Four Downs; Texans 16, Buccaneers 23

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It was pretty clear that the best unit on the field on Saturday was the Tampa Bay offense. Tom Brady, perturbed by a three-and-out on his first series, quickly engineered back-to-back drives full-field drives against the Texans starters. 91 and 93 yards. The Tampa running game was barely involved in them. Brady no-huddled his way through the entire second series, and he carved up the Texans defense in a way that had all of them paraphrasing the idea that, well, of course he did, he’s the greatest of all-time.

And, well, it wasn’t very surprising that the Texans defense struggled against starters and Brady. They just don’t have a lot of top-tier talent. They need to win four-man pass rush situations to be able to create the amount of negative plays for them to make an impact on the game. The open question is how many offenses and bad quarterbacks they will be able to take advantage of by playing a steady defense, because “hey, get turnovers” aside, there’s not a lot of complexity in what Lovie Smith is here to do.

I would simply run play-action against Smith’s unit on every down, if I’m being honest with you.

Other than that typical Brady stuff, this game was extremely drunk. To give a taste if you missed it:

– The Texans played without a placekicker after Kai Fairbairn pulled a muscle in warm-ups, they used safety Justin Reid on kickoffs and went 2-for-6 on fourth downs.
– The Texans actually ran the ball really, really well after two poor games. They ran better on the second unit, sure, but Mark Ingram and David Johnson showed some burst. They ran for 209 yards as a team and lost, which as far as the regular season goes, has only happened 30 times since 2011.
– Blaine Gabbert and Davis Mills gave us a second-string slap fight that saw them finish the half with 26 and 6 passing yards, respectively. Gabbert took a safety, and Mills was picked twice in the second quarter.
– There were eight total turnovers in this game, and that does not include the Texans safety, their blocked extra point (Vincent Taylor), or their blocked field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter (Tavierre Thomas).

David Culley is here to get you off his lawn and his lawn is penalties and turnovers, so as you can imagine he was not quite as thrilled with this one as he was with Week 2’s turnoverless win.

1) The run game comes alive — is it real?

Texans backs finished the first half with 21 carries for 91 yards. A lot of that was about David Johnson’s one untouched run where he showed off the speed that made him a big deal back in the day.

But the Texans also were grinding out some repeatable four-to-six yard gains, mostly with Mark Ingram, and pulling a lot of linemen. The best snap for me was the first one, because you can see how Justin Britt and Tytus Howard got some actual push:

It’s also worth noting that the Texans played their starting line into the second quarter with Ingram and Davis Mills, and the Bucs were playing second-string guys at that point.

This was necessary, because you can’t focus on running and be as bad as the Texans were at it the first two preseason games. But — not to spill too much tea on my read of where this team is going — they’re going to have games like this. Bad NFL running games don’t generally fall off the entire face of the earth. They have four or five games a year where they look pretty good, and then everyone asks why that doesn’t happen more often. That happened to the 2020 Texans, and I’d bet big cash on it being what happens to the 2021 Texans.

More to the point, you can’t pass as poorly as this team did this preseason without drawing bigger boxes. And that is a factor that won’t really be touched on much in the preseason with mostly vanilla defenses. It was good to see some push from the offensive line! I don’t know how to feel about it long-term. Particularly because we have no real understanding of what the starting line will look like together if a Marcus Cannon or Lane Taylor rejoin the lineup.

2) Davis Mills explodes, Tyrod Taylor stopgaps

I got some pushback about Mills not being ready when I posted about that last week, and this was a game that would lead to me victory lapping if I gave a crap. Mills didn’t get to 100 passing yards until the fourth quarter. He looked so utterly locked in to his No. 1 read that even Spencer Tillman had to mention it. The touchdown pass to Jordan Veasy was the one true flash of stardom — the link to his college days — but wow, outside of that drive, what we saw was the worst bits of the scouting report come to life. Some floaters were picked. He had a few floaters that his receivers had to absorb a lot of punishment on (Brevin Jordan and Alex Erickson’s catches), and he looked lost in the pocket often. Two balls were batted down.

Again, I can’t see how putting Mills into an NFL game this year based on this sample of play is going to end well for anybody. It might have to happen, because Tyrod Taylor is a stopgap who does tend to have a dark cloud of injuries following him around, ready to pounce at any moment. But barring massive improvement on the sidelines over the next couple of months, this isn’t NFL-level quarterback play.

Taylor might technically be a mobile quarterback. But when he is pressured off of his spot, or when they move the pocket, there’s not a lot of reason to believe he’s going to reset and throw well. He is, bluntly, not in Deshaun Watson’s league as a passer. The Texans need to get that through their skulls quickly. They need to make this system easy for Taylor without making it a passing game that basically focuses on curls and digs. Right now, it feels extremely horizontal. Like violently horizontal. And that’s not going to help with that whole thing about teams wanting to stack the box. Good luck.

Taylor played three preseason games and best I can remember at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, he did not attempt a single deep pass. He might have some categorized as “deep” as in more than 15 yards, but no bombs, no testing anything with Brandin Cooks.

3) The other rookies — Nico Collins’ first touchdown pass comes, but the rookie left some yards on the field

Collins played a lot in this game — he was on the field on snap one — but he was less impressive on a consistency basis than he was on a highlight basis. It was, admittedly, a beautiful touchdown catch because he bowled over the safety:

Collins was about 18 inches on two plays from having a game that would have Fantasy Football Twitter gushing. Here’s one of the other two:

The thing is, Collins very well may play right away, but the training camp raves haven’t matched the actuality of what is happening on the field. He’s going to flash and he’s very impressive when he does flash because he’s impossibly tall and long, so much so that when he does catch a ball it looks natural that he’d just beat everyone up on the field for their lunch money. But he finishes the preseason with three catches on seven targets, and there is inconsistency here right now.

The good news for fantasy players: They just get to target volume. There should be plenty of volume! And I’m not saying Collins can’t be a long-term fixture for the team either, he just hasn’t really shown a lot of the upside in games yet.

Roy Lopez wound up with a credited sack, finishing the preseason with three. I don’t think he really deserved the sack he was awarded, but a) nobody asked me and b) they didn’t show him salsa dancing so why did the sack even exist? Lopez played from the second quarter on and seems like he’ll be part of the defensive line rotation. I didn’t see Garret Wallow on any non-special teams plays before the final drive of the game, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. As I noted in the Mills section, Jordan caught one ball:

I think Lopez and Collins are probably surer bets at playing time/roster spots at this point than Wallow and Jordan. Jordan I’m about 90 percent sure makes the roster. I have no clue what to think about Wallow, who has pretty much always been with the threes. One of the major bits of the Easterby experience has been a devaluation of the young players on the roster. Has Nick Caserio joining changed that so far? Not judging by the number of UDFAs. But! Has Nick Caserio changed that for players he actually drafted? That’s a question we’re all awaiting some data on.

4) Playing-time observations

Bradley Roby, Zach Cunningham and Lonnie Johnson didn’t play. Jeremy Fowler reported that the Texans were shopping Johnson, so some dots got connected there for some people. I kind of think the Texans just had so much to figure out at these positions that they needed the run for their other players. Can I be optimistic enough to hope it means Johnson starts? I can delude myself for a few more weeks, sure, what else am I doing with my life?

Vernon Hargreaves played with the first team. He’s not very good! I’m sorry, I also hope for things to go better. But he’s not! Terrence Mitchell, Desmond King, Eric Murray, and Justin Reid also started. Brady picked on the zone coverage of Mitchell and King mostly, as well as the natural Cover-2 seams. Kamu Grugier-Hill played with Christian Kirksey in Cunningham’s place. Whitney Mercilus and Shaq Lawson were the edge players on that abysmal second series. Jaleel Johnson got a surprise start, while Maliek Collins appears locked in at three-tech.

The Texans continued to play mostly 12-personnel (two tight ends, two wideouts) with their early offense. Pharaoh Brown and Jordan Akins did most of the tight end work, Chris Conley was the third wideout. With Laremy Tunsil out, Gerod Christian was starting at left tackle with Justin Britt at center, Max Scharping and Tytus Howard at guard, and Charlie Heck at right tackle. Howard has played almost all of his preseason snaps at guard, but I’m sure we’ll get to hear more about how he “hasn’t moved yet.” Chris Moore took over for Brandin Cooks in a hurry.

Cole Toner played with the first string offensive line on the first series of the third quarter. Jonathan Owens took over for Justin Reid in the third quarter. Terrence Brooks played for Eric Murray after Murray left with an injury, which is why he was on to pick Blaine Gabbert and avoid Jack Easterby high-fives.

Second team line (second series of third quarter) was: Jordan Steckler, Danny Isadora, Ryan McCollum, Hjalte Froholdt, and Carson Green. Second-team defense had Kevin Pierre-Louis, Derek Rivers, Neville Hewitt, DeMarcus Walker (star), Rasul Douglas, Tae Davis, Jordan Jenkins, Tremon Smith, with Brooks still playing. Tavierre Thomas played nickel. Vincent Taylor played well into the fourth quarter which was prety interesting. I kind of figured he was ahead of Jaleel Johnson, maybe that’s not so. Or maybe they just wanted to see how Johnson played with the firsts. The defensive line otherwise just rotated all over the place as usual.

Buddy Howell played only late in the third quarter, he’s been the last guy off the running back bench the whole preseason. 🙁

Ex-Packers trade acquisition Ka’dar Hollman got in on the last two drives of the game. He was clearly behind Douglas.

Players that had the most special teams snaps that I think are competing for a rsoter spot: Tavierre Thomas, Brooks, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Owens, Hardy Nickerson, Garret Wallow, Tae Davis, Chris Moore. I think the main question out of that group is probably how much (Joe) Thomas’ and Nickerson’s special teams play moves the needle for the Texans as far as a backup linebacker spot. And remember, the Texans have already brought in more linebackers for workouts in the last couple of weeks, so those guys don’t necessarily have to be the answer. The Tae Davis/Neville Hewitt grouping was pillaged by Kyle Trask.


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Four Downs: Texans 20, Cowboys 14

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The one thing that I think reasonable minds could agree on as an area of optimism for the 2021 Houston Texans is the defense. What they have done in the preseason deserves a huge caveat: The best quarterback they’ve faced is Jordan Love, who has not started an actual NFL game yet. I do believe that throws like this completion over Christian Kirksey will remain a bugaboo as we cull the weak quarterbacks out of the games.

However, I think one area that I may have underestimated in a way that can help in the regular season: the ability to get a pass rush with four solid-average players on the line. The 2020 Houston Texans did many poor things as a defense, but one of the ones that they did the most often was “let poor pass rushers eat snaps.” Whitney Mercilus, Carlos Watkins, and Brandon Dunn were among their top six pass rushers last year. This year, Mercilus would probably be an easy release if he were not in the protective veteran cocoon. The interior line in particular has a lot more juice and even though he didn’t join in the sack brigade that Jacob Martin and Charles Omenihu did, Maliek Collins was dazzling from a pressure-created standpoint.

I think if you’re looking for one rock-solid, Rivers-approved optimistic thing to take away from the 2-0 preseason start, it’s that they have a variety of pass rushers that are not going to embarrass themselves one-on-one. Obviously that carries a lot of weight in the preseason, but there are weak links along most offensive lines when the regular season starts as well. The cap has forced this team to have a bad right tackle, and this one to start a rookie center, and Next Man Up has placed a bad guard here or there. The Texans won’t get five sacks, like they did tonight, often. But they could get three. If they can generate the kind of havoc that Lovie Smith has established his brand around — particularly with inexperienced or bad quarterbacks — I think that is a rallying point of optimism.

Now, on to the things that are not quite as optimistic

1) The starters have been abysmal as a run offense in both preseason games

The Texans ran 28 times for 89 yards in their victory, and even that number oversells the amount of damage their proper run game did. If you take out Davis Mills’ seven-yard scramble and Jeff Driskel’s rampant Driskeling in true garbage time, Texans backs ran 22 times for 59 yards. 2.6 yards per attempt. They were able to score a touchdown when Mark Ingram busted off an eight-yard gain in Cowboys territory, and they set that up by actually running the ball on fourth-and-1 to the chagrin of everyone who crucified David Culley’s “analythics” playbook:

Great seal by Antony Auclair on that one. Anyway, the Texans ran another fourth-and-1 in Cowboys territory later in the game with Mills, and again tried to show a quarterback run threat. Both Taylor and Mills were ignored on those. The play was not quite so successful that time.

The Texans ended the first half of the game against Green Bay last week with 14 carries for 33 yards, before they ran roughshod over the Packers’ end-of-roster youth with their older, vet-heavy second and third teams. It’s worth noting that this is the preseason and that the plays may be more vanilla than usual, but this team has shown no aptitude for zone blocking so far and that’s not really something that gets spiced up. Tim Kelly has no history of success running the ball. They can want to run all they want, but if this is the running game they get from go, they’re going to need to win the turnover battle by four every week. You could win games with 2.9 yards per carry when you ran the ball 30 percent of the time and have Deshaun Watson. It’s exponentially harder when it’s Tyrod Taylor, Will Fuller is a Dolphin, and you want to run to stay balanced at all times.

2) Davis Mills looked nowhere near ready to play this season

On the surface level, you look at Davis Mills’ stats and they tell a fairly pleasant story. 10-of-16 for 115 yards and one sack would be a solid enough half for most starting quarterbacks. But when you break down what happened on those dropbacks, it’s a little more murky.

Mills hit Keke Coutee in the middle of a zone in the fourth quarter for 25 yards. Outside of that, his other two big plays were off of play-action, going for 30 more yards. So that’s 55 yards on three passes, all of which were not particularly hard. That means on his other dropbacks, he went 7-of-13 for 50 yards and a sack. Several of the throws were either easy dumpoffs or not particularly impressive. And, I think in the biggest vote that you can possibly show in the preseason, the Texans ran the ball twice while trailing to start the two-minute drill, while ultimately Mills attempted no deep passes on the drive. The play above on third-and-4 may have developed into one if he had better sniffed out the blitz, but he very much did not do that. 0-of-10 on third downs, not all of that was Mills, but most of it was.

Listen, I’m not saying Mills is a lost cause. I’m not saying that he can’t play in the NFL. But this current version of Mills that we saw tonight, if he were dropped into play in Week 10? He would put up a Ryan Finley box score. He’d take sacks by the bushel, he’d make bad throws, and he’d sink whatever chance the team actually has to win a game.

What that means is: He’s got about two or three months to get much, much better than this. This won’t cut it as an NFL starter. He’s very new, improvement shouldn’t be considered out of the question. But if he remains this guy, I don’t see how the Texans can start him in a real NFL game this season.

3) Just serve the youth, please/playing time observations

I am not going to be extremely mad about playing Tytus Howard at guard in this post. I think it is stupid, but at least the idea of putting Charlie Heck on to the field — barring a very predictable Marcus Cannon recovery and seizure of the job — leads to a younger offensive line. I think Mills is a special case in some ways because terrible quarterback play can tank evaluations up and down a roster, and I’m not advocating for say, John Reid to start if the team has clearly better players. But if there’s any question about whether a young player can still be a full-time starter, just start the young player. That’s all I ask.

The major gripe

Starting Eric Murray over Lonnie Johnson is something that seems idiotic on paper. Johnson has been electric in the first two preseason games and shown a ton of range. Murray very well may be more competent as a safety than he was when the previous defensive corps made him a mismatched nickel corner, but that’s not reason enough to start him in my book. Johnson may make more mistakes than Murray, but ultimately the goal of this Texans team is to develop some core players, and Eric Murray will never be a core player.

The rotations

As I go over the major playing time eye-openers for me, I think we saw most of the surprises last week. David Johnson was rarely on the field at all. (Eight total snaps in two preseason games.) Shaq Lawson was playing in the fourth quarter. The Texans brought on Scottie Phillips earlier than Rex Burkhead, but Burkhead was also used during the two-minute drill.

Geron Christian got the start for COVID-listed Laremy Tunsil and played into the third quarter, where he was joined by Justin McCray, Carson Green, Danny Isidora, and Cole Toner. McCray and Toner got some play with Max Scharping and Heck in the second quarter. Slot receivers, defensive linemen, and tight ends continued to alternate in different patterns relative to the rest of the team because of personnel groupings and rotations. (So I’m not necessarily dying that Keke Coutee was playing in the fourth quarter again, although yes, he was playing in the fourth quarter again.)

Tremon Smith got time earlier in the game because of the trade of Keion Crossen, and he drew 2 DPIs for his trouble. Terrence Brooks also played earlier than he did last week, as AJ Moore did not play at all. Neville Hewitt appeared to join as the main second-team linebacker next to Kamu Grugier-Hill in the second quarter. Cornell Armstrong and Tavierre Thomas were the corners after halftime, with Joe Thomas taking snaps next to Hewitt and Grugier-Hill on run downs.

Post Lonnie Johnson’s pick-six third teamers started getting run. Garrett Wallow and Tae Davis were on at linebacker with Hardy Nickerson Jr., John Reid got in the series before, then was replaced with Shyheim Carter in the fourth quarter. Fourth quarter also gave us: Ryan McCollum at center, Buddy Howell and Darius Jackson at running back, Hjalte Froholdt at guard, and Jordan Steckler at left tackle.

Interestingly, after getting 134 and 124 snaps on specials in the last two years, Zach Cunningham did not get a single special teams snap. Leaders there were Kevin Pierre-Louis, Tavierre Thomas, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Owens, Terrence Brooks, and Cornell Armstrong.

I don’t remember seeing a single Kahale Warring non-victory formation snap. (He wound up with four total.) Sorry Matt Weston. Drake Jackson also got in only as the game was clearing out.

4) Our new Texans theatre

I’ve been trying to understand why I am so captivated by David Culley’s head coach demeanor on the sideline over the course of the preseason. Of course, the easy headline is “I’ve never seen a head coach attack their own tongue like David Culley does.”

But trying to dial down on it, it’s not that he doesn’t seem to be communicating much with the rest of the staff, though that is also kind of part of it in a way. Where I finally wound up was: I think David Culley coaches like a living embodiment of impostor syndrome. He believes he’s going to be found out after this play, and someone’s going to tell him he can’t have the job anymore. There’s a nervousness to his energy, but there’s also a resignation.

Anyway, in other very normal news, we managed to viral a post where Spencer Tillman said of Nick Caserio: “I don’t think I’ve seen a better job by a GM in the last decade, or more.” There’s a level of hyperbole I’ve come to expect from Spencer, and I can understand why optimistic fans don’t share my level of disinterest in some of what he’s done, but that was a wild heat check.

I think what actually deserved to go viral is this:

Have you seen a lot of executive vice presidents of football operations roaming the sideline of a preseason game, dapping players up? How about when the guy with two sacks who everyone wants to talk about goes up to the podium to speak about getting the game ball, which name comes out first?

Jack, and Nick, and Culley, eh? In that order?

There’s nothing normal about this team, and in some ways that might wind up being a good thing. You all seem to enjoy rubbernecking, so maybe this will get some reads even though the team isn’t all that great. There’s still some potential for a good defense, and for it to blossom in whatever this environment can be called is fascinating. But then there’s also the reasons that this team remains so weird, and they just hit you smack dab in the face when you least expect it.


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Four Downs: Texans 26, Packers 7

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The David Culley era started with football-like sustenance for fans hungry for optimism Saturday in Lambeau field, as the Texans crushed a Packers team resting almost all of their starters 26-7 in a game that showcased that Houston’s prized competition mindset is a winning preseason strategy over the Green Bay UDFA/young player machine.

While Jordan Love’s final stat line looked good, his 22-yard touchdown pass to Kylin Hill was a screen that busted a team that looks to read quickly, and the only throw that really seemed difficult that was completed was a 34-yard Cover-2 gap over Neville Hewitt. The Texans held the Packers to 15 offensive yards or less in every other drive that Love played in, and once it got to halftime, Houston was able to really exploit the experience edge with their backups versus the Packers. DeMarcus Walker had to have been salivating for the entirety of Kurt Benkert’s shift, and the Texans were able to force two turnovers on horrific Packers plays to go along with the one that Jon Greenard popped out of Love’s hands:

And, well, yeah, when you put grown men who have played in NFL games against young UDFAs who will mostly be selling real estate, considering coaching, or going on to other careers in a few years — this can happen, yeah.

My main broad picture takeaway from this game was pretty simple: I think this coaching staff is going to be extremely conservative. Davis Mills had two deep tosses the entire game, they ran the ball 37 times and, more importantly, even had 14 carries in the first half despite not having any real success with it. They came up with just 33 yards and a touchdown.

When asked why the offense didn’t go for it on fourth-and-2 in Green Bay territory, David Culley said all the right things, but didn’t exactly paint the picture of a guy who was confident in gos:

If you don’t trust it enough to go for it on fourth-and-2 relative to the merits of going for it on fourth-and-1, that’s a very telling statement about your offense and how you view them. Maybe trying to read too much of this is preseason fool’s gold, and the Texans will be aggressive once they have a trust and read of who their most important five up front actually are (and healthy tackles), but it especially stood out as the Packers went for it on fourth down twice while the Texans had to settle for a myriad of Ka’imi Fairbairn field goals.

But when Culley fusses about the offense needing to be mistake-free, turnover-free, penalty-free — he was most furious about the mistakes in scrimmages, he harps on missed opportunities — he is creating a very narrow box for the team to play in. This offense might deserve that box! The only game-breaker that they can for sure count on right now is Brandin Cooks’ speed, and there’s no telling just how useful that’s going to be when it’s riding on Tyrod Taylor’s deep frequencies. They don’t really have space to settle for field goals on fourth-and-2 in close games if this is how they are going to play. Especially if they are running like that against a defense that isn’t even playing its starters…

1) Davis Mills takeaways

Somewhat surprisingly, Mills was the first quarterback off the bench on Saturday. I made a thread on Twitter of most of Mills’ throws (I excluded a Brevin Jordan drop and a couple other throws that just seemed safe/dull/weren’t interesting from an evaluation standpoint) — you can find that here:

My general takeaways are — I’m very happy that Mills has a “next-play mentality,” as the Texans keep promoting, but that mentality is kind of a prerequisite for anybody to be a starting NFL quarterback, so shouting that from the rooftops doesn’t do a lot for me. What he needs to do to play in the style of offense that the Texans rolled out yesterday is cut the easy mistakes. Other than his interception and the ball thrown on third-and-goal that could have led to a pick-six had the Packers had a more established defensive back reading it, Mills didn’t have many turnover-adjacent throws. What he had was the same thing holding him back in college — throws that seem like they should be wildly easy to make, yet ones that he could not complete:

He followed that screen pass up with whatever the hell this was on the goal line:

I’ve been pretty open about the pros and cons of the Mills pick, and I don’t have a lot of pre-conceived notions about how it’s going to play out. But if there’s a future in which he is the starting quarterback of the team, he can’t be blowing easy throws like those. They were hardly the only ones he put on the reel.

Tim Kelly reference Mills as a guy who hasn’t been making the same mistake twice when he talked about him earlier in camp. Well, he made the screen pass accuracy mistake about three times yesterday. The boom throws looked really good — a deep ball off Anthony Miller’s hands on his second dropback, a couple of nice third-and-long completions under pressure. I think this performance is about what I have expected from him based on what I watched of him in college.

But it is time to grow, and the easiest way for him to grow right now is very simple: You can’t miss the layups.

2) Other offensive takeaways

This was the first-team offense that rolled out on the field sans Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Akins, and Marcus Cannon if you count him as a starter:

Anthony Auclair, Ryan Izzo, and Paul Quessenberry seemed like they were on a less fixed substitution pattern, and rotated in throughout the game as blockers when needed. Houston’s first-team offense started with Phillip Lindsay getting the bulk of the snaps over David Johnson, who played a total of three and, crucially, only appeared on third downs. That is one expensive third-down back! Joking aside, I don’t think we should be reading too much into this, particularly with Mark Ingram not playing, but it would not surprise me if coaches watched a bunch of Lindsay and a bunch of Johnson and figured out that Lindsay was a better back than Johnson.

I thought Scottie Phillips acquitted himself well in his tenure with the second team, made the most of his carries even though he wasn’t getting a ton of help from the offensive line and had to make some yards after contact:

Imagine if he actually got snaps last year! Wow! If only someone had been calling for that the entire months of November and December! Guess we’ll never know how good he could be now that he’s buried behind 800 other running backs. Buddy Howell started rotating in about the end of the first half, and then Darius Jackson took over running in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Keke Coutee played in the first quarter but was also in through the fourth quarter, I’m wondering if that was a pure “slot receiver” thing with Anthony Miller injured in the middle of the third quarter, or if that was a negative vote that we should be eyeing. Chris Conley made more plays than any other Texans receiver and was the de facto No. 1 option. I would guess that Alex Erickson is viewed pretty highly in the building because I didn’t see him in the last couple of quarters, while Chris Moore continued to get a lot of playing time over them. Kahale Warring got on at tight end at the very end of the second half and was the target on Mills’ interception. Jordan Veasy and Isaiah Coulter were exclusively second half players.

The offensive line rotations were pretty clear — Max Scharping and Justin Britt were off fairly early for Cole Toner and Jordan Steckler. And then around the end of the half/start of the third quarter the third-team line that came in was Ryan McCollum at center, Hjalte Froholdt and Danny Isidora at guard, and Carson Green at tackle joining Steckler. New waiver claim Drake Jackson came on towards the middle of the fourth quarter along with Darius Jackson.

3) Defensive takeaways

Here’s who I had the Texans running out on the first snap sans Zach Cunningham, Bradley Roby, Christian Kirksey, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Justin Reid, Whitney Mercilus, Charles Omenihu, Brandon Dunn, and Maliek Collins:

The biggest surprise there from an outside perspective has to be Shaq Lawson not making it into the lineup. In fact, he played well into the third quarter. I haven’t heard a lot about him in training camp from the Texans themselves, and what I’ve heard from people who attend camp regularly is that he hasn’t looked great. Still, that’s a stunning fall from grace for a guy that a) they traded Benardrick McKinney for and b) restructured his contract this offseason to make himself a $5.4 million cap hit to cut in 2022. It’s hard to say that the Texans “committed” to anyone this offseason, but if they did, Lawson was on the front line of that. And he’s out there playing in the third quarter of a preseason game that’s well in-hand? That’s kind of astonishing.

The defensive line rotation continued for the majority of the game, with DeMarcus Walker, Jaleel Johnson, and Derek Rivers playing in the second quarter and the fourth quarter. I don’t recall seeing Ross Blacklock in the fourth quarter but he was definitely still out there in the third. Greenard sprained an ankle at some point so we didn’t get much of a look at him, and other than Auzoyah Alufohai, the Texans didn’t really bring in anyone fresh for the second half.

The linebackers were more of a set rotation, starting with Neville Hewitt and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Joe Thomas was the third linebacker in heavy sets. At halftime they seamlessly changed to Garret Wallow, Tae Davis, and Hardy Nickerson Jr.

Defensive back suffered from just having more active players than anyone else, but the team iced Vernon Hargreaves (ugh), Terrance Mitchell, Desmond King, and Eric Murray pretty quickly. Lonnie Johnson started and played well into the second quarter, delivering a nice hit on the first drive:

Tavierre Thomas, Keion Crossen, Tremon Smith, and AJ Moore came on during the fourth series to play with Johnson. Then at the start of the third quarter Jonathan Owens (Simone Biles’ boyfriend, just to put that shoe on the other foot) came on. John Reid, Shyheim Carter, and Terrence Brooks joined the party in the middle of the third quarter. Smith actually played more snaps than any other defender and picked off Benkert on an absolutely idiotic throw made under pressure.

4) So, the other rookies?

Nico Collins had a pretty quiet debut, with just one catch:

To be fair, he did play a lot of the first half, so he’s probably still in some form of major plan for the team this year. But I was surprised how he was paired with a quarterback who likes to throw receivers open and just wasn’t a focal point of the offense in any real way. At least, based on the camp hype.

Brevin Jordan drew three targets after coming on towards the end of the second quarter. He dropped one of them. It wasn’t exactly a dominant debut, but I was surprised how little I noticed him as a blocker considering what we heard about him coming out. Maybe that’s a good thing, or maybe they aren’t concerned about his blocking.

Roy Lopez played in the first half and played towards the end of the game as well — he got to clean up for Walker’s pressure for a Benkert sack. The Packers didn’t have much success in the run game and Lopez didn’t look out of sync with the other vets in the group, which is a good sign for him.

Garret Wallow had two solo tackles and, importantly for him, 10 special teams snaps. I think the last linebacker spot on the roster is going to be pretty special-teams dependent.


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Texans Training Camp Notebook — Week 2: Death of Curiosity

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


Death of curiosity

As someone who tends to traffic in analysis, the dog days of training camp are a bit of a slog for me. They are an endless parade of optimism, everybody is excited that football is back, there are no real results to check against as far as that optimism, and one-play analysis thrives. I’m not saying that to note that if you’re engaging with any of that it’s a bad thing, I think we all hope Nico Collins is a big deal. But the hype gets a little out of hand sometimes and when he’s the obvious eye-catcher and literally every other player gets asked about him in camp because we’re trying to find The Next Rebuilding Piece, well, it’s a burden of optimism that I hope doesn’t get met with backlash later. I keep the same basic heuristic on the positive side with Davis Mills, who seems to throw a pick every time a reporter shows up to the facility. There’s a lot of growing still to be done, and while you’d rather he be stand-out right away, it’s not necessarily a disqualifier towards his prospects that he hasn’t been.

After roughly five months in the wilderness without much news, training camp is drinking from the fire hose. The Texans themselves are putting up as many as four or five short interviews with players per day, there are pressers, and the in-house team goes from a short hour-long show to two hours live, plus a live training camp look on YouTube, plus all the other stuff they were already doing. Lean into it too far, as I have this year, and you just get to hear the same talking points over and over again. David Johnson was good in his last three games last year. Tyrod Taylor is a veteran presence. We shouldn’t judge the team before they’ve played a game. And so on. It’s saccharine to the point of just mainlining pixie sticks, and the most negative thing you’ll get is John Harris writing in his camp notebook that he wishes defensive linemen would do more than just a basic bullrush. To cover anything with the zeal of a fan these days is to realize that the content sausage is repurposed over and over again — rightfully, because most fans do not consume everything — and at the heart of the matter, there’s really not all that much new to say.

Phillip Lindsay feels slighted by the media. The remaining whole-hearted fans of this team feel they are slighted by the media. The team themselves feels slighted by the media. Optimism flows through the locker room because — much like any decision on House Hunters — once you’ve made a choice, you try to make the best of it. The story won’t change until September or October. The eye in the sky, as they say, won’t lie. And the way that leadership has really shown a lack of interest in answering any questions that are curious has jaded me to a mode along the lines of “okay just show me the games.”

Let’s leave the Deshaun Watson thing alone. They can’t tell you anything. They can’t tell you about the goddamn long snapper competition:

Just nothing but buzzwords up and down. I’ve heard from many fans who say “what do you expect?” Well, you can tell us many things about a situation without tipping your entire hand. Bradley Roby hinted at some discord in the 2020 Texans without really specifying what it was. Brandin Cooks has talked about how poor the practices were on that team publicly. The in-house media radio, John Harris and Marc Vandermeer, rave about Flying Coach, which is a podcast where Rams head coach Sean McVay lets down his guard and talks to other coaches who are doing the same. No Texans coach has ever been on it. Joe Judge is on it, and he has sent three separate dudes to retirement this week!

They are trying to sell you feelings — something I’ll get to in a second — and while I don’t think contempt is the right word, I think they approach every media session as a chance to do their gospel bits rather than with a real interest in answering any of these questions. Here’s Nick Caserio on the air on Friday:

Ha ha! It’s a little joke! But the best jokes have a bit of truth to them. It’s exhausting to listen to the CasEasterby troupe do media. It’s especially trying on the heels of the fact that everyone just sat through a seven-year Patriots administration that had twinges of this messaging in it. You don’t want to answer questions and sate the curiosity people have about your football team? Fine. But the calls about the national media not giving the team a fair shake ring hollow when the team isn’t interested in providing a look at why it should be given a fair shake. As Cal McNair said in the Caserio presser, they want your implicit trust. They just aren’t willing to give any assurances about why they should have it.

Left with no reason to not believe the results on the field, the media will fixate on the results on the field. Barring a Watson comeback, we all know how unlikely those are to look good. The perception is not something that comes out in every session, but the internal focus is a must for this team because they know how they are viewed:

We are in a spot where we are hoping against hope that the team can be good this year, and the team’s messaging around this has all been extremely process-oriented, dry, and dismissive. Of course fans are going to elect Nico Collins to the training camp Hall of Fame! Of course Roy Lopez getting some run against starters is going to start a second hype train! What else do they have to look forward to? What other reasons were they actually sold to believe in management? But it didn’t have to be this way, and you catch more flies with honey.

When you remove curiosity from the proceedings, you don’t have much to focus on outside of results. And whenever the Texans have tried to do anything that invites curiosity, they’ve revealed no inkling of a grand plan. Building The Texans is barely even about the players, let alone what they liked about them that would be of any interest to a fan. It’s just mythmaking arguments from a position of authority. Hope the results validate that stance.


It sure would be cool if Deshaun Watson spoke some words, but there’s not a lot of upside in it

With Watson no longer even appearing at practice once the pads went on, we have almost filled up the bingo card of events he can do that are “newsworthy.” I think the most interesting thing said about him this week was not about him at all, but this question and answer with Tim Kelly:

Notice how in that answer about “your quarterbacks,” Watson was not mentioned. They kept bringing Watson up to Kelly, and eventually he complimented Watson in helping the other quarterbacks as if he were a coach. But I think that’s a very telling paragraph by omission of where Watson is.

Many fans have pelted me with some sort of call for Watson to speak publicly — I think the best way this could be done is probably through a heavily choreographed interview with a major network. The problem with Watson speaking publicly at this point actually isn’t about the Texans, but about the lawsuits. There is no answer he can give that calls for the process to continue that looks “good,” be it a brief “no comment” or even something like “I won’t speak about pending litigation but I do believe that women should be heard,” ala his agent’s statement when this was all kicking off. It’s enough of a big deal that no network is going to let the question get away unasked. But it’s also a no-win question for Watson to answer. The best-case scenario is that he’s met with derisive snark, a fairly innocent no-comment twisted into something that isn’t good for his public persona.

(Brief aside: The people who point out that he thanked Easterby (and many other people) at his contract extension presser? I would like to see how many people they would thank if they were handed life-changing money forever. I’m not a fan of the Texas State government, but if they ran a vaccine lottery (haha!) that I won (hahaha!), I would probably thank Dan Patrick. I hate Dan Patrick.)

Now, would I love it if Watson would take some ownership of the situation? Sure. It is quite the clusterfuck, and I think the sentiment I’ve seen presented by Texans Unfiltered and other places that he is the reason he can’t be traded carries a lot of truth to it. His own actions are the reason he’s untradeable at this exact moment.

But if Watson hired me, and asked me how to solve the problem from a PR-standpoint, about the only thing I’d have for him is “go play football for the Texans, do what people loved you for, give one quick statement on the allegations and say that you won’t be taking questions on them beyond that, give one quick statement on the trade request and how you still want to leave but don’t want to be a distraction and say that you won’t be taking questions on it beyond that, then bury that with as many games of great football as you’re allowed.” My sense is that this is not something he wants to hear right now. It’s an odd situation where both sides are leaking to the press, and both sides have enough ego to think they have an upper hand on this.

I still think the best outcome for both sides is to pretend they’re with each other for a season while the lawsuits play out, but we’re into enough emotion that I can’t tell you with any confidence I believe that either side wants that outcome. At this point, I’m not totally unconvinced that the Texans will make Watson a healthy inactive in Week 1. A lot can change in a very short time and a lot of the season is riding on how this plays out. I wish I could tell you I had more confidence in an outcome one way or another here.


Desperate pandering

I don’t always speak my mind on the things that this team says out loud. Part of that is because I’m aware of my own skepticism and how it’s perceived to the point where I realize there are some battles I just don’t need to fight, some things that certain subsets of people willfully don’t want to see. So I try to straddle the line between straight news and my own feelings in a way that makes it not a total pain-in-the-ass to follow me on the Twitter, but also still gets enough of the sentiment out that I don’t feel like a robot. Tough line to toe.

Something I’ve drawn more of a line about over the past couple of years is the in-house team, because PR is PR. While I think the David Johnson last three games talk is tedious and misinformed, I get what they’re trying to do there and how it fits in the grand game of the discourse.

But this thing. Good God, this thing:

That Football Feeling is gross and sappy in a cynical sort of way that happens when a marketing team looks at their remaining options and shrugs. It’s less about the Texans than a general sense of what football is supposed to be. An appeal to the fact that the Texans are a Houston institution and a place where you can tailgate and literally nothing else. It’s the kind of video I’d expect to have foisted on me if I were in workplace training for the Texans rather than the kind of video you release for the sake of public relations. That the Texans released it speaks volumes about what they think about their fanbase.

This comes on the heels of (ugh) TexansPup

Listen, it’s blatantly obvious that there’s a segment of our society that loves dogs. It’s blatantly obvious there’s a segment of our society that wants to cheer veterans at games — it’s a cottage industry that goes beyond the Texans — and combining the two is the cheapest of cheap created impressions.

There’s a lot about society in the social media world that feels nakedly transactional. I insert one Twitter thought and get 20 likes, which do not feed me, while Twitter makes a lot of money, and I hope people are inspired enough that eventually it trickles down to me. When you’re a multi-billion dollar business, though, you generally don’t need to stoop to this kind of stuff to try to create positive emotions around things. The Texans were doing just fine around that when professional sourpuss Bill O’Brien was around telling everyone he needed to do a better job.

The desperation is popping off the screen here. It really would have been incredibly easy to fire Easterby, hire a Ravens or Steelers cohort as GM, hire Eric Bieniemy or Joe Brady or Brandon Staley, and print free positive publicity. But that was beyond this team. So here we are with TexansPup, Football Feelings, and a lifetime supply of indignation from people who don’t want to understand why anyone wouldn’t believe in them.


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Texans Training Camp Notebook — Week One: The Start Up

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


As I said on Twitter the day it looked like it was all coming to a head, it was a 99th percentile outcome for the Randall Cobb signing to have someone else come in and offer anything of value for that contract after the first year. The Texans were able to take advantage of the Aaron Rodgers situation to the extent of a sixth-round pick. There’s not a whole lot of value in the pick itself, but the freeing up of snaps for someone who could presumably be a long-term factor for the Texans in and of itself is a win. Cobb’s still a solid slot receiver, but no game-changer at this stage of his career.

I’ve read a few Invented Enemy Tweets that gravitate around the general idea that trading for Anthony Miller in the context of the Cobb trade is a win. (For what it’s worth, Nick Caserio denied that the trades were related when directly asked by Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast.) I don’t know that I see it that way so much as I see it as a non-loss. A fifth-round pick doesn’t have a metric ton of value, but the Texans were able to use one to “pilfer” Brevin Jordan last draft, and a seventh-rounder is a big dropoff. Miller is, like most players on this team, on the final year of his contract, coming off a season where he was mostly invisible. Miller was targeted just eight times in Chicago’s last four games of the year., and finished precisely four games all season with more than 50 receiving yards. He’s got some good traits to build on despite this — he was a very popular sleeper pick of Matt Harmon’s in 2019, and Harmon knows receiving talent — and I could absolutely see him as a major target hog in this offense, perhaps taking a step forward from his 2019 production.

He’s also turning 27 in October — he’s one year younger than Brandin Cooks despite being drafted four years later — and the Texans are going to have to immediately pay him if he’s good or he’s gone. Could it work out? Sure! Is a fifth-round pick a staggering ransom? Not really! Does it really change life from how things would have been with Keke Coutee in the slot? I can’t say I see it. But the team has its preferences, and it acts on them, and hopefully they’re right that Miller is a better bet than Coutee.

The Cobb signing was every bit the disaster the national media predicted it would be. When I covered it here I noted that it had more than a whiff of panic. While I think Cobb performed pretty well relative to the expectations (other than getting hurt) the team should have had for him last year, the contract was well outsized in comparison to those expectations and the team didn’t have enough slot wideout targets to go around. Comforting to know that Jack Easterby, a main cog behind getting rid of DeAndre Hopkins and replacing him with Cobb at this price, still has a lot of power and influence in the organization!


The most interesting thing about the Cobb trade was the post-mortem as offered by Cobb:

Cobb coyly walked back the initial comments with some positivity at the end, but “see[ing] the other side” and using :ThinkingFace: at the comparison to prison was certainly not what you’d like to hear as a Texans fan. The most interesting part of it to me was the choice of words as a “start-up” because that is also exactly the comparison Nick Caserio gave at the Sloan conference this year.

I think that’s a wildly interesting choice of words for both of these guys to land on. Start-ups tend to be almost lionized by veterans of the dot com boom and they get wrapped in that same sort of entrepreneurial spirit blanket that makes their mistakes worth overlooking. Of course, you know, 90% of start-ups fail. Many of those that don’t fail, like Uber, are privately subsidized because the real cost of doing business is so high that there’s no way they can be profitable without becoming a monopoly. Then you have to think about what makes the Texans different from other football teams — what is the thing that they’re disrupting?

If you think about the Texans philosophically, they don’t really have a deep and acknowledged analytics department. They have two former Belichick Patriots in the front office — a thing many people do or have done. I would argue that they have put Nick Caserio front-and-center as general manager in a way that other teams don’t — I can remember years going by where we’d hear from Rick Smith less than five times total all season. Caserio was the first interview at training camp and between 610 and Texans Radio, he might hit five appearances before we’re done with the second week of camp.

David Culley isn’t in the same position of power that Caserio is. Remember haughty Bill O’Brien? Haughty Bill O’Brien would have loved the Deshaun Watson situation in this camp, and would have come to play every day with any reporter who asked about it. Haughty O’Brien would have told you that he only has to release so much information, and he would have done it with a defiant look on his face. David Culley? Company line guy. Who makes the company line if not David Culley? Why is 610 promoting it as Camp Caserio rather than Camp Culley? The power dynamics are pretty clear.

But the idea of someone having more power than someone else in a roster-building/coaching dynamic? Not new. What is new about this team?

That, I’m pretty sure, is the real answer here. The premium on player personality and drive. It squares with Caserio’s years of experiences interviewing prospects on the road. It squares with Jack Easterby’s real in towards a major job despite no experience in the area — and his reported desire to have certain players trailed — because Easterby’s sale is that he is a connector. This major focus on competition (in theory) brings out the best in this select group of individuals, but not everyone. This isn’t to say that player personality isn’t important, by the way. But if you try to envision this as a start-up company, the personality and the culture is what the Texans are doing that makes them different.


One major epihphany hit me while I was listening to Sean and Seth’s interview with Caserio on Thursday morning. Here’s the clip that jogged me:

That answer, in and of itself, wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Caserio has held his cards towards his vest, and he has a few verbal tics that he goes to over and over again when he doesn’t really want to answer a question. (The guy who knows which reporter compared him to Dodgeball and singles her out on a call is obviously tuned in enough to not be dismissed as an idiot, right? Right.) But that got me to thinking about the short-termness of all of this, reminded me of Caserio not being willing to comment on Justin Reid as a foundational piece, reminded me that a core mantra for this team has become “we’re trying to get better one day at a time.”

When I hit this team with my critiques about its lack of long-term planning, its inability to put rookies or young players in major roles to succeed, and so on — I am thinking about tomorrow. I am thinking about the 2023 Texans, who are as important to me as the 2021 Texans already because I have little belief the 2021 Texans are going anywhere. (And so do they, in my opinion, if they’re trading Randall Cobb for a sixth-round pick before a game is played?) This team has been a treasure trove of reactionary thinking with their roster, and has invented a churn that is so all-encompassing that trying to remember every last transaction they’ve done over the past eight months will be an undefeated Sporcle in three years.

So the question that leaves me with is: What is the churn accomplishing? it’s not accumulating great contracts for the team. It’s not accumulating youth. On the surface there’s not a real difference between Ryan Finley and Jeff Driskel — you don’t want either of them to start and neither of them are young. But when you talk about “getting better one day at a time” and view it from a fit and personality standpoint, suddenly I think you’re getting somewhere interesting. They bring in these guys, get to see them up close and see if they live up to the personality profile they’ve idealized, and let them go if they don’t. They’re invested in this thought for this year, but they aren’t approaching it in a way where they’re locked into the thought. I know it sounds silly to say this out loud — it sounds like a Secret Base video that plays out in Football Manager or OOTP — but maybe this is a science experiment about just how far the value of Desired Off-Field Traits and Habits can go.

That’s how far I have to go to try to attach a sense of logic to the constant roster moves. Yup.


That backdrop is important when we discuss what’s actually happening at training camp. What is happening at training camp that actually matters? Per Culley, not much:

(via Transcripts)

So when we talk about who is starting where in certain areas of camp, not only are we fighting against the fact that there’s a lot of depth on this team, we’re also fighting against the fact that the thing that the coaching staff feels is most important — padded practices — hasn’t happened yet. And the way these things have tended to change quickly, I’m not all that invested in who starts where, because that might not last all that long.

So, sure, Justin McCray is starting right now with both Lane Taylor and Marcus Cannon on the sideline. Does that mean a lot? For his chances of making the team, sure. For his chances of starting? Probably not. I’m coming at this anticipating the Texans are going to make a lot of changes in the next few weeks, as they have tended to do. Austin Reiter could agree to terms here and everything could change tomorrow. You have to measure that in to the prognostications of how much “having a spot” matters right now.

Does Davis Mills struggling in the red zone in practice against air matter? Maybe a bit, but it’s not something I’m going to breathlessly remember in a few years. It’s easy to think of examples like Russell Wilson taking control of the Seahawks job during his rookie season, and you’d certainly rather have that happening than not. But, you know, Aaron Rodgers didn’t light it up either in his early training camps.

Likewise, does the defense being better in early camp matter a lot? Probably not. I think we’re all anticipating a bump of some sort from him as compared to last year’s awful defense. I’m very happy to read about Justin Reid flying around, to see Ross Blacklock seem to be catching eyes. But both Lovie Smith and Romeo Crennel never had problems dealing with pedestrian quarterbacks, guys with real flaws, and the Texans don’t have a quarterback who’d give them problems in a seven-on-seven situation. To be clear: If there’s one area to be optimistic about, it’s the defense as compared to last year’s defense. But, you know, no pads, Deshaun Watson isn’t throwing on them, I’m more wait-and-see than crown-em after four training camp days.

I’m also going to be curious to see how Laremy Tunsil’s words here hold up. He is not the first person to mention Kelly’s return as a step towards last year — David Johnson did in an interview with Drew Dougherty in April. There’s an assumption of rational coaching over the past few months that tends to say that the Texans are going to do some Ravens run game stuff because of Culley, Mark Ingram, and Andy Bischoff. What if they aren’t? It’s unpadded practices and all, but we don’t exactly get a lot of read-option talk from anything that the team reporters post.


Deshaun Watson is here, though spiritually absent. He’s protecting his money, and after four days of training camp has mostly been uninvolved with anything happening beyond the workouts. He’s withdrawn, hasn’t spoken to media, and whatever the Texans currently have worked out with him, they aren’t talking about it publicly and deflecting any attempt to have it out in the open.

Caserio’s definition of his responsibility is a short-sighted one in my opinion, and one that further fuels the fire. A clear plan laid out to media with expectations would have made what happened less of a spectacle because the raw video of one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing scout team safety is a rubbernecker. But it fueled the fire for a few days, and three days later the questions about Watson seem to have mostly dissipated. The attention span comes and goes rather quickly these days for most people, and stories require some motion. If Watson isn’t going to work out on a day with an excused Tyrod Taylor absence, he probably isn’t going to be involved deeply in anything the Texans do for the entirety of camp.

I found Lance Zierlein’s take on this fascinating and something that I would’ve thought might be more appealing to the team more when I wrote about Watson a few weeks ago. Despite my very real misgivings about the front office right now, they have tended to accede to player wishes and that is honorable in its own way, even as the Texans sit here with a departed J.J. Watt and no draft pick compensation.

Watson has been steadfast that he won’t play for the Texans again. The Texans literally can’t trade him for good value until the legal process plays out. Even if the Texans wanted to trade him before the season, nobody has any idea how that would be perceived by the Arbitrary Punishment d20 that the NFL keeps under lock and key.

I guess if I had to handicap this today, I still think there’s more of a chance of Watson playing with the Texans in 2021 than playing elsewhere just because of the firestorm that a bad Watson trade would create with a franchise that is already falling out of the minds of everyone gearing up for another Astros playoff run. The other players certainly seem to have his back, as Brandon Scott chronicled. If this were 1995, I don’t think you’d hear that kind of reaction to the quarterback holding out for a trade.

Watson blinked by showing up. As I laid out in the piece I wrote a few weeks ago and linked above, there’s not much actual downside to him playing, and the checks can either clear or disappear. And hey, with Carson Wentz down for a bit, who is to say he couldn’t torch the rest of the league for not being willing to part with a real asking price? Why couldn’t he lead the Texans on a surprise run that flips the script on all that negative energy this franchise has been subjected to since the Hopkins trade was consummated? I don’t personally ascribe a “revenge” narrative to this sort of thing because I don’t pretend I know what happened between Watson and his accusers. But I have to think if I’m in his shoes, and believe I did nothing wrong and I’m being punished for it, it’s not a narrative that I would have to reach far for. The AFC South is not a hard division to win games in with a star quarterback.

What I’m more curious about at this point, and what I think is more of an open question given what they’ve done with him so far, is: Do the Texans want that future to happen? Is it in the best interests of their organization to let a maligned quarterback win games for them? That’s a deep question, and one that we’re not privy to any real public thoughts on beyond the two company lines: They’ll do what’s in the best interest of the team, and they’ll take it one day at a time.


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