Tough breaks

What is next for the Texans with Watt, Mercilus lost for the season?

J.J. Watt was lost for the season, as was Whitney Mercilus. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Texans lost two of their best players on Sunday night in the setback against the Chiefs.  J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus suffered season-ending injuries early in the game.

The impact on the defense will be massive. Both are key components on a unit that has not played well this season, even with them in the lineup.

The Watt injury is particularly devastating. The heart and soul of the defense, Watt missed 13 games last year due to a back injury, and was visibly shaken on the sidelines Sunday night. Watt's incredible fundraising and off-field exploits have made him a local hero, and his loss will be felt throughout the organization and fan base.

From a football perspective, while Watt had yet to record a sack, he was having a massive impact in getting pressure on the quarterback and sometimes tying up 2-3 blockers, freeing up others to make plays. That simply can't be replaced.

Mercilus injury means more time for promising players like Dylan Cole and Brennan Scarlett, who have shown flashes. 

The bigger issue is the play of the defense in general. Mike Vrabel, in his first year as defensive coordinator, has struggled with play calls in key situations. The team has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, and has given up big plays in the secondary. If that continues, it will waste what is clearly becoming an explosive offense under Deshaun Watson. 

Expect to see a lot more of Cole and Scarlett as well as rookie linebacker Zach Cunningham. The Texans at least have solid depth at LB, which should mitigate the loss of Mercilus somewhat. 

They do not have a valid option to replace Watt. Christian Covington and Joel Heath represent a significant drop-off. Vrabel will have to find ways to adjust his scheme to fit their talents. 

The Texans did OK without Watt last year, but this time it might be too much. There is not much on the free agent market to help, so whatever the Texans do, it will have to be internal.

Watt's loss goes beyond his impact on the field. He is a fan favorite, a leader, and has been the face of the franchise. 

This morning he sent out a heartbreaking tweet.

"I can't sugarcoat it, I am devastated. All I want to do is be out there on that field for my teammates and this city. I'm sorry."

Texans fans and players are sorry, too. The Texans have some big shoes to fill moving forward, and it will not be easy.

 

 

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Texans fall to Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans kept it closer than the experts thought they would, but couldn't pull out a victory. Here are 11 observations from the loss in Cleveland to the Browns.

1. The game looks totally different if Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor finishes the game. Taylor left at halftime with a hamstring injury. He was playing exceptionally well against his former team. Taylor is not expected to play Thursday according to NFL Network.

2. Davis Mills had a rocky NFL debut which was to be expected. Mills looked to have the wrong elements of a few plays. He also couldn't hit backup wideout Andre Roberts over the middle and threw an interception. It was a fine performance considering what Mills showed he could do in the preseason.

3. Mills didn't work with a full load of offensive weapons in the second half. Rookie wideout Nico Collins didn't return to the game after his lone catch and big run early in the game. Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola left the game with an injury. Tight end Anthony Auclair left with an eye injury. The Texans entered the game without wide receiver Anthony Miller who was inactive.

4. Brandin Cooks is a monster through two games. He is the most dangerous skill position player on the team, and defenses still have trouble covering him and staying with him. Cooks turned in yet another impressive day for this team and hauled in a Davis Mills touchdown pass.

5. The Browns did a solid job against the ground game of the Texans. Mark Ingram averaged under three yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor was the only rusher to have a big play on the ground. This led to a fair number of third-and-long situations which the Texans usually had trouble converting.

6. Justin Reid was set to increase his payday on his next contract with his early play. Reid forced a fumble and had an interception in the first half. Unfortunately, Reid would leave the game multiple times with injuries. The knock on Reid has always been his health.

7. The Texans were worn down by the Browns rushing attack all day. Once Cleveland committed to the run they saw the success of their work culminating in a 26-yard scamper by Nick Chubb for a touchdown. The Browns didn't run as much as I excepted them to run early.

8. Tim Kelly had another nice day calling plays. Kelly remains creative in finding ways to get the ball out of Taylor's hands quickly as well as manufacturing matchups where the Texans can win and pick up yards. He even got creative to get Davis Mills a passing touchdown late in the game. Kelly has been very impressive through two games.

9. Andre Roberts was inexcusably bad today. The Texans defense held on the opening drive and his muffed punt eliminated the momentum from the defensive stand. He also had poor returns on kickoffs. His lone job is to be a solid returner, and he failed at that on Sunday.

10. David Culley had a head-scratching decision foregoing an offsides call on a third down. The head coach opted for the result of the third down, and a punt on fourth down, instead of another third down. He did not explain himself well postgame on the decision either.

11. The Texans hung tough and should feel solid about where they could have been without the injury to their quarterback. With no Taylor in the short week, it will not be easy to beat the Panthers who upset the Saints on Sunday.

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