THE PALLILOG

Will Watt's return help the Texans rise above just being AFC South champs?

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So do the Texans deliver and beat the Buffalo Bills Saturday in their Wild Card weekend matchup to earn a shot at Baltimore or Kansas City, or do they lose another home playoff game and continue to be a division winning team irrelevant to the contending tier of NFL franchises? It's not a coincidence that the Texans without fail have opened all of their postseasons in the Saturday afternoon time slot.

How tingly with anticipation have you been this week? "Not very if at all" would put you in a large majority. If the Texans are ever to truly matter in the NFL, unless they finally secure a bye one of these years, winning a wild card game is a necessary step. The only way to win one is to be in one, so they get credit for that much. Hey, at least the Texans have managed to win three playoff games since coming into existence. Granted two came over mediocre Bengals squads, the third over a Raiders team quarterbacked by a stiff in his only ever NFL start. The Bills last won a playoff game December 30, 1995. That's amazing futility.

This is definitely not a game the Texans clearly should win. The Bills won 10 games just like the Texans, though Buffalo's only win over a playoff team was beating the Titans when Tennessee was still spinning its wheels with Marcus Mariota at QB. The Texans beat three playoff teams: Chiefs, Patriots, Ryan Tannehill QB-ed Titans.

The Texans have the more potent offense though the gap is diminished if the ever-delicate Will Fuller is a non-factor. The Bills definitely have the much better defense. That gap is diminished if J.J. Watt's return, even in a presumed limited role, provides a boost to the Texans otherwise generally effete pass rush. It projects as a lower scoring game. That lends itself to one big play, or lucky bounce, or bad call being a bigger difference maker in the outcome.

As a second year QB a year ago Deshaun Watson was terrible in his playoff debut. The Texans hope the same for Bills' second year QB Josh Allen.

Head Coach Bill O'Brien's postseason performance has basically been awful. The lone win over the Connor Cook-lead Raiders. Last year's humiliating home loss to the Colts joined a 30-0 home shellacking by the Chiefs in Texans' ignominy. Unless blown out, a loss to the Bills would not be shameful unto itself. But where the Texans are as a franchise, should they lose, their latest cute little AFC South Champion banner should be draped upside down.

Clock is ticking on Watt

J.J. Watt as Football Lazarus. What can be reasonably hoped for/expected out of the greatest player in Texans' history? Watt last played October 27th. As opposed to when recovering from his knee and back injuries, while rehabbing is torn pectoral muscle Watt has been able to do conditioning work. Still, that's not the same as playing full contact football. The Texans this season had one of the weakest pass rushes in the NFL. Watt can't fix that singlehandedly, but if he can generate pressure over 20 to 25 snaps it would be a big boost to the Texans' cause. Before he went down with the torn pec, in eight games played Watt had only four sacks. He did however top the NFL in hits on the quarterback. If Watt is right he brings superior athleticism to his position, which would come in handy dealing with Bills quarterback Josh Allen, one of the best running QBs in the NFL

Watt moves around on the line of scrimmage but more than anywhere else he lines up at left defensive end. That is opposite the offense's right tackle. Bills starting RT Ty Ensekhe missed five straight games before returning Sunday and aggravating an ankle injury. If Ensekhe can't go, Watt gets after rookie Cody Ford.

In March Watt turns 31. The clock is ticking on his chances at making a substantial contribution with the Texans at a championship level above winning the AFC South.

Busy schedule

ESPN has the Rockets-76ers game Friday night at Toyota Center, tipping about an hour after ESPN2 has the Houston Cougars in their AAC opener vs. Central Florida. Then Saturday, ESPN has Texans-Bills.

Not much happening on the baseball front

All's been quiet on the Astros front. They've added no talent to the roster for 2020, and await Major League Baseball's lowering the boom from the Brandon Taubman and Astros-as-cheaters investigations. Their biggest loss was Gerrit Cole to the Yankees. Second biggest, Will Harris taking the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach (and 24 million dollars over three years) to sign with the Washington Nationals. That's better for the Astros than if Harris had joined the A's.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Picking the Bills to win. Show me otherwise Texans. Please. 2. If Tre'Davious White largely shuts down DeAndre Hopkins, uh oh. 3. Best NFL broadcast teams this weekend: Bronze-Buck/Aikman Fox Silver-Nantz/Romo CBS Gold-Michaels/Collinsworth NBC

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

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The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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