Texans Mania

5 burning questions that will determine if the Texans' season is a success or a flop

5 burning questions that will determine if the Texans' season is a success or a flop
Will Jadeveon Clowney put it into overdrive? Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

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!

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Originally appeared on CultureMap. Craig Larson Jr. is program director of SB Nation Radio Network.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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