AfterOnly four games into his seventh year Bill O’Brien was relieved of his duties. But it cannot be ignored, further corrective steps are required if this franchise is to reset its course.
Many Texans will have understandably welcomed yesterday’s news, though it must be heeded by all, further changes are in order. There will be time to reflect on the O’B. era but there are far more pressing matters at hand.
It cannot go unsaid nor it cannot go unchallenged. As Cal’s next set of decisions will impact on the franchise’s very existence. He will have to show they have learned from their past mistakes. The Texans need a radical overhaul off-the-field before they can truly flourish on it.
The biggest error in the O’Brien appointment was not hiring a new GM, to make that coaching hire.
Jack Easterby is still employed by this team. Until he is removed, no one can collude in the illusion we have corrected our wrongs. Easterby is equally under-qualified as O.B. was to perform the General Manager role. Arguably, O’Brien was far more equipped than Easterby ever could be. In being allowed to continue his role, he in essence, is being absolved for his part in the previous 18-months. A period that has regressed this football team, in some instances irreparably.
Easterby is essentially a religious based, life-coach that’s made a habit of sticking around football teams. If he is remains part of the this team’s future we have failed before we’ve even started.
He orchestrated the departure of Brian Gaine, who for all his leadership flaws, was a solid talent evaluator or at the very least, he had a track record of doing it. Easterby has not been a bystander in the recent decline, further, he’s idly watched and allowed the firing of the man who brought him to Houston. Such a move would appear to be the mark of his character. But quite how he’s seen his position re-affirmed, for the time being, is beyond baffling.
If Cal McNair is ingenious to the tactics of Easterby, then this may only be the start of this franchise’s nose dive into the football oblivion.
Easterby was the culprit in a failed attempt to lure Nick Caserio to Houston, crassly at the Patriots Superbowl ring ceremony. If the grand plan is to bring in Caserio and Josh McDaniels as Head Coach, that move would already seem similarly ill-fated. Considering the previous attempt narrowly avoided tampering charges, which Robert Kraft dropped after they abandoned the move.
Cal’s father routinely obsessed with the New England’s operation. Hopefully, his son can take a more pragmatic view of a uniquely successfully competitor, realising you cannot replicate dual-generational brilliance without a significant portion of good fortune. Simply put, the Patriots model is the greatest-ever coach and quarterback, together with high levels of coaching discipline.
If we are to realise this chance of re-defining Houston Texans Football, then that needs to be achieved independently of its past. This team needs a General Manager of pedigree, qualified to evaluate personnel whilst and building a winning culture.
This is a football team. It needs to be lead by true football people. The attempts at the unique models and sub-programs has to be left where they belong, in the past. The structure should be fundamentally sound, admired for the investment in talented people and their efforts to build an on-field product thats universally respected.
There should be no influence in this new dawn of Houston Texans football from Jack Easterby. He should have been given his marching orders with O’Brien. There is a wealth of talent and experience out there, many, if not all, would want these jobs. There is a transcendent quarterback under centre, merely in need of nurture. That is the hardest piece to find, now it’s time for the easier part.
There are may millions of people been duped by great speeches and positive talk. But Calhoun I beg you, do not be another statistic. As the consequences of failing on these hires, for millions of Texans and Deshaun Watson is yet more despair.
Now is the chance Calhoun, to make your mark, I trust you will take it, as this opportunity may not come round again.Hiring a respected GM and progressive Head Coach will take this city into a new dawn of winning football.
Houston areout of time with nowhere to turn, as this team’s shots at success have been taken and a reset is required.
The Texans slumped deeper into their botched attempt in fielding a competent football team on Sunday. For a fourth consecutive week they failed to even remotely quell the concerns regarding the flaws of their roster. Quite how the notion of not being able run the ball or stop the run has been a surprise, is only a question that could be answered inside the walls of NRG.
The limited fans who chose to subject themselves to another unassuming offensive display, who themselves are now making a habit of only turning up for a half, were subject to one of their worst performances in recent memory. The Texans, despite playing a winless team showed their structural deficiencies are so glaring that opposing teams and the FOX commentary team, attacked at will. Finding themselves 31-16 down in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings lead by Dalvin Cook, rather predictably notched 130 yards, whilst Kirk Cousins was effective against a limited pass rush, completing over 70% of his passes. With the benefit of time, based of their play-action calls, Cousins rarely looked flustered and embarrassed the Texans defence whilst scampering for a 4th down conversion. The lack of talented corner play beyond Bradly Roby was lucid as Hargreaves and Gaines were exposed as Rookie Justin Jefferson showed both the finer points of route running.
This week, the offence chose to wait until the second half to show signs of life but quite simply they don’t see the ball. This is due to an un-conducive mixture of three-and-out’s, added with the inability to stop the run, as for consecutive week they held the ball for 13 minutes less than their opponents. No Defence can sustain that level of pressure and expect to win, not even a talented one.
The inconsistencies of the offence continued, despite O’Brien visibly taking over play calling duties. There were drives in the second half, where the empty-set, up tempo and Duke Johnson re-introduction made them, at times, looking coherent. But they continually foiled by an inhibiting system as it relates to their talents, whilst poor execution continues to hinder any momentum.
Though Deshaun threw for 300 yards and they were a contentious incompletion call from setting up a two point attempt, to tie the game late in the fourth, the game was never close for a long period. Their inability to run the ball hurt them in the red-zone. As they settled for field goals on three occasions and stalled out, punching it into the end-zone seemed inevitable.
It’s a stark reality for the Texans, that the personnel moves of O’Brien regime haven’t paid off. David Johnson – the team cannot run the ball; Max Sharping & Lonnie Johnson – benched in favour of others; Brandon Cooks – was without a catch yesterday; Ross Blacklock – ineffective in all aspects; the loss of DJ Reader – is glaring; paying Whitney Mercilus and Nick Martin whilst both respective units aren’t competitive. And Laremy Tunsil has been a stalwart but within this current context of a failing pass protection and a frail roster, the loss of those draft picks is magnified.
The countless bad off-field decisions are now compounding on it. As Jordon Atkins went out, they look thin at Tight End, whilst Jordon Thomas is scoring his first touch-down for Arizona. Atkins sustained a helmet clash on a play that set them up in the red zone, which saw Minnesota Safety Harrison Smith ejected from the game. The conclusion from the broadcast team and any willing on-looker: there are players out there that shouldn’t be on this roster. Deandre Carter – fumbled his 7th ball in only 27 games; Brennan Scarlett cannot set the edge; Carlos Watkins is a just a body in trenched, just to name a few.
This franchise dismissed and paid a disservice to the talents of J.J. Watt and DeAndre Johnson in their prime. Cal McNair has a duty to us all, by not adding Deshuan to that list. Ownership will likely be silent in the lead up to Jacksonville but a defeat in their first AFC South clash of the year and dropping to 0-5 would put O’Brien and his coaching staff on notice. A move that is overdue and based on this start to the season, a change needed if the franchise wants to win a championship.
O’Brien has admirably tried to do it his way, going thoroughly against the grain with a non-traditional approach but his team has regressed, beyond recognition. Even the grandest of optimists within the building will now realise that an ownership intervention is required, if they want a better fate for Deshaun Watson’s talents. It’s never too late but the passive trust they’ve paid, has only left them and their fans at the foot of football’s top table. The exact place that all of those underachieving Texans greats found themselves.
The Texans season, to this point, has been one to forget. The resulting bi-product of such a dismal start, it may allow many to realise a long held aspiration – to remove the man that has almost single-handedly created it. The organisation has trusted O’Brien to operate in a unique way and the pay-off reached isn’t respectability on the field. Amongst this short term pain, even his greatest detractors will find solitude in the fact that a regime change that may well be approaching. But at what pace?
It’s been a common occurrence under O’Brien, when all seems lost, he finds ways to revive his squad back to mediocrity. Though with an alarming sense of predictability, Houston are 0-3, facing a fellow winless team that Houston have never defeated. The feeling of deja-vu, entering week 4 is consistent at every turn, predominately yielding trepidation throughout Houston, as their star-quarterback is continually hamstrung by deficient coaching and personnel evaluations.
Familiar Faces Return
In welcoming Minnesota, former head coach Garry Kubiak, returns as the Viking’s offensive co-ordinator. The former Aggie, though is arguably similar to O’Brien in terms of their offensive outlook being somewhat limited, though they are quite the contrary in persona. Many listening to “Kube’s” in this week’s media availability would have understandably twinged with nostalgia. Over his seven years in Houston, he gave everything to this franchise, including suffering a stroke walking off the field at half-time, on Thursday Night Football. He left amidst the 2012 season 2-14 slide, but re-established his credentials, winning a Superbowl with Denver a year later.
Two former Houston Head Coaches will be on the opposing sideline Sunday. As Don Capers, also sits on the Vikings pay-roll as a defensive assistant, as both could be the protagonists in the Texans 4th straight loss. A result which could finally turn the pressure dial up on Kirby Drive and another coach leave after year 7 being unsuccessful.
Improvements… As You Were
The keys to the game, just as they were last week, are football basics, a startling indictment of this team’s talent, execution and fruitless scheme that has seen them fail in aspects of the game, through the first three weeks.
The Run Game
The Texans are a team that cannot run the ball, nor stop it. Facing Vikings ‘back Dalvin Cook could provide another harrowing outing for the limited fans inside NRG. Until the Texans can find a suitable counter-formula in this rudimentary aspect of defence, then their fate is already assigned. As they are still to face three of the top four running teams in New England, Green Bay & Cleveland on their schedule.
Whilst the trade that brought David Johnson to Houston, has shown limited benefit to a team, ranked 31st in rushing yards. Their paltry 198-ground-yards compared to 345-yards, after three weeks a year ago, face a significant structural issue. They hope to welcome back Duke Johnson to the line-up as the coaches trust beyond their top two running backs, has been nil.
Offensive Output Versus Talent
Similarly, if the passing game cannot find greater levels of consistency, for more than a handful of drives per game, they will become a play-off afterthought. Their talented quarterback has continued to pose a frustrated figure in recent weeks. It’s clear Watson’s connection with Tim Kelly’s communication and play-calling isn’t fluid. His thinly veiled references in two media calls this week, has noted that.
Tim Kelly’s ability to call plays at this level or lack of it, has been apparent. The inability to plan a scoring opening-drive is a perpetual issue. Added to the inefficient play calls, which has added unnecessary pressure to an offensive line who have not fitted their billing. The lack of cohesion and play design is less effective revision of the O’Brien called product which continued to underwhelm with regularity. Asking your players to fit the scheme rather than the logical inverses continues to draw dismay.
The Texans will have by far their greatest match-up advantage against un-drafted cornerback Holton Hill and rookie Cameron Dantlzer (third round pick) as both are likely to play the majority of snaps, due to injuries to Jeff Gladney and Mike Hughes. If the expensively assembled cast of wide-receivers do not have a breakout performances, that would further underpin this roster’s fundamental flaws.
Livening A Decimated Defence
This is the weakest Quarterback and Offensive Line combination the Texans will face this side of the bye week. Cousins has the ability to make plays, but if this defensive front-7 cannot have a season high in pressures then another defeat may be on the horizon. They will welcome back Ross Blacklock from a self-imposed 1 week ban, who is overdue to show flashes of potential upside.
The ailing impact and expensive contribution’s of Watt and Mercilus has been well documented. But the Texans urgently need to find players who are capable of impactful performances beyond their two former standout’s if there is to be life in this unit. If they are not currently on this roster, then their issues are perhaps rooted deeper than many could have feared.
Similarly, can the Texans go another week without forcing a turnover? It’s a feasible notion, for a defence who is ranked in the tail end of all majority categories. Anthony Weaver has drawn some praise but they present as a unit trying to hide their lack of talent whilst searching for an identity. Though, the teams offensive struggles have unfairly compounded their issues on the defensive side of the ball.
This is far from the traditional “Get-Right” game that some may hope it to be. The sobering thought at this stage would be, that even if a transformational type performance is found, it would be with only be to chase a wild card berth. Another all too depressingly familiar outcome for team equipped with a franchise passer.
A New Dynamic Emerging To Be Considered
The feeling of repetition will linger around this and franchise for another few weeks, at a minimum. But a storyline this week, has unmasked a new visible point of disillusionment within it’s fanbase.
The Texans often point to their sell-out record of every game in their history as a barometer of health. The rolling purchases of season tickets and lengthy waiting listing of many, eagerly awaiting their chance to purchase a season ticket, is a positive narrative that suits the team.
The reality is more clear cut but in the opposite direction. In these Covid times, the Texans had to manually sell the reduced capacity of 13,300 tickets this week. As of Saturday morning, this is something the team had failed to do. A tangible indication of current fan sentiment, delivered in a translatable message to ownership. Often, monetary consequences will help engender change far more rapidly than boo’s from a filled stadium.
It would appear that there are some rumbling in the hierarchy, considering how the Earl Thomas situation was oddly managed this week. It may have taken a significant on-field low to achieve this, but the McNair’s may have finally awoken to the fact that this team’s leadership isn’t performing. If Bob’s team then slips to a forth consecutive defeat tomorrow, then that process may start to accelerate.
O’Brien’s football team look short of any discernible contending qualities for the third week in row. After an 0-3 start to the season, their weaknesses are apparent as they show limited signs of improvement.
When Deshaun Watson marched the offence down the field with less than a minute left in the first half, it seemed for a brief moment that this Texans offence had finally come alive. Alas, it was a false dawn, as Houston failed to register a single point in the second half, which confined them to a 28-21 defeat.
O’Brien seemed almost blasé in his post match media conference. Sighting the long yards to gain as a constant factor. He didn’t strike the figure that was feeling the heat. His heavily invested offensive line was again suspect, not aided by Deshaun Watson overplaying. The fluidity of play-calling and execution had small pockets of progress but they failed to move the ball on three of their 4 attempts in the second half, the other resulted in an interception.
Following that interception, the Steelers predominately ran the ball to seal the final score, just as they did to kneel the game out. For the second straight week the defence, who were on the field over 13 minutes more than their stumbling, offensive counterparts. caved towards the end.
The Defence had, for three quarters, given another admirable account of themselves, bar the blown coverage on the Smith-Schuster touchdown. Holding the Steelers to 218 passing yards was laudable but as their tiredness grew, they finished the day conceding 169 on the ground.
Though JJ Watt struggled against back-up Tackle Okorafor, in only his 5th start. Whitney Mercilus once again is making that contract look like a horrific error or judgment, who was embarrassed by Ben Roethlisberger twice. Once in run blocking and then the 37-year old veteran, beat him to the outside to set up one of two successful 4th down attempts. As the Steelers, aided by the return of David DeCastro won the battle of the trenches and time of possession.
There were some small glimmers of hope, as the pass rush continues to look improved as Charles Omenihu and a rare Carlos Watkins sack got the unit off the field on a number of Steelers drives. Similarly, the ball was spread around with a greater degree of variance throughout the skill positions on the offence, both Will Fuller and Randall Cobb registered their first touchdowns on the year.
This teams plight is firmly on one man, who’s been given the autonomy to win, trusted to make this city’s football team successful but despite that faith, the Texans face a paradoxical situation. They are in severe risk of wasting years of Watson’s prime. A quarterback who took a number of big hit again Sunday and was sacked 5 times.
An 0-3 start has historically, limited a team’s chance of making the play-offs but with an added 7th entry spot in the post season, Bill’s year-seven Texans seemed to have their name written on. Though, if they were to drop to 0-4, that would be something many could digest in the hope of much needed structural change in Houston. It’s been clear from these first three weeks, the team has regressed, which would have seemed impossible considering their quarterbacks talents.
A beleaguered fan-base may somewhere deep down find a level of comfort in Minnesota’s visit to NRG next Sunday. Equally in the sense that they are 0-3, whilst also a loss could perhaps awaken this franchise’s ownership to a view that many have long held about this head-coach.
A teams play-off chances when starting the season 1-2 sits at a modest 24.8%. Though when starting out 0-3, a teams likelihood of playing any knock-out football drops to 2.7%. Many will point to the Texans 0-3 start in 2018 which saw them win 9 games in-a-row. But that run posed the luxury of an amenable schedule and they enjoyed multiple last minute field-goal misses. Since then, the defensive talent have been drained, making a repeat, even less likely. Whichever way you look at it, Houston need to win at Heinz Field or face another season of mediocrity to add to a long list.
The Keys to Sunday’s Game:
Handling The Blitz
The Steelers defence have maintained their menacing presence in 2020, giving up the least rushing yards and a pass-completion rate of only 53%. The method of attack by DC Keith Butler is blatant but has been disproportionately effective, in the opening weeks. Playing with a Blitz rate over 60% has delivered 40 quarterback pressures thus far, a threat the Texans will need to show they can adjust to, if they are to have a realistic chance of winning.
The long held issue for the Texans offence, that even backdates to the 2017 encounter, (with TJ Yates under centre) is the nickel blitz. Corner Mike Hilton, racked up three sacks that night and has posted two already this season. The offence’s ability to manage this threat will hinder on attacking short & intermediate hot routes, to stifle the creativity of the Pittsburgh blitz packages that have notched 10 sacks. Thought that will be a significant ask considering the lack of proficiency shown in recognising such pressures but progress will be required to move the chains consistency on Sunday.
Deshaun and Nick Martin will have to be consistent in identifying the front as getting behind the chains will only amplify the pressure that the Steelers unit brings. In week 1, against the Giants, they continued to stack the box and move around TJ Watt in finding the desired miss-match. This front will provide a true test of the pass protection, for a position group who’ve been the single biggest disappointment through the two weeks, relinquishing pressures too frequently on to their signal caller.
The Steelers 4-3 defence deployed has shown a number of fronts over the first few weeks. The rotation and depth beyond Heyward, Tuit, Dupree and TJ Watt is a source of strength that will stress Deshaun’s trust in this offensive line group, a connection that has not yet yielded the desired stability.
Balancing With Run Game
Running the ball and the David Johnson’s impact will crucial. If the Texans find themselves throwing 35+ pass-attempts, that desperation to move the ball will fall into the Steelers lap. Tim Kelly will need to diverge his focus on running between the guards and stretch the run game to outside zone & misdirection concepts. As the Bronco’s showed last week, racking up 90 yards on 22 attempts.
The likely return of Duke Johnson could be a timely return to help the Houston offence find its feet. This play design from Denver shows a way to attack when the Steelers are in Zone. A perfect play for Duke to execute, which leaves the tight-end wide open.
Finding the Slot Receivers and Tight Ends will be the way to win over the middle. In both opening Steelers games, they sat in either deep cover 1 with Minkah Fitzpatrick or cover 2 deep from the line. So there was numerous crossers and outs, particularly against Vince Williams (98) and Terrell Edmunds (34) who are match-ups Watson should look to take advantage off.
Taking the Shots To Stress The Secondary
As was the question in week one and will ever-present significance this year: can the Texans stress the defence on the outside? Tim Kelly is yet to show any promise as the OC, but watching the Giants and Bronco’s combine for 688 all-purposes-yards, opportunities will present themselves, but will the level of execution rise to take advantage of them.
The answer to the favourable cornerback match-up in week-1 was a resounding no. But a cornerback unit lead by Joe Haden can be exposed by the speed and Cooks, Fuller and Stills (if healthy). Deshaun will need to add this dimension to the passing attack, to spread the field, as this defence flies to the ball and the more they respect the long-ball, the more space it will create.
Finding Pressure Of Their Own
The Texans defence will be able to attack Roethlisberger more freely that they were able to, as the 17-year pro doesn’t have the spry abilities to extend plays with his legs. So Anthony Weaver will be able to dial-up a greater variety of pressures without the nagging thought of losing contain on the edge. The Texans will be required to show further improvements against the run, where Pittsburgh will lean on James Connor after 106 yard in week 2, after Benny Snell’s second fumble in as many games saw his carries drop.
The Steelers do expect to welcome All-Pro-Guard David DeCastro back to right side of the line, after a number of injuries. The Steelers have a continuous linage of lineman, who if they are able to keep a clean pocket, their Quarterback will be able to freely spread the ball to it’s ever growing lineage of receivers. Beyond Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron & James Washington the emergence of former Toldeo wideout Diontae Johnson and Rookie Chase Claypool will provide an able supporting cast to the arm of their quarterback who shows no signs of decline, just yet.
Mixing Coverages & Turning Over the Ball
A surprise highlight has been the defence’s ability under Weaver to play a blend of personnel and coverages. They have been fundamentally sound, limited their biggest play given up to Mark Andrew’s 29 yard catch, on his only reception of the game.
That won’t be enough as the Texans are looking for their first turnover of the season. Partly, down to the run heavy attacks they’ve faced but they will undoubtedly have to turn that boxscore column in their favour if they are to come out with the victory.
A Test of Character
Facing the previous two MVP’s, where the offence failed to reach a functional performance level for sustained periods, hasn’t provided an accurate barometer of the Texans quality. But they are facing a team that saw a re-building Giants and Daniel Jones consistently move the ball against. Just as Denver back-up, Jeff Driskel, threw for 256 yards & two touchdowns in a close fought win five-point win. That included two Denver missed field goals and a safety on special teams.
The broader outlook of this offence after week three will be will become much clearer. Last year, the Texans came in their third game, with a 27-20 win over the Chargers. A week where Watson threw for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns, a repeat of such heights will be required if they are to get their season back on track.
HOUSTON @ PITTSBURGH, HEINZ FIELD, CBS, 12NOON KO (CT)
Railroaded By The Ravens As The Texans Are Found Wanting In Consecutive Weeks.
The Ravens never drifted from their course throughout Sunday’s late afternoon defeat of the Texans, who failed to pose any credible threat to last years top AFC seed. Bar the thanksgiving tie with Detroit, the Texans will be confined to noon kick-off’s and that decision by the broadcasters appears to have beeen a shrewd one.
Week-two resonated in a similar tone to last Thursday, with the overriding sense of distain which was symbolically presented by yet another, Will Fuller hamstring complaint. The perennially injured, muted-star receiver, didn’t register a catch and missed snaps, whilst being worked on by the trainers.
Providing this weeks deep-set despondency, was the turn of the offence, when a regression almost seemed inconceivable. Deshaun and the offence struggled to piece drives together which lead to two unthinkable play-calls form Tim Kelly. Both failed in finding a yard, the third down attempt was followed by calling a series of over-adventurous developing crossers on the resulting 4th. The play-call was changed as Baltimore shrewdly used a time out to adjust personnel. Jackson was then presented with a short-field, who eventually found his fullback in the end zone, Cunningham appeared to be the trailing defender.
The offence stumped up the only touchdown of the day, to make it a 10-7 game. After much clamour for the offence use of the play action, Watson found Cooks for a 38 yard again, prior to the 10 yard TD-pass to Darren Fells. Cooks was one a few bright spots in the Houston offence, as was the announcement of Jordan Atkins as Tight-End one, as Darren Fells saw his snaps decline but still poses value in the red-zone.
After the defence held to another Justin Tucker Field-Goal, who was 4-4 on the day, the path was laid for the offence to compliment the defence’s unexpected solidity. Though the feeling of deja-vu once again unwelcomely found itself, as Keke Coutee added to his string of high-profile fumbles, as the Ravens defence returned it for 6. After gifting two scores, the Texans were confined to another defeat in a home opener. As for Coutee, that moment drew more angst at unfulfilled potential, the former 4th round pick’s release date may hinge on the return of rookie Isaiah Coulter from a neck strain.
Often with Deshaun, hope is a constant, but even his performance just at the whole offence didn’t meet a standard worthy of winning a pro game, far less defeating the 2019 MVP. If there was any doubt, it was then sealed, as Watson delayed his release, Brandon Cooks was jumped by Marcus Peters (who the Texans overlooked in the 2016 draft, due to off field concerns) intercepting the ball to kill another Texans drive. The Texans for all their speed, failed to stretch the field and a missed shot to David Johnson up the sideline was atypical of an absent big-play ability.
Despite this, Houston only found themselves down 10 at the half. After trading field goals, on a pivotal fourth & 1, running back Mark Ingram took the direct snap to the house. The running back subsequently celebrated on the Texans logo in the same way his teammates figuratively handled a weary looking Texans team.
There were some minor positives from the defence. JJ Watt came alive, chipping in with 2 of the four sacks. Charles Omenihu and Zack Cunningham also contributed to tally, in a much improved front from last week. Cunningham again, positioned too high to make the tackle, missed two big stops on third down, when the team need a momentum swing.
The team are definitively carrying passengers on that front seven, Carlos Watkins and Whitney Mercilius continued to be limited in their effectiveness. The latter is looking like a toxic investment, versus paying DJ Reader. There were some flashes in the secondary but just as the offence did with pass protection, the run defence’s damn finally burst in the 4th quarter. Although Weaver’s game plan was again effective, considering the void of talent on the Houston defence.
The ejection of Rookie Ross Blacklock, typified the night, when called for unnecessary roughness, much to the displeasure of JJ Watt’s post match comments. Not that it contributed to the downfall, as his comments may have suggested.
At this stage of the O’Brien era, considering the autonomy given, the capital invested in the offence (at the expense of the defence), to have that output in the first two weeks, should put the Tim Kelly OC era on notice. The Texans were handed the most difficult start to the season imaginable but they have been the masters of their own downfall. Similarly, this should not be the product of a 4th year, $40m quarterback, nor should that be the level of pass protection with the CONSTANT failure to recognise hot routes.
The holes in this Texans roster have been exposed in the first two weeks by the AFC’s elite. The contrast being thag both KC & Baltimore have improved their rosters, whilst OB was allowed to regress his.
It’s perhaps a positive that only 15-thousands fans will be inside NRG stadium for the next Texans home game, for the visit of Minnesota in a fortnight. As filling the stadium based on Sunday would be a tough ask. The down-trodden Texans travel to Pittsburgh this coming week, a task which would pose another factor to only further their current plight.
The Texans week-one disappointment was layered in the various questions that surrounded the, 34-20 loss. Were they prepared? A resounding No. Were they a better team this year? A similar answer. The choice of no tackling in training camp proved detrimental when defending the run. As Kansas City moved the ball with ease, sustaining long drives, they asserted their dominance in the second and third quarters, which effectively ended the contest.
The Ravens, who pose that exact threat this week, due to their unrivalled running game, that in 2019 saw them reach a 14-2 record fuelled by their 3,296 rushing yards. An offence which displayed that with aplomb in Houston’s 41-7 loss, in week 11. The Texans now face a distinct possibility of starting 0-2 against team who have improved for a year ago. Houston’s last win against the Ravens was the injury-forced return of Case Keenum, in the penultimate game of DeAndre Johnson’s Texans career, in 2014.
Though the Ravens have show a formula for defeat in the play offs, as fellow AFC South foes defeated them in their own back yard, in the divisional round. That formula was capitalising on turnovers, taking the lead and forcing a running team to chase the game, that resulting in 4th down stops and fundamentally sound defence, whilst running the ball in the trenches.
There are many questions in need of answers, if the Texans are to have a chance of making something of their treacherous start, handed out by the schedule makers. Though the many reservations that existed in the tie last year, still hold validity, the variance being the Texans depleted defensive talent.
Clean football – O’Brien noted in his press conference that teams not beating themselves was a key factor in week 1. A long held belief by Bill but even a hint of self-destruction in penalties and turnovers then the void between the two teams will only be greater than we saw in week 1.
The Run defence – If the defensive unit cannot show substantial improvement against the run, then this tie is over before it starts. Being Fundamentally sound in gap assignment was something the unit, mostly a four man front, were unable to do against the Chiefs. Setting the edge, ensuring contain will be vital, so not to undo any good work instantaneously if a reverse or QB-keeper leaks to the outside.
Jacksons Improvement as a Passer – It appears from Anthony Weaver’s press conference he plans to stack the box and to stop the run. That in theory is the obvious inclination but they will have to be prepared when the Raven set up in Trips/Bunch formations as they use to scheme open easy completions for Lamar and aid his offences rhythm. Greg Roman does a sterling job, based on the run strength at creating wide-open passes for Jackson, so getting creative with rush will be important as delayed rushes can provide more effective that a spy would against a player so elusive in space.
Play With Pace – O’Brien seemed dismissive of the question that his teams week one offence was slow. It lacked urgency and conviction, but its clear that Watsons rhythm is positively correlated to the up-tempo offence.
If there is to be a Devine interventions today, running the ball to set up Play-Action passes against an aggressive defence is an avenue to attack, in a week where play-calls and creativity will be closely scrutinised and will need to show improvements, versus a week ago.
Dealing with Pressure and Hot Routes – something that the Texans have struggled with in the Deshaun Watson Era. The simple concept of breaking off their routes in to the space left by the blitzer or the zone for an easy completion. The only way to stop the relentless pressure, is to show the savy Matrindale that Watson and the offence can’t handle it and pick up easy gains.
Can they bounce back – Losing games back to back isn’t something that Watson has made a habit of in his career to this point, in Houston. This game, following the Chiefs, was likely to be their worst match up of the season. It’s a game that can change the completion of a season instantaneously, however unlikely on paper it would seem.
The Awaited Return of Football Only Validated The Assertions Of Both Teams On Thursday Night Football
Football’s much anticipated return began in Missouri with the the clash of it’s two highest paid quarterbacks, in front of a limited capacity crowd. A crowd who made themselves heard, in only one of two stadiums where fans will see live action, this weekend.
The fans appeared to voice their displeasure at the stand in solidarity of the two team pre-game, who were opposing racial injustice. A stance that has become synonymous with sports, as players continue to contribute to the cause. The crowds reaction was a pre-cursor to a game that failed to deliver as the spectacle craved by millions. Mahommes and the Chiefs comfortably saw off a Houston team, who after taking the lead, will draw few positives to take into their home opener, next week.
The back-field motions, screens and levelled drag routes that we have seen Mahommes execute masterfully were as ever, on show. Eric Bienemy’s offence will have success against many defences but the addition of Clyde Edwards Hellaire was new dimension to their attack. The former LSU stand-out followed up his breakout season in Louisiana with a 138-rushing yards, displaying his ability to run inside zone as he did in the SEC. His elusiveness and patience was aided by the addition of left-guard, Kelechi Osemele who’s 330lbs frame gave the Texans interior problems and added an element of steel to the KC line compared to a year ago.
The Texans defence under Anthony Weaver mixed up coverage looks, which Mahomes wasn’t expecting and held him to the third lowest yards per attempt to date and was scoreless in the first quarter. But as the game continued the Chiefs grew offensively and the Texans departed from any realms of potency. The Chiefs offence appear to now pose a more daunting task, that the one that won them Superbowl 54, back in February. Mahomes stated post-game “we have confidence in every single person in that huddle” and justifiably so.
The potential balance of the Chiefs will require the AFC to take note. Next they face a sterner test in the LA Chargers defence which will give a more accurate barometer of how potent the reigning champions attack appeared to be. An attack who easily sustained long drives through their varied approach in scheming open their array of skill players. It will be a hard task for any team to hang with their free scoring ability. Particularly, if their defensive front continue to win on the line of scrimmage. As the unit, lead by Chris Jones, who contributed 1.5 sacks on the night and asserted his will on right-guard Zack Fulton. As the Houston front made too many mental errors in their blocking assignments.
After taking the lead, it provided a reminder to all that David Johnson isn’t finished yet. and Johnston looked in great shape, where his lethal one cut ability and pass catching versatility gave the Texans 109-yards on the night. But the key question, in the absence of Breshad Breeland, could Watson and his cast of receivers take advantage of the inexperienced Chiefs corners? Fuller, who had 112 yards on the night, form 8 receptions, dropped a key pass on the first drive. The rookie Louisiana Tech Corner L’Jarius Sneed had a night to remember, on his debut performance. The fourth round pick broke up that pass early, when he was a target for the Houston offence and he later picked off a ball that sailed after Watson’ arm was struck mid-throw by Tyran Mathieu.
That moment, mid-third quarter, was the end of Houston’s hopes, on a night where they failed to build any offensive momentum. On another night the Texans would have had three interceptions, two were ruled out by flags, the first of which was a key point at the end of the half. Houston kicker, Kiami Fairburn, missed a field goal attempt and then despite only have 25 seconds on the clock, aided by a Horse Collar penalty on Zack Cunningham, the Chiefs duly marched down the field and tacked on three, from the foot of Butker.
That 6 point swing was then compounded, on the first drive of the second half, Edwards-Helaire notched his first touchdown as pro, where again the Houston front was exposed and some abject tackling saw Kansas City put up 31 unanswered point. A story line all too familiar for Houston, in Arrowhead Stadium, who did little to banish the nightmare of that blown 24-point lead in January.
Deshaun Watson and the Texans offence, play called by Tim Kelly for the first time, will need to use the extended break to understand how they can start faster and execute with greater fluidity. The view of many this off season was that Watson and Co.’s attempts may be in vein, if their porous defence doesn’t find a way to shore up its holes. A view that held substantial validity last night. Another acid test awaits next week with the visit of Baltimore.
O’Brien summed it up in post match presser stating “there’s a lot of things to fix” and he certainly has work ahead of him as the Chiefs made light work of his Houston team in a rather imperious manner, without getting into third gear. Andy Reid’s comments were casual in the same manner as his teams performance. “Let’s keep rolling” and it would seem it will take a sizeable effort that only a few teams may pose, in order to hault their quest for a successive championship this season
Even if the Texans can emerge with a victory on Thursday night, then justifiably questions may linger: Can they deliver in the post-season? Can they improve their regular season record? Can they put up more points every week? A tumultuous off-season has lead to many having reservations about this Deshaun Watson lead offence, that is striving for consistency to better their 15th passing and 9th rushing ranking from 2019.
Ultimately, Houston’s fortunes start and end with number 4. Watson was the recipient of a deal worthy of his potential, character and highlight performances. Thought it’s reasonable to question, when considering Watson’s 41 career appearances, have the lows have been too frequent? However, considering at 24, the former Clemson Tiger has everything ahead of him, entering year-four as a pro.
The Texans have not capitalised on Deshaun’s rookie deal to build up quality around him. That window seems to be fading as his new contract will consume a great proportion of the salary cap with each year. The bi-product is a thiner roster composition in term of overall talent, with less dollars to share around and an over reliance on the draft.
It’s without doubt time to rejoice that he is now secured until 2025 and his main task is to find answers to why the Texans offence in 2019 was so inconsistent. The highs of Atlanta, Kansas City and New England were duly eradicated by the forgettable performances of Carolina, Denver and Jacksonville. Hence the train of thought to have a more varied passing game which is less predictable.
Reviewing the foundational questions in understanding if these changes can turn the Houston offence into the powerhouse it will be required to be:
Can they run the ball?
In the O’Brien era the Texans have perennially mismanaged running backs, look no further than Lamar Miller. A lead back, that fits their responsibilities has been absent since Arian Foster. The undoubted pinnacle was last years one-thousand yard season from Carlos Hyde, who rejected a contract from Houston, then subsequently ended up taking less money and years with Seattle.
The acquisition of David Johnson( proportionate trade value aside) has potential to be a sizeable part of the offence, if healthy. The shape Johnson has reported in camp has drawn universal awe and poses an aura of man, who’s out to prove a point. If David can show that lethal one cut ability in zone concepts effectively, it could be the perfect compliment to the passing game. Furthermore his route running ability should provide a greater level of versatility than Carlos Hyde who was not a threat when flexed out of the backfield.
After trading a compensatory third-round-pick for Duke Johnson last year, he was lethal when given the ball averaging 6.5 yards per possession. Duke was under-utilised in terms of targets, despite contributing 820yards and 5TD’s on the year. Simply, the more Duke has the ball in his hands, things will happen for this offence. Providing a punishing matchup for linebackers when receiving the ball out of the backfield, the all time Miami U. leading rusher can equally contribute in the rush attack.
Lining up in 20-personnel looks could give the offence a significant advantage against linebackers challenged for lateral quickness and create a range of possibilities for Tim Kelly. Having two pass-catching backs on the roster could prove a valuable wrinkle and adjustment in games where the run is being stifled.
Can the Line Take the Step Required?
The eventual starting five offensive-linemen of 2019 are set to return, so by inference, their play should benefit from greater level of cohesion. The more consecutive games that Tunsil, Sharping, Martin, Fulton and Howard are healthy, then that is be positive for the pass protection.
The necessary growth must come from the run game. Thought this off-season hasn’t provided conditions to further that ambition, it’s something that no team will truly gauge until the midst of week-one. Tytus Howard showed year-one flashes and his loss to injury at Right-Tackle was seismic. Howard’s proficiency in the run game was in contrast to that of Max Sharping, who needs to translate his 327lb mass into power, to move bodies in the run game. Year 2 is still too early to make an appropriate judgment on a lineman’s NFL credentials, but the franchise did a notable job in selecting both in the 2019 draft class.
The player best placed to improve, is already the most talented, in Laremy Tunsil, who agreed a $66million three-year extension early in the off-season. By having more than a week to acclimatise, will aid in reducing the false start penalties that plagued the former Ole Miss Rebel. The contract showed the Texans value him as the best lineman in the game, so Tunsil has to now to repay that faith but few would doubt that feat is beyond his grasp.
This unit is tasked with providing the the foundation for Watson, who will take his share of sacks due to his hell-bent focus on keeping plays alive. But by giving 2-4 seconds, in a clean pocket, will allow plays to develop and help in utilising the deep threats now on this roster.
What does Speed leave behind?
Will Fuller’s variable health record has created unmanageable fluctuations in offensive output in previous seasons. Fuller’s elite ability to stretch the field coupled with Watsons deep ball accuracy was a component, that this scheme floundered without. Yet with he introduction of Brandin Cooks to pair with Fuller, the Texans now pose two elite deep threats. This will force the respect of the coverage and engender a choice to be made on how defence will attempt to cover the duo.
The Texans receiver group is the deepest in franchise history. This passing attack will have to be the strength of the team, unequivocally to the point that it’s the reason they win games. Not forgetting Kenny Stills who had a knack for big plays, extending drives and contributing scores when needed. The former ‘Sooner finished in the top-five receivers yards-per-reception, in his first year in Houston.
Albeit, he was given a questionable contract for a player at the latter end of their career, Randall Cobb should bring veteran nous and the understand the required to navigate over the middle of the field. Something that has been previously missing for Watson in the short and intermediate game. The ability to understand when additional pressures are coming from other levels of the defence and cutting routes short to provide simple completions should come from Cobb’s wealth of knowledge.
Along with Cobb operating in the slot, Keke Coutee remains being a complete unknown, if he’s able to show mental maturation in year three and be consistent in assignments, it would add significant depth. But looking at the collective wide-receiver room, there isn’t a clear towering presence that can be targeted to win possession catches. Hence the Tight End’s value in the passing game will be greater than in years prior. Particularly if the speed of the receivers can regularly stretch the coverage and provide winnable match up’s, closer to the line of scrimmage.
Fells even at 34 years-young was a valuable red-zone outlet for Watson, chipping in with 7 TD’s last year. The former basketball-pro was heavily relied up as the primary Y but faded in terms of blocking down the stretch. So an improved rotation of the three players will be key. The unknown is Kahle Warring, in year-two, who poses a figure to fill the role as primary blocker. The 86th overall pick in the 2019 draft is yet to make his competitive debut but is thought as the perfect hybrid between Fells and Joran Atkins.
Going into his third year, Atkins has the ability of the most accomplish route runner and pass catcher off the trio. Watson often overlooked Atkins who’s athleticism allows him to regularly get open against safeties and backers. The Texans have the ability to line up in 12 & 13 personnel groupings, adding a number wrinkles to their passing game on what are traditionally viewed as running formations.
What Are The Logical expectations for This offence?
Tim Kelly, must feel a sense of gratitude, considering the skill players and quarterback at his disposal. The additional time and planning he’s been able to add, was pin-pointed by Watson as an important step in game planning. His creativity and nous will be tested early considering they defences faced in the early weeks. But Kelly has a real chance to show that the off-season decisions made were in the best interest of the offence that finished 14th last year in points.
Deshaun’s potential has heights that he is yet to reach and this offence seems placed to assist in that growth. His improvement points were covered in the Saxtrax Project, this offseason.
The questions of supporting cast will be duly answered but as in the case of every team, they are only as great as their quarterback can make them. Just how great Watson will become is a journey, which continues Thursday night, on his quest to become “legendary”.
After this weekend’s roster cut down the Texans 53-man squad now prepares to face the reigning Super Bowl champs, on Thursday Night Football. The Texans will have to rise to the occasion, just as they did during the regular season slate, at Arrowhead Stadium. The game poses a chance to banish the memories of the blown 24-point lead, in that very stadium back in January, at the first chance of asking.
That collapse was attributed to an ailing defence who appeared toothless against the Mahomes & Kelce lead attack of the Chiefs. With a new co-ordinator at the helm, can this unit improve on last years showing which left them in the bottom 6 teams in yards, points, pressures and hurries? Undoubtedly, the talent has been allowed to age & eroded whilst the focus turns to arming Watson’s offence. Though if this team is to be successful in 2020, the defence cannot not lose games as they did in New Orleans and not protect the lead with only 37-seconds left.
The Key questions that lay heavily on this 2020 defence:
Can They Stop The Run?
Last years run defence saw Houston drop from 3rd best to the 7th worst, a further decline isn’t palatable but is a distinct possibility. The loss of DJ Reader, accounted for 22 tackles and 2 run stuffs in 2019. Though his numbers didn’t necessarily warrant the market resetting deal for a nose guard, handed out by Cincinnati but his presence consumed multiple blockers and offered some rush. The loss of Reader’s posture will be determined how well Brandon Dunn can fulfil that role. Dunn was rewarded with a new contract and he will have to find a new level in holding up the A-Gaps. The Texans are set to continue their migration to preferring a four man front, as a base look under Weaver.
The biggest stand out from the rookie class is Ross Blacklock, who’s speed at 290lbs, will be an asset required to contribute early. The release of Angelo Balckston shows the faith held by coaching staff in the former TCU standout. Who will be required to translate his first-step agility into consistent play-making. His snap count will grow, if the Houston native can contribute on passing downs as 2i or 3-technique creating any form of central-pocket pressure. The Texans have seldom posed a lineman with that unique skill set and realising that that potential would create an entirely new complexion to the rush. Expectations should be tempered due to the lack of pre-season live action, that will test all rookie players.
This defensive unit, for 1st year play-caller, Anthony Weaver, doesn’t appear to have the luxury of surviving when not holding up against the run, based on the raw talent. Weaver’s system appears to have some subtle differences in gap-responsibilities and how the linemen are asked to attack. A wildcard addition could be PJ Hall, the former second round pick and Sam Houston State grad, has a chance to re-build his career in Texas, once more.
Consistently Creating a Pass Rush?
The obvious answer lies in J.J. Watt’s health and if he can remain on the field, at this stage of his career. His use as a situational rusher on passing-downs, as per the play offs may have to become a necessity. As the previous reluctancy to remove him from the field, contributed to his raft of injuries. Watt has spoken about his level of health being akin to the 2015 version, another year removed from a serious injury, which should see his influence rise. His 2019 week-one performance against Ryan Ramzcyk was notably quiet, so a fresher, impactful version of the former x3 defensive MVP is beyond imperative.
Over the extended off-season, Jacob Martin has added 20lbs of muscle mass in order to quell doubts as a run defender. But Martin’s speed and athleticism is clear, his contribution in terms of pressure off the edge, will be a crucial from Outside Linebacker. Acquired as part of the Clowney trade to Seattle, only days before the season, further acclimation to the playbook will serve him well. As Martin grew into his role in 2019, despite only playing 20% of snaps, he racked up 3.5 sacks over a 3 game span. His ability to bend around tackles, is rare at his speed, weekly contributions is now the benchmark for the former Temple product.
Charles Omenihu felt wronged after slipping to the 5th round in the 2019 draft. Despite being the former Big 12 defensive player of the year, his inconsistencies showed in the trenches. At times there were flashes of an accomplished veteran and in others he looked like a rookie finding his way. Charles’ arm length and agility are prototypical metics of the defensive lineman and the signs of piecing it together may well be there after O’Brien described him as “a different player in year 2”. If the UT alumni can continuously use his size to leverage as an inside rusher – the front seven has a chance of being serviceable.
If the unit is to improve from the 4th least in QB pressures, then they will need to be reliant on players beyond Whintey Mercilus and Watt’s latter years. The addition of a pass rush as a reliable factor could be just enough to help out the secondary, in coverage.
Can the Pass Coverage Improve?
The perenial issues of pass coverage is one that the Texans will look at with considerable uncertainty. The carry over of personnel will be a benefit to communication but talent levels are still a doubt. As the unit began the 2019 season with 8 new faces, which based on their opponents success in point & air yardage was telling. Poor communication led to the Texans yielding 32 touchdown passes, which tied for the fifth-most league-wide. This group also allowed the eighth-most EPA per pass play and the league’s 10th-highest passer rating (PFF.com).
Bradley Roby, inked a new 3 year, $31.5m contract to be the Texans number one corner. Roby was playing into perhaps an even bigger deal prior to missing time post a hamstring injury in wk6. More performances of the New England primetime level will be required to fulfil that role. Roby can play on the parameter and in the slot, where he lines up week-to-week may vary but his impact on stalling opposition receivers will need to be unwavering. His admirable record against Tyreek Hill will be put to the test on Thursday Night Football.
The Texans first choice cornerbacks, in nickel formation, will be Roby, paired alongside Gareon Conley and Lonnie Johnson. The concept of acquiring former first round picks in the secondary will need to pay-off in 2020. Mid-season when the unit was injury stricken, the Texans traded a third round pick for Conley, who flashed particularly in the Buffalo, Wild Card Round. The former Ohio State man is dealing with off-season ankle surgery, which has halted his training camp preparations thus his likely impact early this year.
Therefore Lonnie Johnson may have a baptism of fire in year-two with Kansas City & Baltimore in as many weeks. The former one-year Kentucky corner has been working to hone his technique to support his 6-2, 219lbs frame. So there is some clear upside to the 2nd round pick form 2019, after a turbulent rookie campaign. Lonnie poses the ability to play as a sub-backer/safety role, should the match up required it but necessity may move him to predominately on the outside.
The Texans inability to cover Tight End’s and the over the middle, in the passing game continues to be an unaddressed achilles heel. The health of linebacker Dylan Cole is an essential factor, coupled with the investment in 4th Round Pick John Reid who was described by Weaver as a “5-Year-Vet.” Reid will likely take snaps away from 1st round re-tread Vernon Hargreaves, who was also a mid-season pick-up after being released from Tampa.
Safety In Numbers?
The theme of uncertainly and questionable optimism is a constant one, personified by the most notable unknown in this team – the safety position. The decisions to move on from Kareem Jackson and Tyran Mathieu looms with an ever-present air. Justin Reid, if fully healthy, has the potential of achieving a Pro-Bowl nod but beyond him, is where the concern lies.
The surprise contract of the off-season was unequivocally the 3-year $18million deal given to Eric Murray, who figures to be the starter alongside Justin Reid. Consider the role of a full-time starter is something missing from his record. Going into year 5 as a pro, post three seasons with the Kansas City and a single year with Cleveland. There are limited flashes from his film but the exact role carved out for Murray is watching brief for many.
With the only other listed player being long-time special teams ace Michael Thomas, that now signifies the emergence of A.J. Moore as the tertiary safety. The former Ole Miss product who was released by New England in 2018, has been a training camp stand out. He was giving some blitzing roles later in the year after over coming concussion issues which stemmed his year two progress. Many are high on Moore but once more the team are relying on an inexperienced player to play a significant role.
What Are Realistic Expectations for this Defence?
The Texans after extending Zach Cunningham to a 4-year, $14.5m deal this will inevitably be the last season Zach and Mckinney get to pair up at inside linebacker. Considering that notion, further weakening of talent is perhaps just around the corner. However, this 2020 vintage of the defence will need to stay healthy, understanding their assignments and hope a number of players play their best ball to date.
This unit will need to show previously unrivalled dependability in their assignments and technique fundamentals if they are to improve on last years, below par standings. If that all happens, then theres a slender chance this defence will not be the hinderance, that many expect it to be.
There have been a plethora of quotes have emitted on the varying ways Weaver’s scheme will attempt to unhinge offence’s timings. Just how creative he will be, could be the saving grace of a unit, who has limited choice but to improve if they Texans are to get closer to their goals.