Bullheaded: The Highs and Lows Bye Week Episode

The Houston Texans have arrived at the bye week, surviving tooth and nail through equally highs and lows. The 3-3 record describes perfectly of the woes success that the team has equally matched.

In the beginning…

Things went straight to the crap right out the gate. During the preseason, quarterback Tom Savage was selected as the starter over rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson while left tackle Duane Brown was holding out in a contract dispute. However, things became short-lived for Savage as a starter. Since there was no Brown, the opening game saw the offensive line get ravaged by the rival Jackonsville Jaguars for 10 sacks. Savage’s performance was enough to put him on the bench in the 2nd half and begin the Watson era.

The Texans lost that game but came back stronger the following week, a Thursday night matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, which was Watson’s first start and eventually first victory. what followed were hard fought losses to the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs but impressive wins over the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns.

But in the spirit of things being “too good to be true”, it was exactly that. Injuries haunted the team again this year, especially on the defnesive side of the ball. Cornerback Kevin Johnson injured his knee the 2nd game of the season and has been sidelined ever since. Linebacker Brian Cushing was injured and scheduled to miss 6 weeks; but shortly after, he was found to be using PED’s and suspended for 10 games this season. Perhaps the biggest blow was losing linebacker Whitney Mercilus and defensive end J.J. Watt to season-ending injuries. Both players were a vital part of a dream pass rush, alongside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, to give offensive lines and quarterbacks nightmares. Also, Duane Brown has yet to draw any closer to ending the holdout talks, which might mean the end for one of the franchise’s beloved players.

Unfamiliar Familiarity

The biggest improvement for this team is the return to having offensive weapons. Sure Watson is the obvious difference maker, but the factors are at his disposal. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is back to his deep threat ways as he now has someone to throw him the ball to get his numbers up. This is also in part to the fact that wide receiver Will Fuller is one the opposite raising much hell. Fuller, who was plagued with injuries heading into his 2nd year this season, made his debut against the Titans and has exploded with 5 touchdowns out of 8 catches for 154 yards. The tight ends, C.J. Fiedorowicz and  are definitely keeping defenses on their toes by becoming solid possession options whenever a first down is needed. Running backs Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, are giving the team solid reliability on the ground. Both players have the speed, but Miller is serving well as a feature back hitting inside and outside the holes as well as sweeps and catching checkdown passes out of the backfield. Foreman, a rookie out of the University of Texas, plays the role of power back, getting most of the inside/short yardage rushes, but can really break off a long run when it’s needed.

All these offensive players with different skill position roles is a reminder to those 2011 and 2012 teams, the Texans’ initial run into the playoffs. Wide receiver Andre Johnson was a given but it seemed there were playmakers all over the field. The running backs had the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate; the latter, despite being a backup, would come in and equally run over defenses even when taking on starting duties because of injury. Nobody will ever forget tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, whom the latter would occasionally play some fullback to become a lead blocker.

In those years, the Texans had a prolific offense, almost similar to what is going on today; but this year’s squad is getting a little more out of their aerial attack, particularly among the wide receivers. All fingers can point to one main difference on that.

Finally a Franchise QB?

Ever since the fall of Carr, the Houston Texans have struggled to find a franchise quarterback. They thought they could make something out of Matt Schaub but 2013 washed all of those hopes away. Hiring a new head coach in Bill O’ Brien seemed to keep things afloat but the ship went nowhere. Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage all tried to take on the role that has haunted this team since 2002, but nothing came about other than some playoff losses a ton of disappointment and hopelessness. But in the 2017 draft, the Texans traded up to select Deshaun Watson out of Clemson at number 12 overall, a risk that they are enjoying the reward of.

Watson has come out and made the best of what could’ve been a bad thing. With the offensive line playing the way they did in the first half of game one, it seemed like this unit was destined to continue the inefficiencies created by Osweiler from last season.  he found a way to give himself protection by getting rid of the ball quickly and moving around the pocket, something that quite of the previous QB’s had trouble with. His scrambling abilities gives him an edge and ability to extend plays whenever the pocket appears to break down or if receivers are not open right away. Watson has also displayed a knack for finding the endzone. In addition to having a touchdown in each of the 6 game he’s played in. the rookie has two separate games where he has scored at least 5 touchdowns. His 15 touchdown passes has already equaled the same number that Osweiler put out the year before.

Of course, the cautionary thing to do is not acknowledge the Texans have found their franchise QB but it’s hard to do so after seeing what he has done so far. Watson has done an amazing job that people may have been skeptical about expecting from him; nevertheless he has turned those skeptics into true believers, and neither side has looked back since.

Defense

As mentioned earlier, the defense has been plagued with injuries but continues to give the great fight they have been doing for quite some time now. It seems that whenever the chips are down, or whatever defeatist cliche is happening, the Texans defense takes on a Rocky Balboa personality and punch back as much as they can. This season is not different as the injured players have not only affected them, but free agency. The biggest loss came in the secondary with cornerback A.J. Bouye who is over on the Jaguars while linebacker John Simon traded his steel blue for Colts blue.  But amidst all of that, he Texans remained a top 10 defensive unit as well as top 5 in interceptions.

Where to Go From Here

Having a record of 3-3 will challenge how you really want to look at the glass of water. While there are some positives that are sticking with this team, you can’t really overlook the negatives. This offense is the strongest it has been in a while but you have to start thinking about how the defense will hold up in the 2nd stretch of the season. They will be facing contending teams such as the Pittsburgh and Los Angeles Rams who are offensively talented and dangerous when it comes to scoring, respectively. The Texans are also sitting in a 3 way tie with the Jaguars and Titans for 1st place in the division but have to go on the road to play the rematch games of both opponents. Knowing this, hopefully there will be more highs than lows finishing this year off.

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