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.
When I posted a survey of Texans fans last week, I must admit, I did not have high expectations. I asked a lot of questions, and my general belief in the attention span of other people is low. 600+ responses later, I’m blown away by how much attention this got. Specific thanks to Steph Stradley, Sean Pendergast, Seth Payne, and Landry Locker for promoting the survey, and particularly to the latter three for making it a part of their radio shows last week. And, of course, thank you if you spent your hard-earned time filling out a 20-question survey. I know it’s not an easy ask. I have left the survey open for more answers if you want to get in, but a week is a long enough sample to me. I’ll close it for good when the Texans officially open camp.
I will post the poll answers and give you a synopsis of what I believe these answers really mean/how I’d answer them. Some of the answers were surprisingly realistic to me! Some of them were … optimistic. Some questions will have a different number of responses than others, because I did not require you to answer every question to submit the survey. But every question got at least 600 responses.
Davis Mills franchise quarterback questions
So the majority of you believe that Davis Mills will finish among the 20 best quarterbacks in the NFL in 2022. The majority of you believe that he needs to be a top-15 quarterback to not be replaced. My read of these results is probably a little counterintuitive, but it’s based on watching fans be fans for years: If there’s any question that Mills could still be a franchise guy or not, I think there will be support for him here. And let me be clear from a franchise-building standpoint: That can be a little dangerous. The ability to talk yourself into a quarterback who isn’t good enough to be a star is not a danger for every NFL team. But this particular Texans team, which hyperfocuses on character and off-field traits? I have some concerns. I’m not saying this like Mills doesn’t deserve a chance — he’s earned it — I just think there’s an assumption of rationality that if he doesn’t show that he’s the guy that Houston will draft a quarterback. I agree this will happen if Mills gets hurt or bombs out, but if he’s the 18th-best quarterback in the NFL next year? I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him starting in 2023.
Get well, John
This question was hijacked by John Metchie’s leukemia diagnosis over the weekend. All my best to him as he fights this disease. I truly hope he recovers and makes it back to the Texans — I would be lying if I said I thought the Texans should count on that at this point.
Nico is seen as the obvious answer here. In studying them last year, I actually kind of like Brevin Jordan’s odds to make a run for this. I don’t think Nico played particularly well as a rookie. But he will have his chance to take a second-year leap, and with Metchie’s injury, I certainly can say I expect a lot of targets. Where else is the ball going to go? The only thing that could hold him back is if Pep Hamilton decided to have him split snaps with Chris Conley or someone of that ilk.
The win total
Part of me is comforted by the answers to this question. One of the big problems of fly-by-night internet commentary is you start lumping in most optimistic or most pessimistic people you know with the most optimistic or pessimistic takes you see. I wouldn’t be stunned if the Texans won six or seven games. I certainly wouldn’t predict it to happen, but it’s a far cry from the rando YouTube comments about going to the playoffs or shocking the world. Most of you aren’t on that path, and I’m happy to see that.
If I had to pick something now, I’d put the Texans down for four wins. I reserve the right to change my mind between now and then if preseason ball strikes me one way or the other. I think the Jaguars are going to have almost as much of a say in this as the Texans do — Houston’s other two wins last year were them finding the only run defense in the NFL they could bull over and a game which they turned over the Titans six times. If the Jaguars become competent rather than another disaster, I think that hurts the outlook quite a bit.
Some of this to me is just about availability — we didn’t get many coach quotes on Stingley and Green as they worked back from offseason surgeries/injuries. Meanwhile, Pitre suited up every day in OTAs and has a good chance to work as the starting safety replacing Justin Reid.
But I’m still surprised by Stingley’s performance in this poll. Is it because we have great expectations already, and him being solid is a disappointment? Is it because we’re worried about his last few seasons? This is a poll question that doesn’t really provide a great insight on the deeper meaning of Stingley’s placement.
The McNairs have a problem
That’s over 76% of Texans fans giving the McNairs a four or worse on the confidence scale. I’m sure some of this is about certain highly public gaffes — using a slur to refer to COVID-19 at the charity golf classic, the fact that Cal McNair has a real problem talking about things in public without putting his foot in his mouth — and I’m sure some of it has to do with the records. But more than that, it just kind of feels like there’s a level of trust that the organization wants from its fans that has been unearned? The Texans tried to pivot the McNairs heavily into the philanthropist way last season. It doesn’t look like it much took.
I expected the placement of Bill O’Brien in this poll to be what it was — what I did not expect was that McNair would receive more than double the blame of Your Favorite VP Of Football Operations. I know that one hired the other, and I know that McNair is ultimately accountable for him. But, you know, one of them is actually signing checks, and the other one is the one who actually made several mistakes with O’Brien and in an interim basis without him, right?
Nick Caserio continues to be the overwhelming champion of faith among the fanbase
I think I’d be at about a 6 myself — not entirely convinced that Caserio can’t build a winner, but utterly tired of the culture rosters and the self-inflicted cap space wounds. What it comes down to is that we don’t have any evidence that he’s whiffed on a major decision yet, and I think he is getting extra credit from fans for a) not being Bill O’Brien to the point anything competent looks good and b) trading Deshaun Watson before things got worse. I tend to think B was mostly luck rather than skill. Almost all of his real moves in 2020 blew up in his face — Shaq Lawson, Marcus Cannon — and at the end of the day, I don’t really care if Kamu Grugier-Hill is better than advertised if he doesn’t deliver real value to the roster. We shall see how that unfolds in year two.
I’ll say this: I’m very curious if the Texans don’t get productive seasons from their rookies this year how that will change. If Mills stagnates, Nico doesn’t take a step forward, you get starts but not actual game-changing plays — how much credit will he get simply for filling the holes with NFL-caliber young players?
Give me the over on Texans fans here. This is a guy who spent late-round picks on Anthony Miller and Ryan Finley. I would be way more comfortable holding a ticket for 3-4 than I would 1-2.
So this question has two purposes. One is as a broad check on approval of the roster from an emotional level. Does it breathe, act, look like a real NFL roster? Another is about the value of the players on the roster. I think most respondents took this emotionally. Logically, if you’re telling me I have my pick of the quarterback prospects in the draft, plus the 20-30 guys you can get from a real football factory, and as a bonus I get to tank and get more good picks … well, I’m going to take that. I’d rather have Bryce Young and Will Anderson’s futures than anybody on the Texans. Let alone anybody else who might pop up from Bama and be a real NFL star in 3-4 years.
But I understand why the results were what they were.
I shouted these two questions out early in the poll, which I fear swung it a bit, but there’s really a sizeable portion of the fanbase that doesn’t want to re-sign Tunsil as compared to Howard. I think that’s wild on the results of how the two have played here, but when you bring more context into it — missed games for Tunsil, how much Tunsil would cost, etc. — I kind of understand the swing.
Tunsil’s contract is one of the biggest questions this team has going forward. He’s simultaneously the only player on the roster that made ESPN’s top 10 at each position and also the only player on the roster that has never felt like a pure extension of the culture the Texans are trying to instill. Personally, I’d hate to lose him, but I would understand if the Texans decided to trade him at the deadline.
Similar faith in Pep Hamilton and Lovie Smith
Pep trends slightly ahead of Lovie Smith, but both guys are viewed fairly highly as we enter the season. Lovie has more middle-of-the-road believers than Pep. While I appreciate that Lovie has a consistent voice and actually speaks to the fans — something nobody else in the organization does — I do have my doubts that he’s actually a good NFL head coach in 2022. Good defense is timeless, and I’m not here to shit on the Cover-2 — I do think the Texans don’t change it up enough to be a top defense, and I’m especially worried about that early in the season. My belief is that the defense changed last season to fit the run, and not for any other reason.
Pep, well, we’ll see. I covered Pep when I had the AFC South for Bleacher Report during the Andrew Luck era. I’m excited about play-action passes not being terrible, and kind of like Caserio I think he benefits from the “at least it’s not this guy” bounce with Tim Kelly. But I don’t think he has the talent to really make this “feed your playmakers” approach work and I’m worried that, again, this will be a run-heavy offense that can’t run.
This is a level of confidence I’m surprised about — I don’t believe Lovie is any kind of sure thing to survive this season. That’s not a Josh McCown Waiting Game opinion, but an opinion based on how quickly Houston was willing to wash their hands of David Culley. If they think they can do better, why would they keep Lovie? I think there’s some fire under his butt for 2022, let alone 2023.
If there’s one thing that the Texans have done since Easterby came on board in 2019, it’s a lot of turnover. They got to the process of hiring Lovie almost out of nowhere. I would not presume anybody on this staff is safe without a step forward.
Actual on-field players: The Tunsil Question and the leaps forward
I know it’s a good poll question when I see a vote split like this — Brandin Cooks narrowly beating out Laremy Tunsil by two votes. I would actually put my vote for this on our fourth-place finisher, Jon Greenard. He had eight sacks in 12 starts last year, and when you listen to him talk, I think he’s the kind of guy who breathes ball.
I think he knows exactly what he has to do to get sacks, works hard on the little things, and can be this team’s Whitney Mercilus of the future. Maybe Whitney Mercilus-plus if everything breaks right. He’s also only 25, and his second contract probably won’t be out-of-the-park wild. If I had to stake my chip on one guy to still be a valuable NFL player that wasn’t drafted in 2022, it’s Greenard. The injuries at the end of the season just memory-holed him to an extent.
I’ve 100% got my eye on what Garret Wallow does in preseason after he drew effusive Nick Caserio praise — the interesting thing about that is that they have stuffed the linebacker position with solid veterans. Does Wallow’s step forward mean he actually plays real snaps and relegates somebody to the bench? For the record, Charlie Heck got two votes.
I would put my chip on Brevin Jordan. I think he’s got a cleaner path to production without improvement than Nico Collins does. I think Davis Mills already took a step forward at the end of last year, which colors my perception of him enough to where I wouldn’t consider a full season of what he did in the last month a real step forward. But that’s kind of beyond the bounds of what this question asked, so it’s hard to see if that’s me projecting why he’s winning or why he’s actually winning.
I’m not surprised Marlon Mack won this poll because of perceived need and his standing as a skill position player — more people have heard of him than the other guys in this poll. I would personally put my chip on Okoronkwo. He’s got some nice pressure numbers in small samples, and I think he’s the easiest projection on the defensive line to get pass-rush snaps. “Impact” is an interesting word, in the sense that I could see Jerry Hughes providing a lot of impact as a mentor even if I don’t necessarily believe he’ll play 600 snaps and get eight sacks.
Touches meaning receptions + rushes — which I think is something that may have slipped by some of the responders — I think Burkhead is being majorly undervalued by this poll. I understand why nobody wants it to be Burkhead, but the truth is that the Rexaissance was the most consistent back the Texans had last season, to the point that they re-signed him before free agency.
I think Dameon Pierce will eventually have a chance to make a real move on the job, but it probably comes too late for him to factor in this poll. If Mack splits the run-down carries with Burkhead it’s an easy win for Rex. I think he has to downright dominate carries to win.
This is my favorite poll result because it tells me how rational you all are. The vast majority of us feel like anything more than 20th place is a dream — I think that’s a good way to consider things.
I hold out hope for Kenyon Green to make a major impact down the line, but the last time the Texans had a lineman ball out right away as a rookie was … Brandon Brooks? Earlier than that? Duane Brown struggled. Tytus Howard took his lumps. George Warhop’s young guys in Jacksonville did no better. He’s the impact blocker to dream on, but I would be surprised if he was instantly good. And A.J. Cann doesn’t move the needle for me either. And Laremy’s run blocking is … up-and-down, to be polite. Justin Britt wasn’t good last year and there’s not a lot of reason for me to believe he will be this year. Pierce is the only guy in the backfield I have any faith to be a major tackle-breaker and he’s a rookie. So … yeah, I don’t expect a lot out of this unit in 2022 again.
I love the split on this question so much. I can understand why Grugier-Hill is winning, as I think he got more of the spotlight than anyone else last season. Let me offer Christian Kirksey to you as my choice. 1) They re-signed him before free agency started, on March 11th. 2) Nick Caserio was effusive in his praise for him playing with a club. 3) Kirksey seems to be regarded as a culture leader. 4) Kirksey also seems tight with Lovie, which gives him more room to stay in my book.
Ultimately this is probably gonna be a question that comes down to stuff that’s not fun to talk about: injuries, declines in performance that are too big to not notice, and so on.
The final three things looming over the franchise
That this split is as close as it is really tells me a lot about how much faith the Texans have from portions of their fanbase. McCown actually had never been asked about this on the record anywhere that I could see before Kalyn Kahler had him join Defector’s new QB2 podcast:
The most telling words McCown spoke during that interview were how he answered a question about his credentials as someone who has never been an NFL coach before: “to a degree it’s more answering questions when you go through an interview process than it is necessarily, you know, pitching someone.” He gave a large account of how backup quarterbacking is essentially partially coaching, and fair enough, but the onus falls on the Texans, not Josh McCown. They don’t have to view him as a serious coaching candidate, and they can choose to not interview him. They did neither of those things before the whole scenario backspun. I don’t necessarily believe that McCown would be a bad offensive coordinator, by the way. We have no idea and no real data how it would go. But it would look bad, and the Texans seem to have realized that at the last minute.
I don’t really understand where this is coming from. It’s interesting to me. I know that John McClain mentioned this at one time. I also know that the Texans have spent a lot of the offseason downplaying Easterby’s involvement in anything. Those are both, to some extent, things that the Texans benefit from putting out there. He’s not a particularly well-trusted executive at this point and the idea that he has any say at all in any aspect of football operations is wildly unpopular.
But at the end of the day, he hired the general manager. I think by virtue of how different the first coaching search was from the second coaching search, you can read between the lines and say that he was the main reason David Culley was hired. He’s the one who has Cal’s sway. He walks on the sideline like he owns it every Sunday and in every practice. And he has per Sports Illustrated a six-year contract that reportedly pays him between $5 million and $6 million per season. What’s his motivation to leave? That fans don’t like him and are mean to him on Twitter? (Even after he tried to shield himself from that by putting his kids in his profile picture!) They have no power in his life. He’s never been held accountable in a real way and gets to do whatever he wants for a lot of money. That’s not a combo that screams “I’ve gotta get outta here.”
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