The Texans could not cover tight ends all season, and it bit them again Saturday. Tim Warner/Getty Images
The off-season is here early for the Texans.
The season ended with a thud on Saturday, as they simply were outplayed in almost every way in a 21-7 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Texans fell in a 21-0 hole early and never recovered. The Colts did not punt until there was less than 11 minutes left in the third quarter. The Texans defense was better in the second half, but when the game was on the line, they had no answers.
In the first half, when it was decided, we saw a lot of familiar problems that haunted Houston all season. The Texans once again had nothing to stop T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck. They could not cover the tight end. They got no pressure on the quarterback. The defense could not get off the field on third down. They had untimely bad penalties on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins needed to be brilliant, and they were not. Hopkins looked hobbled and had just 37 yards on five catches. Watson completed 29 of 45 passes for 235 yards, one TD and an interception. He rushed for 76 yards on eight carries but was sacked three times and pressured throughout the game.
The result is a roller coaster season that comes to an early end. The Texans looked dreadful in an 0-3 start, then reeled off nine wins in a row before the defense struggled mightily down the stretch.
The Colts move on and will face Kansas City next week. For the Texans, the attention now turns to what the do in the off-season. Here are five things they need to address:
1) Get a legitimate NFL offensive tackle. Two if possible. That was an issue all season, and it needs to be addressed with high draft picks, free agency or even a trade. One big addition can make the entire line better. This is a must before next season or they will get Watson killed. Last year's third-round pick, Martinas Rankin, will likely be an above average guard at some point. With him, Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, Zach Fulton and Greg Mancz, there is enough to put together a decent interior. The two outside positions, however, HAVE to be upgraded.
2) Revamp the secondary. They need to get faster at cornerback, and find someone who can cover T.Y. Hilton. Jonathan Joseph still understands the game, but he no longer has the coverage skills to be a No. 1 corner. Aaron Colvin was a free agent failure. You could do worse than bring back Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson at safety, but they need at least two new corners. Free agency is the most likely path here.
3) Changes on the coaching staff. Bill O'Brien won't be going anywhere, but he needs to make changes on his staff. It's probably time to let Romeo Crennel ride off into the sunset. He has been an excellent defensive coordinator for a long time, but he is 71 years old, and the game might have passed him by. They never made any changes in how they defended the Colts in particular, and tight ends in general, until the game was decided. There will be some very good defensive minded coaches available that have been head coaches. A new scheme and some new thoughts could do wonders for the Texans. A new voice on the offensive line would not be a bad idea either. An offensive coordinator with head coaching experience could also make Watson even more dangerous.
4) Figure out what to do with Jadeveon Clowney. His contract is up, and he is going to want to be paid Khalil Mack money. Truthfully, he is not worth that. A franchise tag and then a trade is certainly worth considering. Ideally, he would be re-signed, but not in a record-breaking deal.
5) Add another set of wheels in the backfield. Lamar Miller is solid, and maybe D'Onta Foreman fills this role next season. But he missed almost all of 2018 with an Achilles injury and who knows if he will ever be 100 percent of what he was? Some reliable depth would be a welcome addition.
The good news is they are set at the most important position on the roster, quarterback. They are probably OK at wide receiver if Will Fuller can return healthy next season. If not, perhaps Demaryius Thomas will. Keke Coutee has potential if he can stay healthy. They will have enough cap room to make significant additions on both sides of the ball.
But there is a lot to be fixed. And the Colts - who were clearly the better team this year - should be even better next season. Jacksonville might bounce back. Who knows how many more All-Pro type seasons J.J. Watt has left in him? The window for this team is right now and big moves need to be made.
The Texans did not get the job done in 2018, so there will be a lot of work to do in the off-season.
An off-season that started too early.
Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.
Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.
Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.
Who pitches the sixth inning?
Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”
While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.
And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.
But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.
Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!
Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!