WE KNEW THIS DAY WOULD COME

Houston Texans on collision course with painful reminder of train wreck past

Houston Texans on collision course with painful reminder of train wreck past
Deshaun Watson returns to NRG on Dec. 4. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

The Deshaun Watson Traveling Salvation Show, scheduled to premiere in Houston on Dec. 4, has officially begun rehearsals.

The scandal-ridden former Houston Texans star was cleared to join the Cleveland Browns for full team practices this week at the Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. He is expected to be Cleveland’s starting quarterback when the Browns take on the Texans at NRG Stadium.

When Watson takes the field that it day it will be nearly two years since he last played an NFL game in a Texans uniform losing to the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 27, 2020.

Watson sat out the Texans’ entire 2021 schedule after more than two dozen women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct. Two grand juries failed to indict him on criminal charges, and Watson has settled most of the civil suits out of court. The Texans traded Watson to Cleveland for a basket of draft picks in March, 2022. Cleveland tore up Watson’s old contract with the Texans and rewarded him with a new five-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $230 million. It was reported that Watson recently purchased a $5.4 million, 17,000 square-foot mansion in Cleveland’s ritzy Hunting Valley neighborhood.

The NFL initially suspended Watson for the first six games of the 2022 season and later tacked on five more games when the punishment wasn’t deemed sufficient.

Watson joined the Browns for their practice on Wednesday and will continue to fully participate in team activities and meetings before his Dec. 4 debut against the Texans. Watson shared QB1 snaps with seat-filler Jacoby Brissett. Watson did not speak to the media other than commenting before the game that it was chilly.

While he is back in the NFL’s good graces, two civil suits and plenty of football-related questions linger. After being sidelined for nearly two seasons, will he be able to regain his All-Pro form? For inspiration he could look to the Astros Justin Verlander who made only one pitching start in 2020-21 due to Tommy John surgery, came back in 2022, and was just named the American League’s Cy Young Award winner.

Verlander didn’t have to face the scorn of fans which surely will rain down on Watson. In addition to being suspended, Watson was fined $5 million, the largest penalty ever handed a player in NFL history. He also had to accept counseling and agree to use only team-approved massage therapists.

Will Watson take the field against the Texans super amped in revenge mode? Or will nerves and rust get the better of him? The quarterback and the Texans did not part on the best of terms. It will be interesting how Houston fans (and Browns supporters) greet Watson. On one hand, Watson demanded a trade from the Texans in 2021 and all the negative publicity and lurid details of his alleged sexual misconduct didn’t win him any popularity points. Many of his sponsors withdrew their support. He became an NFL outcast.

On the other hand, Watson was by far the most successful and productive offensive player in Texans history. He generally was an admired hero, talented superstar and squeaky-clean role model before 2021. In 2020, he threw for an NFL-leading 4,823 yards including 33 touchdowns, only seven interceptions and a shimmering quarterback rating of 112.4 for an otherwise dreadful Texans team that finished 4-12.

The Cleveland game probably will draw the biggest crowd to NRG Stadium this season. NFL schedule-makers couldn’t have done a better job of manufacturing curiosity and drama for a regular-season game between two lackluster and struggling teams. The Browns currently stand at 3-6 and will be underdogs against the 6-3 Bills and 5-5 Buccaneers before coming to Houston. The Texans are 1-7-1, the worst record in the NFL. The Texans will face the 5-5 Commanders and 7-3 Dolphins prior to their reunion with Watson.

While the Texans laughably announce their attendance at 67,000 (due to the NFL method of counting tickets sold, not butts in seats), a realistic estimate of NRG Stadium crowds is around 25,000 fans. Judging from cheers when the visiting team scores, there isn’t a whole lot of home field advantage at NRG Stadium. A big topic on Houston sports talk radio is, will the Texans fire head coach Lovie Smith after the season? If they do, the next man up will be the team’s fourth different head coach in four seasons. That’s got to be some sort of record for godawful futility.

While Watson’s re-entry into NFL society will draw unprecedented national attention to a regular season Texans game, the game isn’t fritzing out the local box office, at least not yet. Tickets on the secondary market are available for as low as $35. That is better than this week’s home game against the Commanders, tickets can be had for a bargain basement $19, though you’ll be sitting in the metaphoric attic.

It isn’t just that the Texans are losing, it appears that fans have stopped caring. It’s certainly not a money issue. Taylor Swift is coming to Houston for concerts on three consecutive nights next April at 71,000-seat NRG Stadium. All the presale tickets on Ticketmaster are gone. Ticket sales to the general public go on sale Friday. The cheapest tickets currently available on the secondary market are in the $400 to $600 range, while one capitalist already is asking $30,000 for two tickets down front. That’s 30 thou … each.

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Will all the Texans playmakers be satisfied with their roles in the offense? Composite Getty Image.

ESPN Texans reporter DJ Bien-Aime joined The Mina Kimes Show this weekand shared his thoughts on the Texans outlook this season.

When looking at the Texans offense, Bien-Aime pointed to Houston's play calling as being a possible issue in 2024. Bobby Slowik did a terrific job in his first season as an offensive coordinator. But he will have his hands full keeping all his playmakers happy with Stefon Diggs joining the team, and Nico Collins expecting a ton of looks after signing a massive contract extension.

Which got us thinking, are there enough catches to go around?

We took a deep dive into the 2023 numbers and here's what we found. CJ Stroud averaged 21 completions per game. And here's a breakdown of how many catches his receivers averaged last year.

Nico Collins 5.3 catches per game

Stefon Diggs (with Buffalo) 6.29 catches per game

Dalton Schultz 3.93 catches per game

Tank Dell 4.27 catches per game

Texans running backs 3.05 catches per game

If we add those up, the total is 22.84. Which means the Texans top receivers should expect a similar amount of production compared to last season. Of course, players like Noah Brown, Robert Woods, and Brevin Jordan will take targets away from Stefon Diggs and company from time to time.

But it's good to know that the Texans top pass catchers should produce numbers close to their 2023 averages. Which is a big deal for a player in a contract year like Diggs.

Another thing to note. We're factoring in that the Texans are expected to run out of 11 personnel most of the time. Which means Diggs, Collins, Dell, Schultz, and Mixon will be the only pass catchers on the field the majority of the time.

Are there concerns about the defense?

Both Kimes and Bien-Aime designated Houston's secondary as the big x-factor this year. Bien-Aime named cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. as the only player in the secondary that he truly trusts. Is he right?

Be sure to watch the video above as we react to Kimes and Bien-Aime's outlook for the Texans this year, and share our thoughts on the possible pitfalls the team will have to navigate in the short and long-term.

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