Nick Jehamy| January 30th, 2020
The Houston Texans were part of the closest division in the National Football League with four games separating the top (Texans) and bottom (Jacksonville Jaguars) teams in the division. The Texans ended the regular season at 10-6, one win less than the season before and the second season in a row winning the division.
After a nail-biting win in the Wild Card round against the Buffalo Bills, the Texans pulled up short against the Kansas City Chiefs in an embarrassing loss. The Texans were up 24-0 in the second quarter before the Chiefs went on a miraculous run that the Texans could just not stop, giving up 51 points to the Chiefs by the end of the game and only scoring one more touchdown in the second half.
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What Went Right
Deshaun Watson is going to be a dominant force in this league for years to come. He threw three more interceptions than last year and 300 fewer yards but has become a more clutch performer. His bad throw percentage went down, his touchdown percentage and total QBR went up, and even with the team’s downfall against the Chiefs, his overall play in the playoffs was astronomically better than last season.
Offensively the team was solid. In team passing and rushing categories, the Texans were statistically in the top half of the league, landing in the top ten in most categories. Rushing they were ninth in total yards and yards per attempt, as well as tenth in rushing touchdowns. Watson led the way here with seven touchdowns on the season and 5.0 yards per attempt (Y/A). Carlos Hyde scored six rushing touchdowns, led the team with 1070 yards, and had a Y/A of 4.4. Duke Johnson is utilized best as a receiving back where he did most of his damage, but he averaged 4.9 Y/A on 83 carries (only one more than Watson) and scored two touchdowns rushing and ran for a career-high 410 yards. This was both running backs first year’s with the Texans and both ran for career-highs in yards.
DeAndre Hopkins didn’t perform to the level he has the past two seasons but he was still dominant on the field, ending the season fourth in receptions and 11th in yards. Hopkins played 15 games this season and if he played that 16th game he would have only needed 37 yards to break into the top five. Kenny Stills was another great addition to the offense this year. Stills caught 40 passes for 561 yards and brought up his catch percentage 15%!
What Went Wrong
If you notice I didn’t speak about the defense yet… well here it comes. J.J. Watt being out for eight games this season was a big blow to the defensive side. In his eight games played he had four sacks, that landed him still second on the team only behind linebacker Whitney Mercilus who ended with 7.5. As a team, the Texans had the third worst sack percentage per dropback in the league and 26th in total sacks. Sadly sacking the quarterback wasn’t the biggest issue, they couldn’t even pressure them. The Texans ended second worst in the league in quarterback hurries and pressures per dropback, and that’s even with blitzing more often than 23 other teams in the league!
The meltdown against the Chiefs makes more and more sense looking at the numbers. Sixth worst in rushing yards per attempt and eighth worst in total rushing yards. Fourth worst in both passing touchdowns given up and total passing yards allowed. They couldn’t find a way to stop the pass or the run all season, it’s commendable that they win as many games as they do. The Texans ended the season giving up the most yards per offensive play this season in the entire league. A better defense and they may have made it to the AFC Conference Title game.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Texans have $55.1 million dollars in cap space this offseason to work with. They have enough room to work with and be aggressive in filling up glaring holes positionally. Without a first and third round pick in this year’s upcoming draft, the Texans can’t afford to be cautious and hope to fill holes with draft picks.
Three positions that the Texans need to bolster are their offensive line, defensive line, and cornerback. Even with the trade for Laremy Tunsil the offensive line was not significantly improved from the year before, and Tunsil led the league in offensive line penalties, and aside from Watt and Mercilus, they need to bolster up their pass rush if they want to make an impact.
The Team’s Free Agents
Cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Jonathan Joseph will be hitting free agency this offseason. This is a position that the team needs desperate help with, Joseph and Roby have been key veterans for this defense and the team could use one or both of these defensive backs back on their team.
The team will have a choice to make at running back with Hyde and veteran Lamar Miller both set to hit free agency. Miller was injured this season and Hyde was the team’s lead back. It is very likely Miller will be left alone to try his hand at free agency, but the team will have a decision to make either taking back Hyde or testing out free agency for another running back to play alongside Johnson who is still under contract.
Offensive tackle Chris Clark will hit free agency most likely in lieu of signing an offensive lineman this offseason. Even after trading for him, there is a chance the Texans release lineman Tunsil as well to free up cap space to bolster their line after a disappointing season.
Tight end Darren Fells was tied for first on the team in receiving touchdowns with Hopkins bringing in seven on the season and playing in all 16 games. He was an asset to the Texans offense this past season and would be a solid option to retain for another season at the position with other positions needing heavier spending.
Open Market Free Agents
Protecting Watson should be part of the plan this offseason. With the loss of Clark and possibly cutting Tunsil, the Texans can use some help on the offensive line. Look at players like Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney in free agency. Jack Conklin would be another solid player to look at but the chance is the Titans will re-sign him. Thuney would be a cheaper option than Scherff but both would be beneficial to the line immediately.
If the Texans decide to move on from Hyde, they will need to take a look at running backs. Melvin Gordon may not be a cheap option but he would be a scary addition to an already solid offense. The question would be are the Texans willing to shell out the kind of money Gordon wants in lieu of other needed positions to fill.
Just bring him back already. Jadeveon Clowney is what the Texans need on defense to bolster their pass rush which was abysmal this season. Another option the Texans can go towards in Leonard Williams who played on both New York teams last season.
The Texans need to build at cornerback especially if one or both of Roby and Joseph leave to test free agency. Two veteran names to look at are Jimmy Smith and Chris Harris that can help lead the defense forward. After the Eagles signed him to a one year contract, Ronald Darby is another option the Texans can look at if they want to go with a younger move.
Projecting the NFL Draft
With multiple trades made the Texans will be looking to do most of their big moves in free agency unless they decide to trade up in the draft. Currently, the Texans only have one pick in the first three rounds.
Round 2, Pick 57: Cornerback
With everything as it is, the Texans can go three ways with their second round pick: running back, cornerback, or defensive line. My guess is the best choice when it’s time for them to be on the clock will be taking a cornerback to build on a position that needs help and it seems like it will be built on mainly older players.
The Texans will be fighting it out in a tough division next year. Fans should expect them to contend for another division title especially if they can fix up some holes in the offseason. Depending on how well they do in free agency this team can be a contender again to watch out for not only throughout the regular season but in the playoffs as well. With Watson at quarterback, this team seems like they are never truly out of it, so if they improve their defense, and Watt can stay healthy, this team can be one to fear next season. Super Bowl appearance aspirations may be going too far, but they aren’t completely unrealistic either.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images