5 burning questions that will determine if the Texans' season is a success or a flop
Where were you on September 8, 2002, when the expansion Houston Texans shocked the world and defeated the Dallas Cowboys 19-10? It's hard to believe the Texans franchise is entering its 15th season. With a less-than-stellar mark of 106-134 during those previous 14 years, we take a moment to examine the burning issues and questions facing the Texans in advance of their preseason opener vs. Carolina Wednesday night in Charlotte.
1. Is Bill O'Brien on the hot seat?
Yes, the Texans head coach is on it. After a trio of 9-7 seasons, will his fourth year at the helm allow the Texans to take a notable step forward?
In year four, Pete Carroll won a Super Bowl with Seattle. There have been others: Mike Ditka in Chicago comes to mind, and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton brought Lombardi's prize to Bourbon Street in his fourth season. Of course, we know the legend in Foxboro: Bill Belichick had already won a pair of rings by his fourth year in New England, and in his fifth campaign he would pull in yet another.
O'Brien will need to advance out of the second round of the playoffs if he expects a new contract beyond next season. He has a championship-caliber defense, but is that enough?
2. How will the quarterback situation be handled?
He might not want to admit it, but for yet another season O'Brien will have a rotating carousel at the quarterback position. Does anyone really believe that Tom Savage will last a 16-game season fully upright with his limited mobility in the pocket and suspect offensive line? Does anyone believe that the public urging to "see what No. 4 can do" will subside and not intensify with each passing week to see Deshaun Watson in action? I guarantee you by a wide margin that there will be more Watson than Savage jerseys this year in the stands at NRG.
The Texans made a bold move in jumping up 13 spots on Draft Night to nab Watson. An even bolder move would be to actually play him. That will inevitabily come, and how the coaching staff handles juggling Savage and Watson will, in large measure, dictate the season the Texans have in 2017.
3. Can the Texans stay healthy?
Will J.J. Watt revert back to All Star form? Can Duane Brown on the offensive side get back to Pro Bowl caliber? Defensive back Kevin Johnson has Pro Bowl potential, but he needs to remain on the field to realize greatness. It should also be pointed out that there are aging vets on this squad. Can Cushing and Jonathan Joseph endure another 16-game season?
4. Can the Texans beat New England?
Their postseason ended at the hands of Tom Brady. Their two-game winning streak to start 2016 also ended at the hands of the Patriots in resounding fashion. The combined scores of those defeats last year were 61 to 16.
As fate would have it, the Texans travel again to Foxboro in Week 3. Can they control the clock, force a few turnovers, and surprise with a gadget play for a chance? A victory could very well catapult the Texans into something special this year.
5. How important is the Clowney factor?
How good can Jadeveon Clowney be? If you talk to his teammates and coaches around the league, the consensus is that Clowney has barely scratched the surface and that greatness is within reach. It's scary to think how good the Texans defense could be with a healthy Watt and Jadeveon at the helm.
One NFL insider told me last week, "Don't be surprised if Clowney leads the NFL in sacks this season." That's lofty praise for a guy who amassed a total of six sacks last season, but something not to be taken lightly. Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent had three gears in which he played; when fully primed and powering off the line, he was unblockable. Clowney, much like Dent, has different gears. If he puts it into overdrive, he'll wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks and good things will happen for the Texans.
In closing, I'm predicting an 11-5 season for the Texans. They'll have the division sown up, and the New Year's Eve finale vs. the Colts in Indianapolis will be non-eventful. The Texans will earn a bye, win their divisional round, and inevitability face Tom Brady again in Foxboro in January. Enjoy the season, everyone!
Originally appeared on CultureMap. Craig Larson Jr. is program director of SB Nation Radio Network.