FOOTBALL IS COMING

When the NBA and NHL seasons end, the NFL fun begins

Bill O'Brien and the Texans now take center stage. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

We’ve had all of Monday and Tuesday this week to dissect the conclusions to the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals so naturally, it’s time to focus mostly on football with a little bit of mid-season Astros. But really, football. Mini-camp workouts have started so the hype train is loaded up and ready to barrel on down the tracks.

If you’re paying attention you’ve already started to see heavy speculation about players returning from injury. You’ve seen rosters being loaded and unloaded with veteran and undrafted players. You’re starting to feel that twinge of excitement because you know that your busy summer will pass quickly and training camp is on the horizon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s start with what’s currently happening: mandatory three-day mini-camp. Day one was yesterday and Cody Stoots provided SportsMap with his 11 Observations to whet your appetite.

It’s good to see the Texans taking the field and Deshaun Watson appears ready to play, but throwing the ball in an unpadded practice is just a small step in the process. This week is just another step in his continued rehab from his knee injury. I like reading that his receiving options seem to have improved as well. Now I want to see how the defense looks, but I’m glad to see Houston has the best offense in the NFL.

But let’s not forget that it’s a team effort and everything happening right now is learning how to play together while the coaches evaluate their performance. There will still be a lot of shuffling at the bottom of the roster and the Texans should be active this time of year. It could be one of those cast offs that really helps them late in the season.

But for now, let’s look at these last two days as our chance to see the team in action and begin formulating our wildest predictions.

I’ll go ahead and kick things off:

  1. Deshaun Watson is ahead of schedule and won’t miss a beat to start the season.

  2. The addition of receiving options Keke Coutee, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas will be the difference in multiple wins this season.

  3. The defense has a good enough rotation to keep the star players healthy and capable of a top-five finish.

  4. The schedule and the competition will work in their favor on the way to 10 or more wins and a home playoff game.

Time for you to come up with your own or talk trash about mine. There’s plenty of time. Training camp doesn’t start until the end of July and the dates have yet to be released. So, for now, we can only argue and laugh as we speculate on what will happen in the fall.

 

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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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