Texans Hung Out To Dry Once Again When Expectations Were High

The Texans came up substantially short yesterday as they failed to forward an accurate account of their talent. Another inherently slow start was compounded by a team that appeared to crumble post an egregious pass interference, non-call. The Texans seemed to fail in mentally recovering from the injustice and it was undoubtedly a factor in deciding the outcome. Although this was substantially outweighed by poor preparation, for a team coming off their bye week.

Fault could be equally passed around the office this morning, where questions will be asked and answers will need to be given, quickly as they prepare for Thursday. It was spectacular crash, resulting in a 41-7 roasting on road to a Baltimore team who will be many people’s favourites to win it all, come February.

Perhaps the only solitary modicum of positivity that could be drawn from this harrowingly inept performance, is the fact that there is zero time to reflect. The Texans have the visit of their AFC South rivals on Thursday Night Football, so self pity and wallowing just simply, isn’t an option. No one this week can do anything but look at the tape, consider the bad and how that pertains to the Colts. Indianapolis now lead the division after disposing of Jags in convincing fashion yesterday. There was limited, if not zero positives to be taken from this game, so a chance of reprisal can’t come quick enough for players and coaches with first place up for grabs Thursday.

PI in the sky – Officiating that hinders the League

This melee of confusion originated from the New Orleans NFC Championship game and with the benefit of hindsight the NFL’s competition committee, will have wished they hadn’t opened this door. This mess continues to be a talking point, week after week.

There could be an intriguing argument made that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company actually enjoys the bi-product of terrible officiating. As in reality, it its adds to the circus of media clamber, a rotating news cycle that evokes engagement and reaction across the globe. On the face of it, it may seems an ill-logical hypothesis but the more its considered, perhaps its the case. Why would you agree a new contract, just this season, for further seasons of part-time officials? Why would you pay them so poorly? As the best talent have taken up cushy numbers at television networks. So all things considered, perhaps this is by design rather than gross oversight. Whichever way, it’s a chronic situation which continues to detract from anyone’s enjoyment watching every team, every Sunday.

Yes, it was a clear pass interference on Hopkins. Humphrey clearly, pulls at his jersey, wraps his arms around him then pushes Nuke’s right arm away, inhibiting his forward movement and ability to catch the ball. Even if we push aside that fact the Ravens cornerback didn’t look back at the ball or make any attempt to play it. A typical indicator for ref’s when making such calls. The question has to be raised: How can qualified referee’s watch that play back, on an HD monitor, across multiple angles and not over turn it?

What will stick in the throats of football purists, never mind Texans fans, if there was a change in the rule to allow coaches to challenge why have the officiating crews dismissed all but a few challenges? It has to be assumed that this was a head office lead direction. But if the whole origin of the rule amendment was to correct errors in judgements, then why not use it? A failing was recognised or was seen to be recognised but the remedy offered is not utilised by the referees. This perhaps feeds into the designed anarchy train of thought and would seem more apparent, the longer its considered.

Often used as a possible correction to the current crisis, is the addition of a sky judge. The judge would form part of the game day officiating crewe, sit in the stand and be used as the video referee, which has been successful in rugby. It would make sense, and could be done with limited changes, bar hiring additional person per crewe to take up the role. Could this be done mid-season? Or could they refer back to the New York Office, which previously acted at the means of correction for the zebras?

The Texans should have had the ball on the 1-yard line with a chance to pound it in, with the score at 0-0. These games are decided by momentum swings and it clearly handed that to Baltimore when the Texans needed all the breaks they could get. It didn’t definitively seal a result as clearly as the call that benefited the Rams, in handing them a Superbowl ticket they just merely needed to stamp it. But certainly put a game early on a path that moved the Texans already limited chance of victory, further away from them.

Concerns of yesterday

Watson’s regression to (h)old habits

It was a genuine discussion that was held last week, would the media noise impact the way Deshaun came out and started this game. As his generation of player seem to be overly in-tune with the latest media rhetoric. It’s plausible that Watson would have felt this was his stage to correct the Jackson lead narrative. As being the apple of the media’s eye, is a status he’s never quite achieved.

The concerns were warranted as he was trying to go to out with the system to achieve highlight reel plays and regressed from his great improvements this season of taking what the defence presents. The attempted long ball on the 4&2 play that lead to the PI challenge in the end zone was just one example of that, as was the sack fumble on the teams first possession. Watson held on to the ball for over ten seconds and then coughed it up when he went to the ground.

Deshaun looked like he’d taken us back to last season, where his habits were hurting this team in a bad way. Two turnovers aside, as these will happen, holding the ball, not throwing it away, losing yards and taking unnecessary hits has been Watsons biggest flaws in his fledging career.

After multiple games of keeping their quarterback clean in the recent stretch of games, the continued holding the of the ball, removing any rhythm, abandoning the run after falling behind, not setting the protections, removing quick passes, lead to the Texans giving up seven sacks. Watson looked to avoid an injury scare on the Jaylen Ferguson sack in the third quarter , which was a constant worry all afternoon in that regard.

Hopefully, now Watson can take the challenge of a short week and get back to the improved fundamentals and game management that he had shown in much of this seasons games, prior to yesterday.

Coaching, Play Calling, Blame Deflecting

O’Brien gave his common regurgitation of “need to watch the tap”, ” we need to do a better job of coaching” in his post defeat pre-conference that is all to familiar to fans, when looking for answers. This week 11 clash was perhaps infuriating for many, as the team just didn’t look like they’d ever get going on offence and without that impetus, this defence simply doesn’t have the talent to bail them out. But this isn’t new news to anyone inside the organisation. This was a known commodity going into this game and showing a distinct lack of ideas and adjustment in the game was alarming. After having a bye week to self-scout and then to come into this game, start slow and look under-prepared in a season defining game is borderline indefensible.

The lack of options in the passing game, O’Brien turning his back on the run game, too early and then going to empty sets, inviting pressure and the Texans had limited answers to that pressure. Matt Judon & co. were freely able to fill a highlight reel of Ravens bringing Watson to the floor and causing untimely incompletions all afternoon. This wasn’t anything surprising, that Ravens D.C. Martindale, calls a high proportion of blitzes and secondary pressures. But it appeared that way to the Texans. Watson didn’t play with the level of comfortability he has in previous weeks, looking lost at times and devoid of idea’s. The entire unit was unable to rally against what was being thrown at them. The supposed strength of this team looked strangled of all signs of life.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) scrambles against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

There have been many detractors of this coaching staff across the it’s now year-six reign and these questions will continue to arise and rightly so. This was yet another game of it’s era in Houston that will be filed under the: “Not Quite Good Enough – Squad Improvements Needed”. In many ways we’ve jumped on a carousel and expected to move forward with this team, exemplified by this result. This sorry Texans team were dismantled by a superior club in all aspects yesterday. A depressing reality that perhaps shouldn’t be too much of a shock. Coaching will be key to find a way and in the past they have shown us they can re-bound to win when the pressure is on. We will know by Thursday if these previous feats can be repeated, once more.

Toothless Defence on all three levels

Whatever the Romeo Crennel defence plan was on Sunday, it wasn’t where it needed to be. The Ravens are playing at an optimum level, executing well and playing to their strengths. That will be the case until someone cracks the formula to limit their system. They were always going to put up points yesterday, it was the fashion in how they did was disappointing. At the outset Jackson was held to 1-7 throwing and only a handful of yards but with the Texans offence stalling drives the defence were forced to return to the field quickly and often.

The pass rush was meek at best, and if continued to fade as the game went on, a Brennan Scarlett sack the only achievement on the day. Missed tackles, missed assignments and poor overall team defence from a unit that has lost or given away its best rushers, was only heading to once place. A clean pocket lead to a quarterback, who’s biggest weakness is making difficult throws, look rather accomplished through the air.

The absence of any plays for Whitney and DJ Reader, leaves the Texans incredibly short of reinforcements when these guys aren’t central to plays. The lack of game-defining talent is one thing, but the Texans just dwindled over the course of the game and the Baltimore offence ran right over then, giving up their first 100-yard rusher, in Gus Edwards, on the season and a total 263 yards on the ground.

The secondary continued to look out of sorts and the Texans has zero answer for the myriad of running concepts on show and then looked caught out when Jackson went to the air, completing a stretch of passes that effectively ended the game in the third quarter.

Longer Term Ramifications

Performances like that on Sunday are ones that shake the entire franchise to its foundations. This one would have been felt right through to ownership due to the manner which the Texans fell. They appeared like a team looking for a high draft pick, rather than one of genuine aspirations for success.

Coach/GM/Grand-Leader OB should be sweating it out in his office this week as he’s placed a lot of the teams future on this and next season. If this is the return that he’s providing to ownership and fans alike, it’s difficult to defend his position.

Cal McNair was reported to have told him AFC Championship was the barometer or it would lead to consequences. The validity of that report will be tested in the coming months. However, its clear that this team under OB his teams are prone to turning in performances like this. The K.C. play-off 30-0 drubbing, the painful memories of Atlanta and Miami away in 2015 still linger, in recent memory. This is not forgetting the terrible showings in last years wild card round.

Often OB has disregarded those around him, players and coaches alike, when the blame-game initiates after a terrible loss. It will be interesting to see who is the latest sacrifice, if there are any. Perhaps the best right guard in football, Brandon Brooks was ailienatetd in previous aftermaths. Health and maturity were issues with Brooks but he’s found a way to be an elite talent post leaving this team and a one point was supposedly a source of our problems, according to the man who holds all the power in his hands.

Turning the Page?

The Texans have no choice to get ready for the Colts game this coming Thursday. The need to win this week cannot be understated, anything but a victory would be unthinkable for the team. A win and then a season saving performance against England needs to be the focus with the luxury of having three extra days to prepare. However, after yesterdays debacle it’s difficult to have faith in the O’Brien dream that he’s sold the McNair’s for 6 years as the results are eerily similar, they just have taken of various guises of failure.

The year in which the Raven’s won the 2012 Superbowl, the last time any team did so without being a top two seed in their conference, the Texans did blow them out in a week 7, 43-17 win. History does have an un-earthly ability to repeat itself. Could it do so in reverse? After watching yesterday, it would require a grand optimist to believe that it may even be plausible. But this league changes in hurry and now the Texans have three home games in a row and a double header with the Titans, separated by a Saturday trip to Tampa, to make amends.

It will start onThursday night, in front of the home crowd for the first time since October 6th. A road to redemption is possible but would seem unlikely as we currently sit through 10 games of this 2019 season.

Flying East To Testify: Are the Texans Legitimate AFC Contenders?

Sunday will provide the the biggest and perhaps truest test of the 2019 Houston Texans. Lying in wait, a 7-2 Baltimore side, who’s unique explosion of run offence has got many talking up their chances as legitimate contenders. The game has been billed as a clash of the emerging new guard of the NFL and the winner will take the lead in their quest for a top-two seed in the AFC play-off running.

Lamar Jackson running the…..?

After watching the Lamar Jackson, wish-bone, triple Heiseman option, run heavy, RPO, pistol formation, jet motion, spread concept with QB designed runs aplenty, whatever you want to call this offence, as we stand today – it works. The Ravens made child’s play of a Bengals team last week, just as many have done so this season, but they looked ruthless when they went to the air and were explosive in running attack. Their ground game spreads across the the depth chart as every skill position will run the ball and be in pre-snap motions, on every drive creating misdirection to put opponents on their heels, to great effect.

The Texans will look to the Patriot’s tape from the week prior, where the Ravens put up 37 points against the heralded Coach Belichick’s unit. The master of modern defence is often clinical when he puts his mind to a game plan. The mark left on Sean McVey and Jared Geoff of the 4-man rush and quarters coverage is still present from Super Bowl LIII right through until today, a team that have never quite recovered. 

Partly, it was the first offence of any measure New England had played all season but also perhaps it would be logical to consider ‘the hoodie’ was willing to take a loss with the long game of getting all their best work on tape, so a repeat fixture would have a different outcome. Possibly not such a far-fetched notion, but time will tell.

Jackson is the teams leading rusher with 702 yards through nine games and for good reason, he is the most athletic quarterback in the League since Michael Vick. The similarities that Greg Roman, the Ravens O.C., has built into this system to put Jackson in a position to succeed is stark, but effective. A similar system, ironically run under the supervision of the other Harbaugh brother, Jim, and Greg Roman lead the 49ers to a Super bowl in 2013 by the maligned Colin Kapernick at quarterback. A season which ended in defeat to his sibling and long standing Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh. So the foundations for this offence were laid some time ago, but it all starts with Jackson on the ground on his RRO, run, run option with selectively passing where route combinations and favourable match-up’s can be exploited.

After scouring the tape, it was the number of options that the Ravens utilise to keep constant misdirection and disguises that stood out. Exemplified by opening drive against the Patriots in the 37-20 week 9 win. Each play shows the variance of looks and motions used by the offence, which results in a six, although a drive abetted by a field goal penalty.

Opening drive:
– Pitch Option to Running Back
– End Around to wide receiver
– Designed Quarterback Run
– TE Move and TE designed Roll Out
– Run stuff on Option, WR in Motion
– Touchdown – QB Option, OLB bites and Lamar Walks it in.

The one carry over from the Ravens 23-17 Wildcard round loss at the hands of the Chargers, is now Texans saftey, Jaleel Addae who exclusively played an off-the-ball-linebacker-come-safety in that game. Any insight into the unconventional, but successful, seven defensive back look that can be given would be much needed intel. But after watching their tape on both sides of the ball it’s clear this team is far superior than the one that fell short at the first hurdle last season.

Keys to the Game:

Disciplined Defence

The number of options and motion’s the Baltimore offence presents at the line of scrimmage is the origin of their big play ability. The Texans will need to show the utmost discipline across the front seven, to limit Jackson, Ingram or any skill player to avoid breaking contain. The Ravens just like the Texans due to their quarterback’s playing style, will have the off-script, chain movers to sustain drives. But the limitation of such plays and a more refined strategy that showed up versus Jacksonville, at Wembley, will be just the basic outline of what will be required.

The Texans appeared to find a modicum of pass rush in London, the first outing without JJ Watt. This was a positive as it was done so whilst being disciplined in the rush lanes. The key will be to create pressure on Jackson whilst not at the expense of getting caught out their assigned gaps. As losing integrity will only end up in a scramble for cheap yards. Texans will be looking for a big performance from Whitney Mercilus, on the road to lead this unit along with DJ Reader and his Lunch Pail Crew at the heart of the line. A top three run defence against a first ranked run offence will have the ability to flip the result for whichever unit makes its presence felt the most at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday.

Jan 5, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Setting the edge against a unit that want to run outside and keeping Jackson in the pocket and making him throw is essential. Most of the his throws are based on timing routes rather than waiting on or throwing receivers open. So bating Jackson into mistake’s when he opt’s to throw will be key. When Jackson does throw, unrivalled running ability aside, his throws certainly don’t carry the velocity and tight spirals that you’d expect from a top-end signal caller. There’s a reason why this offence ranks 31st in both completions and passing attempts.

Pass Coverage & Tight on Tight Ends

Of the 177 completed passes this season, 47% of the completions have been to their three leading tight ends, Andrews, Boyle & Hurst. Andrews, carrying the bulk of the threat, has been a later round surprise and developed into Jacksons favourite target, leading the team with 5TD’s.

The trio will need to be accounted for in the short to intermediate passing game, but equally in the red-zone. The Texans will need a package that can cope with 2 & 3 TE personnel groupings that they will likely see.

The health of the Texans closest player they have to an authoritarian on the back end would be Lonnie Johnson. After his physical work against Travis Kelce, Johnson will be expected to line up against one of these threats. Teshaun Gipson made a name for himself with his performances against Gronk so having both on the field, will be a plus factor for the Texans. If they can force Jackson to go through mutiple progressions, will lead to incompletions and turnovers if the ball breaks their way.

Houston Texans safety Justin Reid, rear, tackles Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) with safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (39) closing it, during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

If the Texans can set the edge and follow their assignments then it leaves the question of their coverage approach. There may be an acceptance that they opt for predominately zone coverage. Which was the key against the Jag’s to help avoid a mobile QB’s scrambles and offers more flexibility in the formation to react and helps to blur the quarterback’s vision of clear reads.

It will be a chess match between Crennel and Roman all afternoon. Stopping the tight end’s from sitting down in zone gaps may require man looks on key third downs, on short/medium distance. But giving up those play’s may be the trade-off when avoiding game breaking deep threats. Bend, don’t break is often RAC’s mantra.

Deep-Threat Passing Game

The deep threat of former Oklahoma wide-out ‘Hollywood’ Brown will be something to monitor. Jackson’s volume of throw’s will likely be limited but when they look downfield, they aim to exploit favourable match-ups. The Texans will hope that Bradley Roby’s hamstring has healed to maintain pace with Brown on the perimeter. His touches are limited but when found, they are for big gains and 4 TD’s in his rookie season to date.

Similarly Willy Snead, Miles Boykin have both caught passes for 50 yards each and combined for 4 TD’s. So, communication and assignment clarity will be key on the back end, to avoid undoing their good work in an instant.

The Texans will need a stand-up-and-be-counted type performance from the secondary in run support but also the pass coverage. An uncommon challenge for Conley, Joseph & Justin Reid, who will need the return of a healthy position group, who all have missed time prior to the bye.

Clean and Efficient Offence

The Texans offence has tormented Bill O’Brien with the pre-snap penalties, illegal formation and false starts being the crux of their issue. Many games points totals have been inhibited by stalled drives and not accurately reflecting their time of possession and yards gained. The bye was hopefully a time where the staff and offensive players have reflected on and have found a fix. As Sunday game won’t leave much space for error and points will be at a premium, just as will quick starts, as playing from behind won’t suit either offence.

The passing game will be a point of emphasis against a Ravens, who’s strength of their team is the attack minded secondary lead by Marlon Humphrey, who leads the team with 9 passes defended. The opportunistic corner Marcus Peters, who has 4 pick six’s on the season, will provide a tough challenge for the Texans receiving corps. Either corner will be asked to match up with Deandre Hopkins so expect the Texans to move Hopkins around the formation to get free and impact on the game. The key for Watson will be finding the third or fourth cover player match up’s and continue the work he’s shown this season in spreading the ball around his weapon’s to keep defences honest.

Winning at the Line or Hyde-ing to Nothing?

The level of defence is likely be a top three unit the team have faced this year. Williams and Pierce are the space eaters at the point of attack so the Houston interior O-line will need to be ready for a brawl. Pierce will likely miss this game, and his omission may assist in the Texans attempt to command the trenches. A huge task but if able, the offence can then leverage the ability in opening up the passing game, where Watson can take control of the show.

Contending with rusher Matt Judon who has racked up 19QB hits and combined with the ageless Pernell Mcfee for 15 TFL’s will be high on the agenda. The line is expected to have both its bookends in Tunsil and Howards ready. The first time the first choice line will be in place since week 6 and will be an acid test of their growth as a group.

The balance achieved through the run game has been central to the Texans offence this season and Sunday will be no different. As the Raven will want to control the time of possession but just as the Texans showed on the road in KC, taking over in this department will be a big factor in deciding games. Using Carlos through the middle will be key but I’d expect the growth of Duke Johnson to be a central point for hard yards to be gained and provide the Texans own dual-threat weapon.

Bye Week Creations

What packages and off-shoots to their current tendencies will OB & Kelly incorporate into the playbook? This could be crucial in a game that is expected be a ‘shoot-out’ and a few un-prepared looks from the Texans offence may be enough to edge it. The return of Fuller, would be a huge boost to the passing game, which looks a far a more dangerous proposition when he’s on the field. The big play ability to stretch a defence, particularly against a defence that likes to bring its DB’s up to the line for additional pressures. If the Raven’s have to deal with some deep attempts early to Fuller and Stills, that may lead to Don Martindale calling less single high looks, which they have seemed confident to do with the addition of former Seattle Star, Earl Thomas.

Watson out to show he’s top Dog over Jackson

Very few could protest at the notion, that at this stage of his career, Deshaun is the more complete player. Subtle are the nuances, but Watson presents as much more refined player, running a more complex and layered offence, with full control at the line. The Texans aren’t coming into the game with a shower of praise from national media outlets and Jackson appears to be the newly found media darling. That will likely irk Watson, who was famously ranked below Baker Mayfield in last seasons top 100 players poll. So if there was ever any incentive to put a stake in the ground, it’s Sunday, not only for himself, but his team and the franchise to take a monumental step towards their goals.

CBS (Ian Eagle & Dan Fouts)
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Bye Week Report

Whilst the Texans take a step towards health on the bye, a few favourable results swing their way but fortune must favour the brave this coming week for it to mean anything for this season’s success.

Swings of good fortune went in favour of the Texans last Sunday, as many of its AFC rivals failed to make up any ground whilst the team has a well earned break in week 10. Although no one in the building will admit, they would have relatively pleased with how Sundays result went.

The Colts were upset by the Dolphins as a former Houston favourite put on some of that ‘Fitzmagic’ to grind out a road victory in Lucas Oil stadium. The six win Bills made heavy weather of their trip to Cleveland and came away with a defeat to a struggling Browns team. The Titians game was bittersweet, as ultimately a divisional foe improved their record and are now only one game behind Houston. But their late win over the Chiefs brings the pack closer together and in the AFC.

The return to the field as an NFL starter for Brian Hoyer was perhaps the biggest factor playing into the Texans hands, this past Sunday. Although overall the former Michigan Spartan can’t be too overly critical of his performance, the three interceptions thrown were back breakers. Miami ground out a road victory and have now won two straight – so much for ‘Tank for Tua’ or ‘Bin it for Burrow’ talk, as they look resolute in their performance, despite talent deficiencies and came up trumps for the Houston cause. The loss to any team of their starting quarterback is tough to manage and Colts perhaps felt they would have faired better when choosing to hold Jacoby. it would seem a certainly he’ll be back in the lineup for the visit of the Jag’s this weekend as they begin the Nick Foles era 2.0. A game really the Texans would prefer a Jacksonville road win this coming week to keep the division tight as possible between its three adversaries.

The biggest outcome of this game for the Texans is not that the 2020 4th rounder received from Miami looks slightly further down the draft order. But when the Colts visit on Thursday Night Football, the winner will take first place in the AFC south regardless of the either teams results in week 11.

The other noteworthy tape from the division was the clear spark that Ryan Tannehill has given the Tennessee Titians. The strength of their team is perhaps on par in most area’s with much of the AFC, but they had lacked at the sports most vital position. Coach Vrabel will get them ready to play and showed last year they were capable of taking big scalps at the Nissan Stadium. So it many ways, this result shouldn’t be a shock but it was more the high scoring and continuous level of offence they were able to produce, that should be a note for the Texans. Particularly, battering-ram Derrick Henry in the running game was a bad match-up against the porous KC’s run defence but the Titans went after it and look to be much improved in the passing game versus the Mariota era. Their defensive quality has only improved with the addition of Jeffery Simmons who looks a serious threat to content with for years to come. The Titians are now 5-5, but 0-2 in the division, have the bye week to reflect prior to the visit of Jacksonville week 12.

The result perhaps puts the Texans road win at Arrowhead in a different light but the Chiefs made a number of errors across all three phases that even Mahommes wasn’t able to account for. On another day, the Chiefs have got to be confident they could win games such as this and will still be a force down the stretch on the strength of their offence alone. But that unit will need to be going at full speed to overshadow their defensive frailties. A further point to consider, if Tennessee are able to run the ball consistently and Tannehill doesn’t put them harms way with the ball security and inaccuracy that has haunted his career, then the Titans have a realistic run at making a playoff bid. I wouldn’t want to be in a position to rely on the former Texas A&M product as there’s a sizeable enough sample to date, on what he can contribute at that position. However, it would seem the late season games against the history thieves is showing a very different complexion than from just a few weeks ago.

Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Texans offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil warms up prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

From the release of the injury report on Wednesday, it would seem that health is returning to a team that limped into the bye without a number of starters. Mancz and Lonnie appear to be out of the concussion protocol and there were zero DNP designations, a first since week two. The return of the behemoth at left tackle will be essential for this game, Tunsil has transformed this team and hopefully a few weeks out has let him reflect on his on the false start penalties. The biggest questions, are Fuller and Roby as hamstrings are temperamental injuries and being a road game perhaps casts them into doubt. But both players give the Texans new dimensions when they are on the field, so there will be an anxious wait on their game status, for all concerned. The unknown is Teshaun Gipson, the medical staff will be doing everything they can do to get Gippy in a position to play as covering of TE’s is his speciality and will be key in Sundays game. Similarly, the team will hope they can call upon the athleticism at linebacker from Dylan Cole, the coaching staff will be keen he can shake off his knee complaint.

Sundays aren’t the same without Texans football and this week’s is perhaps their toughest test to date. Exam one of three will kick off 12 CT Sunday, the result will determine if the Texans are in the conversation for a top seed in the AFC.

A view from the Bye: The Texans stand tall on the Wembley turf to tee up a season defining stretch

A season for change, coming of age and renewed hope for an offence lead by a special talent who will need to be at his best on this three game run, if the Texans want to stamp their ticket to the play-off’s.

Nov 3, 2019; London, United Kingdom; Houston Texans outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett (57), outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (52), linebacker Dylan Cole (51), outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59), defensive back Keion Crossen (35), free safety Mike Adams (27),strong safety Jahleel Addae (37), strong safety Justin Reid (20), defensive back Cornell Armstrong (30), cornerback Gareon Conley (22) and inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney (55) celebrate after an interception in the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars during an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 26-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans regained their position at the summit of the AFC South with a commanding win against Jacksonville, in London. The mastery of the elusive Deshaun Watson and the revengeful running of Carlos Hyde put on a show in the final game of the NFL International series of the 2019 season, as both teams ardently head into their bye week but for very difference reasons.

Results will inevitably come with the level that this Houston offence is currently on, it’s more a question of how often. Consistency and health often defines a successful football team. But without a top-tier signal caller, your chances are greatly diminished. Luckily, Rick Smith left Houston with a bigger parting gift that anyone perhaps at the time realised. On Sunday, once again the mercurial Watson, exhibited to a Wembley crowd largely of neutrals, that he’s hard not to root for. Despite yet another reasonably slow first half, crippled by needless penalties and procedural errors. The disparity of talent levels between the two teams, as they game progressed, continued to show. The Texans tightened their grip on a game that at no point, did they ever look like losing, running out 26-3 winners and in all likelihood that margin flattered the hosts.

The Texans defence were given the bulk of the credit for holding a Jag’s defence to just a mere field goal last Sunday, which was a huge positive considering the loss of their star DE JJ Watt, the week prior. That was the biggest question coming into this game. How would the defensive front cope? How can you replace a three time defensive MVP with even a number of players? The answer was simple. Play tough, smart and disciplined football. The gap discipline was clinical for the Texans D, who kept a mobile quarterback in the pocket and forced him to throw against mostly zone coverage, which resulted in a stifled Jags offence.

A similar adage rings around the league when a certain football powerhouse continues to maintain is nauseating level of success year after year: ‘Do your job’. This needs to be the mantra for this unit moving forward. Perhaps it would refreshing to see a newly coined phrase, but the message remains the same. Now bereft of stars on that side of the ball, the unit must be greater than the sum of its parts, a step-change from previous era’s of Houston Defence, but one that is needed if 2019 is to yield any results.

The Texans front will be asking a lot of young and inexperienced players. Chuck Omenihu has shown he can make plays, but finding consistency in using his long and powerful frame will be key for the former Big10 defensive player of the year. Jacob Martin is a pure speed rusher with a high level motor and Carlos Watkins a former 4th round pick on a contract year will need to dig deep in the trenches to created QB pressures. Whitney Mercilus looked to be on an unstoppable track at the seasons outset, however he has regressed in top line production but will be the teams main threat as an edge bender. The trusted aids, who form the self proclaimed “Lunch Pail Crew” lead by growing star in DJ Reader (also in contract year and would seem in line for a serious offer from someone, if not the Texans) ably assisted by DJ Dunny and Angelo Blackston will need to be dependable as ever to out allow the middle Linebackers to work freely.

B-Mac & Zack as a pairing has a ring to it on paper just as much as they do on the field. The level which the two continue to play the run and the improvements in pass coverage, means that this is no longer a weakness that opposing offences attack. This tandem is up there in the top 4 of pairings at that position and are vital to this team’s success. Dylan Cole perhaps hasn’t reached the level of play some might have hoped and Texans have continued to mix the third safety into packages, this is something that will need to be answered during the bye.

J-Reid continues to be a player that opposing teams avoid in the passing game. The Stanford engineering grad. shows equal nouse of the football field and is the leader of this secondary. The surprising addition of Gareon Conley, who lead with eight tackles last Sunday, appears to be in a position to succeed in this defence. The Texans will need growth from this group, under the stewardship of Anthony Midget and Conley’s fellow Ohio State product Bradley Roby, will be a much needed return from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him since week 6. Lonnie-J. Jr will hope he can brush off his concussion to return to round out a starting group that will need the experience of Jonathan Jospeh and safety Teshaun Gipson to solidify this DB unit in tough moments. The invaluable experience that the duo of Armstrong and Crossen will have gained in the starters absence will only be good for a position grouping that appeared to be the achilles heel of this team. But a scenario now presents itself where this group are in a situation to change that mentality down the stretch, it’s a case of piecing it together, week by week.

Oct 13, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans running back Carlos Hyde (23) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A team with Watson in it, is one that will likely be within touching distance regardless of whoever they face. In his 32 starts, the Texans have never lost by more than a single score. Now sitting at 6-3, the Texans will be largely content with their start to the season. The week four Carolina game aside, this 2019 Houston football team has been largely impressive. The engine of the team is their third-year quarterback who’s growth and maturation has been evident. The coaching staff have progressed the playbook to assist in heightening Watson’s strengths, but the mental aspect of the game is where ‘D4’ is not only elevating his own performances but all of those around him. Going into this bye week, Houston leads the league in total offence with 3,570 yards and Watson has contributed more total touchdowns that any other player with 25, through nine games. Whilst Watson continues to complete over 70% of his passes and adding over 30yards for rushing, he threat is ever-present, regardless of the score or situation. The offence has become dynamic, but in so many different ways.

But the emergence of a supporting cast from unlikely sources has been an underrated narrative. Tight end, Darren Fells, discarded by the imploding Browns was a veteran free agent pick up. Fells, a former pro basketball player, leads his position in touchdowns with six. The Browns, albeit for an above market value rate, bolstered the Texans once more in the trade for Duke Johnson. Duke not only notched his first rushing TD on Sunday, but also lead the team in receiving yards. His unique skill set has changed the way defences match up their coverages and has added a completely new dimension to keep opposing co-ordinators guessing. The Texans have transformed their half-back position group, lead by coach Danny Barrett and perhaps by chance. Carlos Hyde, by all accounts was offered to the Texans by Kansas City as a first option prior to hitting the waiver wire. He has been a missing piece of the offence of O’Briens tenure since the loss of Arian Foster in the 2014 pre-season. A true bell-cow back who lowers the pads, welcomes contact has added an element off balance to the offence. After a 160 yard performance last Sunday and 704 yards for the year, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, it’s difficult not be equally surprised and delighted with the “Elguapo” addition.

The aforementioned trio have been strong additions to an offence growing in stature but be careful not to overlook the secondary asset gained in this seasons bombshell trade, wide receiver Kenny Stills. The former Oklahoma stand-out has been an under the radar extension of this offence. His season has been defined by clutch catches when the team needs a play he is often the second read, when in receiver heavy sets. Stills announced his arrival in week-one with an introductory catch to the fan base, taking a late lead against arguably the NFL’s best team, in Louisiana. If this had of been a game winner perhaps it would have etched into Houston folklore more than current levels of praise have attained. However, it is clear he’s a trusted aid in passing game and it’s reasonable to expect that Stills will make an sizeable impact on this season’s story.

The primary addition of the seismic trade with Miami brought over left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The front office on Kirby Drive have been looking for answers at that position since the acrimonious split with former pro-bowler Duane Brown. Addressing the most vital position of the O-line has had wide reaching and positive consequences for the offence. Tunsil’s play has shored up the unit and often with O-Line play, a game changer can elevate the other four performances across the line and that’s been the case with both Rookie’s Sharping at left guard and Tytus Howard at right tackle. The missed time by Tytus was a stark reminder to all what phenomenal additional he’s been to this team despite being panned by draft nicks, he’s proven he was worth the selection and some. Even the sometimes questionable Nick Martin at centre appears to have found a groove and perhaps a string of good health and is playing at a solid level as the anchor in front of Deshaun.

The biggest issues for the last three weeks for the Texans has been health. Sunday saw yet another missed game by speedster Will Fuller. The fourth year player out of Notre Dame, is a pro-bowler when healthy but the ability to stay on the field has eluded him and robbed the Texans of one of the games best deep threats. If, Fuller can stay healthy, his speed opens up sections of the play book and gives this team big-play ability that they lack, in his absence. His return and sustained returned in the back half of the 2019 slate will be critical.

The proverbial sky is the limit for this team, providing team defence can rule the day and missed special team assignments are kept to a minimum. As we sit watching the remainder of the league playing out their ties this weekend, the Texans have three-game stretch upcoming that will delineate their 2019 fortunes. To this point they have exceeded expectations, propelled by Coach OB’s wheeling and dealing. It would seem now that theres an inclination to logically envisage more. Standing in their way of a play off run: at Baltimore, hosting both Thursday Night Football against the Colts and Sunday Night Football against New England. This of course followed by a 4 game-run that looks winnable but such games could easily become no-contests, if the Texans can’t handle the three preliminary ties.

In this three game span, there there will be no hiding places, the margin for error reduced and a need for at 53 men to step forward and be counted. If this can happen and the Texans can come out the tallest of tasks with two wins, then we can afford ourself to perhaps dream but only a for a short while. The Indy game is on a short week after a trip East will be the toughest test of all. Mainly, as under no circumstances can the Texans drop that game in the division. Most Texans fans would put up with a loss to both Baltimore and from the visit from the Tom Brady, if it lead to a win against the Colts. Every game in the NFL is must win, but the winner of that TNF clash will likely go on to win the AFC South and gain the resulting home play-off tie in the division round.

It would appear the odds and momentum could likely be stacked against this team going into these games. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens unique run-heavy offence will in all probability be 7-2 going into the clash as they face the 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals this weekend with Andy Dalton watching on from the sidelines. Similarly the Colts, the health of Jacobs Brissett’s MCL aside, host two games in their own building against a 1-7 Miami side – albeit coming of their first win this season – followed by a visit from the Jags. A Nick Foles revival in Duval county will need to be in the hopes and prayers across Houston.

The Texans in their entire history have been in the shadow of the team that everyone loves to hate, the New England Patriots in the race in the AFC. The Pats scheduled to the point, sitting 8-1, has been favourable by any stretch of the imagination. Losing their first game of the season in Baltimore last week is one point of consideration but so is their impending trip to Philadelphia and hosting the Cowboys, prior to the Texans on national television. Facing two teams who have limited room for error in the NFC East race, will likely bring the best out of a new England unit who have a remarkable ability to rise to the occasion. But they certainly have the tougher prelude prior to facing the Texans. This should give reason for some modest optimism and its worth noting they face the Chiefs the following week, in Foxborough. It appears the AFC’s elite will have traded blows substantially by the close of week 14, to give a clear idea of the run-in required for each city to reach it’s goals.

It’s currently all to play for, the view of this years Texans squad will be a more accurate picture come the end of the New England game. There’s far too much football to be played for comparing of schedule run-in’s and lots of variable will swing and questions will be answered in the next month.

But one is thing for sure, there’s very few other leaders on this planet your’d rather have than H-Town’s no. 4 to take on the AFC’s elite. The closer, each week they can get to health and playing a full 60mins with cleaner execution, it would be remiss not to say that this team has got a real chance.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans jumps over Ronnie Harrison #36 of the Jacksonville Jaguars for a touchdown was is later disallowed after review during the NFL match between the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on November 03, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
11Sun, Nov 17@Baltimore6:00 PMCBS
12Fri, Nov 22vsIndianapolis1:20 AMFOXNFL
13Mon, Dec 2vsNew England1:20 AMNBC
14Sun, Dec 8vsDenver6:00 PMCBS
15Sun, Dec 15@Tennessee6:00 PMCBS
16Sun, Dec 22@Tampa BayTBDCBS
17Sun, Dec 29vsTennessee6:00 PMCBS

An Ailed Texans Rally late for a comeback win against the Raiders

Deshaun Waston once again puts his beleaguered teammates on his back and hooks up with TE Darren Fells late on a number of crucial and mesmerising plays to edge past Oakland after trailing for 50 plus minutes. But further injuries threaten this team’s season on defence, leaving many questions on that side of the ball. How they will be answered in the final 8 games, remains to be a challenge for the coaching staff.

Another afternoon, another slow start. This team continues to be hindered by its inability to start games fast. When Deshaun and the offence get into gear, we’ve seen how rapidly points appear on the board. This 2019’s team quest for consistency is one that confines its ceiling to a level of underachievement based on its offensive talent. Now leading the league in pre-snap penalties, it appears early in games the Texans can’t get out from under their own feet and are creating a habit of trailing early. A touchdown to the pass catching tail back, Duke Johnson was the only highlight of a 1st half to forget. This was to be overcome by Deshaun and the offence late-on but against the AFC’s elite this may not be quite as easy as flicking the switch when needed.

The biggest story bar the result on Sunday was the loss of the unofficial mayor of Houston, Justin James Watt. The star D-End’s season has once again been prematurely ended and leaving a gaping hole in Romeo Crennel’s unit. It’s clear at this stage of JJ’s career the team can no longer rely on him to be healthy, the run of injuries has now seen him miss more than 30 games overs last 4 seasons. His loss to an already muted pass rush is colossal. JJ’s year to date, was one that saw him lead the league in QB hits, despite only notching four sacks he was playing at a high level. It remains to be seen how such a void can be filled and what impact will this have on the team. Will this just further expose an already porous pass defence? The answers will be stark in the coming weeks but after an innocuous tackle for loss, Watt on the next play knew something wasn’t quite right and headed up the tunnel.

This team was already constrained by injuries particularly in the secondary. Starting Safety Teshaun Gipson, and long serving Cornerback Johnathan Jospeh were both respectively held out of this game. This was already against a back drop of free agent signing, Bradly Roby out with a hamstring injury & rookie second round-pick, Lonnie Johnson Jr, left the field with a suspected concussion in the second quarter. This would have appeared to open the door for an Oakland passing attack which lead 21-13 in the third quarter. A Raiders unit lead by the Quarterback in question by his own fanbase: Derek Carr. A familiar name in Houston sports folklore as his older brother, Derek, infamously dawned the Texans uniform as its first ever quarterback as an expansion franchise in 2002. An arrangement for a variety of reasons that didn’t work out and remains to this day an example of not putting the talent around a passer that a franchise has greatly invested in.

This would have been the criticism of your current Houston Texans prior to last season. The influx of talent, after parting with significant draft capital, had created offensive line that looked to be a strong and gelling unit. However, injuries once again impacted Deshaun’s first line of protection. Tytus Howard, this years 1st round pick, missed his second consecutive game with a strained MCL. Late in the 4th quarter, Laremy Tunsil left with a shoulder ailment that was later described as minor.

Having Watson’s two cornerstone’s on either side of the line missing, is what makes the final two drives all the more special. Street free agent Chris Clarke and recently signed from New England Practice squad, Dan Skipper, were the protection on the edges. The go-ahead TD isn’t something we haven’t seen from Waston before. But the ability to escape pressure in the pocket and to spin away from the clutches of a would be sack-artist is unique. To evade two defensive lineman, be kicked in the eye with a trailing leg, adjust his helmet, throw a 12-yard pass to his tight end with only sight in one eye was a sequence that defines Watson and who he is as a QB.

The defence then made a stand on Oakland final two drives of the ball game, a sure-fire pick-six was dropped by linebacker Dylan Cole but that lead to the introduction of the Raiders field-goal unit for the first time in the game. The following Oakland possession was then blown up by D-Tackle come D-End, DJ Reader who continues to flourish in the pass rush as he drew a hold from the Raiders stand-in centre. A ten yard holding penalty was issued by the officiating crew. Then after giving up a first down pass on the final drives first play, newly acquired Gareon Conley rose when needed. Acquired for a third round pick from Oakland earlier in the week, facing his old teammates, broke up a pass intended for Tyrell Williams and forced the punt.

The offence were able then to kneel this one out after the two-minute warning. Again Darren Fells, an ever reliable target for Waston, grabbed a one-handed snag and to get the first down. This ones in the books the Texans who walked out 27-24 winners after not reaching their potential for much of the afternoon and the injuries continue to pile up.

The transatlantic trip against the Jags in an early kick (8.30am Central) at the home of English soccer, Wembley Stadium, awaits in a must win game prior to the much needed bye week.

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London’s Calling – the Texans make the inaugural trip as a franchise to take on the well travelled Jacksonville Jaguars in a pivotal AFC South Clash.

The Houston Texans will travel to London this week to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, in the Texans first game in London and their second international game as a franchise. The Jaguars will have the obvious advantage due to their experience of playing games in London and more so in Wembley stadium since 2013, holding a 3-3 record. The Texans only previous experience of international games was an ill-fated trip to Mexico City where the Texans left with 27-20 defeat at the hand of the Raiders. But greater factors than game plan execution were at play that night.

The injury laden 5-3 Texans, who are coming off a late come-back win against Oakland, will need to dig deep to best a well trodden divisional foe on a transatlantic business trip prior to the bye week. Injury to star defensive end JJ Watt – the three times defensive MVP – only adds to the already depleted secondary group who will face rookie revelation, quarterback Gardner Minshew who’s lead the team back to a 4-4 record, in the early kick off this Sunday.

This seasons previous encounter saw the Texans narrow 13-12 victors. Aided by a perplexing decision by Jags Head Coach Doug Marrone’s failed two point conversion rather than tie the game by kicking the PAT. That game was also Minshew’s first start for the Jag’s after high price free agent and former Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles, suffered a broken clavicle sustained in week 1, after only eleven plays.

Jacksonville, are in the midst of a two-game winning streak courtesy of a 27-17 and 29-15 victory over Cincinnati & the Jets, respectively. That span has seen the former Washington State prospect complete 67.2% of his passes, contributing 610 yards of total offence, 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Minshew-Mania has ebbed and flowed since replacing the injured Foles. But what is clear, jorts, moustache and headband aside, is that he carries poise and a football IQ well beyond his tender years. A 13:2 touchdowns to interception ratio should not be taken lightly for a first year player in only 7 starts. Containing the Jags running back will be a key to the game from the Texans sidelines. The Texans defensive front will be in for a physical battle against former 4th overall pick in 2017, Leonard Fournette. The LSU product looks to be returning to form after a year two slump and injuries slowed his progress. Albeit against a struggling Jets defensive unit Fournette put up 136 years combine through the air and ground attack, in week 8. A concern for the secondary will be the need to game plan for the productive wide receiver-duo: Chris Conley who has put up over 180 yards in only 7 receptions across the Jags two victories coming into Sunday’s game; Fournette’s alma mater, DJ Chark has contributed 8TD’s and 834 yard through the air. The Jags will likely look lean on the pair to spark the passing game due to the loss of Marquise Lee, who was placed on the IR this week.

Health is perhaps the biggest leveller in the NFL and it’s exemplified no more than by the Texans injury report this week, listing no less than 18 players. The Texans deep threat, but often injured wide receiver Will Fuller will miss the clash. As likely will rookie corner Lonnie Johnson Jr. who is dealing with a concussion and is in the protocol. The former Jag, Teshaun Gipson will likely also further deplete the secondary with back and wrist complaints. A much needed return to this team would be in both Bradley Roby at corner, the free agent from the Bronco’s has proven as astute addition to this team, just as 1st right tackle Tytus Howard’s return would be, who has proven the doubters wrong with some sterling performances this season. Less the loss of Foles, Jacksonville appear the far healthier team going into the second match-up of the season between the two clubs as they both enter the back half of their schedules.

The longer term decision facing the Jags will be the Minshew-Foles decision, what will come of that will remain to be seen. However, Jacksonville have limited cap space as they were unable to extend edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue’s contract which lead to a pre-season hold out. Thought this may not hurt the team as once thought due to the emergence of the former Kentucky Wildcats edge-wrecker, Josh Allen. The 7th overall pick in this years draft has returned through 8 weeks: 23 tackles, 7 sacks and two forced fumbles. Combined with the ever-present Calais Campbell & former UCLA Bruin Myles Jack at linebacker provides a stout unit which has lead Watson to sub 60% clips on multiple occasions. This Jags defence is hard to move the ball against and is the strength of their team that provides a challenge through the air or on the ground attack for every offence they face.

The Texans offensive line lead by Laremy Tunsil at left tackle will be hoping they can return to relative health and form if they are to quell a ferocious pass rush and allow Watson time to find his wealth of receiving options. This will provide a central theme that decides Sunday’s tie, pitting the Jags against Houston star quarterback. When rolling, this Texans offence can be explosive, lead by wide receiver Deandre Hopkins who will like their chances against as Jag’s defensive unit which lost its star Jalen Ramsey to a blockbuster trade earlier in the season. Hopkins became the third quickest players to reach 8,000 receiving yards, only behind hall of famers Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald, last week agains the Raiders and continues to enter the conversation as the best wide receiver in the league. The prospect of watching D-Hop work should be enough for any neutral to part with the admission price. His numbers continue to soar as he is Watson’s go-to-guy, the pair of Celm(p)son products have a unique chemistry that means defences have to account for him on every play.

HOUSTON, TX – DECEMBER 30: Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) relaxes during a timeout in the football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans on December 30, 2018 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ramsey & Hopkins bi-annual battle not being on the field will be a loss to the neutral. But the flexibility which Jalen allowed his team mates to play with has been a substantial contributing factor in previous clashes. No longer having the services of a rare player type at that position, who can shut-down opposing receivers will be huge plus for the Texans game plan. The coverage versatility will be lessened as the remainder of the DB unit won’t enjoy the same level of freedom to take risks attacking the ball, that they could when they counted Ramsey as a teammate. This now leaves former Texan AJ Bouye as the Jags main cover corner, one of the best number 2 corners in the league but not able to provide what Ramsey once gave DC Todd Walsh and this defensive unit.

The NFL international series games bring a whirlwind of fanfare for sport fans to see a great sport live. These games are great for the league, its brand, enagement and resulting merchandise sales. It provides extension of a sport when improving the accessibility to its core product – the live games themselves. And despite how much players privately will not be thrilled with the travel, the growth in revenues ultimately finds a way back into the players pockets via the extension of the salary cap which continues to grow exponentially each season. However, the impact on players bodies in a NFL season is a war of attrition and the healthier Jacksonville side with experience of the strains travelling have the edge going into the game, at their home, away from home. Although in essence, this is a road game for both teams and it would appear the Jags willingly give up any home field advantage they would have otherwise had, even if the tarps are on the top tier of TIAA Bank Field.

What must be considered beyond the travel and time zone acclimation is the potential weather and that grass field which certainly hasn’t been in optimal football condition in previous NFL games held at Wembley. It appeared the approach was to just grow the grass longer from its complexion on last weeks broadcast. Whatever, the state of the turf or the weather, it will provide a stark contrast to the conditions accustomed by both teams. If the colder winter rain comes down on a grey London day, this game could well turn into man-ball where games decided on the ground and both respective lines will go at it for sixty minutes, in the trenches. That would also side with Jags as their biggest offensive weapon is at running back. Ball security will be paramount and can shift momentum in a hurry, Carlos Hyde, despite contributing 544 yards on the ground and 3TD’s has coughed the ball up on three occasion, so something to monitor this Sunday as the Great British winter sets in.

All things being equal, if Deshaun and the offence can find a way to get out in front and force Minshew and the Jags to be aggressive with the ball then therein lies the potential of the rookie passer to turn the ball over. The Texans had prior to last week, the longest active streak of turnovers in the NFL and regardless of personnel available will be looking to get a new streak in motion. Offence versus offence alone, the advantage sits with the Texans and the wizardry that Waston, Hopkins, Fells et.al have shown over the first half of the season. Particularly the Jags susceptibility against TE’s and crossing routes over the middle versus their coverage concepts commonly deployed in their game plan. Advantage Texans on that front.

The biggest question looming, that no one bar the Texans coaching staff can really answer, is what personnel will the Texans trot out in both the front and back end of their defence? That remains a big unknown for this defence how they will manufacture pressures on the opposing quarterback in an era where the front seven will not contain JJ Watt or Jadeveon Clowney. With the only discernible NFL-level proven edge rusher left on the roster in Whitney Mercilius. He will have significant pressure on his broad shoulders to find a way to penetrate the backfield if the Texans want to get Minshew and the Jags behind the chains. Minshew, just as Carr & Brissett have in previous weeks, should enjoy his fair share of plays against the Texans secondary, regardless of who’s out there. The team that plays the most fundamentally sound game plan, Jags O versus Texans D, will be a major reason for the way this game transpires. But at this stage the battle lines are yet to be drawn and hopefully Romeo Crennel has been putting his forty plus years of NFL coaching experience to good use this week.

Every NFL game is swung on the basis of 4 to 5 plays, as second to health, momentum is such a vital factor for every team. Many division match-up’s are stifled by the level the familiarly between two team which has a tendency to cancel out the others strengths. Much of Sunday’s tie will centre around Jags pass rush influence, coupled with the Texans front 7 will be largely unknown which either unit could shift this games direction quickly. The newly found freedom of a Jalen-less defence could prove for Hopkins & Kenny Stills to have a strong outing. A tight game at hand, but points to be had where neither side can ill afford to lose. But if the ball is in the hands of the Texans number 4, on the final drive, with the game on the line, who’s to bet against him?

TEXANS @ JAGS, Wembley Stadium, London, KO: 2:30 BST//8:30 CT, NFL Network, Fox26 Houston.