FALCON POINTS

5 key factors for the Texans to have a big season in 2020

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The NFL season starts tomorrow night, and maybe things will start to feel right in the world again. When last we left the Texans, they were blown off the field by the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. They have since paid their quarterback, jettisoned their best offensive weapon and done little to improve a porous defense. So why will things be different on Thursday?

They probably won't. But if the Texans are to make waves this season, these five things that have to happen:

1) The Texans can not start the season 0-2. Yes, they get both the Chiefs and Ravens, teams that dominated them last season and figure to vie for the top seed in the AFC again. But they were able to upset the Chiefs in the regular season last year, and the Ravens game was an odd effort coming off a trip to London. While the odds say they will lose them both, a big effort in one of the two games could set a good tone for the season. They could start 0-2 and still make the playoffs, but a win over a legitimate contender would go a long way to justifying the off-season moves.

2) Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb will have to combine for more production than DeAndre Hopkins. It might seem like a long shot, because both have to stay healthy. We'll see if Cooks plays this Thursday, but if he does, and they can add some explosiveness to the offense, the Texans could be on path for a solid season.

3) David Johnson has to party like it's 2016. The overpaid running back has been widely dismissed as a poor part of the Hopkins trade, but Johnson has not had a lot around him in Arizona the past couple years, and injuries have derailed him. His 2016 efforts got him paid (and made him a fantasy legend) but that season has been an outlier. He will have a better offensive line to work with and is presumably healthy and motivated. A repeat of 2016 where he had over a combined 2,000 yards rushing and receiving would be huge for the Texans.

4) J.J. Watt has to stay healthy and productive. It's asking a lot. Watt has played a full season just once in the last four years. The other three years he played 16 games combined. In the healthy year, he had 16 sacks, a number he will need to approach again, because the rest of the defense is shaky at best, and that's being kind.

5) Bill O'Brien has to figure it out. Year seven on the job for O'Brien has to be his best yet. He has rid himself of anyone who threatens him, and has had things all his way. There are no more excuses if the team does not contend for at least a spot in the AFC title game. If not, then O'Brien has clearly reached his peak with the Texans.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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