We talked about the reasons the Texans can be cheerful and as reigning divisional champions, they feel like they are in a great place. The DeAndre Hopkins holdout was brief. Is 16 hours a hold out or just not being at work outside your shifts?
Heading into this season, there are a few things that might give the Texans, and their fans, pause. Here we identify and address three of them to wrap up our tour of the AFC South.
I wrote a piece a little while ago about this injury. Let’s not kid ourselves, this could be a disaster for the Texans. JJ Watt is a one-man scheme alteration. Offences have to plan their attacks based around containing or nullifying Watt. It happens every game and Watt still does things that, today, only Watt can do. His stats are terrific and need no repetition here. His accolades will continue to pile up and it is fair to say that he has had a run that could, on its own, be considered Hall of Fame worthy.
So far in his career, Watt has played through injury. He has started every game in his career. For a guy who plays so many snaps, that’s phenomenal. We began to hear about injuries he suffered last season, playing through five fully or partially torn muscles, in the past playing with a herniated disc and a broken hand. This is the stuff of legend, which Watt himself has had no problem at all feathering and perpetuating. In the play-offs last year during the rout by the Chiefs, Watt went to the ground after slipping and was done. He tried to play on but his body, finally, had had enough.
The back finally required surgery and there is no concrete timeline for his return. As noted previously, Watt is superhuman and could potentially be ready for Week 1. Let’s face it, he isn’t the sort of guy, love him or hate him, that will be skipping meetings and not be fully prepped for the team he is facing schematically if not in terms of game-shape.
But missing Watt for one, two, three or more games gets, game-by-game, an increasingly bigger problem for the Texans. Watt is a force of nature and allows other guys to be better. How much of Jadaveon Clowney’s improvement is factoring in that the opposition will have to think about Watt? Answer: a whole lot.
The Texans need Watt as any team needs their star player and every game without him is a big, big reason to be fearful for the Texans.
In ‘Reasons to be Cheerful,’ the main one was the tooled up offence. Those reading the article probably noticed that there was more enthusiasm for the likes of Lamar Miller and Hopkins than for the new quarterback. Osweiler decided that the snub of being benched for a ‘healthy’ Peyton Manning during the run to the Super Bowl was too much to forgive. When Denver approached him and his team to discuss a new deal, it wasn’t really considered. Osweiler wanted to be loved, to be valued and so he was out of town.
Before thinking about his actual play, this chain of events is a worrying one. Was he really under the impression that Manning, however bad he may have looked and played, would not be reinstalled as starter as soon as he was, again, ‘healthy?’ Whether he did or not, to react so badly come the end of the season shows a lack of grace and, perhaps, humility. He was locked to be installed as the starter in Denver, he had been groomed for four years. Manning was retiring, this was his swansong. Osweiler didn’t like the snub.
So he went to the highest bidder and got a contract he likely wouldn’t have received in Denver. It’s a great situation and for that he personally should feel very good. So why the fear for the Texans and fans?
It’s a huge investment based on a very small sample size of evidence. His stats were ok, not great. His win-loss record was technically 5-2 though he was replaced in that fifth win (at home to San Diego) by Manning meaning he went 4-2 in games he completed. Not bad but he was playing with the league’s best defence.
Perhaps the worry is he didn’t make the most of the weapons around him and never really seemed to look comfortable. All understandable given he came in to replace a guy who definitely was the leader of the offence. His role was to be a caretaker and to not screw things up. But he looked a bit ‘meh.’
The worry stems from the lack of evidence of his ability to be an above average QB, the way in which he took the slight of being benched (for a sure fire, first ballot Hall of Fame QB too) and his sometimes spotty play in his seven game span. Let’s not forget, he was benched.
So whilst the offence in Houston is looking deeper and stronger than last year, the QB is still, until proven otherwise, a reason to be fearful.
By virtue of winning the Division, the Texans have a very tricky schedule this season. The six division games are not a gimme but for Houston to win again, they may need to go 4-2, 5-1 in division. With teams around them improving too, that’s not going to be easy. As with their division rivals, they face the NFC North and AFC West. On paper, that’s a very tricky assignment.
The SuperBowl champs (Broncos), the team that whopped them in the play-offs (Chiefs), two other play-off teams (Packers, Vikings), at a resurgent team imbued with young talent playing in a horror-show of a stadium (Raiders) and then, light at the end of the tunnel, three games that look a little kinder, or at least a little more even (Bears, Chargers, Lions).
That run could be a 3-5 run and it wouldn’t surprise you, especially as they are on the road to the Broncos, Packers, Raiders and Vikings.
Oh, and they face the Patriots and Bengals as fellow division winners. The Pats will be without Tom Brady for the week three tilt but it is in prime time at Foxborough. The Bengals come at home in week 16, on Christmas Eve. 0-2 isn’t unthinkable.
If the division is tougher, 6-10 isn’t out of the question, especially if they are missing Watt for the early games (Bears, Chiefs and Patriots are the home-home-road schedule straight out of the gate).
Whilst the Texans have lots to be Cheerful about, it’s hard to hype them to hard when the slate is so tough.
Gareth Duxbury enjoys football both American and Association. Follows Washington in the former, Sheffield Wednesday in the latter. His love of QB play only topped by his fandom of Inside Linebackers. He tweets from