Four Downs: Packers 35, Texans 20

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There are losses, and then there is what happened to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

This wasn’t just a loss, this was 21-0 before McCown headquarters could get all the coffee down. This is what happens when an illusion is shattered before everybody’s eyes.

The Texans have maintained the idea for a while now that they’ve lost some close games against good teams. That they could turn it around and that there’d be a chase for the playoffs this season. But the cracks in that facade started showing in Wednesday’s post-practice trade discussions and this result broke the team. We’ve seen J.J. Watt be down this season in pressers on a bleak defense that doesn’t show much hope. But we hadn’t seen how bad this could get, as Romeo told FOX reporters at halftime:

Watt refused to celebrate after a run stuff that got the defense off the field in the second half. Deshaun Watson spoke in the post-game presser, for the first time since his contract extension and honestly for the first time I can remember, in a way that felt vulnerable. I love watching Deshaun Watson play football, but his public persona has generally come across as someone wearing blinders — for good reason, I’d add. This post-game presser had those blinders off. It had a feisty Brandin Cooks who publicly called out the offense for loafing at practice. And it had a Watt who just looked done with all of this:

Most of all, it left the Texans adrift. The plan to make David Johnson work continued to add dead weight that anchored down every Houston offensive possession. The plan to win a wild card spot with a furious comeback died on the operating table. It, in a sense, felt like a proper burial of the 2020 Houston Texans.

1) Release David Johnson

I have nothing but good things to say about David Johnson the person. It’s not his fault that he was involved in a franchise-crippling trade. It’s not his fault that he got hurt — that’s football. He was amazing in 2016. He seems like a stand-up dude and he spoke frankly and honestly about what it’s been like to be a Texan on Friday:

But this is a business about winning football games, and he has been a disaster at his highly-paid job in that. He is holding this team down where Carlos Hyde ballooned it up. Every time the team tries to run him between the tackles it — almost without fail — ends poorly. He ties in to the red zone struggles because the team can’t rely on him to not be a waste of a down, and it makes them almost entirely reliant on Watson to make great things happen.

Watson deferred to the tape when discussing the state of the run game in his presser, but the fact that he had to do that tells you all you need to know. This is a broken system that the Texans have tied themselves to. Duke Johnson provides the Texans with better receiving skills than David does at this point in their respective careers.

David Johnson can still catch on somewhere else and help a team as a receiving down back if he has the stomach to do that. Trying to make him replace DeAndre Hopkins in any way, shape, or form, is like asking Regular Gonzales to replace Speedy Gonzales. The Texans need to shop him. And if they don’t get something, they need to release him. For the sake of both parties. The longer this drags on, the worse it will get. Tear the band-aid off.

2) Bradley Roby’s absence was felt

Upon leaving during the first third down of the first series, Bradley Roby immediately showed just how much weight he has pulled for the Texans this year. Roby has been asked to shadow opposing No. 1’s. The No. 1 receiver the Packers have is Davante Adams, one of the game’s best. Ergo, there was nobody to deal with Davante Adams. And it played out exactly that way.

Adams was routinely left to abuse one-on-one coverage, even saying after the game that he didn’t want to “speak that up into the universe” about actually getting double teamed. The Texans depleted cornerback depth chart was just put to the torch. Phillip Gaines was, at times, four steps behind Adams at soon as two steps off the line. And then there was this:

We don’t often get these little clarifying glimpses into the minds of Texans opponents — it usually comes out of division — but it’s clear that with or without Bill O’Brien, the book on the Texans exists and they have done absolutely nothing to disguise it or change it. In a world where football is only getting more and more complex, the Texans are a team that seems to be more interested in keeping things simple. That works when you have generational talents. When you don’t? When you lose your best player right off the bat?

It’s a wrap.

I’m happy that the run defense showed up better — though they do get a bit of a boost from not having to play Aaron Jones. If you let Davante Adams convert every single third down you bring up — even on third-and-10 screens — that is on you. That’s something that needs attention, desperately, from whoever is put in charge of this team.

3) How to disappear completely

Over his last two games, Deshaun Watson has thrown 76 passes and only 19 of them have gone incomplete. He’s been over 300 yards in each of those games. He’s thrown six total touchdowns. He is doing everything a franchise quarterback is supposed to do, and he’s 1-6, and shit does suck.

This is where we get into the real darkness of this game — that the Texans could snuff out something so pure and so great at football as Deshaun Watson was with this shitburger of a performance where they somehow weren’t even close. Romeo Crennel noted that Watson needed to do better “in critical situations” at one point, and okay sure, but none of this is really Watson’s fault. My mentions have developed a plague of people commenting about how he’s overrated like every star quarterback in the league plays with a non-existent running game, a broken defense, and loses the best receiver in the NFL in the same year.

Listening to Watson’s press conference, you saw a side of him that very rarely gets out. You saw the exasperation and the toll that this year has taken on him. It takes a very special scenario to create a situation where a franchise quarterback can play at a star level and have little chance of making the playoffs in the NFL. Particularly now that it’s seven teams deep. It’s the linchpin of a lot of the hopes that the Texans have had about coming back after firing O’Brien — Watson would lead the team because he’s a great quarterback, and great quaterbacks are half of the battle.

Watson has had a lot to learn about front office politics this year that was never an issue under BOB’s unifying vision. But I think what he may be learning the most is that the NFL is becoming a game of sharps. He already signed his extension — there’s no immediate danger — but as we look forward to what happens to the front office and to a new head coach, one thing that is abundantly clear this season is you can’t simply have the dumbest team in the room and expect to go anywhere. The NFL is at a transition point akin to mid-2000s baseball, where the stuff that seems cutting edge today will be something that everybody has figured out in 15 years. The NFL’s version of launch angle revolution and openers will be things that not even a star quarterback can erase. Watson is with a team that has been so committed to dumb things that they can’t even deal with a game plan adjustment to their best corner getting hurt.

The teams that are behind that curve are going to perish. It’s a time where, say, you may not want to entrust real power to a 37-year-old pastor with no experience in how football actually works. Just spitballing.

4) The culture wars to come

Without getting into the merits of whether the offense can be more consistent at practice or not (I can’t really comment on something I can’t watch) this was something that hit interestingly. What the Texans did was inject a couple of long-tenured NFL receivers into their offense this year in Cobb and Cooks. Now each of them have criticized the coaching and practices. Cobb appeared to be aimed at the coaching. Cooks … I’m less sure. Primarily because of how Deshaun Watson reacted when being questioned about it:

I don’t think any of us know what’s going to happen here as we head into the bye week. Lines are going to be redrawn for the Texans future. I think the only people who are guaranteed to be here are Watson and Laremy Tunsil.

A lot of it, simply put, is going to come down to Cal McNair and Easterby, a pair of people who I don’t have a great amount of confidence in right now. But I wanted to point out about this quote is that for as bad as DeAndre Hopkins supposedly hurt the culture with not practicing and having “baby mamas” in the building, he never was going to say something like this to the media. I want to be clear that this is me offering an opinion on somebody I don’t know — so I am open to being wrong — but it felt like something that doesn’t get said by somebody who knows where they stand with a team.

The lack of leadership by anybody in the front office has left this team in a position where nobody, let alone the players, knows what they should be saying out loud anymore. And I think there’s no better place to leave this team as we head into the bye week than that — it really does feel like everybody is just fending for themselves.

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