an inexperienced player to play a significant role.
What Are Realistic Expectations for this Defence?
The Texans after extending Zach Cunningham to a 4-year, $14.5m deal this will inevitably be the last season Zach and Mckinney get to pair up at inside linebacker. Considering that notion, further weakening of talent is perhaps just around the corner. However, this 2020 vintage of the defence will need to stay healthy, understanding their assignments and hope a number of players play their best ball to date.
This unit will need to show previously unrivalled dependability in their assignments and technique fundamentals if they are to improve on last years, below par standings. If that all happens, then theres a slender chance this defence will not be the hinderance, that many expect it to be.
There have been a plethora of quotes have emitted on the varying ways Weaver’s scheme will attempt to unhinge offence’s timings. Just how creative he will be, could be the saving grace of a unit, who has limited choice but to improve if they Texans are to get closer to their goals.
A Media Punchbag Providing A Straightforward Rhetoric But Does The Off-Season Condemnation Hold Any Validity?
Those of a Texans persuasion are well versed in national media shun, after enduring it for two decades, the sample is enough to make that assertion. The exception being the 2012 season where Houston were regarded as potential contenders, namely for the balance they posed. What then transpired was a far cry from the predicted success that was defiantly proclaimed. But there is often limited revision of said predictions regardless of their accuracy.
Though there can be limited argument, the new league year began abruptly for the Texans, as Bill O’Brien’s trades were again at the centre of media consternation. As many disagreed with the teams “bold” moves made to re-engineer their offensive approach.The wider media across this off-season has lined up, to continually malign them and their chances in 2020.
But after a number of “blockbuster trades” becoming more common, the league dynamics have formed a new equilibrium. This considered, how does this alter the view of O’Brien? When applying the required pragmatism to fairly asses, rather than a defiant continuation of the immediate commentary. Time is often a procreator of perspective, as the intensity of scrutiny have now lessened, we review the era-defining moves that have seen the Boston native become vilified by many.
O’Briens Dual Role & Title:
O’Briens role of head coach/general manager hybrid, which is not uncommon in practice, is often pointed out. However, Andy Reid, Pete Carrol and Bill Bilichick, to name a few, enjoy similar autonomy. Albeit, the role or title is more subtle but in reality, the decision making is the same.
As with any team, there’s a consensus of leaders making strategic calls but there is a prominent individual who can put their foot down when deemed necessary. O’Brien relies on Matt Bazargin, James Lipfert & Jack Easterby in their respective roles, just as those aforementioned head coaches do within their own networks. Having a dual title is untraditional in a broader sense but taking a fresh approach for a team starved of any genuine success can be at least admired for attempting something new.
The Jadeveon Clowney Trade to Seattle for a 3rd & Players:
The JD Clowney situation was inherited from the departed, former-GM, Brian Gaine. The Texans and O’Brien wanted to extend Clowney. He was ill-advised with hindsight, by his agent to reject an $18.4million APY deal. After being traded to Seattle, Clowney didn’t do enough to command the money his camp believe he’s worth. Now, with a little more than 6 weeks until competitive action in 2020, he remains without a team. Health concerns, in the absence of being able to carry out medicals & salary demands being central, rather than talent.
However, the Texans have converted that trade into a promising, situational speed-rusher in Jacob Martin. The third round pick received was traded to the Raiders for Gareon Conley. Conley’s fifth year option wasn’t exercised but is placed to be a starting Cornerback. Many are high on the former first round pick and Conley has chance to earn a new deal after flashing late last season, once he acclimated to his new team’s system.
The LT Trade From Miami
In acquiring Laremy Tunsil, the Texans gave up two firsts and a second round pick in exchange for Tunsil, Kenny Stills and a 4th, which seemed reasonably rich, at that time. However considering the number of quality left tackles out-weigh the equivalent number of quarterbacks, it puts that compensation package in perspective.
Also considering the subsequent trades for foundational-type players such as Jalen Ramey and Jamal Adams has now brought that level draft compensation into the norm. O’Brien was going against the grain in an environment of GM’s who approach is one of caution, in comparison to other sports. These type of moves are only justifiable for teams that have a franchise passer in-tow. A premise that requires a mind-set shift, to see the from a front office perspective.
The theory of trading draft picks, which are lottery tickets to potential, in return for certified players of talent, is incongruous to traditional philosophy. As the shield’s propaganda machine wants fans to view the draft as the epitome of roster building. It plays its part but not the only means of fielding a competitive team. As the reality remains, unless you’re picking in the top 15 picks, the likelihood of landing a team defining talent is limited, at best. As would have Houston, likely picking in the mid-to-late twenty’s, received the same level of clamour, if they missed on the talent evaluation in back-to-back drafts?
Ultimately, the Texans were able to lock up a blindside protector for Watson, who instantaneously gave improvement on offence. Relying entirely on the draft would have carried substantial risk to both the team and Watson.
D-Hop Trade for a 2nd to Arizona
The trade of Deandre Hopkins was one that, with some validity, raised eyebrows this off season. But as many now take the lens of living the game via: How many points Deandre score for ‘Groundskeeper Willie’s Secret Allotment’, in a fantasy football league whilst only consuming red-zone highlights. Rather than being aware of what’s actually occurring on the field, within context of the ebb’s and flow over the 4 quarters, in a 16 game season. As all player can have a great YouTube reel, but a successful pro-offence needs an array of components to align, with far more complexity than some may care to consider.
As anyone who actually watched the Texans last year would tell you, Hopkins failed to consistently gain separation on the boundary. This resulted in Deandre, lining up in the slot, as a means of getting open. Hopkins effectiveness was limited without the field stretching ability of Will Fuller. Wide-Receiver is one of a few positions where stats actually matter and last year was Hopkins worst, in terms of production since his rookie year.
The Texans offence was at times predictable, too many stalled drives and over a third of targets being channeled through one player, isn’t healthy. Watson would have a perilous habit of locking on to his favourite receiver, therefore impeding his read progression and field vision. Added to the his limited amount of practice time hindered Watson’s development, thus the offence’s fluidity.
Though Deandre’s raw talent as pure possession receiver was enough to overcome and still deliver quality displays on a Sunday. No one can doubt Hopkins catch radius but as a longer term fit for the Texans, in the context of his contract re-negation demands, there was an opportunity to make a change.
As the fact remains, that only two years into a five-year-deal Hopkins was asking for a raise. These contract demands, within the inner league circles, lead to a counter-intuitive situation where a top-3 receivers trade value was limited. The Ravens and Eagles have both been publicly credited with stepping back upon learning of the “Julio Jones-type” contact demands. These stipulations were such that the Texans couldn’t feasibly manage either, nor could they set a precedent to re-work a deal with thee years remaining.
Additionally, consider the interpretation of a Wide-Receivers positional value is increasingly weighted to their ability to stretch the field. A skill that Hopkins doesn’t posses. In a copycat league, the Chiefs are reigning champions with a track-team on the outside. Henry Ruggs was the first receiver selected in this years draft, due to having that exact elite trait. There are thinly woven lines to this story that are continuously overlooked.
The 40th overall pick was arguably an under evaluation of the departing talent, just as the over evaluation of of David Johnson, based on his sizeable deal for a position few are willing to pay. The new CBA which would a have meant Hopkins would be foolish to hold out, so perhaps more suitable tactic would have been to hold for the right offer, that could have yielded a more proportionate value.
Only Wins Will Derive A Change
From a far, much of O’Briens dealings could appear reckless, heavy handed and single minded. Those would be fair in certain instances but considering all factors, the universal level of criticism doesn’t equate to the reality of impacts that we have or could feasibly see, considering the alternatives.
The Texans have faced a self-imposed ceiling by definition of its limited success in the play-off’s. But when an unsuccessful strategy also reaches equal criticism when attempting to re-engineer it, there’s a clear bias against O’Brien, who cannot win in the eyes of many.
The only way Bill and his team, lead by a Quarterback of untold potential, will change the narrative – is by winning. Perception is reality in many corporate settings where people are eager for convenient or simple truths. The NFL is no different. Navigating the 2020 season with any type of success, considering the macro factors at play, will require credit no matter how many people are reluctant to pay it.
Laced with a myriad variables and novel dynamics, the worlds most unpredictable sport has been thrown into chaos and it doesn’t seem overly sure how manage it. The Texans players are reporting into the building, rookies have finally been paid their signing bonus after the forced and prolonged off-season. So football should be right round the corner but for so many reasons, it doesn’t feel all that close.
The league has maintained steadfast in ‘finding a way’ to start on time. It suggested that over $75million have been spent on testing and contact tracing. Each team has a larger number of employees, playing and non-playing to consider, in comparison to rival sports. Football also plays a far greater role to ensure safety of those connected to the game but they are also central in delivering a sense of normality to millions globally.
Soft tissue strains and concussion won’t be the only concern of Goeff Kaplan’s team this season. How the team manages the inevitable situation of players and coaching staff contracting corona virus, will shape the teams fortunes. But the biggest test of the players professionalism and commitment will be: how disciplined will they be when away from the facility? The KC Guard, Duvernay-Tardif & Patriots Tackle Marcus Cannon have both chosen to opt out. It’s more than feasible that a Texans players with underlying health constraints may do the same.
When the Watson and co. take the field to a c.20% capacity crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, September 10th, there will continue to be a lingering fear. As the season may come grinding to halt, just as the world did this March. Although, if the season is to run its proposed course, Houston’s road games have a new complexion, as home field advantage is less relevant. The games in Missouri, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Thanksgiving-Day crowd in Detroit, are now more limited in the equation of finding road wins.
The lack of mini-camps & OTA’s factor cannot be underestimated. They will likely all but reduce, if not remove, the impact of rookies as it pertains to winning games. The Texans seemed to be already prepping for this with only five draftees this year. O’Brien was quick to call this a “veteran year” and that reality seems to be shaping up to be undeniably true. In the absence of pre-season games, teams may have no choice.
The limited off-season will reduce teams abilities to install new systems, concepts or even find new players. The already slender preparation time, the removal pre-season games will reduce chances for un-drafted-free-agents to make the roster, a consistent source of talent. The quality of execution in plays, across all three phases and tackling will fall, below normal standards and with limited opportunity to correct. The opening weeks may be far less predicable than once thought, which for the Texans considering they face Kansas City and Baltimore in the first two weeks, is a positive notion.
Even in a best case scenario, it probable that star players will miss games or position-coaches will be calling plays due to the isolation protocol. A reduced and revised schedule is not out of the question either, thought all will be dependant on state governance. But this 2020 season will be distinct departure from the product that season ticket holders and networks are currently paying for.
As the resulting economic impacts continue to unravel, the Texans will have to adjust their spending accordingly, a less than ideal scenario, for a team about to extend it’s Quarterback. Particularly, if the 2021 cap falls to reported $175m level, multiple players could be released and contracts re-negotiated to fit under that cap. One study shows income across its game day revenue streams, NRG stadium totals over $300million. A gap in immediate cash flow at a time when operating expenses are rising, isn’t what owners are accustomed to or will be willing to accept.
The reality of the league exists to extract you from your money. They are clinically astute at doing it and will have to be even more so in this coming seasons. The appetite for legislature across states may see a favourable shift towards fan’s access to gambling. As those dollars will need to find a way back out of your pockets into the shield’s coffers. It’s not in anyones interest for the leagues income or value to erode but just as the 2020 seasons playing landscape changes, so may team means of income.
Not having football in Houston for five-years is still a sore point for many. Tailgating and game-day traditions are Texans Football, every bit as much as what happens between the lines. So the relegation to your arm chair, will grossly sanitise the energy of a Sunday but for now, it’s the only way, if live action is to be a possibility.
The Schedule Release Serves A Timely Reminder of this Team’s Challenges – Both On And Off The Field.
At six-thirty central, Thursday, the Texans schedule was revealed upon the click of Marc Vandermeer & John Harris, to present the much anticipated release. To their credit, both provided a refreshing live Texans-lead perspective compared to previous years disseminations. This was ahead of the three hour long, NFL Network hand-holding and ‘hot take-ry’ session.
The obvious uncertainty of when, how many and where these games will be played, remain valid questions that will continue to orbit. The “show must go on” mantra has been the NFL’s approach to date but it remains to be seen how smoothly the season unfolds for teams and administers. Although they have previously coped with localised disasters, never a nationwide public safety issue.
There were a few startling outliers:
The first two opponents
The strength of the initial seven game stretch
Playing two games in five days
The Late Season onslaught of divisional games
Only one solitary prime time appearance
Prime Time By A Fifth
The Texans seem to being facing into broadcast exclusion with only one true prime time slot, from a possible five and repeat of eight years ago, in Detroit, on Thanksgiving.
Deshaun Watson, in year four, would appear a perfect lead for network executives, or even a cheesy battle of the Watt brothers. But Houston will travel to Pittsburgh in a bland noon kick-off in week three, just as the Quarterback match up’s with Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were deemed not fit to top the bill that week.
Typically Houston would receive a token divisional Thursday or Monday night game. This will be the Texans first season without MNF since 2016 and the least nationally televised games since 2011.
Business End of the Schedule
The AFC South, as a whole, received the cold shoulder, Tennessee have two prime time slots, one of which is against Indianapolis, the Colts only appearance. A possible indictment – of Phillip Rivers ability to change their fortunes or Ryan Tannehill’s ability to continue last years rare form – may be showing from inner league circles.
The late season inter-divisional games will largely shape the division. The much lauded potential of Phillip Rivers’ familiarity of Frank Reich system will be realised over weeks 13 and weeks 15. The latter tie, could become part of the newly accustomed ‘Texans Saturday’ showing, if flexed. The season finale for a second year in a row, will see the Titans will enter NRG stadium with potential playoff implications. The Texans ability to still in contention by that point, could be feasibly in doubt. As how they negotiate through some key stretches will determine if these games are indeed to be of material consequence.
Home Field Advantage & Key Stretches
The Texans have not let their home record necessarily be their strength in recent years that have left a sense of under achievement when reflecting on that record. That luxury won’t simply be afforded to O’Brien and his team this season.
The Texans will need to show some of their big-game presence they refreshingly unearthed last season but also will need to refine their 12-noon sluggish starts. As a minimum of 13 games will be noon kick-off’s, but there are come clear pinch-points that will underpin their 2020 record:
Soft Landing Before the bye week:
At Tennessee in Week 6, Followed by week 7 visit of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Reaching the bye with any less than 4 wins may not be a viable option for a team with post season aspirations.
A Make or Break Run Coming out of the Bye
Houston are at Jacksonville week 9, followed by week 10 trip to Cleveland before the visit of the Tom Brady-less Patriots. Then with only three days to rest, the early Thanksgiving tie in Detroit will likely be a watermark for Houstons 2020 record. Leaving that stretch with less than three wins may have already set their fate in motion.
Making NRG an intimidating place to play once more
Winning Back-To-Back – Weeks 4 & 5 followed by 16 & 17 will be strategically placed games against Minnesota, Jacksonville, Cincinnati & Tennessee respectively. Houston will need to yield a minimum of three victories considering the opponents faced. And most importantly building momentum with their own fans, via positive home-field performances.
Facing a Couple Rude Awakenings
Facing the last two years MVP quarterbacks in a matter of weeks.
Game 1 @ Kansas City Chiefs – Thursday Night Football – Season Opener
Game 2 – Baltimore Ravens – Late Afternoon Slot
Opening the season, the Texans will watch former Safety Tyrann Mathieu and his star quarterback collect their championship rings, in front of the NBC crewe. There has to be a concern of exposure due to the occasion that will be perhaps one of the most watched games of the year. As it will provide a return to normalcy, not dissimilar to the resumption of the league post the 9/11 week break. So the Texans will need to be ready in a shortened off-season program, two days earlier than 30 other teams and rise to the occasion, hoping the Chiefs haven’t quite worked off that hangover from February. This game has the potential to set the teams trajectory against the reigning SuperBowl champs.
That trip to Arrowhead in many ways, poses a more favourable match-up than the Texans will face in the following two weeks. The Texans are built to attack that type of Chiefs defence and even more favourably with their acquirement of further offensive speed. As will often be the case, if they can gain some intermediary level of defensive inception on the field, it could create conditions for this team to win. But the offence will again be required to carry the bulk of the load. This formula will likely come unstuck against top tier defences like Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Considering the opposition and two road trips to kick-off 2020 Houston face the prospect of five play-off teams in their opening seven games. Even the grandest of Pro-Houston optimists would struggle not to be concerned with where the record will be after seven games.
Defining the O’Brien Era
The Texans face a schedule that posses a propensity to arrive back of in common realms of 9-7. But based on the moves made, future drafts leveraged, beloved players exported, there’s no other feasible expectations than reaching the AFC Championship game. Failing to do so, will incite the many baying for change.
Signs would point towards a climacteric year for all those concerned. Either way, it would seem, whatever side of the fence you sit, you could be one step closer to your wish.
One week removed from the most anticipated draft in living memory, the tremors continue in the absence of any live sport. As the first live event in two months, the already glitzy administrative event was going to have even greater fallout than the typical exaggerated media conclusions.
Most Are Down On The Texans ‘Winning the Offseason’
Prior to the newly acquired players even taking a snap, the ‘draft-nicks’ disseminate their resulting team grades. A resounding scale is applied to multiple three-year talent projections, which in turn heavily shapes the general opinion. If these grades were to mirror reality, then the Texans were adjudged to have an unsuccessful weekend. Possessing only five picks, the Texans had already attempted to leverage this and next years draft into the ’19 & ’20 seasons. Therefore, those investments will need to yield a positive return on the field and manifest a significant win total. But we are some time away from those days of definitive judgement, that will reveal a startling reality this winter.
The questions that no one can truly answer, in this current state of flux: Did this team get better and are they positioned to win? Based on those who control the betting odds, it would pose a consensus of negativity. As the Texans are ranked in the 18th-21st position range, somewhat lower in comparison to recent seasons.
The external confidence is low on Houston’s 2020 chances despite the ever present Watson-Factor. It’s not overly difficult to see where the potential structural flaws lie. A poor pass-defence that was already in the bottom third of units across the league, has been limited on positive additions. Further, trading their most prominent playmaker, whilst implementing a new mould of their offence amongst a reduced off-season programme, will limit reasonable expectations. But there’s always the draft to revise a rosters composition.
The Draft Class of 2020
After being accustomed to off-kilter moves, there was little to ponder in angst upon the draft concluding. Despite rumours of trading into the first round, only a flare up of O’Brien’s infamous temper found its way on to the ESPN broadcast, displaying his typical assertive style. Based on various reports, it would seem Detroit were the protagonists but quite what transpired we will never quite know, beyond a failed trade back from their third round pick.
In the absence of that trade, with 90th pick Houston selected Jonathan Greenard, the Florida Gators Edge rusher, who presents an intriguing schematic fit and skill set. ‘The more you can do’ is often the mantra set to rookies, in order to make the final 53-man roster. Greenard certainly fits that and is able to play at multiple spots across the defensive front. It’s clear that he has a knack for finding the ball – that’s not always as common as you’d think and it translates to production: three pass-break-ups, an interception and three force fumbles. Added to his all SEC-Team honours where he notched 15.5 TFL’s and 9.5 sacks in 12 games. His frame and rushing ability suggests a three down player, if he can understand his responsibilities at outside-linebacker, the Louisville transfer, could do the most to enamour fans, in the early stages. As nothing quite gets a crowd riled like a potential sack artist.
The headline pick was Ross Blacklock, Defensive Tackle, TCU. His motor and athleticism for a 290-pound man is clear to see. But his ability to refine his technique at the point of attack will be the defining factor if he can become a true game-wrecker. Pad level, hand usage & finishing will be at the forefront of his development plan with the coaches. By adding that to his relentless effort, lateral quickness and electric first step, the Texans could have picked up a player at 40th overall who can create constant interior pressure. If so, they may have found a much needed cornerstone piece in their defensive unit.
Quite how Blacklock will be used in the defensive front, will be dependant on Weaver’s scheme preferences. Ross could features as a true Nose Guard in odd fronts but at 290 it would seem it he will play as the right defensive end and be moved inside on even looks/passing downs. His role will expand as much as his aptitude allows, whilst finding his way as a pro, in year one. Often ‘value’ prospects are found at the beginning of round two and the run on offensive players and corners may have just left a player, who at just 21, has the ability to be a highly impactful lineman in the league.
Trading Back but to Great Effect?
The Texans moved back from the 111th pick in round four to add an extra 4th round pick. After a further trade up, using two seventh round picks, they selected Charlie Heck from North Carolina, Offensive Tackle. His 2019 tape for the Tar Heels has done little to inspire confidence at left tackle. But referring back to the year prior and his contributions at right tackle would seem to pose a far more refined player.
Based on the evaluations of both Tytus Howard and Max Sharping, the benefit of the doubt is earned but it’s hard not hide the initial disappointment whilst pausing judgement on the pick. As in reality, Heck playing would mean either one of the Texans offensive line bookends are missing time. If they incur injuries to either tackle then then building depth at a key position cannot be criticised either.
A similar outlook must be taken with defensive backs, a position that perennially evades the Texans. Using the additional 4th rounder, to select John Reid, a who was offered a scholarship by O’Brien to join Penn State, at 136th overall. The Texans looked to address what is now a starting spot with Nickel and Dime packages prevalence against ever increasing passing numbers. A year removed from injury and data science major, Reid looks like he will be able to fight for a rotational position in the middle of the defence and possibly return kick offs on special teams. Once again a clear delineation with the team hierarchy and high footballing IQ was the order of the day, personified by the Reid pick.
Rhode Island – College Football?
Theres a clear difference in the stadia and number of spectators surrounding Isiah Coulters tape, but the Texans haven’t swerved from small school players and the 171st pick was no different. Coulter’s head coach has links to Brown University and the Texans coaching staff, that helped support the interest but it’s clear from Coulter’s tape – he can burn. His ability to extend out and catch the ball away from his body and with speed, poses a rare blend that was worth a splash in the fifth round. At 6’2″ he instantly is the receiving rooms largest threat, despite his slender frame, that will need supplemented with additional playing strength against press-man coverage. In year one, Coulter’s impact may be limited, but the potential seems obvious as both Will Fuller or Kenny Stills enter contract years.
‘A Veteran type of Year’
Houston’s final act was trading out of the 7th round, for a 6th rounder next year from the Saints. It was another sign that the Texans wanted a streamlined class of rookies. Just as they signed a limited number of un-drafted players in the hours following. It will be mightily difficult for rookies to make contributions this year, as the conditions are not level. As the off-season program will limit their ability to take physical rep’s whilst attempting to make their biggest developmental jump as players.
The Texans have grouped an interesting crop of un-drafted players who will likely form the majority of the practice squad. Notably offensive playmakers on big school programmes: Scottie Phillips and Tyler Simmons form Ole Miss. & Georgia. If there’s a player in the group that can contribute on special teams, then its found money at this stage of the process.
There are still a number of veteran players that the Texans could turn to, particularly at Saftey with cutting Teshaun Gipson, despite losing more in dead cap, than in savings. Eric Reid and Tony Jefferson being the most recognisable names available out there. It would seem the Texans could be helped with the addition of Everson Griffin or similar type player who can be relied upon upfront as the roster rounds out over the coming months.
From their initial press exposure, this draft class of players are high IQ guys and will fit into that ‘team-first’ mould. The days of drafting character types akin to DJ Swearinger are in the distant past for the franchise and it’s difficult to argue with that outlook. All the players who’ve entered the program are known quantities off the field, in the backdrop of many unknowns for the team.
As all teams await the first date they can have physical contact with their players in preparation for a season like no other, the refined process of the Texans may just yet prove prudent, for one year at least.
As the Texans enter the draft this week, post an underwhelming free agency period, which has riled the most avid supporter, leaving a number of unique dynamics and questions, in need of address.
Houston are entering this years draft, albeit with a franchise passer in tow but they are one of six teams, devoid of a 1st round pick. They have multiple defensive needs and a fan base to appease after trading a favoured son at wide-receiver. In the last nine months many picks have been traded in and out of NRG stadium, to move veteran players. Undoubtedly, they have unconventionally approached the task of constructing their team, to universal criticism. The plea to fans was – “let it all play out”. Although that end point would seem frustratingly predictable, given the many years of precedent set by this organisation. The draft poses another corner for the team to turn, as they move towards the 2020 season.
Immediate Returns Over Low Cost Rookie Deals
The draft is not the only way to build a roster, a departure from what the media and the NFL present it to be. Certainly, it’s a primary means of roster building but not the only. Furthermore, draft picks are far form a sure thing, yielding a 50% or less success rate. Bearing in mind the NFL average career in less than three years, the majority are short term solutions at best.
Take the selection Kevin Johnson by the Texans in the first round, 2016. That miss has continually left them searching for answers at cornerback. Not only did they not succeed in landing a star at that position. That evaluation lead to allowing AJ Bouye to walk in free agency. Proving, the draft can be equally as harmful to your roster composition as it can bolster. Secondly, the Texans best ever tail-back, Arian Foster, came from a modest pedigree as an un-drafted free agent. So there are always options to find varying levels of on-field contribution beyond the early rounds.
“Trader-Bill” has continued to shoot for his vision on Kirby Drive (whilst don’t forget to pay co-creation royalties to Jack Easterby) and the countless trades executed can be looked at in two ways: they have brought in a higher quality and refined player to contribute in ’20 & ’21; or they have significantly hamstrung their abilities to manage the salary cap and land high up-side talent to develop, in the years to come.
To recap the myriad of moves impacting the Texans draft this year & next:
From ARI (Hopkins)
From SEA to LVR
DJ R. Comp
TEXANS DRAFT PICKS 2020 & 2021
Although it would seem highly counter intuitive, it appeared that Hopkins’ contract demands lead to non-conducive trading conditions for a star receiver. It would have then seemed the choice to hold, would have proved prudent. Though it was another characteristically heavy-handed move, lamented by many and will likely cloud the current leadership until their reign concludes.
Regardless, as a collective we must attempt, to push aside the raw emotion of trading Hopkins, the team’s most established offensive contributor and consider the resulting move for Brandin Cooks which may have eased some of the resulting vitriol. A move for speedier playmakers has proven to mean success, hasn’t it?
It’s worth noting that, on the whole, a roster is typically of a ‘championship calibre’ before teams begin aggressively adding the “missing piece”, in the way the Texans have. You’d be hard pressed to scour the current depth chart and come to that conclusion but it would seem the Texans they feel they are at least, on the cusp of that level.
Taking that view, in essence, Houston felt they were faced with a fundamental choice: 2-3 years of a relatively known quantity or 4-5 years of a more cost effective, unknown quantity.
If presented with the choice, in another context, which would you choose? The options weren’t quite simply, door number one or door number two, however, there’s a consistent strategy shown. Ship-out draft picks, to acquire a lower risk veteran player who already poses the required knowhow. That vital mental leap, over the gaping chasm that exists between a successful college athlete and that of a pro, is the primary cause of prospects not realising their potential.
Perhaps, the most questionable aspect of the strategy is the capital outlay. As it can be easily argued that the return for Hopkins or the the cost invested for Cooks, Johnson(s), Stills and Tunsil does not align to a fair market value. That factor is at the heart of what makes this approach a non-traditional one. There was a perceived need or issue and it duly addressed, first and foremost, with a consideration to the expenditure a distant second. Which, at this point, most would state that is the role of a true GM, to provide a longer term and more considered view.
As Bill described the 2020 season could well be a “veteran year” based on the global pandemic, reducing off-season programs and contact with coaches. He could possibly, by limited ingenuity of his own, be in a situation where the outcome of his decisions, may be less glaring than they otherwise would have been, within the backdrop of a ‘regular’ NFL season. Just as he’s been given years of additional scope by his AFC South compatriots due to personnel errors and of course, some Luck.
On the whole, its hard to lean away from their approach being short-sighted. But the fact of the matter remains, the true cost of such moves may not be realised by the franchise until the ’22 season. Either way, when O’Brien is the front office’s, almighty figurehead, he doesn’t think or act like a traditional GM would. Nor would you, if given such unprecedented autonomy to make such staggering levels of change. Fans “should be excited” according to the owner, at the “bold” nature of the moves. Excitement, has been the antithesis of the supporters sentiment, for much of the off-season. Although it was clear, that even the strong-haded O’Brien was visibility shouldering it at last weeks presser. He’s running out of time to deliver, based on the moves he’s made.
Striking with limited shots in the armoury
The Texans are now left with only 3 picks in the first 111 selections to find at least one substantial defensive contributor and multiple role players. This logically poses the question: will trading back be a more optimal stance?
The answer will be apparent, on the eve of night two, if there is a fall into the second round of first-round calibre players who can contribute across the defensive front. Zack Baun (Wisconsin), was reportedly guilty of an overly diluted sample at the combine, AJ Epenesa (Iowa) has questions about this athleticism and Ross Blacklock (TCU) is a year removed from a significant injury. So any of these calibre of players could provide value for the Texans to hold at the 40th overall. But if there’s no clear unanimous choice for the team, then trading down to accumulate a further third or a fourth rounder, would seem a plausible move.
As the failure to address any form of pass rush and coverage ability in free agency perhaps, for the second year in a row, sign-posts to all, their draft intentions. The defence will need to be a point of emphasis and hope the current talent is maximised whilst remaining healthy under 1st year play caller, Anthony Weaver.
The Texans have more questions than potential answers on their roster, with needs at:
Defensive Tackle who can rush the interior and hold up in the run game
EDGE player who can upgrade the OLB or DE and create pressure
Cornerback who can compete in man coverage and play in Nickel and Dime
Inside Linebacker/Safety athletic with pass coverage ability & box tackle
Guard/Centre who can fit the scheme and compete for a spot
Running Back with a downhill style to develop and be a complement
Wider Receiver to compliment & possibly replace either Stills or Fuller
The pressure to find value in this years draft will be higher with a lessened suite of picks. But fans can take some solace in the recent history of the 2018 draft, where they were able to find multiple players who have flashed and by the traditional graph of development will need to be prominent players in 2020 season.
To recap that draft:
Houston Texans 2018 Draft Selections
The Martinas Rankin’s selection aside, a perfect example on the negative impact missing training camp, where Rankin was injured. He then suffered a loss of form in pre-season of year 2 after a rookie season of trialing behind the steep development curve and multiple position switches. At risk of being cut he was then traded for a one-year-rental on a veteran running back, who will no longer be on this years roster.
Broadly speaking, that Brian Gaine lead draft, was a positive one based on the picks at their disposal with Reid & Atkins being the highlights. Whilst Thomas, Coutee & Ejiofor could be candidates for breakout season and potential X factors, who’s progress has been hurt by a mix of health and form. Gaine’s closest lieutenants, in Matt Bazargain and James Lipfert remain on the staff and will be on line-1 to Bill as his advisors. Finding that level quality in the later rounds of the draft needs to be replicated, in order to balance out the roster.
All Bets Are Off
This draft is likely to be just as unconventional as Bill’s approach to draft value. When combining the two, it’s hard not to envisage further trades over the three days that could “be in the best interest of the T. E. A. M”.
There are rumours of multiple high-profile players being on the trade block this year. So more B.O’B style trades could be occurring, well beyond the realms Harris County. Or will the Texans be happy to sit at their spots and chose the best player available?
Thought the former seems rather more conceivable. Bill can at the very least be credited for keeping it interesting.
It’s not been since 2015 when the they engineered an on-the-clock player-trade with the Jets. The Texans moved up to select Jaelen Strong, although it was designed to pick Tyler Lockett but Seattle jumped ahead of them. The Jets sent the 70th overall choice to the Texans, in return for a third-round pick (82nd overall), a fifth-rounder (152nd), a seventh-rounder (229th) & receiver DeVier Posey.
Which ever way this “plays out” for O’Brien, if he reaches relative success or if he inevitably fails. He’s either be a hero and his strategy was ahead of the curve or it will be the role of a new management team to mop the hallways of Kirby and start again. Regardless of future decisions, this draft will be required as a memorable vintage, if the teams trajectory isn’t to stall with Watson in his penultimate year of his rookie contract.
Listen to our latest number of podcasts on potential Texans draft picks: