MATT HARAB

Four NFL games (other than the Texans) for Houston fans to keep an eye on

Andrew Luck finally returns to the field. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Football season is upon on us and it’s about darn time. Living in the humidity of Houston the “dog-days of summer” is definitely something I’m happy to see pass us by.  I’m ready to sit on my couch and do nothing but watch football on Sundays, while making fun of my family shoveling snow back east.

There are many reasons to be excited about the Texans this year, exhibit A being DeShaun Watson. The 61% completion, 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while holding a quarterback rating of 103.0 in just 7 games last year before the injury. The 12 touchdowns thrown against the four playoff teams he faced last year.  That was the trailer for what is hopefully the very good movie that is DeShaun Watson’s long career in Houston. I know you’re going to watch the Texans game this week but here are four other games you need to keep your eye on.

Bengals at Colts

Andrew Luck’s best season was in 2014 when he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns.   Will he get back to that form? That is one of the many fascinating questions that face the 2018 NFL season, another one being of course is DeShaun Watson the real deal?  Two quarterbacks in the same division who have shown us flashes of brilliance in their careers. Two quarterbacks that also have us thinking, is the injury bug going to haunt them for as long as they play in the league?  The Colts have made an effort this past offseason to keep Andrew Luck upright and give his shoulder a chance to relive the glory days Indy fans would love to see return. This is a franchise used to good quarterback play, this is a team historically that has given the Texans fits. Right now it is thought to be Jacksonville or Houston’s division, according to Vegas.  The Jags are +165 and Houston is +195 to win the South, however the Colts might be the sneaky “best bet.” They are the underdog at +550 odds. Sunday we get our first look at the rejuvenated Andrew Luck.

Jags at Giants

Not as easy test for Jacksonville right off the bat. This is the scariest defense in football by a long shot, and one thing to keep an eye on as a Texan fan is how the offensive line for New York handles the front seven for Jacksonville. New York, just like Houston, struggled protecting the quarterback last year and paving consistent holes for the running game. Jacksonville was the only team in the NFL last year to not give up 3,000 total passing yards on the season; they averaged 169 passing yards given up through the air.  The second lowest, Minnesota, gave up 192. That is a big difference from the top team to the second team, and a lot of that had to do with disrupting the quarterback. They also were second in the league in sacks last year. Watch and see how the Giants offensive line handles the pressure, because New York and Houston have similar struggles in that department.

Titans @ Dolphins

I’ll obviously list all the divisional opponent games Week 1. Tennessee's offense took a step back last year, Marcus Mariota in particular.  I think Miami will be horrible this year, and even decent teams beat up on horrible teams. If Tennessee hopes to compete this year, this is a game they win by 10 points even if it is on the road. We’ll get a good look here at possibly two bad teams.  If there is a blow out in this game, the Texans will know if there is competition in Nashville.

Chiefs @ Chargers

The one other division in the AFC that I think is very much up for grabs is the AFC West.  The goal is to make the playoffs this year and move past the first round for Houston. These are two legitimate foes that could stand in their way.  Will Patrick Mahomes’ first year be like DeShaun Watson’s? No, but he is a gunslinger with weapons and a brilliant offensive mind for a head coach in Andy Reid. The Chargers have at least one stud at every positional level on both sides of the ball.  These two teams will compete for the division title out west.

 

The organization has also made a significant front office change

Texans promote from within for new DC as changes begin

Getty Images

A few of the Texans changes are just a sign of Bill O'Brien's increasing power.

Romeo Crennel is out

This was a move that had to be made. Despite issues with health and talent, the Texans defense was not anywhere close to good enough under Romeo Crennel. A top five points per game number in 2018 turned into the 19th best figure in football in 2019 capped off by defensive ineptitude against the Chiefs in the playoffs. The Texans were also bottom five in yards per game.

The Texans once before had Crennel leaving the defensive coordinator spot with the promotion of Mike Vrabel to defensive coordinator only to have the long-time coordinator return when Vrabel was hired by the Titans. Hopefully this move works out better than the last time as Vrabel oversaw a massive drop off in his one year at the head of the defense.

It wouldn't be unusual to expect to still see Crennel with the Texans considering the youth and inexperience as a coordinator the new team's defensive coordinator possesses.

Anthony Weaver is in

I didn't believe the Texans would turn to Anthony Weaver as their next defensive coordinator, perhaps opting for more experience, but here we are. I really enjoy this risk the Texans are taking.

Weaver is well respected across the NFL and people I have talked to mentioned they thought he might have been ready to coordinate a defense before last season. There is a thought he will be a head coach in the league eventually if his success as a position coach carries over to the coordinator job.

Weaver has been in Houston coaching the defensive line for four seasons after two seasons doing the same in Cleveland. I don't need to tell you the Texans defensive line has vastly overachieved when you think about the actual investment the team has made in it to this date. Weaver has turned player after player into contributor and has coached up D.J. Reader, a late round pick, to near the top of his position.

Weaver played under Rex Ryan when Ryan was the defensive line coach and defensive coordinator in Baltimore. He also coached under current Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in Cleveland.

This is no easy task for Weaver. He takes over a side of the ball with quite a few holes to fill via either free agency, trade, or the draft. His side of the football lacks overall talent and there aren't a ton of avenues to get a talent influx for the Texans defense.

A new leader of the defense, and hopefully new direction, could be a huge move for a side of the ball that underwhelmed in 2019. Of course, they didn't underwhelm anywhere near the level of underwhelming the offense was, but there have yet to be many changes on that side of the ball.

The last time the Texans promoted from within for this position, they failed miserably that season on defense bottoming-out. The team will have to hope Weaver has different results.

Contract expert shown the door

This was a huge shocker to me from the front office side of the Texans. When I talked at length about the Texans with people around the NFL there was always a conversation about how no matter what the structure was when it came to the general manager situation the Texans could lean on Chris Olsen to make sure their contracts were lined up right.

Olsen was very well thought of around the league. Now, the Texans have one less front office mind to lean on as the non-GM situation seems to continue.

I would say though, over the past year, the Texans have handed out some very un-Olsen type deals to players. Nick Martin's contract seemed pricey. Whitney Mercilus potentially was overpaid a great deal. But there were still plenty of really good deals made in the past year.

The Texans are set to negotiate two of the biggest contracts in franchise history this offseason with the expectation quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil get new deals.

For whatever reason, Bill O'Brien and Jack Easterby along with whatever other people sit on the council of decision-making have decided the contract expert was not needed. This could be because they have someone in mind for these duties but it also could mean something much bigger.

This could be a clearing so the Texans could hire a general manager. Now, I believe O'Brien would still maintain power over said GM but I also think it would take a lot off O'Brien's plate while still allowing him to work with the offense to a great degree.

O'Brien can't continue at his current pace. He was spread too thin and the team suffered for it. A general manager could take some of those duties off his hands while allowing him to get back to the offense in a more full-time capacity. Again, I believe O'Brien would remain the final decision maker on most everything, but it wouldn't hurt to have that title on someone and help the Texans top employee

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