The Texans have an edge over the Jags. Composite Getty Image.
Entering week eight in the NFL, the Houston Texans are in second place in the AFC South. At 3-3, I wonder how many people actually saw them entering week eight with a legit shot at winning the AFC South? Be honest. There were very few people who thought it was possible. The most hardcore fans would say they had a shot, but I wonder how many of them truly believed? Now that we've got about a third of the season as a sample size, it's time to rethink things.
Watching the development of C.J. Stroud is the primary factor in this reconsideration. He's grown into the franchise guy. I'm talking about the leader this team needs. Dare I say, the face of the franchise? Any time a team leans heavily on the pass game, it's typically from a vet. For a rookie to do what he's doing is beyond impressive. If the run game ever gets going, this offense will be really scary.
The defense has some work to do, but you can see the vision. Will Anderson Jr and Jonathan Greenard are a nice tandem off the edge. The safety play of Jalen Pitre has been a revelation since he stepped on the field. Christian Harris has the athleticism, but needs more reps. All these guys are still on rookie contracts. All of them seem to fit DeMeco Ryans' system very well. Getting Derek Stingley Jr back and healthy will be huge. His play will be another major key.
Looking at the division, the Jags (5-2) were picked by many to win the AFC South. In yards per game, they have the 4th ranked run defense, but the 31st ranked pass defense. The Texans are pass heavy right now, so this feeds into their plans. This series historically belongs to the Texans. They lead the 43 game series 29-14 and are 10-1 in their last 11 vs. the Jags. To say the Texans own them wouldn't necessarily be untrue. They share them with Shad Khan actually.
The team just behind the Texans in the standings are the Colts. Their hot shot rookie quarterback, Anthony Richardson, is out for the season after shoulder surgery. While they have the best defense in the division, their offense just lost a dynamic playmaker at the most important position. Sorry, but Gardner Minshew and Sam Ehlinger do not strike fear in anyone. If either of those guys were that good, one of them would've been starting over the rookie. That, or they'd be starting somewhere else. And that vaunted defense isn't as scary this year either, giving up over 350 yards per game.
Then there are the Titans. At 2-4, they're resting at the bottom of the barrel in this division. Derrick Henry was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason. He's responded with a 4.3 per carry average, only a tick below his career 4.7 average. They brought back Ryan Tannehill after drafting Malik Willis last year and Will Levis this last draft. Willis is the backup and Levis is the emergency guy. Neither could beat out Tannehill, and he was expected to be cut in favor of one of those guys. That tells you all you need to know about the Titans. They're terrible and the Texans should beat them up.
While the Texans are still putting their team together and have a few pieces left to fill, they clearly have enough to be able to win this division. The Jags are good, but aren't scary. The Colts don't have enough firepower and their defense isn't as good. The Titans are awful. They can't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. If the Texans can hold it together, they can win this division. The Jags are their main competition and they own them. Once this team figures out a few things and add a few pieces, it could be their division for a long time to come. They'll have to keep pace with the changes their division makes, of course, but I like where this is going. You have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you can run. The crawling starts with having a winning season and winning the division for the first time since 2019.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.