3 Headlines, 2 Questions, 1 Bet

Watson one of NFL's best through 16 games

Deshaun Watson has been terrific through 16 games. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans have won six games in a row thanks to a squeaker of a victory in Denver against the Broncos. Here's three headlines, two questions, and one bet about the owners of the second-longest win streak in the NFL. 

Just Enough, Good Enough

The Texans might not have silenced any doubters on Sunday. In fact, they probably fed the fire of those who don't believe they're a contender. That's fine. More than fine actually. Not many teams are capable of winning six games, no matter how they win those games. They will play close games. They will live in the margins. They will do that against almost every opponent on their schedule. 

Yesterday is a triumph of coaching though. The talent of Denver's defense, even with their injuries, made this a monumental challenge for the Texans. It was a tough test, and they passed. Now, it wasn't with flying colors. Many will point to the Broncos failures as to the reason the Texans ended up winning but they still had to take care of their business running clock late and trying to make sure Denver faced a long road to a game-winning field goal. A duct tape win but it counts just the same. Houston finds themselves in the driver's seat of the AFC South heading into their bye week. 

Bye Week Cure?

Bill O'Brien has had his bye week near the middle of his season every year except for one in his head coaching tenure with the Texans. It is a cliche, but this year it is still very true. The bye week comes at the perfect time. Johnathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, Zach Cunningham and Keke Coutee are all starters that missed this game. Senio Kelemete was dinged up a ton in the actual game in Denver. Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney have often seen their names on the injury report in recent weeks. Demaryius Thomas can now actually take time to learn the offense ahead of the next game. 

There are so many ailments the bye week should help cure, and not just from an injury standpoint. O'Brien is often a proponent of the "self-scout" where they take a hard look at their team and what they are doing well and what they aren't doing well. 

"We have to do a good job over the next few days of looking at ourselves," O'Brien said. "Our scheme."

Outside of last season, O'Brien has success post-bye. He was 5-2 in 2014, 6-2 in 2015 and 4-4 in 2016. Hopefully, for O'Brien, he doesn't have to make a quarterback change. He went to Ryan Mallett out of the bye in 2014 but an injury forced him to play Ryan Fitzpatrick and then Case Keenum. Brandon Weeden and T.J. Yates saw time at the helm in 2015 after Brian Hoyer missed time with a concussion. In 2016, Tom Savage took over for Brock Osweiler before an injury ended his season and they turned back to Osweiler. Last year Savage took over for an injured Deshaun Watson. 

Offensive Line in a Groove

The numbers might look not so great when you check out the box score from Sunday's game. Four sacks is never a great number, but, look closer. Derek Wolfe's sack was on Ryan Griffin as he failed to slow down Bradley Chubb forcing Watson to move around in the pocket into Wolfe. The second sack was certainly on the offensive line as Nick Martin had a bad snap and then ran into Watson as the pressure collapsed in. Von Miller's sack occurred on a play which looked to be a run-pass option where Watson decided to keep the ball and backup right tackle Martinas Rankin couldn't slow down Miller. The last Broncos sack, by Chubb, was a coverage sack. There were nearly six seconds between the snap of the football and the sack happening to Watson who had decided to pull it down and run. 

An argument can be made just one sack was on the offensive line yesterday and it wasn't even a pass protection element that caused it. That is a vast improvement for a group that was allowing an immense amount of pressure on Watson earlier this year. The only hits Watson took were the sacks. Julién Davenport has played far better at left tackle than right tackle. Kendall Lamm's emergence at the right tackle spot has been a revelation few if any saw coming. 

"He's one of the most improved guys we've had since we've been here," O'Brien said of Lamm. The head coach mentioned Lamm had some ups and downs, he was released from the roster and put on the practice squad at one point. 

Lamm said he had to start believing in himself. 

"There were times where it was so up and down," he said. "I'm going to be honest with you, you get down on yourself here and there."

They still need to shore up the rushing attack based on yesterday's game. It would make sense though if the Broncos focus was on slowing Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue on the ground as they had struggled with that most of the season. In fact, one of the main reasons the Broncos can't claim a win over the Rams is they couldn't stop Todd Gurley. The Rams had to lean on Gurley and their impressive line to get things going for them. With the rushing attack stifled yesterday, it made sense the Texans offense sputtered. 

What's Next for Watson?

Deshaun Watson has now played 16 games in the NFL, a full season's worth. He's accounted for 4,088 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 63.6 percent. He also has another three touchdowns and 537 rushing yards. His best stretch was as a starter last year when he was regularly lighting up the scoreboard but you can see the development happening this season. 

After having an interception streak eight games long, Watson hasn't thrown one in the past three. For the first time in team history, they have three straight games without a turnover. He cleans things up week-to-week with ease, rarely making the same mistake twice. Bill O'Brien praised his ability and fervor for preparing for the games each week.

What's next? The sky really is the limit for Watson. Though I have some trepidation because Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have hit walls after starting hot in their careers. I look to Jared Goff and Carson Wentz as two players who can stay hot. Watson doesn't seem to be slowing down and with this impressive start to his career we may have only scratched the surface of his ability. That's a scary thought for NFL defenses. 

What will the AFC South lead be the next time the Texans take the field?

It stands at two games ahead of 3-4 Tennessee as they take on the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. The Jaguars and the Colts have the same record at 3-5 and both sit two and a half games behind. Indianapolis hosts Jacksonville next week and the Titans welcome the Patriots to town. The Titans could turn the Texans lead into one game with wins over Dallas and New England, but there will be for sure one team two games back with Jacksonville and Indianapolis playing each other. 

It would seem the AFC South race is firmly in control of the Texans. They have their remaining division games all at home and they are just four wins away with seven to play from the magic number of 10 wins, which all but guarantees a playoff spot. The race for seeding in the AFC is tough. Kanas City and New England have a firm grasp on the top two spots and the bye. The Chargers might finish with a better record than the Texans but if they don't win the AFC West they can't be seeded higher. If the playoffs started today the Texans would host the Bengals in the first round. 

I bet the Texans don't lose the bye week

This team has one of the best track records in football when it comes to off the field issues. The only way to really "lose" the bye is an injury goes the wrong way or a player gets in trouble. I hope I am not jinxing it as the Texans rarely if ever, lose the bye week. 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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