JOHN GRANATO

Hate to say I told you so. No I don't. The Texans are good. Damn good

Deshaun Watson and the Texans are channeling an Oilers team that won 11 in a row. Matt Patterson/Houston Texans

A month ago the Texans were at the halfway point of the season. They had won five straight games. I wrote on this very website that they would breeze through the rest of the schedule unbeaten and be the top seed in the AFC. They are four games away from that.

To get there of course the Texans will have to win out but they will also need the Chiefs to lose twice. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. They’ve got the Ravens this week followed by the Chargers, at the Seahawks and home for the Raiders. The Ravens have the league’s best defense and a weapon no one else has in Lamar Jackson. The Chargers have been playing as well as anyone and the Seahawks are playing well and own arguably the best home field advantage. The Raiders are the Raiders but that’s a rivalry game and you never know.

The Patriots have to lose once. They go to Miami this week where they historically struggle late in the year and they have to go to Pittsburgh next week. That’s never easy. If they haven’t lost by then they won’t. Their last two are at home against the Jets and Bills. Two gimmies.

I’ve heard over and over how the Texans are in the second tier of AFC hierarchy. There’s the Chiefs and the Patriots then the Texans, Chargers and Steelers.

Why is that? Why is a team that’s got the longest win streak in the league thought to be a second tier team?

The answer keeps coming back one thing: Bill O’Brien.

I suppose that’s fair.

In his four-plus seasons with the Texans it’s tough to pinpoint a signature win. The Raiders playoff victory rings a little hollow. Connor Cook was their starter. It was the first time in NFL history that a quarterback made his first career start in the playoffs. It showed.

O’Brien lost his other two playoff games.

In 2015 the Texans went into Cincinnati and beat an 8-0 Bengals team on Monday Night Football. It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. Brian Hoyer and T.J. Yates put up 10 points but that was enough to beat the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton. The Bengals went on to win 12 games that year but lost in their only playoff game as they are wont to do.

In 2016 the Texans beat the Chiefs in the second week of the season. The Chiefs went on to win 12 games that year but lost their only playoff game to the Steelers.

Last year the Texans put up 57 on the Titans who went on to the second round of the playoffs but they were still the Titans, not exactly NFL royalty.

This year’s win over Dallas is looking better and better. The Cowboys are 7-5 now, leading the NFC East and it’s always good to beat those people. At the time it didn’t look like either team would be considered very good at any point this season. Times have changed.

The Saints had a 10 game win streak that ended against those Cowboys last Thursday. It’s cliche but on any given Sunday (or Thursday) you can lose in the NFL so to win nine in a row is something of an accomplishment. And like it or not Bill O’Brien is the guy who got you there.

Whether it’s his postgame demeanor, his conservative late game play calling, his clock management, his flag gaffes or the hole in his chin, there’s a reason that Bill O’Brien has not won this city over.

He won me over a couple of weeks ago with this quote.

“I think Thanksgiving is awesome. It’s football. It’s turkey. It’s stuffing. It’s a couple of Coors Lights and watch some football.”

That’s a man I can trust.

But will we be saying that about him this postseason? We’ll get a preview of what that’ll be like this last month. The Colts’ backs are against the wall after that disaster in Jacksonville last week. This Sunday’s game will not be easy. The Jets are the Jets. The Texans should win that one. But then they’ve got to go to Philly who may be playing for their playoff lives. Now that will be a signature win, maybe O’Brien’s biggest ever. If things play out right, it could mean a Texans playoff bye, the organization’s first.

That would be huge.

Of course it could all fall apart. They could lose these last four and finish right where almost everyone thought they would: 9-7.

That’s not going to happen. Bill O’Brien and this team have turned a corner. They’re better than you want to give them credit for. They’re as good as any team in the AFC. That’s right. They’re as good as the Chiefs. They can beat them.

There are two reasons why. They can get after the quarterback and make a young guy look bad (see Baker Mayfield last week) and they have number 4. While DeShaun hasn’t been other worldly like I thought he’d be coming into this season, he’s been pretty darned good. And he saves his best for the biggest games.

This team has turned a corner. It’s about time this fanbase did. You younger readers won’t remember the 11 straight Oilers wins to close out the 1993 season. This city was on fire. All everyone could talk about was that Oilers team. Of course they disappointed us all with a loss to Joe Montana and the Chiefs but it was still one helluva ride.

This one; not so much. I’ve never seen the stadium emptier than at the start of the Monday night game against the Titans. I know it was a work and school day but that was a huge game. The stadium filled up but this isn’t the Rockets. People should be in their seats for the start of  Texans games.

We only get two, maybe three calls a show about the Texans. Maybe.

Come on people. Where’s the excitement for a nine game win streak?

We’re not known for being a great sports town but I’ve always said that this city will get behind a team if we think it’s got a chance to win it all. We have for the Rockets and Astros.

Time to get behind this Texans team. It can go where no Houston pro football team has gone before: The Super Bowl.

That’s right. I said it.  

If not it’s still a great building block season, kind of like the ‘15 Astros. They got to the postseason but just weren’t ready to win it yet. That would be fine. It gave them that experience they took advantage of two years later.

It feels like there’s been that kind of culture change with these Texans. Games they would have lost in the past they are winning now and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Remember: all’s well that ends well and these games have been ending well.

And this team looks like it’s built to last. With Brian Gaine calling the draft shots now it just feels different. They actually found three third round draft picks who can play; Justin Reid, Martinas Rankins and Jordan Akins. In years past they cut their third rounders before the season started. Let’s see what he can do with first and second round picks.

All in all this is turning into a great season. Let’s put the 0-3 start behind us. I know that’s still a wound that won’t heal for a lot of fans.

Get over it people. This team is 9-3.

Let’s start acting like it.



 

Some physical standouts for the Texans as the youngsters get to work

What you need to know from Texans rookie minicamp

University of Kentucky Athletics

The Texans hosted a part of their rookie minicamp Friday and here is what you need to know. Obviously, the caveat is these are all rookies or players with very little NFL experience at all so take it for what it is worth.

Kahale Warring is an absolute specimen

When people talk about physical specimens you usually don't get the full effect until you see them in person. Such is the case with the Texans new tight end. He had some very nice catches and reps going out as a pass catcher.

Just on his size and movement he had more than a few moments that turned heads. He is fluid in his movement on the field. You can tell every now and then he hasn't been playing the position long but those flashes are few and far between.

He will have to grow into a role and experience in joint practices and preseason games will be important for him this year. It is easy to see how he can eventually fit on a team.

The Bouncers at tackle

I don't know if I can get the nickname to stick but I want to see Tytus Howard and Max Scharping on one of those campy 90's posters with Deshaun standing behind them like he is already in the club.

Both of these guys are physically imposing for different reasons. Howard looks like a monster athlete and showcases it with ease. He moves so well for someone at his size and it is easy to see why he draws Duane Brown comparisons when people are discussing his body and body type. Scharping is built like a brick wall. He is thick and you can see how powerful he is from just looking at him.

There is obviously a long way to go, even to either one of these guys starting, but if it works out like the Texans hope Howard is the team's left tackle and Scharping is the team's right tackle of the future (and hopefully the near future).

Go Johnnie go

Johnnie Dixon is fast and he has a chance to work his way into the conversation at wideout. The former Ohio State pass catcher has crazy fast feet frequently showcasing his agility. He can scoot too and it wouldn't surprise me if he was one of the fastest players on the field Friday.

The wideout room is a little crowded. Obviously DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee are on the team without question. DeAndre Carter is the team's specialist with returns so he will have to fight to keep his special teams spot as well as his wideout spot. The other spot has Vyncint Smith as the early leader since he played with the team last year but he can absolutely be challenged.

I will be anxious to see what Dixon can do when he is catching passes from Deshaun Watson and A.J. McCarron.

Kentucky's imposing duo

Lonnie Johnson looks a lot bigger in person than he does on television. He is every bit his 6 foot 2 inch frame and has some thickness to his frame as well. The Texans have rarely had a cornerback with his physical makeup and presence. He had some nice reps staying with wideouts today.

His former Kentucky teammate Derrick Baity is on the team too. He is also huge standing an inch taller than Johnson. Though I didn't see a ton of his reps he had some success in a few team reps and forced one wideout come down with a ball out of bounds that would have not been a catch.

Johnson is obviously on the team but his former teammate's journey to be his teammate again is something to watch.

Duke Ejiofor's career on hold

The Texans announced second-year linebacker Duke Ejiofor was placed on injured reserve. He had a shoulder injury before last year's draft that caused him to drop and he also got injured with the Texans last year. Bill O'Brien addressed Ejiofor's placement on IR.

"It's been unlucky. Duke's a great guy and he just has had some bad luck. He'll be back, though. He'll be back at some point and he'll have a chance to be a good pro football player. He's a good guy, he can do a lot of different things, he's a versatile player. It's just one of those things. It's tough. It was a fluky thing. It's just bad luck really, to be honest with you."

Longshot to roster spot

It is early to be thinking about an undrafted player making the roster but Bill O'Brien laid out Friday there are plenty of Texans players who started as undrafted free agents.

"So, really the message is – the draft is important," O'Brien said. "Like, don't get me wrong. But it's a small portion of the roster building. You have seven draft picks, you have 35 guys out here. So, if you're on the 90-man roster, I think we've proven as an organization that it's what you do when you get here. It's not how you got here, it's what you do when you enter the building from that point forward."

The Texans entire special teams unit is made up of players that weren't drafted. New safety Tashaun Gipson carved out a role in the NFL after his name wasn't called. Brennan Scarlett and Brandon Dunn were two defensive role players who started as free agents who didn't get drafted.

Here is my early longshot to roster spot player: Chris Johnson, safety, North Alabama.

He ran a 4.42 at a regional combine. He flashed a little today with play recognition and athleticism. He will likely do most of his work when the pads are on and he can showcase a little more of what he brings from the safety spot. There is room in the defensive back room for someone to contribute right away on special teams.

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