To advance in the playoffs, you must protect the QB and run the ball well

Texans must address O-line issues

Last year's O line was bad. This year might have been worse. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The off season starts now for the Houston Texans and the time is now to address the most glaring weakness on this football team. The offensive line for the Texans was exactly that, offensive, all season long. We knew it was an issue last year and new GM Brian Gaine had improving the group in charge with protecting Deshaun Watson as his top priority in the off season. We knew if he could do that in his first year on the job, he would no doubt win over the fans and impress his employer as well as his head coach, Bill O' Brien. Everyone had high hopes that with the check book open and possibly a few savy draft manuevers, this team could block, protect and take this squad to a whole new level. Watson was coming off season ending knee surgery as well, so it was imperitive that the line improve if the franchise quarteback was to survive the entire season and stay upright enough to win more games.

With that said, he was limited in the draft picks he had at his disposal and passed on the biggest names hitting the market in free agency. Instead he looked for bargains and steals and guys that had underachieved as well as considering veterans that hpefully had something left in the tank. After starting the season 0-3 and putting Watson in harms way on seeminlgy eery play, the five guys up front for the Texans looked like they might just be the worst offensive line in football and clearly a step down from the sub par group that finished the 2017 season. Just when it looked like it was over and done and the team had no chance to make the playoffs, let alone win their first game, along came Deshaun and his surgically repaired knee, feeling good and running around slinging the rock to the tune of nine straight wins. Thanks to his incredible athletic ability and ridiculous escapability in the pocket, the line looked like it improved with every victory as fans were too giddy with the W's to continue harping on the worst position group on the roster. They won the division and won 11 games, making the playoffs after starting 0-3, a feat that hadn't been done since 1998. It was all good in the NRG neighborhood, right? WRONG!

Along came the playoffs and as every victorious team in the opening weekend of the post season can attest, you have to have solid line play for four quarters as you protect your QB and open up holes for your running game to win at the most critical time of the season. The Colts, Eagles, Cowboys and Chargers checked all those boxes as they survived and advanced to the divisional round next weekend. Philly and LA kept their QB upright and held off two of the best defenses in the league, while Dallas won by opening up big holes for the running game against a stingy Seattle defense and we all know what Andrew Luck was able to do against Houston.

The Texans were sent home to lick their wounds and start the process of improving for next year by addressing the most glaring weaknesses on the roster. It's safe to say it all starts with the o-line and overhauling a position group that gave up a whopping 62 sacks this year while forcing Watson to endure 133 hits in and around the pocket. Those numbers rank up there with the David Carr era as the third worst protection performance in team history, and was in the ballpark of the two worst performances protecting a QB in NFL history. Carr was sacked 76 times in 2002 which set the league record and he almost topped that mark with 68 more in 2005. The only other season where a team surrendered 70 or more sacks was in 1986 when Randall Cunningham was taken down 72 times as a member of the Eagles.

So it's safe to say, the line was absolutely horrendous and it could have been worse if they didn't have such a talented signal caller behind center. When you factor in that Watson led the team in rushing Saturday with 76 yards and it wasn't the first time that had happened, it gives you even more ammunition to how bad the blocking was, as well as the protection. The offensive line failed to open up holes for the running game against Indianapolis just as they had failed to do in the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season. They also had surrendered 12 sacks to the Colts in two games this season and three more on Saturday, while the Colts have only allowed Andrew Luck to be taken down 18 times all season, including the game two days ago. Watson led the team in rushing Saturday in part because he was constantly running for his life and trying to escape pressure in the pocket. He finished the year as the teams' second leading rusher with over 500 yards on the ground partly because it was the only way he could attempt to stay safe and avoid another serious injury.

Now that you finally have your franchise quarterback in Houston, the time is now for Brian Gaine and the Texans front office to address the most glaring need and improve the O-line through the draft and free agency. They will have a full compliment of picks at their disposal and enough money to put themselves in position to overhaul the current group and upgrade the position group accross the board. They better, because if they don't Texans' fans better prepare for more heartbreak and failure than divison titles and playoff victories.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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