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.
While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.
The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).
Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?
Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.
Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?
Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!
Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.