Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC, checking up on the state of affairs for the Jets’ conference rivals.
We continue with a team that just fell to victim to one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history — the Houston Texans. Matthew Weston of Battle Red Blog was able to answer a few questions regarding Houston’s 2019 campaign.
1. Deshaun Watson has enjoyed a tremendous start to his NFL career. What would you say are the primary things he does at an elite level?
Watson is an elite downfield passer. Whenever Houston has open downfield throws he hits. The touch and ball placement is usually perfect. On the rare times he doesn’t, it’s usually because Will Fuller has been snacking on the sidelines and the ball slips through his hands. Watson is also elite at making plays outside the structure of the offense. He can sprint away from pressure, evaporate out of sacks, escape the pocket, and create something out of nothing. His touchdown against Oakland where his eye ball was dangling out of the socket, and bouncing off one defender, then the other, to dump off a pass to Taiwan Jones against Buffalo in the Wildcard Round are perfect examples of this.
2. How will the Texans approach the running back position with Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde hitting free agency? Do you see the team bringing one of them back to carry the load, or will they head in a new direction?
Bill O’Brien used Lamar Miller incorrectly every season he was in Houston. They turned a dynamic do everything back into an inside the tackles running back, and zapped him of his effectiveness and ability to break big runs. If his healthy seasons didn’t sway you to this tune, then last season had to. O’Brien finally had the running back he always desired with Hyde back there. Hyde didn’t break many tackles, or do much outside the tackles, but he could churn his legs and get as much as the offensive line created for him, and then fall forward for a few more.
What this showed is that running back is a fungible position, as it is for most teams, for the Texans. They traded former third round pick Martinas Rankin, who they were unfortunately going to cut anyways to add Hyde. They could and should find someone similar to Hyde this offseason again without having to deal with the burden of a multiyear contract or signing bonuses. This is O’Brien though. He’ll probably give him a 3-year contract worth $3.5 million a year to keep him around. I would expect for Miller to sign somewhere else since he’s in his late 20s and is coming off an ACL tear.
3. The Texans’ defense dropped from fifth in fewest points allowed per drive in 2018 to 26th in 2019. What led to the colossal fall on that side of the ball?
The Texans had an all-time great run defense in 2018. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney played for just about the entirety of the season. Kareem Jackson was around demolishing running backs in the backfield. The rest of the defensive line could hold their blocks, allowing inside linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham to chase and tackle. The pass defense, however, was bad, and it was rarely exploited because of the crappy passing offenses they played.
Their run defense dropped off because it stopped creating negative plays without Clowney and Jackson around and Watt out with a torn pectoral. The pass rush fell apart without Watt, and their big plan to improve the pass defense, was signing Bradley Roby, drafting Lonnie Johnson Jr. in the second round who wasn’t ready to start last season, and replace Tyrann Mathieu with Tashaun Gipson to stand in the deep center part of the field and take away the deep pass.
This didn’t work. The pass defense needed to get better and they didn’t add talent to make it better. Bad pass rush + bad cornerback play = bad pass defense. They survived at times because the ball control offense limited the possessions it faced, they had a high turnover rate, and their best players made enough big plays.
4. Three of Houston’s top cornerbacks, Bradley Roby, Vernon Hargreaves, and Johnathan Joseph, are set to hit free agency. How will the team handle this position?
Houston already released Vernon Hargreaves so they don’t have to pay him the fifth year option. Joseph was injured at times, and benched other times last season. He can’t tackle at all and can’t stop faster receivers in the vertical passing game since, and it looks like he’s running out of unicorn’s blood. Roby is a good player, but he’s not a great one. You don’t want to pay $14 million a year to be your best cornerback.
I wouldn’t expect for Roby or Johnson to be back because of age and contract, but Houston may keep one or either because they don’t have another option, and veteran presence.
5. How would you assess Bill O’Brien’s performance over his six seasons at the helm? Is his job under any sort of pressure? If not, do you think it should be?
The best way to describe O’Brien is he gets the bare minimum out of his team. The Texans have won the division four out of six seasons because they have top end talent, and as always, talent>scheme. The Texans won 10 games last year despite being mediocre on a play by play basis because they went 9-3 in one score games and Watson made miraculous plays to seize the day. But because of this, O’Brien’s offensive structure limits how great this offense can be, and is the main reason why the Texans are 2-4 with him in the postseason.
His job should be under pressure, but it isn’t, because he’s the cotton candy maker, the valet driver, the scout team placeholder, the head coach, and the general manager. The only person who could fire him is the owner Cal McNair, and it’s hard for an owner to fire a coach after a 10 win season and a Divisional Round Playoff loss. Mike Mularkey is the exception.
6. If you could add one offensive and one defensive player from any point in Jets history to the current iteration of the Texans, who would you choose?
Defensively, it has to be Darrelle Revis. He’s an all-time great cornerback, and could turn this terrible pass defense into mediocre all on his own. On offense I’d go with Nick Mangold. Nick Martin is fine, he’s asked to do a lot, but he isn’t the type of player who can move the line of scrimmage vertically. With Mangold at center, Hyde could run for two yards unimpeded on first down instead of one yard, and turn so many 2nd and 9s into 2nd and 7.