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Texans should be a tough out in the postseason

Rich Lord gives his mid-season assessment

The Triple Threat
November 08, 2018 - 1:42 pm

It’s beginning to look a lot like playoffs for the Texans.

Apparently, good things do indeed come to those who wait and it will likely be a happy holiday season for the Houston Texans and their long-suffering fan base. Likely.

After a dismal start to the season that saw the Texans lose their first 3 games by a combined total of 15 points, the likelihood of the Texans returning to the playoffs was not good. With a road game looming in Week 4 at Indianapolis (historically, the Texans’ personal house of horrors), the sad reality was this: only one team since the merger in 1970 (the Chargers in 1992) had recovered from a 0-4 start to qualify for the playoffs.

Fast-forward to the Texans’ Week 9 bye and they have somewhat miraculously reeled off 6 consecutive wins to unexpectedly take control of the AFC South. Make no mistake; the Texans have been unbeatable for 6 weeks, but they have looked anything but unbeatable over that span. Boneheaded decisions by opposing head coaches like Frank Reich, Jason Garrett, and Vance Joseph as well as facing fill-in quarterbacks like Nathan Peterman and Brock Osweiler have helped them a lot.

That said, the Texans have made some adjustments, weathered a slew of injuries, and done just enough things to qualify as a bona fide team on the rise that could be a dangerous draw come the postseason. The turnaround began with back-to-back overtime wins over the Colts and the Cowboys before a 7-point win over the Bills brought them back to .500.

The defeat of the Cowboys marked a turning point for Houston’s defense. After allowing an average of 27 points per game through Week 4, the 16 points allowed versus Dallas began a run of 5 straight games in which the defense has allowed an average of just 15.2 points per game. For perspective, the Tennessee Titans currently have the #1 scoring defense in the league, allowing 17.6 points per game. Houston’s run defense has been solid (7th in the NFL). J.J. Watt (9 sacks; tied for 3rd in the NFL) is back to being J.J. Watt. After 2 seasons mostly lost to injury, he’s in the running for an unprecedented 4th Defensive Player of the Year Award. LB Jadeveon Clowney and DB Kareem Jackson, both pushing for new contracts, are on pace for career years. Rookie safety Justin Reid has been outstanding. Fellow safety and free agent pickup Tyrann Mathieu (another guy playing for a new contract) has been everything the Texans hoped for in terms of both play on the field and leadership off the field. After a slow start, CB Jonathan Joseph was playing at a high level before going down with ankle and knee injuries. Despite Joseph’s injury, along with the losses of Kevin Johnson, Andre Hal, Kayvon Webster, and Aaron Colvin, the Texans’ patchwork secondary has held up, thanks in part to fill-ins like Shareece Wright, Mike Tyson and Natrell Jamerson, none of whom were with the team at the start of the season. We also can’t ignore the return of Romeo Crennel to the position of defensive coordinator. The ability to plug in a coach with 5 Super Bowl rings after Mike Vrabel departed for Tennessee has been a huge boost.

Other key improvements that have been central to the Texans bouncing back include the return to health of QB DeShaun Watson. After recovering from last year’s season-ending ACL injury, Watson hasn’t missed a snap, despite suffering broken ribs, a bruised sternum and a partially collapsed lung playing behind a terrible offensive line. The lung condition famously required Watson to skip the team flight to Jacksonville in Week 7 and instead make the 25-hour round trip via luxury bus. The toughness he’s displayed while playing through these injuries seems to have uplifted the entire team.

Adding Greg Mancz and an improved Kendall Lamm to the O-line rotation has helped stabilize that position group. Head coach Bill O’Brien has also made adjustments to his play-calling to keep Watson healthy. After being the most battered QB in the NFL through Week 5 thanks in part to an average of 38 pass attempts per game, that number is down to an average of 23 over the past 4 games. O’Brien and Watson have both shown better decision-making in the winning streak. Also adding to the improvement of the offense has been WR DeAndre Hopkins appearing to be on his way to a second All-Pro season, the emergence of rookie TE Jordan Thomas (especially in the red zone where the Texans have now scored 8 TD’s in their last 11 trips), and the recent acquisition of 5-time Pro Bowl WR Demaryius Thomas from the Denver Broncos following a season-ending injury to WR Will Fuller.

Looking ahead, the Texans have just one remaining opponent on their schedule that currently owns a winning record (Washington), there’s not another team in the AFC South with a winning record, and their 3 remaining division games will all be played at home at NRG Stadium. The Texans are also getting healthier. They expect Colvin, Hal, Joseph and perhaps RB D’onta Foreman to all return at some point in the second half of the season.

After a forgettable 4-12 campaign in 2017, followed by their 0-3 start this year, the Texans are in the midst of an incredible reversal of fortune. It would be a major upset if it did not result in a 5th trip to the playoffs over the last 8 seasons. And with superstars like J.J. Watt and DeShaun Watson healthy and productive, they could be a tough out in the postseason as well.