CJ Stroud has something extra to prove this week. Photo by Logan Riely/ Getty Images.
What: Texans @ Panthers
When: 10/29, 12pm CST kickoff
Where: Charlotte, NC Bank of America Stadium
TV/Radio: KRIV-TV, KILT-Radio
Betting Lines: Texans -3 (-120), O/U 43.5 (-110) *As of this writing
In what's being billed as the 1 vs 2 & 3 matchup of top picks from this past draft, the Texans travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. Quarterbacks Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud were the first two picks. Defensive end will Anderson Jr. was the third overall selection. All three players are heavy contributors to their teams. Stroud is a leading candidate for AFC Rookie of the Year. Anderson Jr can still make a case for AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young missed a game with an injury but hasn't impressed much in the five he has played.
When the Panthers have the ball: This could be a get right game for the Texans defense. The Panthers are winless for two very specific reasons. One of those being they can't score. 19 points a game only works when your defense is the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens maybe. They average 10 more yards rushing per game than the Texans, but also average about 50 yards less passing per game. The pass rush should be able to get to Young. He gets sacked three times a game on average. The Texans only have nine sacks on the season. It's a good time for old teammates to get reacquainted. Anderson Jr. was Young's teammate at Alabama. He along with Jonathan Grenard and company need to take advantage of a bad offensive line. While the Panthers aren't a run heavy team, they may turn it up a notch knowing Sheldon Rankins is out. Their best bet is to run the ball successfully, and hope play action gives them a pass threat.
When the Texans have the ball: Tank Dell being back in the fold is great news. Robert Woods being out is terrible. Not all is lost. This offense just beat the toughest defense they'll face all year. The Panthers may be without All Pro defensive end Brian Burns who is questionable with an elbow injury. That's great news for the pass heavy Texans. It's also great news for the run game facing a Panthers defense possibly down their best defender, but they also give up almost 150 yards a game on the ground. Giving up that many yards rushing is a reason why they allow a league worst 31 points a game. That's the second reason they're winless. They can't stop teams from scoring! I expect all the weapons and play calling creativity to be on full display in this game. Bobby Slowik is probably licking his chops doing the Birdman hand rub.
Friday’s Injury Report for #HOUvsCAR ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/qWinOiBg5O
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) October 27, 2023
Outcome: Well, let's break this down as simply as possible. The Panthers can't score enough points and they give up way too many points. Meanwhile, the Texans can score if they protect their quarterback, and have a good enough defense to keep them in games. Outcome seems pretty straightforward to me. Add in the fact that Stroud probably has a chip on his shoulder by not going number one overall and facing the guy who did. Even if Burns does play, this Texans offensive line shut down the Steelers pass rush and pulled out a win over the tough Saints defense. They'll cover the -3, but I'm leaning on the under since the Panthers are apparently allergic to the end zone. Texans 24, Panthers 13
“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.