Are The Texans Finally Entering The Rebuild?

As the realisations of last season set in, the soundings from the team started to shift away from their flouted delusions to the refreshing but harsh reality. Nick Caserio’s task is finally re-setting this roster, as Texans circumstances are veering towards normal & it may have just levelled out enough where material progress is an option. After forming an iteration of last years coaching staff, the hurdles of free agency, the draft & the protracted Watson trade are coming quickly around the corner.

New Head Coach

The hiring process that was ultimately abandoned in favour of promoting defensive co-ordinator Lovie Smith, was similarly perplexing to both the sacking and hiring of David Culley. Quite what adverted the near hire of Josh McCowan or Jonathan Gannon is yet to become gospel. However, it’s undoubted that the right choice was made, considering the franchises continued state of flux that last season only perpetuated but never stemmed. The question of why Lovie wasn’t hired last year, will linger but his undoubted professionalism and much needed leadership, at the very least, gives a sense of momentum for the 2022 season.

Free Agency

Last season’s free agency period, was marked by in-house restructures, high volume but low value deals on a vast array of veteran players. Did any of these pay-off? Not in a way that would assist in narrowing down the teams need areas a year on. Even if Grugier-Hill, King III or Collins were to re-sign, none are medium term answers at their positions.

Yet more turnover will be in part due the mismanaged & self-created $36m in dead cap by Caserio. A raft of cuts are required across the disparity contracts of Murray, Cannon, Pierre-Louis et al. to freely operate. On the cusp of free agency, the Texans have 49 contracts, so it’s likely they sign in the region of 25 free-agents. Constant change for a consecutive year, but if this class is younger & contains higher potential, across mid & lower factions of the market, that will be progress.

The Draft

Last year’s covid-disrupted draft, meant Caserio’s first run was limited to a 5-man class. For the most part, all could have varying future roles. From the number of starting snaps by 6th-rounder Roy Lopez had at defensive tackle, to the progression of third-round quarterback Davis Mills. But just is the case for a General Manager, draft classes can’t be judged after a single season but the draft process offers the primary route of laying necessary foundation in bettering the Texans roster. A city & team so bereft of stars is badly in need of one, Caserio has little room for error, with his earlier round picks.

This collegiate class, even within the landscape of huge error probability, isn’t boding as memorable one, particularly in terms of day-1, blue-chip level talent. Coupled with an absence of quarterbacks enamouring team evaluators, both will likely impact Houston’s ability to trade down the board. There are a multitude of ways in which Caserio may lean come April 28th but whether it’s Kayvion Thibodeaux, Travon Walker, Kyle Hamilton or Ikem Ekwonu, Caserio’s got no other option than a home run.

Trading Watson

The darkening cloud that Caserio unknowingly inherited may finally pose an emerging escape route. Following the widely felt reverberation of the Russell Wilson trade for two firsts, two second round picks and players, gauges the market. Anything less than three first round picks will bring an inevitable sense of being a shortchanged. Whether, Caserio is afforded the “runway” via a resolution to Watsons legal troubles, will be the dominant determinant. But Watson now represents the last standing, proven, franchise-passer available for another year & that’s the factor the Texans have to leverage, until the last possible moment. 

Ideally the trade is made before the draft but similarly, if picks are gathered for the ’23 draft & beyond then that might be a prudent step. Particularly, considering the landscape of potential quarterbacks declaring compared to this ’22 class. As everyone knows, without thee guy under-centre, the rest pales into insignificance. And Caserio may have additional cards to play, depending on what he decides to do with the contractual cross-roads of Laremy Tunsil & Brandin Cooks, as both will require extension or could garner more value to re-invent this team.

Regardless for the first time in three years, a sense of progress appears tangible, as this off-season is positioned to add those necessary complimentary pieces. That is the essential first step to redemption in the eyes of fans, subsequently the objective then becomez re-entering the realms of relevancy after such an extended absence. 

Caserio’s Watershed Moment Looms As The Head Coaching Cycle Starts To Turn

After just over a week of quiet. It emerged that the Texans had found time to interview Kevin O’Connell. The viable list of candidates looked narrow even with the L.A. Ram’s coordinator included, so it was a much welcomed development. The process has been clouded by the raging debate of Josh McCowan and the inevitable inference of Jack Easterby which continues to detract from the teams sense of progress.

It’s impossible to doubt that Caserio is in charge of this search. It’s an often floated notion: why would Caserio leave the most successful franchise in pro-sports, to have his authority singed by his long time colleague? Of course he wouldn’t. It is however, possible that he is overly influenced by him, as he wouldn’t be the first or last. But if Caserio was to hire McCowan, then it would be based on merit. There is of course no proven or consistent development path for an NFL head coach, there have been many routes.

Experience after a certain point, in terms of the basic operational aspects of being a head-coach, has a limit in its benefit. We have just witnessed 40-years plus in the league wasn’t enough to prepare David Culley. Capability and natural ability counts for a lot and is honed by experience but cannot be directly substituted, a balance needs to be sought. Even with only a few years of the 10-month, 18-hour daily grind, then McCowan could be the perfect candidate, undoubtedly.

But in the teams recent past, they have been neither functional nor conventional. The time for innovate or novel approaches is not now. The League, via its media allies will do everything they can do discredit anyone that steps too far out their accepted norms. Nick needs to look no further than along the hall or at his predecessor. The list of candidates they have silently whittled down for this final round of interviews have been inhibited by their previous actions. Agents will have rightfully advised clients against the Houston job, they’d be doing their clients a disservice by not at least voicing some reservations.

After a week where Denver, Giants and Chicago all announced their new head-coaches, the team are a tick behind the curve. Brain Flores remains on paper the most qualified, pushing his reported temperament aside, but progress appears limited since the initial interview. O’Connell brings a proven offensive philosophy but hasn’t called plays in LA, he has only supported Sean McVay in that role. Jonathan Gannon defence was questioned by many in Philadelphia but has a similar background to Caserio. All would likely have to accept the job with caveats on control, influence and coaching staff. Few of these candidates are traditionally viewed as ideal but neither is the role on offer.

It is potentially a crossroads moment for Caserio but considering the implicit trust placed in him by ownership, it’s difficult not to envisage a scenario where he’s allowed a third crack of it. The context and external pressures which are partly created by ownership, could easily be sited as mitigating factors & open the door for final chance to get it right.

Reserving judgement for any hire is prudent, considering this roster and transitional period, relative success will be subjective until 2023. Regardless of the outcome, the teams process, whether it proves to be successful and signal a new dawn, will be questioned regardless. Their approach continues to leave the club perilously short of credibility with its suffering fan-base, for at least the time being.

Caserio has kept many of his own staff in the dark on this process for a reason we are yet to learn. Hopefully for everyones sake he can nail this hire to galvanise everyone connected to the team, as for too long segregation and frustration has left game day looking a shadow of its former self. 

Despite Nothing On-Field, It Was Another Notable Week for The Texans

Being a Texans fans translates into a multitude of meanings for thousands of people. Within the NRG Stadium hallways, their actions continue to instil distain & divide the fanbase on a range of issues, whilst the on-field remains secondary to the self-created side-show. With eyes on the future, that all seemed to be waning until this week.

The arrival of Nick Caserio, the subsequent arrival & departure of David Culley, has been an undoubted period of limited progress with a nagging sense of familiarity. In part, due to the perseverance with the now removed Tim Kelly’s tedious offence but most is borne out of the resentment towards Jack Easterby. His continued “meddling” within any willing faction of the ball club will continue to cause on-going consternation.

In the space of a week, many had felt a growing sense of ease about his role, despite Nick’s articulation containing a mis-representation of Easterby’s duties prior to his own arrival. But nonetheless, with a list of viable head-coaching interviews, progress was palpable. Then the perceived bomb-shell of Josh McCowan being interviewed for the consecutive year emerged. 

In the climate of digital sports media being structured to derive clicks, the Texans perceived dysfunction and anything related to the former character coach will deliver that. It’s important to not live and die with every churn of the news cycle and see things objectively, over a greater time span than the here and now. It’s also important to not take a perception of a few comments on whatever social channel as general views. As many who buy season tickets, merchandise and travel with this team, pay little attention to these mediums.

Whether you view this team from a “global view” or tailgate every Sunday, conversing views heard on local sports radio, personal perception will override or sway your thoughts. Considering much of the NFL’s media’s narrative is placement by shadowed figured (agents) to create a perception, regardless of validity. In the absence of wins, the Texans continue to provide a perfect storm for commentary.

Whether you label it as media bluster or genuine criticism, that will never dissipate with Jack Easterby as an executive. The McCowan interview showed further disregard for outside commotion. In some cases you could say, rightly so. But in this particular case, considering the protagonist, it required a more careful approach.

Rather than a public flaunting of his interview, what stopped them quietly picking up the phone to McCowan? It would have made zero material difference to the process of constructing this next coaching staff. Similarly to announcing they’d spoken with Hines Ward, he and McCowan are both in stark contrast to the calibre of Brian Flores, Jonathan Gannon, Joe Lombardi and Kevin O’Connell. But Ward wasn’t oddly hired in the final year of his career, standing at the podium outwardly lavishing Jack Easterby’s supposed vision for this club. McCowan did. Moreover, these actions contradict the GM’s comments, only days earlier.

As a position-coach, there aren’t many more qualified, as back-up QB is effectively a coaching role. After eighteen years of learning, developing and teaching younger quarterbacks on 12 teams, McCowan was even given play-calling duties during Philadelphia’s pre-season. His experience & credentials are there in abundance but not for the top job. Furthermore, the optics how this translates in football-circles could be very counter productive for a club trying to build back.

Regardless of how this plays out, it begs the question: who would want to take this job, if McCowan is on the staff? Would you take your first dream job, at the pinnacle of the profession, with someone over your shoulder, who’s uniquely placed next to a controversial figure with a track history of having people axed? Once more it’s a self-made problem. How real is that issue? We will only know once the next head coach is announced.

The Texans and Caserio have a chance this off-season to give this team an identity and that is typically created through the head-coach. There’s been a stern fixation of Caserio’s role and how he appears to be the dominant partner in the GM-HC relationship. Whether his approach & Easterby’s influence will continue to be so public, remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the incoming coach will have to accept both those facts as conditions of the role.

Gannon appears to the perfect fit when considering their current structure. Surprisingly, Jerrod Mayo or Josh McDaniels have yet to be called upon, whilst Gannon is reported to be set for a 2nd interview. So if Caserio is about to pleasantly surprise many by abandoning the Patriots guard-rails. Then that may be first step, in a long, long time that we can even feel a sense of progress and footballing normality.

But we all know it won’t be that simple. 

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+