Separating The Narrative from Reality

A Media Punchbag Providing A Straightforward Rhetoric But Does The Off-Season Condemnation Hold Any Validity?
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Those of a Texans persuasion are well versed in national media shun, after enduring it for two decades, the sample is enough to make that assertion. The exception being the 2012 season where Houston were regarded as potential contenders, namely for the balance they posed. What then transpired was a far cry from the predicted success that was defiantly proclaimed. But there is often limited revision of said predictions regardless of their accuracy.

Though there can be limited argument, the new league year began abruptly for the Texans, as Bill O’Brien’s trades were again at the centre of media consternation. As many disagreed with the teams “bold” moves made to re-engineer their offensive approach.The wider media across this off-season has lined up, to continually malign them and their chances in 2020.

But after a number of “blockbuster trades” becoming more common, the league dynamics have formed a new equilibrium. This considered, how does this alter the view of O’Brien? When applying the required pragmatism to fairly asses, rather than a defiant continuation of the immediate commentary. Time is often a procreator of perspective, as the intensity of scrutiny have now lessened, we review the era-defining moves that have seen the Boston native become vilified by many.

O’Briens Dual Role & Title:

O’Briens role of head coach/general manager hybrid, which is not uncommon in practice, is often pointed out. However, Andy Reid, Pete Carrol and Bill Bilichick, to name a few, enjoy similar autonomy. Albeit, the role or title is more subtle but in reality, the decision making is the same.

As with any team, there’s a consensus of leaders making strategic calls but there is a prominent individual who can put their foot down when deemed necessary. O’Brien relies on Matt Bazargin, James Lipfert & Jack Easterby in their respective roles, just as those aforementioned head coaches do within their own networks. Having a dual title is untraditional in a broader sense but taking a fresh approach for a team starved of any genuine success can be at least admired for attempting something new.

The Jadeveon Clowney Trade to Seattle for a 3rd & Players:

The JD Clowney situation was inherited from the departed, former-GM, Brian Gaine. The Texans and O’Brien wanted to extend Clowney. He was ill-advised with hindsight, by his agent to reject an $18.4million APY deal. After being traded to Seattle, Clowney didn’t do enough to command the money his camp believe he’s worth. Now, with a little more than 6 weeks until competitive action in 2020, he remains without a team. Health concerns, in the absence of being able to carry out medicals & salary demands being central, rather than talent.

However, the Texans have converted that trade into a promising, situational speed-rusher in Jacob Martin. The third round pick received was traded to the Raiders for Gareon Conley. Conley’s fifth year option wasn’t exercised but is placed to be a starting Cornerback. Many are high on the former first round pick and Conley has chance to earn a new deal after flashing late last season, once he acclimated to his new team’s system.

The LT Trade From Miami

In acquiring Laremy Tunsil, the Texans gave up two firsts and a second round pick in exchange for Tunsil, Kenny Stills and a 4th, which seemed reasonably rich, at that time. However considering the number of quality left tackles out-weigh the equivalent number of quarterbacks, it puts that compensation package in perspective.

Also considering the subsequent trades for foundational-type players such as Jalen Ramey and Jamal Adams has now brought that level draft compensation into the norm. O’Brien was going against the grain in an environment of GM’s who approach is one of caution, in comparison to other sports. These type of moves are only justifiable for teams that have a franchise passer in-tow. A premise that requires a mind-set shift, to see the from a front office perspective.

The theory of trading draft picks, which are lottery tickets to potential, in return for certified players of talent, is incongruous to traditional philosophy. As the shield’s propaganda machine wants fans to view the draft as the epitome of roster building. It plays its part but not the only means of fielding a competitive team. As the reality remains, unless you’re picking in the top 15 picks, the likelihood of landing a team defining talent is limited, at best. As would have Houston, likely picking in the mid-to-late twenty’s, received the same level of clamour, if they missed on the talent evaluation in back-to-back drafts?

Ultimately, the Texans were able to lock up a blindside protector for Watson, who instantaneously gave improvement on offence. Relying entirely on the draft would have carried substantial risk to both the team and Watson.

D-Hop Trade for a 2nd to Arizona

The trade of Deandre Hopkins was one that, with some validity, raised eyebrows this off season. But as many now take the lens of living the game via: How many points Deandre score for ‘Groundskeeper Willie’s Secret Allotment’, in a fantasy football league whilst only consuming red-zone highlights. Rather than being aware of what’s actually occurring on the field, within context of the ebb’s and flow over the 4 quarters, in a 16 game season. As all player can have a great YouTube reel, but a successful pro-offence needs an array of components to align, with far more complexity than some may care to consider.

As anyone who actually watched the Texans last year would tell you, Hopkins failed to consistently gain separation on the boundary. This resulted in Deandre, lining up in the slot, as a means of getting open. Hopkins effectiveness was limited without the field stretching ability of Will Fuller. Wide-Receiver is one of a few positions where stats actually matter and last year was Hopkins worst, in terms of production since his rookie year.

The Texans offence was at times predictable, too many stalled drives and over a third of targets being channeled through one player, isn’t healthy. Watson would have a perilous habit of locking on to his favourite receiver, therefore impeding his read progression and field vision. Added to the his limited amount of practice time hindered Watson’s development, thus the offence’s fluidity.

Though Deandre’s raw talent as pure possession receiver was enough to overcome and still deliver quality displays on a Sunday. No one can doubt Hopkins catch radius but as a longer term fit for the Texans, in the context of his contract re-negation demands, there was an opportunity to make a change.

As the fact remains, that only two years into a five-year-deal Hopkins was asking for a raise. These contract demands, within the inner league circles, lead to a counter-intuitive situation where a top-3 receivers trade value was limited. The Ravens and Eagles have both been publicly credited with stepping back upon learning of the “Julio Jones-type” contact demands. These stipulations were such that the Texans couldn’t feasibly manage either, nor could they set a precedent to re-work a deal with thee years remaining.

Additionally, consider the interpretation of a Wide-Receivers positional value is increasingly weighted to their ability to stretch the field. A skill that Hopkins doesn’t posses. In a copycat league, the Chiefs are reigning champions with a track-team on the outside. Henry Ruggs was the first receiver selected in this years draft, due to having that exact elite trait. There are thinly woven lines to this story that are continuously overlooked.

The 40th overall pick was arguably an under evaluation of the departing talent, just as the over evaluation of of David Johnson, based on his sizeable deal for a position few are willing to pay. The new CBA which would a have meant Hopkins would be foolish to hold out, so perhaps more suitable tactic would have been to hold for the right offer, that could have yielded a more proportionate value.

Only Wins Will Derive A Change

From a far, much of O’Briens dealings could appear reckless, heavy handed and single minded. Those would be fair in certain instances but considering all factors, the universal level of criticism doesn’t equate to the reality of impacts that we have or could feasibly see, considering the alternatives. 

Credit: Kevin Jairaj

The Texans have faced a self-imposed ceiling by definition of its limited success in the play-off’s. But when an unsuccessful strategy also reaches equal criticism when attempting to re-engineer it, there’s a clear bias against O’Brien, who cannot win in the eyes of many.

The only way Bill and his team, lead by a Quarterback of untold potential, will change the narrative – is by winning. Perception is reality in many corporate settings where people are eager for convenient or simple truths. The NFL is no different. Navigating the 2020 season with any type of success, considering the macro factors at play, will require credit no matter how many people are reluctant to pay it.

Predicting the Unpredictable – A Truly Unique Prospects Awaits Us All – The 2020 Season

Laced with a myriad variables and novel dynamics, the worlds most unpredictable sport has been thrown into chaos and it doesn’t seem overly sure how manage it. The Texans players are reporting into the building, rookies have finally been paid their signing bonus after the forced and prolonged off-season. So football should be right round the corner but for so many reasons, it doesn’t feel all that close.

The league has maintained steadfast in ‘finding a way’ to start on time. It suggested that over $75million have been spent on testing and contact tracing. Each team has a larger number of employees, playing and non-playing to consider, in comparison to rival sports. Football also plays a far greater role to ensure safety of those connected to the game but they are also central in delivering a sense of normality to millions globally.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Soft tissue strains and concussion won’t be the only concern of Goeff Kaplan’s team this season. How the team manages the inevitable situation of players and coaching staff contracting corona virus, will shape the teams fortunes. But the biggest test of the players professionalism and commitment will be: how disciplined will they be when away from the facility? The KC Guard, Duvernay-Tardif & Patriots Tackle Marcus Cannon have both chosen to opt out. It’s more than feasible that a Texans players with underlying health constraints may do the same.

When the Watson and co. take the field to a c.20% capacity crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, September 10th, there will continue to be a lingering fear. As the season may come grinding to halt, just as the world did this March. Although, if the season is to run its proposed course, Houston’s road games have a new complexion, as home field advantage is less relevant. The games in Missouri, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Thanksgiving-Day crowd in Detroit, are now more limited in the equation of finding road wins.

The lack of mini-camps & OTA’s factor cannot be underestimated. They will likely all but reduce, if not remove, the impact of rookies as it pertains to winning games. The Texans seemed to be already prepping for this with only five draftees this year. O’Brien was quick to call this a “veteran year” and that reality seems to be shaping up to be undeniably true. In the absence of pre-season games, teams may have no choice.

The limited off-season will reduce teams abilities to install new systems, concepts or even find new players. The already slender preparation time, the removal pre-season games will reduce chances for un-drafted-free-agents to make the roster, a consistent source of talent. The quality of execution in plays, across all three phases and tackling will fall, below normal standards and with limited opportunity to correct. The opening weeks may be far less predicable than once thought, which for the Texans considering they face Kansas City and Baltimore in the first two weeks, is a positive notion.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Even in a best case scenario, it probable that star players will miss games or position-coaches will be calling plays due to the isolation protocol. A reduced and revised schedule is not out of the question either, thought all will be dependant on state governance. But this 2020 season will be distinct departure from the product that season ticket holders and networks are currently paying for.

As the resulting economic impacts continue to unravel, the Texans will have to adjust their spending accordingly, a less than ideal scenario, for a team about to extend it’s Quarterback. Particularly, if the 2021 cap falls to reported $175m level, multiple players could be released and contracts re-negotiated to fit under that cap. One study shows income across its game day revenue streams, NRG stadium totals over $300million. A gap in immediate cash flow at a time when operating expenses are rising, isn’t what owners are accustomed to or will be willing to accept.

The reality of the league exists to extract you from your money. They are clinically astute at doing it and will have to be even more so in this coming seasons. The appetite for legislature across states may see a favourable shift towards fan’s access to gambling. As those dollars will need to find a way back out of your pockets into the shield’s coffers. It’s not in anyones interest for the leagues income or value to erode but just as the 2020 seasons playing landscape changes, so may team means of income.

Not having football in Houston for five-years is still a sore point for many. Tailgating and game-day traditions are Texans Football, every bit as much as what happens between the lines. So the relegation to your arm chair, will grossly sanitise the energy of a Sunday but for now, it’s the only way, if live action is to be a possibility.

The Texans 2020 Schedule Shapes A Path Amongst The Uncertainty

The Schedule Release Serves A Timely Reminder of this Team’s Challenges – Both On And Off The Field.

At six-thirty central, Thursday, the Texans schedule was revealed upon the click of Marc Vandermeer & John Harris, to present the much anticipated release. To their credit, both provided a refreshing live Texans-lead perspective compared to previous years disseminations. This was ahead of the three hour long, NFL Network hand-holding and ‘hot take-ry’ session.

The obvious uncertainty of when, how many and where these games will be played, remain valid questions that will continue to orbit. The “show must go on” mantra has been the NFL’s approach to date but it remains to be seen how smoothly the season unfolds for teams and administers. Although they have previously coped with localised disasters, never a nationwide public safety issue.

There were a few startling outliers:

The first two opponents

The strength of the initial seven game stretch

Playing two games in five days

The Late Season onslaught of divisional games

Only one solitary prime time appearance

Prime Time By A Fifth

The Texans seem to being facing into broadcast exclusion with only one true prime time slot, from a possible five and repeat of eight years ago, in Detroit, on Thanksgiving.

Deshaun Watson, in year four, would appear a perfect lead for network executives, or even a cheesy battle of the Watt brothers. But Houston will travel to Pittsburgh in a bland noon kick-off in week three, just as the Quarterback match up’s with Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were deemed not fit to top the bill that week.

Typically Houston would receive a token divisional Thursday or Monday night game. This will be the Texans first season without MNF since 2016 and the least nationally televised games since 2011.

Business End of the Schedule

The AFC South, as a whole, received the cold shoulder, Tennessee have two prime time slots, one of which is against Indianapolis, the Colts only appearance. A possible indictment – of Phillip Rivers ability to change their fortunes or Ryan Tannehill’s ability to continue last years rare form – may be showing from inner league circles.

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

The late season inter-divisional games will largely shape the division. The much lauded potential of Phillip Rivers’ familiarity of Frank Reich system will be realised over weeks 13 and weeks 15. The latter tie, could become part of the newly accustomed ‘Texans Saturday’ showing, if flexed. The season finale for a second year in a row, will see the Titans will enter NRG stadium with potential playoff implications. The Texans ability to still in contention by that point, could be feasibly in doubt. As how they negotiate through some key stretches will determine if these games are indeed to be of material consequence.

Home Field Advantage & Key Stretches 

The Texans have not let their home record necessarily be their strength in recent years that have left a sense of under achievement when reflecting on that record. That luxury won’t simply be afforded to O’Brien and his team this season.

The Texans will need to show some of their big-game presence they refreshingly unearthed last season but also will need to refine their 12-noon sluggish starts. As a minimum of 13 games will be noon kick-off’s, but there are come clear pinch-points that will underpin their 2020 record:

Soft Landing Before the bye week:
At Tennessee in Week 6, Followed by week 7 visit of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Reaching the bye with any less than 4 wins may not be a viable option for a team with post season aspirations.
A Make or Break Run Coming out of the Bye

Houston are at Jacksonville week 9, followed by week 10 trip to Cleveland before the visit of the Tom Brady-less Patriots. Then with only three days to rest, the early Thanksgiving tie in Detroit will likely be a watermark for Houstons 2020 record. Leaving that stretch with less than three wins may have already set their fate in motion.

Making NRG an intimidating place to play once more

Winning Back-To-Back – Weeks 4 & 5 followed by 16 & 17 will be strategically placed games against Minnesota, Jacksonville, Cincinnati & Tennessee respectively. Houston will need to yield a minimum of three victories considering the opponents faced. And most importantly building momentum with their own fans, via positive home-field performances.

Facing a Couple Rude Awakenings

Facing the last two years MVP quarterbacks in a matter of weeks.
Game 1 @ Kansas City Chiefs – Thursday Night Football – Season Opener
Game 2 – Baltimore Ravens – Late Afternoon Slot

Opening the season, the Texans will watch former Safety Tyrann Mathieu and his star quarterback collect their championship rings, in front of the NBC crewe. There has to be a concern of exposure due to the occasion that will be perhaps one of the most watched games of the year. As it will provide a return to normalcy, not dissimilar to the resumption of the league post the 9/11 week break. So the Texans will need to be ready in a shortened off-season program, two days earlier than 30 other teams and rise to the occasion, hoping the Chiefs haven’t quite worked off that hangover from February. This game has the potential to set the teams trajectory against the reigning SuperBowl champs.

That trip to Arrowhead in many ways, poses a more favourable match-up than the Texans will face in the following two weeks. The Texans are built to attack that type of Chiefs defence and even more favourably with their acquirement of further offensive speed. As will often be the case, if they can gain some intermediary level of defensive inception on the field, it could create conditions for this team to win. But the offence will again be required to carry the bulk of the load. This formula will likely come unstuck against top tier defences like Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Considering the opposition and two road trips to kick-off 2020 Houston face the prospect of five play-off teams in their opening seven games. Even the grandest of Pro-Houston optimists would struggle not to be concerned with where the record will be after seven games.

Defining the O’Brien Era

The Texans face a schedule that posses a propensity to arrive back of in common realms of 9-7. But based on the moves made, future drafts leveraged, beloved players exported, there’s no other feasible expectations than reaching the AFC Championship game. Failing to do so, will incite the many baying for change.

Signs would point towards a climacteric year for all those concerned. Either way, it would seem, whatever side of the fence you sit, you could be one step closer to your wish. 

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Post Draft Review: Texans Are Staring into the Off-Season Abyss

A Quality over Quantity Approach in 2020

One week removed from the most anticipated draft in living memory, the tremors continue in the absence of any live sport. As the first live event in two months, the already glitzy administrative event was going to have even greater fallout than the typical exaggerated media conclusions. 

Most Are Down On The Texans ‘Winning the Offseason’

Prior to the newly acquired players even taking a snap, the ‘draft-nicks’ disseminate their resulting team grades. A resounding scale is applied to multiple three-year talent projections, which in turn heavily shapes the general opinion. If these grades were to mirror reality, then the Texans were adjudged to have an unsuccessful weekend. Possessing only five picks, the Texans had already attempted to leverage this and next years draft into the ’19 & ’20 seasons. Therefore, those investments will need to yield a positive return on the field and manifest a significant win total. But we are some time away from those days of definitive judgement, that will reveal a startling reality this winter.

The questions that no one can truly answer, in this current state of flux: Did this team get better and are they positioned to win? Based on those who control the betting odds, it would pose a consensus of negativity. As the Texans are ranked in the 18th-21st position range, somewhat lower in comparison to recent seasons. 

The external confidence is low on Houston’s 2020 chances despite the ever present Watson-Factor. It’s not overly difficult to see where the potential structural flaws lie. A poor pass-defence that was already in the bottom third of units across the league, has been limited on positive additions. Further, trading their most prominent playmaker, whilst implementing a new mould of their offence amongst a reduced off-season programme, will limit reasonable expectations. But there’s always the draft to revise a rosters composition.

The Draft Class of 2020

After being accustomed to off-kilter moves, there was little to ponder in angst upon the draft concluding. Despite rumours of trading into the first round, only a flare up of O’Brien’s infamous temper found its way on to the ESPN broadcast, displaying his typical assertive style. Based on various reports, it would seem Detroit were the protagonists but quite what transpired we will never quite know, beyond a failed trade back from their third round pick. 

Sep 21, 2019; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Jonathan Greenard (58) rushes as Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Marcus Tatum (68) blocks during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of that trade, with 90th pick Houston selected Jonathan Greenard, the Florida Gators Edge rusher, who presents an intriguing schematic fit and skill set. ‘The more you can do’ is often the mantra set to rookies, in order to make the final 53-man roster. Greenard certainly fits that and is able to play at multiple spots across the defensive front. It’s clear that he has a knack for finding the ball – that’s not always as common as you’d think and it translates to production: three pass-break-ups, an interception and three force fumbles. Added to his all SEC-Team honours where he notched 15.5 TFL’s and 9.5 sacks in 12 games. His frame and rushing ability suggests a three down player, if he can understand his responsibilities at outside-linebacker, the Louisville transfer, could do the most to enamour fans, in the early stages. As nothing quite gets a crowd riled like a potential sack artist.

The headline pick was Ross Blacklock, Defensive Tackle, TCU. His motor and athleticism for a 290-pound man is clear to see. But his ability to refine his technique at the point of attack will be the defining factor if he can become a true game-wrecker. Pad level, hand usage & finishing will be at the forefront of his development plan with the coaches. By adding that to his relentless effort, lateral quickness and electric first step, the Texans could have picked up a player at 40th overall who can create constant interior pressure. If so, they may have found a much needed cornerstone piece in their defensive unit. 

Quite how Blacklock will be used in the defensive front, will be dependant on Weaver’s scheme preferences. Ross could features as a true Nose Guard in odd fronts but at 290 it would seem it he will play as the right defensive end and be moved inside on even looks/passing downs. His role will expand as much as his aptitude allows, whilst finding his way as a pro, in year one. Often ‘value’ prospects are found at the beginning of round two and the run on offensive players and corners may have just left a player, who at just 21, has the ability to be a highly impactful lineman in the league.

Trading Back but to Great Effect?

The Texans moved back from the 111th pick in round four to add an extra 4th round pick. After a further trade up, using two seventh round picks, they selected Charlie Heck from North Carolina, Offensive Tackle. His 2019 tape for the Tar Heels has done little to inspire confidence at left tackle. But referring back to the year prior and his contributions at right tackle would seem to pose a far more refined player.

Aug 31, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels offensive lineman Charlie Heck (67) lines up during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the evaluations of both Tytus Howard and Max Sharping, the benefit of the doubt is earned but it’s hard not hide the initial disappointment whilst pausing judgement on the pick. As in reality, Heck playing would mean either one of the Texans offensive line bookends are missing time. If they incur injuries to either tackle then then building depth at a key position cannot be criticised either.

A similar outlook must be taken with defensive backs, a position that perennially evades the Texans. Using the additional 4th rounder, to select John Reid, a who was offered a scholarship by O’Brien to join Penn State, at 136th overall. The Texans looked to address what is now a starting spot with Nickel and Dime packages prevalence against ever increasing passing numbers. A year removed from injury and data science major, Reid looks like he will be able to fight for a rotational position in the middle of the defence and possibly return kick offs on special teams. Once again a clear delineation with the team hierarchy and high footballing IQ was the order of the day, personified by the Reid pick.

Rhode Island – College Football?

Theres a clear difference in the stadia and number of spectators surrounding Isiah Coulters tape, but the Texans haven’t swerved from small school players and the 171st pick was no different. Coulter’s head coach has links to Brown University and the Texans coaching staff, that helped support the interest but it’s clear from Coulter’s tape – he can burn. His ability to extend out and catch the ball away from his body and with speed, poses a rare blend that was worth a splash in the fifth round. At 6’2″ he instantly is the receiving rooms largest threat, despite his slender frame, that will need supplemented with additional playing strength against press-man coverage. In year one, Coulter’s impact may be limited, but the potential seems obvious as both Will Fuller or Kenny Stills enter contract years.

‘A Veteran type of Year’

Houston’s final act was trading out of the 7th round, for a 6th rounder next year from the Saints. It was another sign that the Texans wanted a streamlined class of rookies. Just as they signed a limited number of un-drafted players in the hours following. It will be mightily difficult for rookies to make contributions this year, as the conditions are not level. As the off-season program will limit their ability to take physical rep’s whilst attempting to make their biggest developmental jump as players.

The Texans have grouped an interesting crop of un-drafted players who will likely form the majority of the practice squad. Notably offensive playmakers on big school programmes: Scottie Phillips and Tyler Simmons form Ole Miss. & Georgia. If there’s a player in the group that can contribute on special teams, then its found money at this stage of the process.

There are still a number of veteran players that the Texans could turn to, particularly at Saftey with cutting Teshaun Gipson, despite losing more in dead cap, than in savings. Eric Reid and Tony Jefferson being the most recognisable names available out there. It would seem the Texans could be helped with the addition of Everson Griffin or similar type player who can be relied upon upfront as the roster rounds out over the coming months. 

From their initial press exposure, this draft class of players are high IQ guys and will fit into that ‘team-first’ mould. The days of drafting character types akin to DJ Swearinger are in the distant past for the franchise and it’s difficult to argue with that outlook. All the players who’ve entered the program are known quantities off the field, in the backdrop of many unknowns for the team.

Nick Tiano8QBUDFA
John Reid 34CB141st Overall
Scottie Phillips 40RBUDFA
Jamir Jones 47OLBUDFA
Jonathan Greenard 52OLB90th Overakk
Jan Johnson 56LBUDFA
Charlie Heck 67OT126th Overall
Cordel Iwuagwu 70GUDFA
Elex Woodworth 77GUDFA
Isaiah Coulter 82WR171st Overall
Dylan Stapleton84TEUDFA
Tyler Simmons 86WRUDFA
Ross Blacklock90DT40th Overall
Auzoyah Alufohai 98DTUDFA

As all teams await the first date they can have physical contact with their players in preparation for a season like no other, the refined process of the Texans may just yet prove prudent, for one year at least.

Off-Season Review – Part III – The Draft – Directing Digital Whilst Balancing Out A Roster

As the Texans enter the draft this week, post an underwhelming free agency period, which has riled the most avid supporter, leaving a number of unique dynamics and questions, in need of address.

Houston are entering this years draft, albeit with a franchise passer in tow but they are one of six teams, devoid of a 1st round pick. They have multiple defensive needs and a fan base to appease after trading a favoured son at wide-receiver. In the last nine months many picks have been traded in and out of NRG stadium, to move veteran players. Undoubtedly, they have unconventionally approached the task of constructing their team, to universal criticism. The plea to fans was – “let it all play out”. Although that end point would seem frustratingly predictable, given the many years of precedent set by this organisation. The draft poses another corner for the team to turn, as they move towards the 2020 season.

Immediate Returns Over Low Cost Rookie Deals

The draft is not the only way to build a roster, a departure from what the media and the NFL present it to be. Certainly, it’s a primary means of roster building but not the only. Furthermore, draft picks are far form a sure thing, yielding a 50% or less success rate. Bearing in mind the NFL average career in less than three years, the majority are short term solutions at best.

Demon Deacons travel to play the Warhawks in opening night of the 2014 collegge football season Aug. 28.

Take the selection Kevin Johnson by the Texans in the first round, 2016. That miss has continually left them searching for answers at cornerback. Not only did they not succeed in landing a star at that position. That evaluation lead to allowing AJ Bouye to walk in free agency. Proving, the draft can be equally as harmful to your roster composition as it can bolster. Secondly, the Texans best ever tail-back, Arian Foster, came from a modest pedigree as an un-drafted free agent. So there are always options to find varying levels of on-field contribution beyond the early rounds.

“Trader-Bill” has continued to shoot for his vision on Kirby Drive (whilst don’t forget to pay co-creation royalties to Jack Easterby) and the countless trades executed can be looked at in two ways: they have brought in a higher quality and refined player to contribute in ’20 & ’21; or they have significantly hamstrung their abilities to manage the salary cap and land high up-side talent to develop, in the years to come.

To recap the myriad of moves impacting the Texans draft this year & next:

2020 PickUsageStatus2021 PickUsageStatus
1stTo MIATunsil/Stills1stTo MIATunsil/Stills
2ndFrom ARI (Hopkins)Pick 402nd To MIATunsil/Stills
2ndTo LARCooks3rd
Pick TBC
3rdFrom SEA to LVRConley4thFrom ARIPick TBC
3rdPick 904th
Pick TBC
3rd (comp)To CLEDuke JohnsonTBCDJ R. CompPick TBC
4thFrom MAIPick 1115th
Pick TBC
4thTo ARIDavid Johnson6th
Pick TBC
Pick 1717th
Pick TBC
6thTo NEKeion Crossen

Pick 240

7thCompPick 248

Pick 250


Although it would seem highly counter intuitive, it appeared that Hopkins’ contract demands lead to non-conducive trading conditions for a star receiver. It would have then seemed the choice to hold, would have proved prudent. Though it was another characteristically heavy-handed move, lamented by many and will likely cloud the current leadership until their reign concludes.

Regardless, as a collective we must attempt, to push aside the raw emotion of trading Hopkins, the team’s most established offensive contributor and consider the resulting move for Brandin Cooks which may have eased some of the resulting vitriol. A move for speedier playmakers has proven to mean success, hasn’t it?

It’s worth noting that, on the whole, a roster is typically of a ‘championship calibre’ before teams begin aggressively adding the “missing piece”, in the way the Texans have. You’d be hard pressed to scour the current depth chart and come to that conclusion but it would seem the Texans they feel they are at least, on the cusp of that level.

Taking that view, in essence, Houston felt they were faced with a fundamental choice: 2-3 years of a relatively known quantity or 4-5 years of a more cost effective, unknown quantity. 

If presented with the choice, in another context, which would you choose? The options weren’t quite simply, door number one or door number two, however, there’s a consistent strategy shown. Ship-out draft picks, to acquire a lower risk veteran player who already poses the required knowhow. That vital mental leap, over the gaping chasm that exists between a successful college athlete and that of a pro, is the primary cause of prospects not realising their potential. 

Perhaps, the most questionable aspect of the strategy is the capital outlay. As it can be easily argued that the return for Hopkins or the the cost invested for Cooks, Johnson(s), Stills and Tunsil does not align to a fair market value. That factor is at the heart of what makes this approach a non-traditional one. There was a perceived need or issue and it duly addressed, first and foremost, with a consideration to the expenditure a distant second. Which, at this point, most would state that is the role of a true GM, to provide a longer term and more considered view.

As Bill described the 2020 season could well be a “veteran year” based on the global pandemic, reducing off-season programs and contact with coaches. He could possibly, by limited ingenuity of his own, be in a situation where the outcome of his decisions, may be less glaring than they otherwise would have been, within the backdrop of a ‘regular’ NFL season. Just as he’s been given years of additional scope by his AFC South compatriots due to personnel errors and of course, some Luck.

On the whole, its hard to lean away from their approach being short-sighted. But the fact of the matter remains, the true cost of such moves may not be realised by the franchise until the ’22 season. Either way, when O’Brien is the front office’s, almighty figurehead, he doesn’t think or act like a traditional GM would. Nor would you, if given such unprecedented autonomy to make such staggering levels of change. Fans “should be excited” according to the owner, at the “bold” nature of the moves. Excitement, has been the antithesis of the supporters sentiment, for much of the off-season. Although it was clear, that even the strong-haded O’Brien was visibility shouldering it at last weeks presser. He’s running out of time to deliver, based on the moves he’s made.

Striking with limited shots in the armoury

The Texans are now left with only 3 picks in the first 111 selections to find at least one substantial defensive contributor and multiple role players. This logically poses the question: will trading back be a more optimal stance? 

The answer will be apparent, on the eve of night two, if there is a fall into the second round of first-round calibre players who can contribute across the defensive front. Zack Baun (Wisconsin), was reportedly guilty of an overly diluted sample at the combine, AJ Epenesa (Iowa) has questions about this athleticism and Ross Blacklock (TCU) is a year removed from a significant injury. So any of these calibre of players could provide value for the Texans to hold at the 40th overall. But if there’s no clear unanimous choice for the team, then trading down to accumulate a further third or a fourth rounder, would seem a plausible move.

As the failure to address any form of pass rush and coverage ability in free agency perhaps, for the second year in a row, sign-posts to all, their draft intentions. The defence will need to be a point of emphasis and hope the current talent is maximised whilst remaining healthy under 1st year play caller, Anthony Weaver. 

The Texans have more questions than potential answers on their roster, with needs at:

  • Defensive Tackle who can rush the interior and hold up in the run game
  • EDGE player who can upgrade the OLB or DE and create pressure
  • Cornerback who can compete in man coverage and play in Nickel and Dime
  • Inside Linebacker/Safety athletic with pass coverage ability & box tackle
  • Guard/Centre who can fit the scheme and compete for a spot
  • Running Back with a downhill style to develop and be a complement
  • Wider Receiver to compliment & possibly replace either Stills or Fuller

The pressure to find value in this years draft will be higher with a lessened suite of picks. But fans can take some solace in the recent history of the 2018 draft, where they were able to find multiple players who have flashed and by the traditional graph of development will need to be prominent players in 2020 season.

To recap that draft:

3Justin Reid68S
3Martinas Rankin80T
3Jordan Akins98TE
4Keke Coutee103WR
6Duke Ejiofor177DE
6Jordan Thomas211TE
6Peter Kalambayi214LB
7Jermaine Kelly222CB
Houston Texans 2018 Draft Selections

The Martinas Rankin’s selection aside, a perfect example on the negative impact missing training camp, where Rankin was injured. He then suffered a loss of form in pre-season of year 2 after a rookie season of trialing behind the steep development curve and multiple position switches. At risk of being cut he was then traded for a one-year-rental on a veteran running back, who will no longer be on this years roster.

Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee (16) runs against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Broadly speaking, that Brian Gaine lead draft, was a positive one based on the picks at their disposal with Reid & Atkins being the highlights. Whilst Thomas, Coutee & Ejiofor could be candidates for breakout season and potential X factors, who’s progress has been hurt by a mix of health and form. Gaine’s closest lieutenants, in Matt Bazargain and James Lipfert remain on the staff and will be on line-1 to Bill as his advisors. Finding that level quality in the later rounds of the draft needs to be replicated, in order to balance out the roster.

All Bets Are Off

This draft is likely to be just as unconventional as Bill’s approach to draft value. When combining the two, it’s hard not to envisage further trades over the three days that could “be in the best interest of the T. E. A. M”.

There are rumours of multiple high-profile players being on the trade block this year. So more B.O’B style trades could be occurring, well beyond the realms Harris County. Or will the Texans be happy to sit at their spots and chose the best player available?

Thought the former seems rather more conceivable. Bill can at the very least be credited for keeping it interesting.

It’s not been since 2015 when the they engineered an on-the-clock player-trade with the Jets. The Texans moved up to select Jaelen Strong, although it was designed to pick Tyler Lockett but Seattle jumped ahead of them. The Jets sent the 70th overall choice to the Texans, in return for a third-round pick (82nd overall), a fifth-rounder (152nd), a seventh-rounder (229th) & receiver DeVier Posey.

Which ever way this “plays out” for O’Brien, if he reaches relative success or if he inevitably fails. He’s either be a hero and his strategy was ahead of the curve or it will be the role of a new management team to mop the hallways of Kirby and start again. Regardless of future decisions, this draft will be required as a memorable vintage, if the teams trajectory isn’t to stall with Watson in his penultimate year of his rookie contract. 

Listen to our latest number of podcasts on potential Texans draft picks:

Off Season Review Part 2 – Free Agency

The Texans must add defensive talent via Free Agency whilst facing a number of decisions required on extending players on both sides of the ball. It poses a complex situation to navigate now the luxury of Watson’s rookie deal is nearing its end.

How Aggressive can the Texans afford to be?

Correcting an ailing defensive unit whilst balancing the procurement of homegrown talent, will not be an easy balance to find. As of March 15th, $52.5mill in cap space, the Texans defensive personnel available must improve, particularly at the most premium spots of its depth chart – pass rusher and pass coverage. The reality of the 2019 Texans defensive frailties were clear to see, they could not rush the passer and they cannot be even an adequate unit, until this is addressed. The adage is often the rush is married to the coverage, but the Texans left their corners, depth of talent aside, on an island when only a minuscule percentage of players have the abilities to play this way. Personnel changes are needed, undoubtedly, but quite how they can improve both spot in one off season, remains to be seen.

The absence of their top three draft picks, over the next two season, may force free agency as the only means addressing their needs. Anthony Weaver, in his first season as a play caller will need to be given re-reinforcements, if his unit ins’t a hindrance to the team’s goals. However, these positions cost money and require investment if an impact player at either position can be found. Finding edge or interior rushers will likely lead to a team paying beyond market value and for a player isn’t extended by its former employer. But it would appear routes to a solution are limited, as true top-tier talent, rarely hits the market at either DB or EDGE.

The Texans have decisions and projections to make on how the cap will rise, post the newly voted through players union agreement. So much of this year’s free agency decision could be based upon projection of the next two to three years. Their view on this will likely underpin how aggressive they will be and what segment of the market they will look to to address needs.

Looking after their own:

If the pending, in-house extensions are to be secured this off season, of their left tackle and quarterback are likely to eat into cap space in the region of £25-30million. The departure of cap guru, Chris Olsen, has left the task to his long time lieutenant, Kevin Karovojic, to negotiate market defining deals for both Tunsil and Watson. A great problem to have, of course. But leaving in the region of c,$25million remaining, once the smaller scale deals are tied up.

The Texans do have the option to defer the Watson deal for the year, if both sides are content to hold until the new TV deals lands, that could work in the Texans and the Watson camp’s favour. Of course the Pat Mahomes extension will influence heavily. Though, the Texans couldn’t afford to let Laremy Tunsil and his newly acquired agent extension discussions, run beyond this off season, as the leverage already sits towards the player, based on draft capital invested.

But there are some immediate considerations the Texans need to consider before the free agency window opens.

In House Defensive Contracts:

Can the Texans have two double-digit earners at inside linebacker & Re-Sign Zach Cunningham – at c.$12.5mill APY.

Dec 2, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) runs with the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After falling to the Texans in the 2nd round in 2017, from Vanderbilt, Cunningham has proven to be the modern day inside linebacker, showing a level of improvement each year, leading the team in tackles in last two seasons in. Zach is a piece they cannot allow to walk out the building. After forging an complimentary partnership in the middle level of the defence with Benardrick McKinney, he is within the Texans top three in-house targets. Rumours have swirled around a potential move of McKinney to make space for this deal but they may, at least, have a final chance to partner in 2020. The Texans could opt to defer as inside ‘backer has slipped down the pecking order of premium roster spots, as the passing focus of the league continues, but they Texans would be best placed to extend and secure their future at the position.

The New Equilibrium of the Cornerback Market – Re-Signing Bradley Roby  – c.$13.5mill APY

Dec 1, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans cornerback Bradley Roby (21) runs after intercepting a pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) (not pictured) pass in the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Roby, was the Texans best corner last year, when healthy. The former Ohio State product, struggled with a hamstring injury that kept him out for prolonged periods. A big question, besides health, would be if he can piece two solid back-to-back years, which has eluded him thus far and the primary reason leaving Denver.

Where will the cornerback market be after last years downturn, is an unknown factor. Justin Coleman’s deal with Seattle of $9mill APY was the pinnacle of long-term contracts signed last off-season. Hence, why Roby opted for the 1 year $10mill – prove it deal. A market re-set, similar to last year, where over $14mill APY was paid out to safeties, across multiple deals, may well occur. But based contracts handed to Aaron Colvin and across the league – Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson may fuel the front offices hesitancy.

The Texans, may be best placed to set a number which then may lead to Roby testing free agency. But only if they feel there are upgrade options available at a slight premium. A tough call but further turnover at that corner spot, isn’t likely to be a positive for Houston in 2020.

Does a Team Pay DJ Reader his as interior Pass Rusher – c. $13mill APY

All teams want to extend their draft picks and Reader’s rise from a 2016, 5th rounder has embodied everything you’d want from a player in the later rounds. After declining an offer, pre-2019 season, DJ seemed to be making the Texans regret that choice, early last season, as he’d developed as a pass rusher. Although, the rush production faded, his two down ability against the run and to hold blocks cannot be questioned.

Interior pass rushers are a rare breed in today’s NFL. Reader isn’t quite in the bracket of a three-down player, who consistently gets pressure. But he will have aspirations to be paid as such, or even within those realms. Unfortunately, it’s a common situation that occurs, for a player who likely has further growth in his game ahead. But it appeared from before the first game of last year, DJ was set to leave.

The pitfalls of free agency – no team ever wins in March

It’s has to be remembered, any player who hits free agency, has reached the stage where their contract exceeds their value, they weren’t viewed worthy of an extension or they disagree on players current value. That value may have been falsely inflated by the influence of an agent looking to maximise their clients worth, in an industry surrounded by uncertainty for most of its playing staff. But none the less, player x will be available, come Monday, due to the player’s talent not aligning with that perception of their value, from the front office that knows them best.

Value, is a variable that is decreed by perceptions. But in a league based around cost control, under the banner of parity, teams tend to have similar perceptions and for the most part. It’s a fan-base-appeasing, bold job saving moves that lead to front office exec’s offering beyond that value, to correct previous draft busts or injuries.

Also consider that it’s very conceivable notion that all these deals have already been, proposed, counter proposed, further negotiated and then agreed prior to the “legal tampering” window of only two days. These deals have been in the works, unofficially of course, for weeks leading up to this point. The tampering slot is only to ratify and consider if teams are willing to stump the already aligned offers on the table.

Free agency can be split into a few distinct segments:

Day 1 Phase 1 – Headline Big Splash – marquee names

These are players who’ve not agreed an extension with their current club’s perceived value, therefore they desire to test the their market value. The players contract demands will leads to a team overpaying due to time pressures of free agency. These moves are often to lift the fans and for those in a ‘win now’ or in significant cap space position.

Value, versus cap dollars, is likely is to be low when shopping for a very specific need on your team. Look no further than Brock Osweiler, Denver and the Texans duly outbid one another leading to a stimulated value of the player. Based on the Texans in-house contract requirements, it would be plausible would think they won’t be major players in this segment of the market. Although, if Roby was to walk, it would likely necessitate the Texans going after a corner. Any pass rushers at this segment would likely to price the Texans out the market.

Players to watch at corner CB – James Bradburry a player O’Brien called out the in press conference post the Carolina game but is more of a zone-system corner. Chris Harris who could solve their multi-year search for an answer at slot-corner. He is 31, so time may not be on his side and pose a risk, at a position that players are year-to-year in terms of athleticism allowing production.

EDGE – most likely are franchised tagged or traded prior to deadline. But the Texans were high on Dud Dupree in the draft process, who had his best year last season as did Arik Armstead. One year production guys, present a buyers beware tag. But the Texans would be remiss not to at least enter the race.

Day 1 Phase 2 – Projection Pays – based on fit and upside

This grade of player is recognised in league circles as a player with potential and to have all the tools, but not considered in the elite category. Though they can be difference makers on a Sunday and are worth the money if they fit your team. JD Clowney is the perfect example, doesn’t get the double-digit sack numbers, so people discount him. He will likely get paid based on his ability to give a defensive front flexibility and that value is big in certain schemes. Alas, this is exactly where the Texans need to be buying to help add to their pass rush.

Clowney is a unique example and will be paid in phase 1, but a player similar to the impact Z’darius Smith had on the Green Bay Roster, last off-season would help this team. Perhaps viewed as an over-pay as the players stock stands today, but the fit to the scheme and assigned role may allow the player to realise their potential.

Dec 31, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris (96) celebrates his sack in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

DT: Shelby Harris from Denver – career high TFL’s, in 2019: 9 Passes Defended, 6 Sacks, 8 Tackles for Loss, 6 QB Hits, 49 Tackles. An older player at 29 but hasn’t played much football and a three-year-deal could provide an Antonio Smith type. Teams often pick up players who put strong tape against them and Harris did just that last year.

DE: Leonard Williams – it’s difficult to fault a player for not performing in New York. But after his trade across the hallway to the Giants, would he be looking for a fresh start? A player who was a top-10 pick, out of USC, he’s got high upside and would justify as beyond current value deal if he hits the market.

Day 2 – Mid Tier – Fresh start needed

Often is the case, the situation can be no fault of the players and the team aren’t in a position to pay them and everyone in the building has nothing but praise. Or likely the player hasn’t lived up to their draft billing due to poor form, fit with system, mesh with their position coach or luck in the injury room.

Oakland Raiders’ Karl Joseph (42) makes an intecerption catch against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter of their NFL game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Investment at the Safety position could help this unit – Karl Joseph hasn’t been healthy enough and a 1year $8mill may be able to provide a back-up. Just as Jarran Reed from Seattle may be able to help plug a need for Defensive tackle reinforcements. Looking at the impact and break-out year Shaq Barrett, leading the league in sack’s after being buried on the depth chart in Denver.

Day 3 – Bargain Basement or Aging Veterans

There are of course exceptions to the rule and a mid to lower level role player can be found late in the process, exceed expectations and augment a team roster nice. Prime example of that being Quentin Demps in 2015, who lead the team in interceptions that year.

The release of Linval Jospeh from Minnesota would, a player who may have a limited market and help the defensive unit sure up the middle. The Texans, under O’Brien have added players such as Grease Picket and Vince Wilfork. This would provide help, but not serve as a solution.

Unknowns and New GM at the helm – no outcomes are off limits

There are so many variable and facets to be concluded, but with such glaring needs, it would be hard to see the Texans not making moves on defence. Quite how the Texans proceed, based on the unknowns of future cap-projections, in-house deals being concluded. Now with Bill O’Brien making all the calls, there will be no-one more of the view that last off-seasons errors and lack of aggression at addressing glaring needs, cannot be repeated.


An Academic Question Raised by Many – The Case for O’Brien To Stay or Go? A Season Concluded with Angst But are the Texans on The Cusp of Challenging or Confined by O’Brien’s Imposed Ceiling?

Prior to the announcement that Chris Olsen will be leaving the front office, after a 13-year stint and only 2 years into a new five-year contract, if it didn’t already seem academical to debate the future of O’Brien, it certainly is now. His unwarranted grasp of control on Kirby Drive continues to strengthen. Whatever is sold in these review meetings, remains unclear, but Cal McNair continues to buy-in. As the on-field performances, do not warrant an ever-increasing span on control. As once again the Texans season crashed to an acrimonious, early play-off drubbing.

There have now been six versions of the O’Brien Texans and the results have all been similar. Quite how we he has managed to absolve himself of the blame over that span, is some feat. It would seem his ability to influence the right people, exceeds his abilities to lead and coach a pro-football team. Whilst others have ultimately been served the axe in every off-season under his tenure – both playing and coaching staff continue to be in a persistent state of change. The only two constants are O’Brien and a talent limited football team, confined to relative mediocrity.

Most Texans fans will be victims of re-occurring state of a temporary sense of progress, to then quickly be washed by a realisation of their team’s obvious shortcomings. The 2019 season was no different, although there was some signs of growth offensively. The pass protection of Watson was much improved after throwing a hefty investment of draft day capital to trade for Laremy Tunsil & Kenny Stills.

These improvements were quickly equalised by the Texans defensive talent erosion. A process accelerated by O’Brien’s paid-for shipment of Clowney to Seattle. Leaving a glaring deficiency in their pass-rush, the defence at times, looked entirely toothless. Though offence was improved beyond levels accustomed to in Houston and at times looked imperious. But the unit couldn’t produce those refreshing planes regularly enough to mask its defensive failings. The glaring defensive struggles were exposed – the leading cause for crashing out the play offs – when surrendering 51 points to the Chiefs, despite having a 24-point lead. This off season would require material change, if this weakness is to be addressed.

A Defense that Ground to a Halt – Exhausted of Talent:

The latest victim of O’Brien annual winds of change – the 72-year old defensive master – Romeo Crennel, who even he appeared to be short of ingenuity on how to consistently find schematic effectiveness from this unit. The pass rush was absent for most of the year, safety play had taken a big step back, whilst injuries and constant adjustments impacted the corner play – it was never going to be easy.

Perhaps through imposition, they moved away from Romeo’s favoured zone concepts to play predominantly man-coverage, which seemed risky without any discernible pass rush. This was predictably then exposed repeatedly by opposition offences. The criticism landed at Crennel’s door but the blame should sit squarely with O’Brien who didn’t not intervene in previous years when there were misguided attempts to scheme it’s three top edge rushers on the field together. When better talent levels were available to him, Crennels units where often top-10 in defensive rankings, but it’s grand leader did not interject with a strategic view, arguably this most important part of of his job. This was ignored and it’s knock-on effect, lead to the aforementioned penny’s on the dollar trade, a move that left a historical strength of the team with two aging edge rushers, whose longevity could easily be questioned.

The Texans primary free-agent goal must be to address its pass rush in the most feasible possible way, post its internal extensions. Even prior to the week 8 injury to JJ Watt, the pass rush was already limited, consisting of Mercilus, Watt and Reader. Seemingly, the latter is on his way out, rightly in search of a deserved a pay day for a former 6th round pick. Hopefully Houston can persuade him to stay but a few late season interviews would suggest he will reluctantly test the market. Even if DJ’s services are retained, this should not change from the 1st port of call and shopping in the first wave of free agency will be required.

Similarly, they will have to address the balance in the secondary. Any unit would be in a plight, regardless of talent, if their compatriots up-front aren’t able to generate pressure. But finding the formula for success which may be with the current or newly acquired personnel – is a key questions for their first time defensive coordinator to find the answers to. O’Brien’s biggest off season task may be to ensure Weaver isn’t hung out to dry from a talent stand point. Addressing the two most premium spots of any defence – will not be an easy task.

OB – The man of all departments but master of none

O’Brien will be of the opinion that the departed Brian Gaine’s meek attempts to improve the roster and the handling of a proposed Clowney extension put them behind the sticks before training camp started. To O’Brien’s credit, although it could have been perceived as desperate and over zealous, he did go after the glaring holes on the roster at offensive line, running back and corner, which by in large, all worked out.

Duke Johnson looked like the mobile, pass catching running back this offence needed as the check-down on pass plays. Both Conley and Hargreaves flashed at times and based on joining a team mid-season, filled in admirably. Tunsil transformed the line and elevated those around him. Kenny Stills gave a legitimate big play threat beyond the expected contributors.

There’s a clear case created for O’Brien having a future in NFL front office’s. However, based on his emotive and fragile ego as a coach, it would be unlikely he’d give up the coaching reigns, without a struggle. In, all probability it would require him to fired, if that were to occur.

The question of quality coaching, is now more important that it ever has been, with the absence of three of the most premium draft picks over the next two season. However, history of coaching up talent may be a potential concern. Rather than building on the promising rookie seasons of Keke Coutee as the answer at slot receiver & tight-end Jordan Thomas, both were allowed to regress based on a variety of factors. This was mostly due to health and poor form. Keke had two arguably game killing drops, both in losses. Thomas was rarely given a chance to receive the ball, when returning for IR.

It should rightly fall on the coaching staff to develop year two players and get the maximum from their talent. The onus was there to create an environment to allow them to respond from adversity and come back stronger, as there’s proven talent in both players, when given roles. Both were placed in the infamous Coach O’s dog house – a place notoriously difficult to ever recover from. But based the moves he has made, the team can ill-afford to push more talent out the door, if this past season is anything to learn form. Surely even O’Brien isn’t so stubborn not to realise that?

Offensive Progress on the Field to build upon:

There were signs of progress this past season, with marquee wins against the supposed upper-tier teams, where typically the inverse had been the case. The wins against New England, Kansas City, the Chargers, Indianapolis and Atlanta were highlights. Although bar the Chiefs, each of those teams had underwhelming 2019 outcomes versus the talent on their rosters. However, any opportunities to build momentum were removed after two regrettable performances against Carolina and Denver.

Two seasons have now been and gone, whilst Watson plays out his rookie-wage-scale deal, where the team arguably have passed up golden chanced of reaching a record to seal an automatic play-off seed in the AFC. In both cases they did not take their chance.

The sizable angst felt within the fan based at the conclusion of the 2019 season has been tangible. However, based on the further changes in front office, the widely assumed arrival of Nick Caserio as head of personnel, any changes to the top man’s status appear even less likely. Caserio’s arrival could been seen as a positive as it would free Bill to attend to on-field matters. Where rumbling have emanated that O’Brien has a tendency to enter the weekly game-plan process late and meddle – a feasible rationale for the inconsistencies shown. However, would Caserio be brought in with the power to give Bill the bullet if next season falls short once more?

Therefore what can be the minimum expectations for the 2020 vintage of the Houston Texans if the timelines of its current leadership are to be extended further?

Off-Season Improvements – AFC top-2 seed must be a minimum target in 2020

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)

There now remains a sizable off-season job to extend Watson, Tunsil, Zack Cunningham, Will Fuller and then try to plug the holes on defense. The Texans have already, and in all cases questionably, extended centre Nick Martin, 30-year-old outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and punter Bryan Anger. A seemingly odd prioritisation of targets. This may have contributed to Chris Olsen’s departure, but much is unclear at this stage, with further changes to the front office rumored.

It would seem that this move has put the Texans further behind track when a monumental front office and coaching job is required to together find commonality, if a true step forward it to be taken, based on all the factors considered.

The questions for Cal McNair is: How does he see this current leadership status as tenable, if results don’t drastically improve? This after the much sought after scenario of benefiting form a franchise QB’s rookie contract as a window, now appears to have abruptly shut, just as the Texans faint hopes of success ended at Arrowhead, two weeks ago.

It would appear, for now, the current Texans are confined by O’Brien and how his flaws, then fortify a ceiling of mediocrity across the city of Houston Football. Regardless of its potential success, it would appear he will at least have another crack at tackling his football Everest. Where that will lead, would seem apparently obvious, but we’ve no choice to buckle up and guilelessly hope for better days.

We will return in the following weeks to cover Part II) Free Agency & Part III) the draft.

A Chance of Progress Awaits The Texans in Arrowhead

The Texans travel to a familiar foe Sunday with a chance to reach their inaugural AFC Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs – an opponent defeated 31-24 in week 6 – stand in the way of a Championship berth against the the victors of the Saturday game where Tennessee travel to Baltimore. A Texans win in the Sunday’s 2:05CT/8:05pm BST K.O. would show progress for the franchise but would it be enough the deem the season successful?

When considering the landscape of the moves made by Bill O’Brien and the remainder of the front office committee, where would the end point for the 2019 season be, if a championship is out of reach. Then where does the teams endeavours end, if they are to be considered a relative success?

The Texans lack of consistency hasn’t warranted them being in the conversation of the elite teams. It would appear their biggest task is to live up to their abilities. Although, their most accomplished performances this season have been against the supposed top-tier ball clubs on their schedule. Based on that lens, it wouldn’t be a far fetched notion that you could be more comfortable with the best version of Deshaun Watson emerging out the tunnel in Missouri. As that version has shown already this season they have what it takes, to beat anyone on their day.

Sep 22, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Houston Texans running back Carlos Hyde (23) celebrates a third quarter touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs Are Healthy Favourites

Are the Chiefs a much changed side from week 6? As thats been the clear rhetoric that the national media and bookmakers have peddled this week. As Kansas City are resounding favourites, not uncommon for a home, but it also reflects the their form prior to the wildcard bye week. In terms of the KC defensive efficiency this would be correct, only giving up an average 11.5 points in their final 6 wins. But when considering the only defeated one play-off team in that stretch and that was against the fading Patriots.

The truth is the KC defensive ranks have remained un-tested for some time. As their previous game against a play-off calibre team was a road loss, at Tennessee, in the week 10 shoot-out. Subsequently the Chiefs have placed Juan Thornhill on IR after a stellar rookie season at the safety spot, who shone bright in a no-name secondary for most of the year.

The wildcard bye week certainly favoured Kansas City, as only two players are listed as questionable, however those are defensive star Chris Jones and game wrecking Tight End Travis Kelce. Both would be expected to suit up and contribute, based on the magnitude of the game.

In contrast the Texans have no less than seven players listed as questionable. Perhaps the biggest concern would Darren Fells, players who appeared late in the week with a hip complaint and may struggle to be healthy for Sunday. This within the climate of Jordon Atkins hamstring – who missed the Bills game last week – would then leave Jordon Thomas as the sole Tight End who’s failed to contribute since coming back from IR. The Texans plans at Safety are also a concern also with Justin Reid being the only healthy player at that spot. So the Texans poor form which saw them miss out on the top two seeds may well come back to haunt them Sunday, as KC will be the far fresher side.

Snow, Wind & Rain – Run the Ball Again

The weather has to be a factor of concern for Houston who play the majority fo their games in controlled environments. Reports indicate that 6-inches of snow could fall the day prior to the game as well as reports of adverse weather could impact by the time the second half rolls around. But this will mostly impact the kicking unit which have been a source of strength for Houston, Fairburn will want to rectify the missed PAT and field-goal from week 6 but will have to do so against the elements.

The weather shouldn’t drastically impact the offensive game plan, as just in week 6, keeping Mahommes off the field will be key. Houston had almost double the time of possession in that win and it will required once more. The Texans will need to find dependability in ground game to bleed the clock. Not that anything would feasibly expect O’Brien to move away from predictability of running the ball on first and second down. But the execution of the blocking and assignments will need to be there.

Getting the blend correct between the power of Hyde and the zone cutting ability of Duke Johnson will be important. The pair combined for a 150 yards in the previous tie, but the Texans will need to contend with Chris Jones, who will likely be one of the top free agents, commanding interest across the league, come March.

If the TE group are limited, which was a week-6 source of 9 catches for 108 yards, Jordon Thomas will need to wake up in a hurry for this team. Whilst Duke Johnson, continues to be underserved versus his ability shown when he gets the ball in his hands. The former Miami U. man has shown, either through the air or the ground is irrelevant, he will contribute – games like this and the ability of the Chiefs linebackers are made for Duke to steal the show – Feed the Duke and he will score. After making the game-saving 3rd and 16 play last week in overtime, if there was ever a timely reminder to get him the ball, then that was it.

Watson has to be ready

A slow start will simply kill this teams hopes of advancing. Will Fuller looks like he will be available in some capacity, but his groin/hamstring will not be at full strength. Watson will have to put this team on his back for 60 minutes and drive the ball consistently, by whatever means necessary.

If Watson is seeing the field and releasing the ball on time, then this team will be in the game. Holding the ball and trying to make too much happen, forcing the issue, then leads to stalled drives. The offence must avoid the unnecessary sacks and getting behind the chains to reduced the chance for Chiefs DC, Steve Spagnola, dialling up the extra pressure from the second level – a challenge Watson has continued struggle when the defence has the upper hand in obvious passing downs.

The ability to go up-tempo and extend long drives will be vital for the offence, keeping the KC pass rush on their heels, rolling out and moving the pocket against a slow linebacker group is recipe for success. Having the power-three wideouts on the field, will yield open receivers. Kenny Still will always be a tertiary defensive-back match up, for moving the chains. The Texans can’t be afraid to go to Nuk Hopkins if he’s isn’t double covered, as there isn’t a corner on the KC roster who can match up with him. On time and sharp passing as displayed in the second half against buffalo will set this team up for success.

If the Chiefs attempt to stack the box then the return of Fuller will be well timed. He will want some of his drops from week-6 back and matching him up against the departed Ty Mathieu will lead to yards and points.

Man on Man, Screens & Pick Plays

Mahommes and scrambling Wide Receivers allows the Chiefs to make off-script plays. The Texans front will need to be alive, keeping contain and they must improve the tackling from last week, 19 missed tackles will lose you the game against the current reigning MVP’s offence.

The pass rush came alive last week and to Romeo’s credit and of course a nod to the return of JJ Watt. The looks and additional blitzes were a big factor leading to the Texans getting back into the wild card game. Mixing up the personnel and formations to disguise pressures is RAC’s speciality, so 40 years of coaching experience will be needed to help guide this defence to contain Mahommes. Doing just enough and playing disciplined football to hand the ball back to the offence to keep them in the game will need to be the mantra – who haven’t had their share of interceptions fall their way so far and no there better time for it to start, than Sunday.

The defence will need to be on constant alert for the pick plays and screens. These are two staples of the Andy Reid offence, the Texans have to be conscious they are go-to-plays and often help the Mahommes and Co. spring a lead or setting up a scoring positions.

Selling out to double-cover Tyreek Hill and matching Lonnie Johnson up with Travis Kelce, once more, will be big for the defence. Can they achieve this whilst remaining stout on all three levels? The soft coverage looks deployed have lead to much criticism this season and the secondary had evolved but showed last week, it is still a work in progress.

The receiving weapons of the Chiefs will be the biggest test for Conley, Roby and Hargreaves who will also have the perspicuous presence of Johnathan Jospeh, to help steer through the challenges of their vertical attack. Roby has the ability to hang with Hill one on one, being able to do on certain downs so Williams and the ground attack isn’t the leading cause of the KC drives. The role of Justin Reid cannot be understated in helping cover and directing traffic on the back end so the assignments are tied up pre-snap. Giving up cheap scores won’t help this team win as KC will get their share of hard earned once also.

A Chance to step into new heights

If Deshaun and the offence come out of the blocks ready form drive one, theres a chance. If the defence can do enough and force themselves off the field at key times, theres a chance. The weather, health, form and widely held expectation are in favour of Kansas City. But when you have Number 4 in the mood – “someone has the chance to be great – so why not me?”. Say no more.

Sunday 12 January 2020 – 2.05pm Central
Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City, Missouri
CBS – Jim Nantz , Tony Romo

Texans 2019 – Contenders or Pretenders?

The Texans have made the play-off’s by taking command of the AFC south with a win against the rival Tennessee Titans. But then made hard work of a Tampa team who had nothing to play for. The last two weeks have encapsulated the transient nature of this team, with a wildcard berth on the horizon, questions loom with this team in an all too similar fashion to seasons prior.

Ten wins with the chance of eleven is where this Houston team stands with one game to play, with this Sundays visit of the Titans to NRG. A play-off spot secured with one week to spare, an outcome that most in the building would grasped, if offered at the seasons outset. Although it’s hard not to feel a sense of equal overachievement and an angst, at what could have been this season. Some of the highs have been high from Watson and the offence, performances against Kansas City, New England and Atlanta. Even the week-1 loss to New Orleans was a showing of high octane offence. Although the lows have been low, Carolina and Denver in particular were both games where positives were hard to find.

Based on these highlight performances in isolation, you’d be accurate in thinking you were watching a team with genuine championship aspirations. Whilst watching the same team in the following weeks, they have appeared as a team in rebuild mode with one eye on the draft and free agency. The good games has been enough to claim a second consecutive AFC South title but within the context of their rivals troubles, these achievements are easily knocked. Moreover, in season three of a franchise quarterback and year six for its head coach, it’s difficult to not feel results have been left out there this season.

The level of change-over in personnel is perhaps at the heart of the inconsistency, despite having a franchise quarterback. Who would have envisaged that the teams biggest weakness would now be it’s pass rush? And during pre-season how feasible would the notion of been, at some point in the season, the cornerback and offensive line would appear to have been corrected? A complete change it the team’s identity which has lead to a team that still appears to be finding its way. And it’s shown in their results each Sunday.

That being said, the Texans fortunes start and end with Watson and what he’s able to do on the field, his inconsistency has mirrored the teams results. Deshaun’s level of discrepancy in levels of play from when he’s in the zone, versus when he’s not is alarming. He can’t be left solely to blame but he must shoulder the majority of it. Just as he and the coaching staff need to show a readiness and a willingness to change the offensive game plan when games aren’t going their way. Until this is answered, inconsistency will haunt this team and risk another post-season one and done – an outcome that no one in the buildings would have taken prior to the season.

Sundays game had been moved due to Tennessee’s play off aspirations, both them and the Steelers are fighting it out for the final slot. The Steelers are travelling to Baltimore, who plan to their stars ahead of the play-offs, which throws any pre-conceived predictions to one side. However, if the LA Chargers can spring an upset against the KC Chiefs in the early slate, then the Texans would have the chance of the third seed, as they would finish above KC on head-to-head record win a with at 11 wins each.

If Kansas City are to seal the 3rd seed in the early games then it would be advisable to increase the rotation of players with a view of increased rest prior to what in all likelihood seems set for the visit of Buffalo.

A match up that would be a concern, a strong defence that gave the Texans its toughest test last season. Not only have the Bills improved this unit further with the addition of UofHouston alum, Ed Oliver. Perhaps the biggest difference from last season, Josh Allen has found an improve offence, with increased protection and weapons on the offence with Morse, Brown and Beasley all being plus additions for the Bills.

A concern and a feasible one at that, would be heading out at the first hurdle in the play-off’s. But uniformly when Watson and the offence is on, they’ve shown they can beat anyone. If consistency and way to play without Will Fuller can be found then this team has a chance, but that seems a big IF as we stand today.

A JJ Watt return aside, this team needs to get a consistency on offence in whatever way it can, if they are to find a way to win in the 2019 post season.

The Transient Texans Waver at the Return of K-Jack

The Texans had their worst outing of the 2019 season when they dropped a disheartening home loss 38-24, after trailing 31-3 at the half, to the Denver Broncos. Former defensive back Kareem Jackson, showed the Texans were wrong in letting him walk this off-season, where he impacted the Texans offence on nearly every drive. The most alarming part of the defeat would have the ease at which, rookie Quarterback, Drew Lock, sliced up their secondary with relative ease. Consistency evades a Texans team who continue to dangle hope, then take it away the next week. After 14 games, they are still to find an identity and rue missed opportunities to seize momentum.

Defence – Is RAC on the Hook?

Denver had only averaged 24 points, prior to Sunday, but managed to put 31 points in the first half against a defensive unit, that appeared hapless for much of the day. The limited pass rush from the front allowed Lock to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Texans, where not covering tight-ends and poor tackling was the order of the day. The linebacking crewe might want to forget co-ordination of fancy dress and get their assignments down. B-Mac, which is not often, had a day to forget and the defensive backs were poor in coverage despite having a fully healthy unit, for the first time all season. There appeared to be a rotation which helped little to what was an already poor red zone and third down defence, crumbled in front of the home crowd, which voiced their displeasure at half time.

That was perhaps the softest and ill-prepared a Texans team has looked on that side of the ball all year. O’Brien was clear in his comments on Monday that what substance the calibre of their play resembled. Crennel is calling plays to keep his role with this team, after that outing. To be pushed aside so easily will put the 72-year-old has one foot out the door with Pagano waiting in the wings. Should he not decide to step away this off season, he may be asked to do so quietly. A case for change is clear when a game plan is torched that easily by a rookie. There’s been a few bad performances to point to but Crennel could easily point to the lack of talent. Both side would have an argument but the two together, are a terrible mix and it showed up Sunday.

Revenge games & Making a point

Kareem Jackson made no mistake in showing how the Texans front office were foolish in letting him walk this off-season. As a strong safety, at 31, Kareem can still play at this level. An elite tackler made his presence felt, returning the fumble for a score, a couple of third down stops and an interception, he looked like player playing angry. It was clear the Texans made an error in this decision, as the commanding play on the Denver backend was a stark contrast to the substandard Texans who didn’t stop a Bronco’s scoring drive until their 6th possession, but by that point this one had sailed into the abyss. Just as Drew Locks pass did into the waiting arms of Teshaun Gipson, but the star of the show was Jackson. His point proven, no qualms about it.

Boo Birds and the Angry Mob

The home crowd rightly vocalised their displeasure at the inept Texans performance and the inevitable ‘SACK O’BRIEN’ calls emerge. Now, in the context of the two previous wins, is this loss ill-timed. Yes, it was. Should a team under a 6th year head coach have a greater level of consistency in it’s play. No doubt. But the impact on the overall picture of the season isn’t catastrophic, by any stretch. It was more the speed of the described “avalanche” that the team from the Rockies asserted their dominance with, was the concern. The Houston players seemed to lack the resiliency required to pull themselves back-up out of the mire and mount a come-back. O’Brien was candid in his response when asked why the team hasn’t consistent. It was clear that the answer is evading him. It’s a trait that holding them back. What has been consistent, is the feeling of progress halted, that’s what fuels the supporters frustrations, more than this home loss to and 4-8 Denver team.

Fairweather and Not Seeing the Field

Deshaun pointed at execution as the factor. The team still moved the ball but drives were stalled by penalties and missing targets at key times. The infamous slow start was on display once more and after Keke’s latest fumble, the game was done at an early stage. The game clock seems to drain that bit faster when you face an uphill task but the Texans didn’t find any rhythm, until it was too late. The late scores helped pad out a deplorable Sunday afternoon in Texas. The slow starts have killed this team all year and was apparent by the quick lead built by Denver.

Watson, continued to be pushed off his spot, deep shots were removed by Jackson, Simmons and Harris Jr. The reads and progressions weren’t being fanned through quickly enough and the Bronco’s limited Houston to only 3 first half points. This raises the question again with Watson as it does equally with the play calling. When game flows in their direction, they find a groove. But without Will Fuller again, they struggled and there is yet to be any indication is he makes it back for next week.

Similarly, Deshaun needs to find a way to settle his team when they go down and calmly bring them back into it. The game ran away with such speed, that limited the room for calm. But the no-huddle/up tempo didn’t seem to be there when selectively going for pace, and the running game was successful when utilised was abandoned when it could have balanced out the offence. A day summed up, when the Texans failed 4th down attempts mounted and a puzzling play call – to go to an empty set – when only 1 yard was required. This lead to the another trudging unit leave the field, empty handed.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is stopped by Denver Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell (98) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Where to Next – Neck and Neck in AFC South

This game in reality now makes the wild card race with Tennessee closer that otherwise it should have been. The first round bye is now out of the questions and it will be between New England and the Chiefs, who the latter came out victorious in Foxborough last night. But it would seemed like a hard to discount New England taking the 2nd seed with a run-in against against Bengals, Bills and Dolphins, standing in their way. The Saints loss to the 49ers will likely mean their week 16 game against the Titans – which Sandwiches the Texans-Titans double header – will be a must win for New Orleans.

It would seem, next Sunday’s winner takes the division game as long as they can follow up with a win in their week 16-tie, where Houston travel to Tampa. Tampa may have an ailed Jamies Winston and star wideout Mike Evans looks like he’s done for the year.

Three games to go, effectively play-off football starts Sunday and there will be zero hiding placed where a “gotta-have-it” type performance will be in order. Otherwise the OB detractors will be well placed to add to their view-points. It’s difficult to see anything beyond a late season collapse would even start that discussion.

How much it can all change in a week.