Another big day

Without its stars, the Texans defense dominates Cleveland 33-17

Jonathan Joseph had two interceptions to helo the Texans beat Cleveland. Bob Levey/Getty Images

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The Texans caught a break this week after losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season in week 5, hosting the winless Browns at home. The expectations were that the offense would be the difference in the game while the defense adjusted to the big losses in their front seven. Little did anyone know, the defense wouldn't skip a beat and perform better than expected in the 33-17 win. It is the Browns, so there is no way to know what will happen going forward; but getting this week and the bye week to game plan for how the defense will be used is key to figuring out what the Texans will look like going forward. 

Early on the offense appeared to be continually growing under the play calling of Bill O'Brien and the performance of Deshaun Watson. From the start there was a lot more throws over the middle to tight ends and consistent running plays in short and mid range down and distance. It may have been an early attempt to control the clock which has keyed a lot of their offensive success this year, but it helped keep the offense in good down and distance.

The first drive of the game looked great but stalled in Browns territory and walked off the field with a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal. After exchanging punts the Browns were able to get something going and tied the game at 3 with a field goal of their own. That was as close as it would get. The Texans moved the ball 87 yards in five plays on their next drive for Watson's 13th touchdown pass of the season. He connected with Will Fuller for the 5th time this season. Fuller now had 5 touchdown catches in 7 total receptions. From there it was pretty much all defense.

The very next drive saw Kevin Hogan march the Browns down to the Texans 22-yard line but sail a pass over the head of Duke Johnson and into the arms of Jonathan Joseph for an 82-yard touchdown. A missed extra point left the score 16-3 but that was fixed shortly after. The next Browns drive ended in another interception, this time by Dylan Cole. A gasp went through the crowd again and Cole was injured on the return and limped off the field. It was the second injury of concern on the drive as Jadeveon Clowney had gone down earlier, and they could not afford to lose him for the season. Clowney's injury wasn't serious and he was back on the field before the end of the drive, but Cole's hamstring would keep him out for the rest of the game. 

Watson would get another touchdown on a shovel pass to Braxton Miller and go into the into the half with a 24-3 lead after tossing a successful 2-point conversion to Ryan Griffin. The first half would end with Joseph getting his second interception of the game, and the 13th in a Texans uniform giving him the franchise record, passing his teammate Kareem Jackson.

Bill O'Brien was 20-0 when leading at the half and the win today would make it 21-0. This was especially assured when the defense started the second half playing like it was ready to win the game on its own. They would force a 3-and-out on the Browns first drive and then record a safety on the next Cleveland possession. The Texans capitalized on the free kick with another Watson touchdown throw, this time to DeAndre Hopkins putting the game well out of reach, 33-3. Watson has now thrown at least three touchdowns in the last three games, making him the first rookie to do so. That is the kind of performance that can carry a team a long way.

He would make one mistake though, on a second and 5 play from the Houston 32 yard line he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jason McCourty, making the score 33-10. Hogan would get a garbage time touchdown to Seth DeValve cutting the final score down to 33-17 but that would be it. The Texans would walk away with an easy home win and a break to prepare for a tough road game in Seattle. 

At the end of the day it was the kind of all-around game that you expect from an above average team against a franchise in line for another first overall pick. The Texans' offense would finish the day with 217 yards through the air and three touchdowns and an additional 123 on the ground. The Texans had nearly equal time of possession despite getting defensive scores and great field position.  Their record sits at 3-3 with games against Seattle and Indianapolis coming up after the break. If they can keep up this level of play they will find themselves in a good position going into the latter half of the regular season.

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Nick Caserio's history of drafting injury prone players has become a problem. Composite Getty Image.

Nick Caserio was hired to serve as the general manager (GM) of the Texans on January 7, 2021. Some saw it as another nod to the organization's obsession with the Patriots. Others saw it as the team finally getting their guy after pursuing him previously. They were even hit with a tampering charge while trying to talk to him about the job. Since he's been on the job, there have been highs and lows.

Recently, the news about Kenyon Green and Derek Stingley Jr put a stain on his tenure. Green was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR) and Stingley Jr is expected to be placed on IR, likely missing six to eight weeks, per Aaron Wilson. Both guys were Caserio's 2022 first rounders. Both guys are starting to look like busts and have fans a little more than just upset.

Green's case was curious because he was said to have needed surgery before he tore his labrum during the Saints preseason game. He had knee surgery this past offseason. There were knee injury concerns when he was coming out of A&M. Adding to his injuries, Green has played poorly. To make matters worse, the Chargers drafted fellow guard Zion Johnson two picks later. Johnson played all 17 games last season as a rookie at right guard and has moved to left guard this season. The pick used to draft Green was part of a trade back with the Eagles. They used the 13th overall pick to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a guy at a position this team could desperately use.

Stingley Jr was a highly touted recruit coming into LSU as a freshman. He played as well as any corner in the country that year. Oh, and they won a national title with arguably one of the best teams in college football history. His net two years in Baton Rouge were marred with injuries. Some believed his junior year was more him holding back to stay healthy for the draft. It worked because he was taken third overall, one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. Gardner went on to be an All Pro as a rookie. While he's surrounded by more talent on the Jets' defense, people will forever link them because Stingley Jr hasn't lived up to expectations. He missed six games last season and is set to miss at least that many this season. When he has played, he's looked okay. “Okay” isn't what you want from a guy drafted third overall ahead of the other guy who was widely considered better than him.

For the 2021 draft, Caserio was handcuffed. He had no first or second rounders, and made a few trades that lessened his draft pool from eight to five picks. Of the five guys drafted that year, only Nico Collins seems to be a player. The 2022 draft was more productive. Although Green and Stingley Jr were the headliners and haven't played up to the hype, the others are carrying the load. Jalen Pitre and Dameon PIerce alone make that draft class dope. This past draft was seen as the one to save the franchise so to speak. Getting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr got the team a franchise quarterback and edge rusher with picks two and three overall. The price paid to move back up to three was hefty and puts more scrutiny on Anderson Jr. They appear, so far, to have also found a couple other nice players. Tank Dell being the hidden gem of this class.

While people can't, and shouldn't, base Caserio's performance strictly off of the guys he's drafted, one must call it into question. The '21 draft was a wash. The '22 draft looks suspect, but has some redeeming qualities. The '23 draft will most likely be his saving grace. But should it? Former Texans GM Rick Smith nailed almost every first rounder he drafted. Even he was almost run out of town because folks didn't like what he did. Why should Caserio be any different? So what if he cleaned up the mess by the previous regime! That's what he was hired to do!

“Keep that same energy!” That phrase is used when people try to hold others to different standards. Where's that energy everyone had for Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak, David Culley, and Lovie Smith? When others weren't performing well, their heads were called for. I see some people holding Caserio accountable. For the most part, it appears as if he's getting a bit of a pass. I'll be interested to see if this continues should the team has another subpar season. If that pick they traded to the Cardinals is another top 10 pick and the Browns pick the Texans own isn't...if Green can't come back and/or Stingley Jr doesn't show any signs of being a lockdown corner...then what? Let's hope none of this comes to fruition. If it does, we'll have to revisit this conversation.

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