Composite photo by Jack Brame
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs proved speed kills. They hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on the back of a team built around an offense whose foundation is speed. They nicknamed their offense, or skill position players, the 'Legion of Zoom' because of said speed. No matter how big a hole they dug themselves into, that speed and explosive offense could dig them out of. The Texans saw it firsthand in their playoff loss. After being up 24-7, they ended up losing 51-31. The Chiefs repeated this feat in similar fashion against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Going into the 4th quarter down 20-10, they rattled off 21 unanswered points to win 31-21.
The NFL is a copycat league. Suffice to say, Texans Grand Poobah Bill O'Brien decided this offseason to attempt to replicate that model. While this is different from their usual Patriots love fest, it is still an attempt to copy another team's identity instead of establishing their own. Whenever a team tries to replicate what another team has done to be successful, they often fail. The question is: do the Texans have enough speed on offense to cause mismatches and be just as explosive as the Chiefs?
Quarterback position is close
Patrick Mahomes has proven himself via winning league MVP and then Super Bowl MVP in consecutive years. He's accomplished enough to warrant the "face of the league" talk he's received. Deshaun Watson seems to be on the verge of being the Peyton Manning to Mahomes' Tom Brady. He may not have as talented of a roster, but he's enough of an enigma himself to elevate the guys around him. Watson is the kind of guy that wants it so bad, he'll play well and win in spite being held back due to his coach and GM being a buffoon.
Receivers are meh
When looking at the receiving corps around the league, the Texans' group is average at best. Too many guys with questionable injury history, or their best days seem to be behind them...or both. I saw a tweet earlier that embodies the gist of this article. It talked about the speed at receiver the Texans have and displayed their 40 times. I quoted it and said it was from their respective combines. Not to say this group isn't still explosive, but they all have their issues. This group lacks a true top dog and doesn't have anyone that sparks real fear in defenses. They have potential, but that same potential gets coaches and GMs fired. Let's not even address the tight end position. The Texans have thrown spaghetti at the wall there, whereas other teams have invested wisely.
Duke Johnson was underused last season. David Johnson hasn't been good since 2016. This is the combo the Texans are counting on going into next season. While I believe they can be good enough to get the job done, I'm not sure. A trade for a more stable and solid vet would make me more at ease (Leonard Fournette). However, given the talent at other positions, the running backs may only serve as the parsley flakes in the full meal presentation. Meaning they're a compliment, not a focal point.
Trading for and extending Laremy Tunsil came at an extremely high cost. Not to mention spending a 1st and a 2nd round pick on two other starters on the line last offseason. This line is coming together and could prove to be one of the better young lines in the league. They are athletic and can be nasty. This is the second most important position group on this side of the ball behind Watson. If they play well and up to their collective potential, I see great things happening. However, if they fail to live up to that potential, look forward to an arduous season.
There's so much hanging in the balance when it comes to this team's offensive explosion. All the what ifs can be put to bed if the main triggermen (Watson and O'Brien) are in sync. If O'Brien can tap into Watson's next level abilities, this offense can be scary. With the way things have gone the last couple years, things may be very average. I pray I'm right on the former and that the latter is a thing of the past. This offense reminds me of that awesome v6 engine with all the potential in the world. All it needs is a few add-ons and it could run the racetracks for years to come.
- In a week that is in large part about being thankful for the good things we are fortunate to have in life, Texans’ fans can have an extra helping of glee. After three years of enduring an absolute turkey of a franchise, it is certainly a football blessing to have the Texans gobble up three straight wins to get to 6-4 and make it a legitimately big game Sunday versus 7-3 Jacksonville at NRG Stadium.
Should the Texans beat the Jaguars for a second time, they sweep the season series and take over first place in the AFC South. Raise your hands if back in early September you had this as a likely scenario. Hands down liars! With six more games to play after Sunday it’s not as if the Texans clinch the division with a win, but it clearly positions them to take the division and go from last to first as the Jaguars did from 2021 to last season. Among the Texans’ final six games, only Cleveland is an opponent currently with a winning record. The Broncos have won four in a row to enter the wild card race at 5-5, but that game is in Houston. Then the Texans play at the offensively impotent Jets and the dead in the water Titans. The Deshaun Watson-less Browns are here Christmas Eve before the Texans get their second game with the Titans, ahead of the season finale at the presently 5-5 Colts. That is a very favorable schedule. With a win over the Jags Sunday, the Texans finishing 11-6 becomes very plausible. That would force the Jaguars to win five of their final six games, which include playing at Cleveland and a home date vs. the Ravens. Jacksonville’s other four games project as wins: home games vs. the no-Joe Burrow Bengals and the horrible Panthers, road games at Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
On the flip side, if the Jaguars come here and win Sunday, they come relatively close to putting away the division. The Jags’ would leave with a two game lead, and a split with the Texans would give the Jacksonville the tiebreaker via better divisional record, unless they somehow lose at Tennessee in their season finale.
Beating the Jags again doesn’t figure to be as easy as it turned out to be for the Texans in Florida back in September. The Texans won 37-17 despite being outgained 404 yards to 366. After getting out to a 17-0 lead, the Texans saw Jacksonville draw within 17-10 with 4:35 to go in the third quarter. Then Andrew Beck shockingly rumbled 85 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff return. Thereafter the outcome was never in doubt. The Texans were turnover-free in the game, the Jaguars coughed it up twice. With C.J. Stroud coming off of a three interceptions game you know taking care of the ball is a point of re-emphasis this week.
The Jaguars are a perfect 4-0 on the road, one of the road games being a road trip not a true road game. They beat the Buffalo Bills in London.
If C.J Stroud opted to take the rest of the season off, he’d still have the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award just about sewn up. Fellow freshman Texan Tank Dell is in the hunt for runner-up. The dynamic 165 pound former Houston Cougar has six touchdown catches. That equals the rookie TD haul total of Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins combined. Johnson had four TD grabs as a rookie in 2003, Hopkins just two as a rook in 2013. Dell is on pace for 10 touchdown catches. The schedule being 17 games now impacts this stuff of course, but Dell missed the Saints game while in concussion protocol. In the Super Bowl era, only nine first year wide receivers have cracked double digits in TD receptions. Randy Moss blew away the field with his epic 17 TD catch rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. Next with 13 are Ja’Marr Chase two years go with the Bengals and the begoggled John Jefferson with the Chargers in 1978. Odell Beckham and Mike Evans caught 12 apiece as rookies, Mike Williams 11. Calvin Ridley, Daryl Turner, and Sammy White each snared 10. White did it in a 14 game schedule.
Rams rookie fifth round pick Puka Nacua is Dell’s chief competition for rookie wideout of the year. Nacua is on pace for a whopping 117 receptions for more than 1500 yards.
A Thanksgiving-related note/quasi prediction. If the Texans ultimately finish second in the division, here’s a guess that they play at the Arlington Cowboys Turkey Day 2024. The Texans next season will play a game at the NFC East team that finishes in its division this year in the same place the Texans do theirs. The Cowboys are going to be second behind Philadelphia in the NFC East. C.J. Stroud’s arrival means no more zero nationally televised games for the Texans. A Texans-Cowboys holiday tilt makes sense. The Texans have played two Thanksgiving Day games, both at Detroit.
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Texans on Tap is the weekly Texan-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up Monday on the SportsMapTexans YouTube channel.