The Texans Cinematic Universe Presents: A David Johnson Reboot

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.

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The Deshaun Watson firestorm continues to envelop the scope of the Houston Texans and what exactly they are supposed to be. While the blaze has continued, it has managed to — broadly speaking — throw a blanket on top of stories that would otherwise be major stories for the market. In normal football circles, the release of a guy who you gave up a third-round pick for less than two years ago would be a major breaking story. With the Texans, where we are still awaiting the new J.J. Watt team, seeing Will Fuller dodge the franchise tag, canvassing the scope of the Watson situation, Duke Johnson is just another plank of charred timber floating in the shipwreck. Nick Martin’s release barely registers as a surprise.

And then, there was this:

Less than a year ago, the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-rounder for David Johnson, a second-round pick, and a fourth-round pick in 2021. It’s a deal that was dead on arrival. It didn’t make sense to begin with, and the Texans somehow managed to end the 2020 season with it making even less sense than it did when it happened. Johnson was an abject disaster. Ross Blacklock provided so little value in his rookie season that the team ended the year playing UDFA Auzoyah Alufohai over him. Hopkins didn’t exactly thrive in Arizona’s offense — Kliff Kingsbury anchored him to the left side of the formation — but still played up to his talent and was a second-team All-Pro. The trade served to galvanize the rest of the players — catching the eye of Watt and reportedly being one of the first turning points of the Watson/Texans relationship — and they rallied around getting Bill O’Brien fired as the team fell to 0-4.

Not content to just sink the Texans by treating Watson like a child having a tantrum in a crowded restaurant, the Texans Cinematic Universe is now going to try to rehabilitate Johnson’s horrific season. It’s an amazing display of arrogance and belief in things that go beyond football. It is, unsurprisingly, foreshadowed by a piece I wrote before the last few games of the season. Instead of discovering what Scottie Phillips could be, the Texans finally got a few major wide-open holes for Johnson to run through and found a way to talk themselves into that meaning he was actually good the whole time.

But the heads are down, the drive to finish the season with as respectable a record as possible is in place, to own the Dolphins, or maybe to make Jack Easterby’s stock go up half a point. It’s hard to even say that what they’re doing is ruining the future, because given what we’ve seen so far with players that have been off the playing time radar, they’re actually ruining the present too. It’s prime NFL cocoon hours, and we have to have been right that David Johnson can get 100 rushing yards in an NFL game still. We can’t just accept that this is a battle worth abandoning. The only opportunity is the one in front of us: moving to 5-8 for … some reason.

Here’s the thing: David Johnson and the Texans are not good for each other. The Texans came into last year with a plan to use Johnson as an every-down back in an inside-zone focused scheme and it floundered spectacularly. He wasn’t a main target on passing plays. Now I’ve heard John McClain talk on the radio about the possibility of, well, he takes a paycut, maybe he’s a less important part of their offense. OK, well, why does that have to be David Johnson? What about David Johnson makes him a good fit for what’s going on here, in an offense with no real stated direction as of yet? And if the Texans never resolve the Watson situation in a way that ends with him as their starting quarterback, why does it matter what Johnson gives you in a reserve role over a younger back?

Meanwhile, for Johnson, dealing with COVID-19 and the trade last year figuratively put him in therapy:

I have nothing but respect for Johnson seeking help when he needs it, but if your workplace situation ends up like this, I don’t understand why you’d be chomping at the bit to sign up for more of it. Now, it may very well be the case that nobody else in the NFL is interested in him at this point in his career. Running back retirement ages are trending pretty early. But he can’t know that right now, and to sign up for another lost season on a team going nowhere when, potentially, someone out there might have a change-of-pace role on a playoff team? It sounds like a waste of everybody’s time for him to be back in Houston.

One thing I respect a lot about the Texans Cinematic Universe is the way it is constantly generating scenarios that I would have dismissed two months ago as too on the nose to be effective satire. When this came up on Friday, many Twitter followers pointed to David Johnson’s religion as a reason that he could be kept. At this point, I can no longer approach that kind of comment with condescension because I refuse to be Freezing Cold Taked by any organization willing to go this far to desecrate itself. They’re holding on to someone in one of the worst trades in recent NFL memory — someone that, through no fault of his own, no Texans fans want to see — because they need to be right.

There’s been a lot of effort made to push the idea that Nick Caserio being in charge of football operations means a lot for this team and that he should be given a chance, but I can’t imagine this as a pure Caserio decision. To understand the Texans, I think you need to remember that both Cal McNair and, before he died, Bob McNair, preach this idea of “consensus decision-making.” What that means is that, because Jack Easterby is still in a position of power, his vote continues to matter. Nobody has more to lose from the legacy of the Hopkins trade than Easterby, who has been singled out in SI reports as the original driving force behind ditching Hopkins.

Now, maybe Caserio is the guy who thinks Johnson has some juice left. I imagine he’s the only person we’re going to get to talk to about it, because McNair can’t talk to the media without slipping on a banana peel and because Easterby is a coward. So we’re going to get the Caserio view on it eventually. But the fact that the question even has to be asked about keeping a poorly-performing remnant of a horrific trade is pretty telling about the ethos of the organization.

The Texans are post-ironic. They create ways of hurting themselves that fiction writers couldn’t invent. They’ve spent the last two weeks trying to position Cal McNair as a successful leader via heavily-edited video clips when the fact that he literally can’t speak in public is not lost on anyone who has listened to him. That’s not to say that I’m not grateful that he’s trying to help people who lost power in the storm, who are hurting, and what not — that’s way better than him being a callous ogre — but no amount of editing can hide that he is kind of a reclusive doofus. Or that the majority of the people who care about his existence care about it in so much as they want to root for a winning football team rather than a YMCA he donated to or a Sloppy Joe he handed to someone one time.

Having David Johnson remain a part of this team is a waste of Houston’s time and a waste of Johnson’s time, so I can think of no other way for this to end than with 83 more carries of him running into Zach Fulton’s back for a one-yard gain.

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Texans Retrospectus: J.J. Watt

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.

***

A lot can change in a very short period of time, and I was reminded of this when I was viewing Drew Dougherty’s old Fox Sports Southwest tape of J.J. Watt arriving to Reliant (now NRG) Stadium for the first time in his life.

Watt’s wide eyes looking up at the stadium betray an enthusiasm that seems almost naïve today. As we listened to Watt speaking out about the state of the Texans twice a week for the past season in talk that was as real as could be without actively calling anybody out, it’s hard to square that with this excited boy in the above clip who immediately asked for his playbook. J.J. Watt left this city with many gifts. The money he raised for Harvey. The franchise’s first sure-fire Hall of Famer. (Please elect Andre Johnson too, though.) The pick-six of Andy Dalton in the franchise’s first ever playoff game. The carrying of team after team that had piss-poor quarterback play. The incredibly rare self-awareness that he developed about the team’s relationship with its fanbase.

What this team taught him in return is interesting. Watt was able to raise millions and millions of dollars for Harvey relief on his own. He was able to create a 20-sack season. Twice. But ultimately, what he learned and I think what set in as this season was winding down, is that an NFL team is a village. His individual greatness did so much for so many, but this team was never going to compete for a championship unless it was mirrored by greatness all around him. Again, tens of millions of dollars raised for hurricane relief as a complete outsider to the scene who just showed up and said “let’s do what we can to help.” But you can’t fight an NFL team that doesn’t learn from its mistakes in the same way that you do. Watt once told Grantland’s Robert Mays that “when it’s me against you, you know in your head whether you worked hard enough. You can try to lie to yourself. You can try to tell yourself that you put in the time. But you know — and so do I.” While he wasn’t talking about the Texans at the time, it’s not much of a stretch to take what is inferred in that clip as a philosophy and move it to what the Texans have become.

J.J. Watt couldn’t get his culture to stick with these Texans. His culture has been clear from the outset: Dream Big, Work Hard. The fact that none of this resonated with anyone in the NRG front offices in 2020 is, unfortunately, not surprising. This team sucked the joy out of J.J. Watt, and I’m excited for him to rekindle it.

***

I didn’t want the Texans to draft J.J. Watt in 2011. I wanted them to draft Robert Quinn. I was hardly alone, as this post from Battle Red Blog shows. (Sadly, all the old comments have been wiped as part of SB Nation’s stunningly brilliant move to move to Coral. Coral: The Jack Easterby of blog software.) The people who truly hated the pick made fun of his pizza delivery backstory. I was more measured about it than some of those commenters were at the time, mostly because I had already begun to realize that I don’t know anything about the NFL Draft and that Wade Philips is smarter at this than I am. I wanted the Texans to take an edge rusher and wasn’t even considering defensive end plus moving Mario Williams outside as an option. I was purely focused on the hole. Turns out Texans brass was on the same page as me! Rick Smith wanted to trade up for Patrick Peterson. Phillips, though, took control of the draft room:

Thank goodness. “A lot of them wanted Nick Fairley, a lot of them wanted Prince Amukamara,” Watt told Tania Ganguli in 2012, in a piece that revealed that a video of (a few) fans booing him was on his computer. “There were a lot of people saying I was just a big white guy, that the team was taking a high character guy, not the best football player.”

What I remember most about Watt showing up anyone who would even dare to question this draft pick was actually when this video of him box jumping began to spread. This was after his breakout year, of course, but just watching Watt generate the force he needed to get that body that far off the ground was mesmerizing.

Watt finished his rookie year with merely 5.5 sacks, and the Texans looked like a legitimate contender after they reeled off three straight double-digit wins to get to 6-3. Unfortunately, in their fourth-straight win at Tampa Bay, Matt Schaub was lost for the season. The Texans were ready to ride with Matt Leinart until Leinart also got hurt against the Jaguars, then went with fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates the rest of the way out of necessity. It would have been easy for them to roll over, but they did not do that. They squeaked out their next three games and clinched the division before teams got the book on Yates and dropped the Texans from 10-3 to 10-6.

It’s probably not fair to say that the light wasn’t on yet, but towards the end of the season, you saw Watt start to understand just how he could dominate by stringing all of his talents together. He deflected three passes against Dan Orlovsky in a loss to the Colts, adding a sack and a couple of tackles for loss. With the Bengals and Texans locked at 10 as Cincinnati began driving at the two-minute warning in Houston’s first-ever playoff game, Watt broke things open with his most memorable moment as a Texan:

As impressive as that was, the Texans defense followed that up by shutting out the Bengals for the rest of the game. They won 31-10. On the six drives following the pick-six, the Bengals gained 86 yards and Dalton was picked off two additional times.

The Texans would go on to lose 20-13 to the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round, but it wasn’t anything that the defense did wrong. Yates was picked off three times and threw about four or five more balls that could have been intercepted as well. Watt sacked Joe Flacco 2.5 times in that game, one that is kind of lost to time because there’s nothing he, Andre Johnson, or Arian Foster could have done to alter the outcome. That was just as far as a team run by rookie T.J. Yates was going to make it. Watt got those 2.5 sacks — as a rookie — primarily lining up against Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda, who might be a Hall of Famer:

Baltimore scored touchdowns on drives of 2 and 34 yards after a Yates interception and a Jacoby Jones muffed punt. The Houston defense gave up just 227 yards of offense, and only two drives went more than 40 yards.

***

If those playoff games were a flash of what Watt was to become, 2012 was the reality. J.J. Watt was just different, and I want to illustrate how different he was by pointing at current three-time defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald. Donald is a wrecking ball. He crushes interior lines, draws more double teams than any other player in the league, and essentially was a one-man pass rush for the Rams last year with Leonard Floyd as the lone complementary bit.

Donald has defensed 16 passes in seven seasons. Watt defensed 16 passes … in 2012.

One of the ways to get around a defensive lineman as dominant as Watt is to throw those quick slants, screens, and swing passes. In his athletic prime, Watt was half-bulldozer, half-hawk. He was going to rush, and if he saw a blocking scheme he didn’t like, or he smelled a quick pass based on alignment, he simply stopped his rush, read the quarterback, and reacted. The Dalton interception was the coming-out party for this talent, 2012 was the implementation of it for an entire season. At least three different Texans interceptions came as a result of Watt dropping back and batting the ball. His hands basically killed the Jaguars in overtime in Week 11.

Watt has 61 passes defensed in 10 seasons, three of which were massively cut short due to injury. The stat has been officially kept since 1999, the defensive linemen who have more than him are Carlos Dunlap (62 in 11 seasons), Terrell Suggs (63 in 16 seasons), Julius Peppers (82 in 16 seasons), and Jason Taylor (87 in 15 seasons). It would be unfair to say that nobody has ever played the passes defended game as well as Watt did, but I think when you combine the sacks (20.5) and tackles for loss (39, second place was 18), nobody ever blended those three forms of disruption as well as Watt did at his peak. Jon Gruden called him “J.J. Swatt” after calling a Monday Night Football game of his against the Jets. Rex Ryan said the Knicks should pick him up.

“A pass knockdown is almost as sweet as a sack,” Watt was quoted as saying by USA Today. “It demoralizes quarterbacks.”

I think it was very tempting nationally to discount some of Watt’s stats because of the competition in the AFC South, but he made a real statement about who he’d become against the Broncos and Peyton Manning in Week 3. The Texans went to Denver and won, Watt had 2.5 sacks of Manning and added on four tackles for loss to show off:

He added on two sacks of Aaron Rodgers. The Texans were 11-1 at one point in this season, before injuries suddenly just caught up to Matt Schaub, who wilted down the stretch and in the playoffs. I wrote a post about it. People HATED that post. I can’t show you the comments anymore because of Coral, but it was quite divisive and I can remember at least one person suggesting that I was the washed up one, not Schaub.

Chris Wesseling (RIP) wrote a sensational article about that 2012 season and just how historical it was. Phillips called it “the best defensive line play in the history of football. He had more tackles, blocked passes, pressures on the quarterback. The conglomeration of all that was the best that anybody has ever played. I’ve had some great ones, but they’ve never made that many great plays in one year.”

We can talk about the other sports radio jabber topics at the time: The dreadful letterman jacket MNF game, the way the Patriots managed to hold him down with a standard Belichickian impressive game plan for most of the two games they played. (I think losing Brian Cushing to a broken leg hurt a lot in both of those games as well.) But ultimately, the Texans fell apart because Matt Schaub fell apart. They learned nothing from it, started him in 2013, and lost 14 games in a row under an avalanche of pick-sixes, costing Kubiak his job and relegating Watt to a season of defending runs in lopsided games. Watt was held sackless in seven games that season. The Texans’ point differential in those seven games was minus-104. Trading in Glover Quin for a washed-up Ed Reed was also spectacularly not helpful.

In the end, we were robbed of years of Watt playing under Wade Phillips. I think it was clear that Houston was tired of Kubiak as a head coach and that he was wanting in some ways even though he had tangible benefits. But that Watt/Phillips connection felt like something amazing at the time. I know we’re about to talk about what happens after this, where Watt is still excellent, but I legitimately think the difference in creativity between Phillips and Romeo Crennel might have meant like, Watt breaking the single-season sack record.

Watt was an absolute force and he was seemingly only at the beginning. He immediately took the 2-14 record of 2013 and decided he needed to isolate himself to become even better. “When you’re 2-14,” Watt told Mays, “you have moments of doubt.”

***

Bill O’Brien took over the Texans in 2014 and, much to everyone’s dismay, there was no real attempted solution at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the journeyman that would get the Texans over the hump. They had the No. 1 overall pick, which they used on Jadeveon Clowney, in a draft where the top quarterbacks available were Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Johnny Manziel. Steph Stradley’s time capsule of answers to the question of who you’d take there is instructive. Here’s what I wrote:

Because the NFL was (and is) still committed to a tall quarterback/big arm ethos, Bortles went No. 3 overall. Manziel went in the first round because ownership wanted to make a splash in Cleveland. Had I known then what I know now, I probably would not have advocated for him at all. But as an outsider it’s hard to understand the level of not giving a shit that he had. The Texans had a chance to trade up for Bridgewater at 32, which would have been a major coup. They also had the opportunity to stay put and draft Carr or Garoppolo. They did neither of those, spending 33rd overall on Xavier Su’a-Filo and damning Watt (and, as, you can see above, Andre Johnson) to quarterback purgatory. They picked Tom Savage in the fourth round.

Behind another vintage Arian Foster season with a good offensive line and Watt’s skills, the Texans did indeed rebound to 9-7. Some kid named DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout second season and absorbed a ton of targets next to Johnson. Parts of the the defense had gotten old but they still had Johnathan Joseph — the best free-agent signing in Texans history — and saw a major uptick from undrafted rookie A.J. Bouye and (finally) long-time burn victim Kareem Jackson. Clowney played in just four games.

Watt, meanwhile, played 16 games, caught three touchdowns (something he’d been advocating for even back to the Kubiak days), and notched 20.5 sacks again. Watt saved his best for Bortles, who he sacked six times in that season alone. He added eight tackles for loss in two games against the Jaguars. He pick-sixed EJ Manuel for 80 yards against the Bills in a 23-17 win.

His best game that season considering the competition? I’d probably give that to the Thursday Night Football Colts game in Week 6. Two sacks, one touchdown, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, and three passes defensed.

It is absurd that the Texans had a chance to win this game. They were down 33-21 with 17:52 of game time remaining and Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. They had the ball 33-28 with 2:15 remaining after Watt turned second-and-4 with 2:42 left into fourth-and-6 all by himself on a TFL and pass deflection. Fitzpatrick was strip-sacked on the second offensive play, the Texans lost. Their other game against Indianapolis was a seven-point loss where he provided two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and a pass defensed. The offense, with Fitzpatrick breaking his leg mid-game, scored three points. (A pick-six added seven more.)

Once Watt started catching touchdown passes, it almost felt like he was making a mockery of the game. Here was a thing that tight ends spend their whole lives trying to do properly and this 20-sack guy is just gonna make it look stupidly easy on each of the three occasions it happened. Watt’s drive and talent made him famous in a way that made him attractive to every woman in my life, and there’s a good Texas Monthly piece that leads off with about 500 words about the positive attention he was dealing with. “The map led to my house from a place just north of Dallas,” Watt told Skip Hollandsworth about discarded directions to his house. “Somebody had driven five hours to come to my home on Halloween.” I think the best way I could describe what Watt has done is that he’s lived the ideals that he’s spoken out loud, something that is so rare and impossible-seeming that everyone from Justin Timberlake to Hollywood producers wanted to just be in the same room as him to see how on Earth it could be true. The funniest part of it is that there’s not much of a secret: He just did what he said he was going to do.

Watt won defensive player of the year in 2014 unanimously. Lawrence Taylor is the only defensive player to win the AP NFL MVP award in the last 40 years — he did it in 1986. Watt received 14 votes for MVP in 2014, probably due to the handsome arguments laid out for him by whoever I just linked to at Bleacher Report was. He’s the only defensive player to receive more than three votes for MVP in the 2000s. The last defensive player to receive even 10 votes for the award was Bruce Smith in 1990.

The 2015 Texans did the exact same thing the 2014 Texans did, except instead of Fitzpatrick, they created a quarterback controversy between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. The only quarterbacks taken in the first round were Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota at No. 1 and No. 2 overall, respectively. The Texans picked cornerback Kevin Johnson 16th overall. It was the offseason where they got rid of Andre Johnson. There was no reason to believe in their offense anymore, and yet, they got on HBO’s Hard Knocks anyway. (Much to Bill O’Brien’s dismay,) Wonder what made them think the Texans would be interesting.

Watt would make Jake Matthews eat shit on Hard Knocks. And Alfred Blue. And the Washington (REDACTED) team store.

Texans opponents got together with four years of tape on Watt and learned about triple teams, limiting him to merely eight passes defensed, a league-leading 17.5 sacks, and a league-leading 29 tackles for loss. This time, he actually did take them to the playoffs at 9-7, but in what would become a classic Bill O’Brien Playoff Game, Houston did not score a single point in a 30-0 blanking by the Chiefs that started with a 106-yard kickoff return touchdown by Knile Davis. Hoyer threw four interceptions. Kansas City had 314 total yards but almost none of it came until midway through the third quarter, after Watt had left the game due to injury. Before that drive, the Chiefs had 136 total yards. We’ll come back to the injury.

Watt’s best game by the numbers was probably the season finale against Jacksonville, where he put up three sacks, three tackles for loss, and two passes defensed. However, when you take into account quality of competition, let me lobby for the rare game in the O’Brien Era where the Texans actually stood up and kicked around a great quarterback: When they held the Saints to six points in Week 8. That Saints team finished seventh in pass offense DVOA. Watt had two sacks, two tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits.

Watt won his third defensive player of the year award after the season. There didn’t seem to be a lot of doubt at this point as to who the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL was.

***

Watt left a game against Miami with a back injury as the Texans were down 35-0 in 2015. That game, played in a bit of a downpour, also ended Arian Foster’s Texans career with a torn Achilles. It was not the only injury Watt played through that season. He was listed with a groin injury. He broke his hand late in the season. Had the Texans beaten the Chiefs, he told Peter King in April of 2016, he might not have been able to play in the next game.

Watt aggressively tried to rehab his herniated disc injury and do as much as he could to take the field in 2016. He noted before the season and then again after Week 3’s re-aggravation of the herniated disc that in January and February, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever play again. Watt became the fastest to ever reach 75 sacks (in 82 games compared to Reggie White’s 68) against the Chiefs in Week 2. But the herniated disc had to be repaired after Week 3’s embarrassing Monday Night loss to Jacoby Brissett’s Patriots. Watt blamed an “element of pride” on attempting to come back too quickly, he also wrote a lengthy article in The Player’s Tribune about everything he’d gone through, which included a staph infection in 2015 that we previously hadn’t known about.

Coming back in 2017, Watt was being eased in slowly out of the gate, and then broke his leg against the Chiefs in Deshaun Watson’s fourth start.

I think it behooves a lot of football discourse to talk about injuries in an abstract way so that we don’t really get the actual pain and suffering there. It’s not fun to admit that a sport that you love destroys bodies. Watt is no different in that regard. The only difference is that this was the first sign that he appeared mortal in any real way. Oddly enough, it humanized him by actually showing us something he had to fight.

His body has taken a ton of wear. I remember the gruesome bruise he got against the Bills most when I think about that. There’s also this of him walking with stitches after his broken leg:

The amount of mental strength it takes to come back from where Watt was in January 2016 and play again is monumental. Let alone to have to do that twice more off a couple of other season-ending injuries. This is why I am as loud as I am when I see the Texans slacking on something. To have wasted those 2014 and 2015 seasons with quarterbacks who were never going anywhere is a disservice to the work Watt (and Johnson, and Foster, and Cushing, and Joseph, and Duane Brown, and so on) put in. To their credit — yes, I am giving them credit for this — the Texans made some bold moves to try to fix the quarterback position. They brought in Brock Osweiler, and when that didn’t work out, they didn’t sit on him for another year, moving up in the draft to select Deshaun Watson. It cost them two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a boatload of upfront cash. It was worth it.

2017 was somehow, simultaneously an affirming of how bright the future could be with Watson and Watt and, also, a disaster to live through. Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Watt immediately committed to his new gig as fundraiser, something he’d never done before, and was great at it.

It is wildly telling about Watt that even as he dealt with the biggest crisis of his football career that he was still helping everyone else around him. You can scroll through old Texans news posts in October of 2017, when they got to $37 million and began planning distribution of the funds, and see that as he’s serving the greater good of the city, the major story about the Texans is Bob McNair calling rhetorical players “inmates” that can’t run the asylum.

The Texans finished 4-12. It was an open question at that point just what Watt would come back to be, but it said a lot about the cumulative goodwill he had created that a player with his cap number and his recent injury history that there was not even an internal discussion about letting him go. Hell, he made the NFL Top 100 list after playing three games in 2016.

As Shea Serrano said in a 2015 column, “There’s an obvious bigness to Watt, but there’s also a philosophical bigness to him.” I don’t even have space here to get into the non-Harvey stuff he did for this city. The hospital visits, the various people he became close to through his foundation, the charity softball games, the people he sought based on news reports, the funerals he paid for of Texas school shooting victims. It went deeper than football.

***

The late stage Bill O’Brien Texans, at one point, had J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Jadeveon Clowney, and Duane Brown on the same roster. They never won more than 11 games. Some of that is because some of those players were injured at the wrong time. Some of that is because Brown lasted just one game post-holdout before being traded. A lot of it is because O’Brien was a bologna sandwich of a head coach.

I had the pleasure of covering the 2018 Texans with The Athletic. Watt came off his lost 2016 and 2017 seasons and, while he wasn’t the Watt that played in 2014, he wasn’t that player … all the way to 16 sacks. Five years after the Clowney pick, it was the first time the two of them ever got to wreak havoc together. Clowney was used as an interior rusher on passing downs which added some dimensions to the defense that weren’t there in earlier Romeo Crennel years. Crennel’s zones were, sadly, sitting chum for a good quarterback. But they dominated the bad quarterbacks they played.

Andrew Luck versus Deshaun Watson in the AFC Wild Card game should have been a golden matchup between two great quarterbacks. Instead, Luck took a 21-0 lead and O’Brien’s offense couldn’t get Watson out of first gear, huddling for much of the second half as it trailed by an enormous amount. For as weak as that team was at cornerback, (Kareem Jackson was playing corner instead of safety because the team couldn’t get a better corner healthy) 21 points against the Colts is pretty solid. One touchdown happened on a Shareece Wright double move — Wright, 31 at the time, would never play in the NFL again after this game — and another was set up by a busted deep zone coverage over the middle with Texans owner T.Y. Hilton. Watt had the team’s lone tackle for loss, the tip above, and one of the four quarterback hits. They did not sack Luck.

O’Brien told everyone after that game that he needed to do a better job. He never did. Watt took two questions from the press, complimenting the Colts and dressing up in football clichés his frustration.

What I think Watt will be most remembered for in this time period, though, was 2019. He had four sacks in eight games and change — I think a lot of the scuttlebutt over the last few years has been he should have been played inside more and he absolutely was torching Atlanta’s interior guys in that win in 2019. I don’t know what to believe as far as reasons he didn’t do it, whether it was something with Watt’s body or something with Crennel’s scheme. But it was not hard to find ways to get Watt, Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus rushing at the same time and it always stood out after Watt’s early dominance inside that he rarely played there on passing downs after Phillips left.

Coming off another great game against the Colts, Watt tears his pectoral against Oakland during a tackle for loss in Week 9 and his reaction is to shake the joint a little and then jog off the field:

He decided that this injury was actually optional. He rehabbed. Out of nowhere, near the end of the season, he signaled his desire to play with a torn pectoral muscle — something that IRs most good pass rushers for the season even if it happens early. He created one of the greatest pre-game sound bytes I can remember. He began to turn the momentum when he sacked Josh Allen in the Wild Card round, a game where the Bills were staked to an early 16-0 lead behind more brilliant O’Brien offensive design. The Texans came back to win because Deshaun Watson bailed them out of yet another play, avoiding two separate Bills defenders to check it down to Taiwan Jones. Watt has to be rotated. He’s playing at an immense risk to his future. He laid it all on the line.

24-0 against the Chiefs happened, there was a brief moment when I begun to contemplate the existence of the Texans hosting the AFC Championship game against Tennessee. In the end, a unit that had been bad without Watt simply collapsed under the weight of that responsibility, against a dominant offense. Watt’s words after the game were apoplectic.

He’d given everything he could. He only played about half the snaps in that game, because it was ludicrous that he was out there in the first place. Ultimately, the decay process that had begun that offseason with Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu leaving left the team without any room for error. They simply didn’t have enough talent that could step up. They, again, had just one sack — by Gareon Conley, who is a cornerback, on a trick play with Sammy Watkins at quarterback — and four quarterback hits.

***

Last season, if you believe the reports — and I have no reason not to believe them — Watt played a major role in sacking O’Brien. One of the last straws for BOB on the way to the Texans falling apart after a disastrous offseason was the shouting match the two reportedly had.

Watt after that mentioned something that I think is rare for a player to talk about: the ability to unite the fans again.

Well, he did all he could. The fanbase and team are more united than they’ve been since 2012. Unfortunately, they’re united in loathing Cal McNair and Jack Easterby. That wound up being the highlight of Watt’s last season in Houston. Under Easterby’s interim management, the team spiraled into a chaotic assembly of people acting in whatever they perceived their best interests were rather than anything we’d call a team.

Watt finished the year with a poor sack total, but that belied his actual skill on the field. Several teams were able to just throw quick, short balls against the Texans and negate the pass rush entirely. Brandon Allen, yes, Brandon Allen, threw for 371 yards against a Texans team that was supposedly trying. Mitch Trubisky decimated them in much the same way. Houston’s run defense fell to shambles without D.J. Reader. The Texans defense was defeated before it even hit the field, and Watt spent much of his press conferences trying to alert anybody he could to that fact without actually saying it out loud. There’s been a movement by a certain subset of fans to call him washed up to justify moving on here, and I think it’s not hard to admit that Watt isn’t who he was in 2014 right now. But 90% of who that J.J. Watt was is still a superstar.

In the end, in typical 2020 Texans fashion, media was asked before Watt’s final presser to save discussions about the future for a promised later presser. Good thing somebody asked the question anyway, because it was the last time he’d do a presser as a Texan:

Watt spent the 2020 season on the Texans, but it felt like his biggest plays were off the field rather than on it. His rant about finishing the season with professionalism. The sulky press conferences that followed many of Houston’s losses. Noting that he heard the boos during the Thursday opener against the Chiefs when they had that moment of silence for racial equality. He didn’t speak in his Wednesday press conferences about being a Houston Texan so much as what being a Houston Texan should be. And, looking back at all the wear and tear he put himself through for … whatever this was and is becoming … it’s hard to criticize him for that.

***

As someone who has competed at a high level in certain things — yes, fine, it’s video games, I’m not athletic, leave me alone — one thing you begin to understand as you live the competition is that you only have the moment you have. Only one person or team holds the final trophy. The odds are heavily stacked against it being you. The paradoxical thing about having the kind of high standards you have if you’re J.J. Watt is that it’s hard to live up to them because you can’t control it all. It’s not Watt’s fault Matt Schaub’s career as a starter was ending as his was beginning, and it’s not his fault that the Texans never tried to get a real quarterback in 2014. It’s not his fault he got hurt playing a brutal sport. It’s not his fault that the O’Brien era squandered the talent it gathered. It’s not his fault that defensive ends don’t have the same impact on the game as a great quarterback or coach.

You live your competitive life for the moments Watt created, and they don’t always end well. Things don’t end well for pretty much anybody, and you can’t let yourself get caught up in that. What the Texans had here for 10 years was someone who made it his personal mission to do anything in his power to win ballgames, create lasting memories for fans, and do good for the community. He was the dominant defensive force of the first half of the 2010s. He made the impossible seem possible. He made his first head coach think of him like a quarterback even though he was not one.

And that’s really all you can ask of a football player. We can’t go back in time and make Yates complete a bomb in 2011. We can’t make the 2019 Texans field a good defense around him. All we can do is acknowledge that who Watt was got them to those moments in the first place. Because he was that damn good.

Watt has been pretty open about talking about retirement in his career — not as an end goal, but just as something that he’s always known is coming. He told Mays in 2014: “If I dedicate all my time, if I cut out all the other crap from my life, if I give everything I have to this game for 10 or 12 years, maybe it is. And when I’m done, I’ll go sit on my front porch with my buddies, have a beer, and say, ‘That was pretty cool, wasn’t it?'”

J.J. Watt’s Texans career: That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? May some team that is better run than this one get him a ring.

***

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The Houston Texans are a cult of personality of a person with no personality

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.

***

The Houston Texans will no longer employ the services of their best player of all-time. They “mutually agreed” to part ways, which is a very Happy P.R. way to say that J.J. Watt asked for his release and was granted it.

It is hard to wrap up exactly what J.J. Watt means to this city and this post ultimately isn’t about that because trying to sum up a 10-year career of modern excellence is something that takes breathing room. It took my words away when the news came out on Friday not because I wasn’t expecting it, but because the finality of it happening is heavier than the concept. The Texans had nine turnovers last season as a defense. Watt forced the fumbles on two of them, recovered another, and added a pick-six on Thanksgiving. He’s not 2014 Watt, but he was far and away the best player on this defense and the fact that he wanted out is not a terribly auspicious sign for the future of the Houston Texans. Then again, what has been since 24-0 at Kansas City?

If your culture can’t contain space for a player of Watt’s caliber who generates millions on millions of charity dollars for the city? Who commands respect from everybody in the NFL? Who has done nothing but inspire countless people, and who everyone in Houston seemingly has a good story about? It’s not much of a culture. And if that culture would drive someone you could say these things about away? It’s not a great sign.

***

If Jack Easterby is in charge of the culture of the Houston Texans (he is) and if the culture is under attack (it also is) from the media, the fans, and even the team itself, there’s really no reason he needs to stay involved with the team. There are McNair ski chalets and tax shelters that need a manager that can do the bare minimum of “looking alive” and “causing discord among people that actually work here.”

The most disappointing thing about Jack Easterby’s vision for running this football team, and the man who fell for it, is that there’s not even anything to fall for. I have absorbed a ton of Jack Easterby words, videos, and otherwise, in the service of trying to understand what exactly is going on here. But beyond the very basic level of God being important and that being an assumed fact, there’s not anything extra that Easterby has for anybody.

https://theincrease.com/a-heart-submitted-jack-easterby/

Jack Easterby is a mirror for Cal McNair. In watching, at this point, tens of hours of video or podcasts with Easterby, he doesn’t answer questions directly. This is something that he calls “serving people,” where everything is dressed in a story and is an enigma wrapped in a fable, and you’re being judged from the start on your reaction to the story. You wanted an answer about why he moved to Houston, but instead he’s going to tell you about how there are different seasons in life and how his family meditated on it together and they’re ever so grateful for what happened in New England but that this was a new season for them. (That’s a real answer.) Now, I don’t need people to be overt when they’re talking. I don’t need Easterby to answer a question like that with “well, it moved me … TO A BIGGER HOUSE!” But normally in a conversation, you give and you take. Easterby doesn’t give. He just takes in all the information you offer him.

There’s one bit from a podcast I listened to recently that I found incredibly revealing for how quickly some of his stated goals could be betrayed.

You notice the answer here is shot out in typical Easterbese — abstract and vague words, then a respect for God — but the host tries to drag Easterby back to human terms by bringing up wives and the truths you have to tell them. The host realizes that he needs to make Easterby relatable — but Easterby fights it all the way, talking about a counter-question, then about a street code for husbands.

There’s not really a lot relatable about most sports players, so I think we try to hang on to what we have. J.J. Watt played through a torn pectoral muscle in the 2019 playoffs. I can’t even begin to understand what that might have been like. I relate more to Watt talking about the team like a fan than I do about understanding his reactions to an alignment and a pass set and what he’s thinking of at the snap. Darren Fells likes baths. I love baths! Me and Darren Fells, who would have thought? Two peas in a pod. That’s what good NFL PR does: It creates an emotional connection.

But with Easterby, there’s an almost obstinate desire to not be known in any real terms. He wants to understand you, but doesn’t want to be understood himself. The best way I can describe it as an aesthetic is that he is trying to be the good cop but instead of saying “listen, I know the judge,” he’s just asking you to incriminate yourself over and over again in his eyes. He wants to be remembered for “love and truth,” two of the vaguest concepts, and he refuses to go into much more detail than that or give a concrete example of what that means.

***

So imagine a locker room trying to interact with a man like this. As a worker bee? Fine. It’s a little weird, sure, to have note cards left in your locker. But ultimately he has no real power in that case and is just reporting opinions to people who make decisions. It’s a place where his eye for discernment — not his judgment — becomes valuable.

But when you put a man like this in a position of power, what happens is that players don’t know where they stand and can’t get a real answer out of him. He hasn’t played the game, and doesn’t have any coaching experience, so he’s barely part of their world to begin with. (He allegedly may decide to stalk players, if you believe Sports Illustrated reports.) He won’t do interviews so the fan base has no reason to trust him or even, if we’re being honest, any lies to cling to. There are still some Texans fans who are holding to the idea that this is all “fake news” or whatever, but the level of effort required to maintain that delusion is so high right now that it’s difficult. He’s entirely unrelatable. He’s Doctor Manhattan on Mars.

So if you’re most fans, you judge him on the results. The results are terrible. The franchise quarterback wants out. The best player in the franchise’s history got released on Friday. The team went 4-12 last year and has slowly built, through talent losses, one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Other than Laremy Tunsil, Brandin Cooks, and Will Fuller if they want to franchise him, they don’t have much in the way of established high-level talent that actually wants to be here. It feels like he’s pushed out tens of respected front office members for no real reason. When football people complain about analytics-focused front office outsiders coming to power, those people are at least trying to marry two things together that matter for winning.

In trying to understand where Easterby comes from, I’ve spent a lot of research on the public words that we have — be it video, audio, or print — and unfortunately a lot of trying to understand who he is comes back to his relationship with God. (Unfortunately for me, that is, someone who walks on eggshells discussing religion on the internet.)

***

https://theincrease.com/seen-or-unseen-jack-easterby/

A lot of Easterby’s writings about what God means are interesting purely in that they seem almost self-prescriptive pep talks. Easterby writes above about the sort of unshakeable faith he needs in his beliefs and refers over and over again to the external view not being everything. In the end, it almost feels like this view of his colors everything that the Texans have done. Think about hiring David Culley, who nobody else even interviewed, as your head coach. Then read this quote:

Now, take in one of my favorite quotes that explains the downfall of the Houston Texans, this Bill O’Brien quote about the “right kind” of free agency.

Easterby is a catalyst for change in this organization because he is the voice in the room that is fighting for the little guy. There’s nothing altogether ignoble about that — many teams need big contributions from the lower-rung players on their roster, the equipment managers in their room, and so on — it’s just that the philosophy is entirely pointless in NFL team-building terms. A team of 53 expertly managed 53rd men on the roster aren’t going anywhere but home in January. I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that he’s the one leading the charge for Eric Murray’s contract. I’d be willing to bet he’s the one that thinks DeAndre Carter deserved free snaps at wide receiver over Keke Coutee.

A healthy skepticism of good players, likewise, is not altogether out of line with the NFL’s norms. How many quotes do we see every offseason about formerly good players who are broken? Old? Don’t have such-and-such important characteristic anymore? That’s a natural part of NFL life. But under Easterby this has been taken to an extreme: character over talent isn’t just an operating philosophy for the 53rd man, it’s an operating philosophy for every player on the roster.

https://theincrease.com/declaring-spiritual-bankruptcy-jack-easterby/

I think this quote sums up a lot about the artist at work here. Easterby starts with the belief that everyone isn’t good enough. It probably takes a lot of cognitive dissonance for him to fight “making everybody else in the front office pointless through my selfless contributions,” but fortunately he always covers that by continually noting that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as they are mistakes in the service of the Lord, which of course, he is.

What happens is that it creates a shame-based cycle I’ll call the persecution pinwheel. The Texans make a bad move, and it gets slammed. So there are two forks here — one is that as long as you are righteous, your mistakes will eventually be forgiven by the Real Champion, as Easterby would call him. Another is that it feeds the persecution complex that Cal McNair is certainly holding on to, one where everybody is against the team and spouting claims of “misinformation” only further emboldens the belief that they are doing right. And so, they make another stupid move. And the pinwheel turns again.

***

The ultimate level of Jack Easterby’s vision is what happens to you as part of God’s story and under the trust of that pact through the afterlife. As long as you are bound by God’s story, you’re a flawed creature, but you’re doing right by God. That essentially means that you can be terrible at your job, but as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re fine.

https://theincrease.com/acknowledging-the-author-jack-easterby/

So I think this is kind of above the pure idea of Christianity and I want to make my point by invoking Tony Dungy. Tony Dungy was one of the staunchest Christians in the NFL, a man who has written several Christian-focused books and devotionals. In his book Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People And Teams That Win Consistently, Dungy writes about living the message, enhancing potential, and building other lives of impact. Jim Caldwell writes in the preface of that book about how Dungy empowered him and molded teams. Dungy as a coach wasn’t purely a Christian, but someone devoted to making lives better. This is a direct quote from the intro:

In order to be absorbed, it must be practiced. The thing about operating the “Galatians 2:20 life” is that what it really means is that you are an empty vessel of a human. To embrace the level of discipline that it takes to make your life all about reflecting Christianity to everybody else while also not having any kind of ego or sense of self, you have to give up just about any kind of concept about who you are as a person and what your purpose is. And that’s been reflected in what the Houston Texans have created here.

The plan has not been to rebuild. The plan has not been to retool. The plan certainly hasn’t been to actually have a response to Deshaun Watson wanting a trade. The plan is simply to hide in plain sight, because revealing anything about yourself means that you are acting against the interests that you’ve given yourself to. The story of the Houston Texans has become the story of an organization that can’t say it’s overtly about Christianity, but largely is. They promote the work they do in the community. They promote the message of faith and family. They don’t really go beyond that because … people don’t generally connect with concepts. They connect with people. Do you remember how the play-action pass that got Andre Johnson the space to get open, or do you remember Andre Johnson catching the ball over someone?

Somehow, the Texans are owned by the one person on Earth that has fallen for the Easterby mirror as he simultaneously turns off every single other person interested in building a winning culture around him. In that way, Easterby is less preacher and more Silicon Valley Disruptor — you find the target market, you promise something that barely makes sense, and you get locked into the money before you ever have to deliver anything.

There is no message beyond Christianity. At the core of Jack Easterby, there is nothing.

And so, mirroring the person given control of them for no reason, that is what the Houston Texans will become.

***

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Believing in Lovie Smith to fix the Texans defense is a tough sell

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.

***

In 2019, Illinois Football won six games. It was the culmination of what Lovie Smith was supposed to have built to after three seasons as Illinois head coach in which he’d gone a combined 9-27. I talk about this instead of 2020 because college football happened in the pandemic in the same way that anything important happened in the pandemic: a loosely organized way that makes it easy for excuses to take root. Let’s cut the excuses and go back to what was supposed to be the crowning year — the one that was worth all the pain.

Illinois upset No. 6 Wisconsin 24-23 in a game in which they forced three turnovers and only turned it over once themselves. They held on to beat Michigan State 37-34 in a game in which they forced four turnovers and the Spartans only created two. Those two wins disguised what was a typical season for the Illini under Smith, giving them a berth into the “Redbox Bowl,” whatever that is. Over the course of the season, Smith’s Illini defense would give up a tremendous amount of yardage, would lose to Eastern Michigan at home, and would allow 34 or more points five times, including to California in their bowl game.

After the Wisconsin win, Smith preened in a way that I think will sound familiar to a lot of Texans fans:

If you look at things through this certain warped perspective that I simultaneously admire and want to criticize, everything always looks okay in football coach speak. Your guys are always one win away from changing everything, and the development is always about to spark something incredible.

While VODs of Smith’s Tampa pressers are a little harder to come by these days — 2015 was an eternity ago in terms of data storage — I think this quote from the presser before his firing is pretty telling of how things were left in Tampa:

Smith’s Bears defenses were amazing, but if 2021 football is the present, football in 2012 was The Renaissance. He also stacked those teams with a ton of deserving Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good caliber players like Brian Urlacher, Peanut Tillman, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, and so on. The Tampa 2 defense has fallen out of vogue — though I’d argue the Cover-3 Seahawks scheme that replaced it as vogue isn’t really all that great either — and Lovie hasn’t really evolved what he does with those times.

***

It’s hard for me to really communicate to you the perspective I get deep-diving Smith’s Illinois years because I can give you tidbits, and your inclination will be to say “okay, but that happened one time.” Trust me when I tell you that there were times that college kids were getting beat by better college kids, but also that there were a ton of schematic breakdowns along these lines:

When teams got to the red zone against Lovie’s defenses, they were able to effectively move the ball horizontally. The Cal team that we’re talking about here had a starting quarterback with a 60.9 percent completion rate — they finished 95th in offensive SP+ per ESPN’s Bill Connelly. This is not Alabama, and not the Jared Goff Bears. This was a fair fight. And Lovie’s defense just kept finding themselves in quandry after quandry.

Look at the situation this corner found himself in. He can handle the tight end underneath, or he can let the wide receiver go over the top. Both linebackers eat this fake. (This is familiar to you Texans fans, I’m sure.) The scheme has won so dramatically over the defense that either throw is successful. This is a big third-and-short in the biggest game in Illinois football’s tenure with Smith. It was easy pickings.

Move beyond the scheme and listen to the man talk — again, I absorbed a lot of pressers trying to find out how he reacts to things — and it’s just that same old 2020 Bill O’Brien brand stuff. Listen to him talk after the Eastern Michigan loss:

Lovie is as steady as they come, but that comes with a learned helplessness that has infected him the same way as it infected O’Brien about the running game in his final days as Texans coach. He’s not going to tell you it isn’t a problem, and he’s not going to not work hard to fix it, but at a certain point it feels like the zest for this was beaten out of him. If you can beat the scheme he’s been running for umpteen years and his guys can’t beat yours one-on-one? Well, tip your cap to ’em. They were the better team that day. And they often are.

When I listed ambition as a trait I was looking for in my head coach, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the kind that David Culley brings. I want someone who is able and unafraid to make mistakes, understand why they made mistakes, and create new solutions to those problems next time. But I have to admit that Culley’s actual enthusiasm for his job is at least fresh and interesting when you compare it to O’Briens Grumpy Dwarf. Lovie is more of a Sleepy Dwarf to me, he’s seen all that he’s wanted to see and the idea of learning something new feels beyond him in his recent roles.

***

Now, that said, I think a reason for optimism for Lovie as Texans defensive coordinator is that, well, he is finally only a defensive coordinator. Outside of a year off in 2013, Smith has been a head coach somewhere in every season since 2004. I’m open to the idea with less on his plate, he might have some space to grow a little. A lot of head coaches learn or reconsider things only when they have a break from the daily intrusion on their space. Maybe de-elevating to a defensive coordinator means Lovie can get a little more specific on the why of his scheme fails and innovate a little bit. It feels like grasping for straws, but at least it’s a sensible reason as to how we could look back in eight months and see the team off to a good start.

Last year’s Texans finished dead last in the NFL in turnovers with nine. They were one of just two teams since 2002 to finish with less than 10. (The 2018 49ers had seven.) Meanwhile, in college, Lovie’s defense was pretty much all about how many turnovers they could force. The 2019 team forced 19 fumbles and recovered 16 of them — remarkably lucky by the standards of how we know a random ball bounces. They also picked off 12 balls. In 2018, they forced nine fumbles and recovered five. They also allowed six of their nine Big 10 opponents to drop at least 46 points on them.

The Texans don’t have a lot of game-breaking talent to begin with — they’d kill to have that 2015 Bucs squad that Lovie failed with — and all the public signs are pointing towards a divorce with J.J. Watt, the best player on the defense by far. While that will free up some cap space, you don’t just find J.J. Watt replacements in free agency. You find players that, largely, for one reason or another, teams don’t want to commit to. Assuming they continue to sit on Deshaun Watson’s trade demands, they won’t pick until the third round. The building blocks you’d need to create the kind of talent the Bears had on defense are lacking.

Given how much Lovie’s defenses have relied on winning on talent, this looks like a marriage that makes no sense for either side. The Texans can’t provide him with turnover-forcing talent, and Lovie can’t scheme the Texans into the kind of 20th-place defensive finish they need to threaten the playoffs in the event Watson is here and dealing. Maybe he’s got more juice than I think he does — and as I’ve mentioned, I would dearly love for the Texans to make me start eating some skepticism — but from where this franchise sits now it’s hard to connect the dots in a way that makes me excited about this move.

***

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Deshaun Watson, Texans lost in the Texans Cinematic Universe

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.

***

There are many disagreements in our current society about what reality actually is. I am sure you can conjure up those examples on your own without being told precisely what they are, and though I think my audience probably leans one way, I think there are people who read this and believe the opposite of what you think. Truth used to be a thing that was hard to deny. I drop a pencil, the pencil falls down. Gravity did it.

But today, anybody can shape their own version of the truth with the same number of facts, and anybody can ascribe meaning into what facts matter and what facts don’t based on their interpretations of motivations. For example: I can’t tell you how many times I have read from a fan that the Texans are being brought down because Amy Palcic is leaking things when there’s literally a Sports Illustrated story with 40+ sources and it’s very obvious that the Texans have burned many, many bridges.

So here’s what we know about Deshaun Watson and the Texans:

The Texans don’t want to trade Deshaun Watson. That is not only evident by spoken words, but also just sourced reports. Their stance has roots in two real places. One is that Watson just signed an extension and really doesn’t have any recourse the way that the current NFL is designed. The other is something that I think is a little darker to talk about, and comes from Nick Caserio calling him “the player,” and Cal McNair calling him “4,” in the Caserio presser: They feel entitled to what he gives them and are almost insulted that we’re even pretending that anything will happen.

Meanwhile, at the same time it is very clear that Watson has mentally unpacked from being a Texan. He wiped all reference to the team on social media. When the topic was breached with Deion Sanders in a rare public appearance on Friday night for a show called Versus — by the way, the Texans were not mentioned at any point during this program despite it being a Watson highlight VOD — Watson did nothing to quiet the rumors that he wanted out.

(Sidenote: You’re entitled to your reaction on how that video makes you feel. I intentionally put “Oh” up here because I was processing it myself. It’s one thing to see someone else say that he wants out, and another to see him laughing about it, right? I don’t think that’s unfair. I also don’t think he did anything “wrong” in this video. The shock value is about laying out what was happening behind closed doors to everybody.)

So those are two diametrically opposed stances. The Texans are very much right that they can just sit on Watson’s career. Watson very much is in the right to use whatever is in his power to get away from them after a horrific season and an offseason where Jack Easterby remained the main power broker in the building by accumulating people who were loyal to him. The fact of the matter is that, from the Texans perspective, there is no fair deal for Watson. That’s tied up both in the fact that a) Watson is one of the most valuable players in the NFL full stop and b) that any marginal downgrade to Watson is going to have their own questions about why he wanted out of here and have immense skepticism about the situation. There’s not a picks package you can create that has the same value as a locked-and-loaded top-five quarterback (at minimum) for however long he’s healthy, on a fair contract.

The problem the Texans have is one of their own creation, and nobody should feel bad for them. In embracing Easterby they have created a brand that is toxic to everybody except their leadership. You may not hear players talk about it very often, because they are well-trained in media relations, but it was no accident that when Andre Johnson brought the fury on the organization that some current players liked that Tweet or Instagram post.

And, well, one thing that Easterby has always been very clear on is that you have to block out the noise. The Texans have created a building that literally has filibustered any media question asked about Easterby’s employment, Watson’s very reasonable conflicts, Andre Johnson’s posts … if you ask them about something they do not want to talk about, they will just talk about what they do want to talk about.

In that way, what the Texans are really creating here is the Texans Cinematic Universe: the one where Deshaun Watson’s relationship with the team is salvageable, the one where going 2-9 in one-score games last year means they just need to make one more play a game, the one where hiring David Culley is a good move because he’s a motivator and that’s all the team needed last year. This is what happens when Toxic Positivity is allowed to take root: In choking out the reality of the situation, you create a future where it’s almost impossible for a normal, functioning football team to blossom.

I’m not going to compare it to politics because they aren’t in the same realm of harming people. But the game plan, in and of itself, is no different than a New York Times piece about imposing martial law by a standing U.S. senator because you’re losing people on videos of cops beating protestors. If the facts look bad for you, why embrace them? Why not just talk loudly about anything else?

***

If you close, the door
The night could last forever
Leave the sunshine out
And say hello to never

Velvet Underground, “After Hours”

The problem with where the Texans sit from a rational perspective is that there’s really no way for this team to go forward without either firing Easterby and attempting a reconciliation with Watson and J.J. Watt or destroying the team for years to come. They haven’t got the memo yet, because they have been reading their news from the Texans Cinematic Universe and believe that they can get Watson back on board, but the longer they wait on the decision, the worse off they will be.

Everything around this team is tooled around Watson, and any attempt to trade him is an immediate admission that this team won’t compete next year. I have a pre-written post sitting in my queue about how I would shop Brandin Cooks for a mid-round pick to free up cap space because I’d rather keep Will Fuller and I don’t think you can keep both. But if Watson isn’t here, what does it actually matter? This team was horrendous last season with him. Without him, they might have won two games. You can’t marginally improve a team like this. You’re basically out of win-now mode until you have a quarterback that can tell you otherwise, and you’re right back to asset accumulation mode.

That’s before we even get into the fact that with Watson gone, the pull of becoming a Houston Texan goes out the door with him. Tyrann Mathieu cited Watson as a reason to join the team in 2018. J.J. Watt has pretty much kept the door open on Houston, in my opinion, specifically because of them having Watson. Remember when the team tried to trade Will Fuller at the deadline?

Why would Will Fuller want to re-sign with this team if Watson isn’t here? Stars want to play with stars. Somebody will take Houston’s money, sure. But it will be Jacksonville, just on the Gulf of Mexico. An irrelevant franchise, forsaken by many of its fans. Paying the Joe Schoberts and Toby Gerharts of the world to win four games instead of two.

A standoff with Watson threatens the team’s present just as much as it threatens it’s future. Maybe the Texans don’t actually want Watt back anyway — that goes with what I’ve seen so far — but without Watson here there’s likely no reason for him to want to be back. When Brandon Scott asked the question to Caserio about the team’s reputation and got back “And believe me, there’s a lot worse things that could probably, that are happening in the world,” that was Texans Cinematic Universe brain. It was an admission that the question was fair without ever answering it.

Now, a franchise operating in its best interests would have just rid itself of Easterby, but the Texans have committed two massive contracts into their general manager and head coach that say that Easterby’s job is pretty safe. If there’s not a trade to be made for Watson to move on from the scenario, then what we are watching isn’t an offseason of moves around Watson — much as the Texans Cinematic Universe will probably have to sell it — it’s a hostage negotiation.

I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about as the Texans have a new general manager and there are cap situations and what not to be addressed in the short-term, but this franchise has no real direction until the question about Watson is answered. As we talk about these things, we’re constantly going to be talking about two very different worlds.

I wouldn’t blame the Texans for playing hardball; this is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But if they’re playing hardball and aren’t willing to make any reconciliations to Watson’s camp about how the franchise should look, this is going to be an ugly, ugly eight months. The time to make those reconciliations was in December, and the door is shut. The shape of the team was welded without him, but simultaneously, without him, none of it matters.

Seems like the kind of guy you’d want to get on the same page with. I dunno, might just be me.

***

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Hiring David Culley is Jack Easterby’s crowning achievement in keeping himself empowered

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.

***

The Houston Texans were the first team in the NFL to fire their head coach in the 2020 season. They now become the last team in the NFL to hire a head coach, and they’ve hired a head coach who has never been a head coach at any level, and who nobody else even bothered to interview. He is 65 years old — 66 before the season, which makes him the oldest first-time head coach in NFL history. The uh, the history of first-time head coaches that old is not great!

With some teams, we would be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on a hire like this. The Houston Texans shouldn’t be one of those teams. Not only has the search been slow, it also alienated the franchise quarterback for no reason. They wound up trying to placate him through an interview of Eric Bieneimy — the hottest head coach candidate in the game who can’t be hired because he actually wants power — and immediately dropped him from consideration. They didn’t even wait for the Super Bowl to conclude to give him a second interview.

This process meandered in the only way that a process that ended with Jack Easterby firmly in control of the Texans could. He scrambled to protect his base with Nick Caserio when it appeared a search firm was going to recommend someone who’d get rid of him, then, as he did with Bill O’Brien, immediately began directing all blame for things right back to Caserio.

And, of course. Of course. The two rumored last candidates for the job, Leslie Frazier and Culley, were renowned men of faith who had no other suitors. Just as Caserio was given an exorbitant sum of money with the idea that the Panthers would be interested, but otherwise didn’t appear to have any suitors. Jack Easterby knows how to play front office politics, and Cal McNair doesn’t. Once they are indebted to you for making the drop, you are safe. Eric Bieniemy would have taken less than two months to can Easterby. Meanwhile, the story:

It isn’t hidden. It is overt. It is a part of this organization’s thinking. It is their type. It is what they care about. When they say “tough, smart, and dependable,” it is a stand-in for religious background.

This is yet another capitulation to Easterby, who now enters the actual offseason in total control of the organization. Two offseasons of his moves have left the cupboard entirely bare outside of Deshaun Watson, and if Watson wants to leave, there will be nothing here. I doubt J.J. Watt is going to want to stay here. I doubt Will Fuller is going to want to re-sign here if Watson isn’t going to be here. It pretty much all hinges on a random wide receivers coach who nobody had ever heard of until he took these interviews convincing Watson that he’s worth the drama this organization creates.

It is a bleak place to be. Congrats Coach Culley.

***

This is where I would go in and tell you what we know about David Culley, but we don’t really know a goddamn thing. We know that his major influences are John Harbaugh and Andy Reid, Harbaugh of course was the Eagles special teams coach before he was hired. He’s been an NFL wide receivers coach for Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Baltimore. With the Bills, he was their quarterback coach. Some careers that launched under him that are notable: Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin, Hollywood Brown.

I imagine we will find out a lot more at the presser, the general gist of it is that Culley’s being pitched as the CEO of the operation, an inspirational leader who will, as Cal McNair put it, make people want to run through a brick wall. I could see him absorbing enough from Reid, Greg Roman, and Harbaugh to be a good head coach. I could also see him being a misguided attempt at installing somebody who never has demonstrated the skills he needs. Your guess is as good as mine. My forays into listening to Culley talk have mostly shown a man who talks an awful lot like Easterby — dodging questions to spout life advice — but without sitting in the literal interview room, I can’t tell you what all this is going to look like. I imagine Houston media is going to have a lot of questions for Mr. Culley and what he wants this to look like. He is essentially a blank slate for us to judge empirically, analytically, schematically, and so on.

It is very easy to see that he is respected as a person. A lot of the praise that came for Culley was about who he was as a person. It was a lot harder to find specific praise for him as a coach outside of this Ravens.com article.

Reid was quoted at the Pro Bowl in 2017 as saying about Culley’s move back to the Bills as QB coach “He played quarterback so he always wanted to get back to doing that. He was always involved in our pass game all the time. He’d set it up with me and present it to the players. He’s done installs. He’s done everything. I looked at him like another coordinator.”

The things that we can learn from the staff that immediately began leaking are a little more granular. We know who Tim Kelly is: He is a stab to keep Deshaun Watson happy as the returning offensive coordinator. He coordinated the worst running attack in the NFL last year, and while I think he does deserve some credit for listening to Watson and opening up the offense away from what O’Brien put together last year, I don’t think a lot of the success that happened last season was about easy yardage. Obviously, because I’d rather have Watson on the franchise than not, I hope it works out! But if there’s no Watson, well, I have a lot of concerns about the ability of this team to generate easy offense. Kelly’s still young, but I think of last year more as a moderate step than as a stepping stone to greatness.

Then there’s (gulp)

Listen, Lovie Smith is a great man who had a great peak in the NFL, but that time passed hard after his tenure in Chicago. The 2014 Tampa Bay Bucs finished 19th in defensive DVOA, at 2.0% — 24th as a pass defense. The 2015 Bucs basically repeated that — 19th in defensive DVOA at 3.3%, 24th as a pass defense. Illinois’ defense was concerning. They finished 89th in defensive S&P+ in 2017, and mostly just continued to bend and break. They actually got worse in 2018, finishing 115th in defensive S&P+, and allowing 63 points to Penn State, Maryland, and Iowa.

I am willing to be wrong on this — maybe he learned a lot in his time off! — but old coaches generally don’t change. There’s certainly nothing we saw changing as his NFL and college defenses backslid into oblivion. Tampa 2 was the trademark defense of every team in the NFL for a little bit, but those days are done. And to try to ask this front four to give him the pressure to make it work? Whew. That’s got potential disaster written all over it to me. You probably need two free agents to even get the pass rush to passable if Watt leaves.

***

As with everything that’s happened this offseason, it’s all up to what Watson does. He can put a lot of lipstick on this pig if he stays. I don’t blame him in the slightest if he wants to force a trade — these are extraordinary times we’re watching down at NRG, as a naked power struggle has left someone who has no business running a football team as essentially the ruling executive. That executive has run off several good players, seems likely to run off more before the offseason is over, and has hired nobody with any definitive proof that they can be a good coach in the year of our lord 2021. We have rah rah promises, a guy who we have no idea about sans Deshaun, and a Tampa 2 dinosaur. All of them are devoted to the Church of Easterby.

Can’t wait for the presser! 😀

***

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Meditations on watching your favorite franchise turn into a dumpster fire

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.

***

Enough of this miserable, whining life. Stop monkeying around! Why are you troubled? What’s new here? What’s so confounding? The one responsible? Take a good look. Or just the matter itself? Then look at that. There’s nothing else to look at. And as far as the gods go, by now you could try being more straightforward and kind. It’s the same, whether you’ve examined these things for a hundred years, or only three.

Meditations

I want to start with humility. One of the things that you learn when you first start caring about how football works is that you are going to take a lot of losses along the way. I believed Robert Quinn would be a better fit for the Texans than J.J. Watt would in 2011. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to correct course on my priors to get to where I am as a mind today — I started with background in football analytics and had to unlearn some parts of it. I am only beginning to grasp the technique and play calling area of the NFL in a manner I find acceptable. In three years, what I believe will likely change again in some ways. I never thought defensive back play was as important as pass rusher play, but studies have borne out that it is. I’m always open to being wrong and open to learning the lessons that are inherent in that.

So when you take that mindset, and apply it to the place the Texans currently are at, it’s easy to scan the situation looking for reasons to believe that they are coming from good faith. It’s easy to approach this situation believing that logic is guiding something. I see a lot of rationalizations around this tone. The Texans are interviewing Josh McCown, but actually the wording on this Tweet might mean that it’s not for a head coach position. The Texans are doing this interview because they might want McCown to be an offensive coordinator, and it’s a favor to him. I’ve seen many variations of this sort of idea.

The problem is that this isn’t an isolated incident. The Jack Easterby Texans have made many, many irrational decisions. They aren’t a rational actor. There was never any logic in trading DeAndre Hopkins. There was never any logic to believing that trading for Laremy Tunsil would be a long-term winner. There was never any logic in not replacing Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, and so on with anyone better than Eric Murray. When you look at this interview through the scope of the long-term rather than the short-term, it is not out of place. When you look at the rumors that have come out about Easterby’s tenure, when you look at the fact that the team continues to go out of its way to hire people who will not challenge his position in any way, it’s hard to come to any conclusion but that he is basically the owner of the team. The buck stops with Jack Easterby and the buck has been traded for a quarter and two nickels.

The reason it’s hard to believe that whichever of these not-Eric Bieniemy head coaches will work out is because none of Jack Easterby’s moves have worked out. The Easterby Texans as presently constituted have maybe a 5% hit rate on their bold, galaxybrained ideas. I brought up the trades already. The contracts for players like Randall Cobb and Whitney Mercilus were bad before the ink dried. I will give them maybe the tiniest smidgen of credit on Brandin Cooks las year, and that could still look bad in two years.

Normally, I am the guy who is low on most moves as compared to the fanbase. That comes with the territory of having a major background in analytics — I start with an approach founded in probability rather than on feel. You see a first-round tackle who has the tools to be a stud in Tytus Howard. I see a SWAC kid who has a lot to learn and believe the range of outcomes is not always going to solve itself in the positive, or at least not in the first four years. That said, I have learned to love surprises. I’ve learned to love being wrong. I would have dearly loved to have eaten some of the many words I’ve spilled on this blog over Texans trades and signings that they went out on a limb for. That I haven’t is as grave an indictment of the franchise’s direction as anything.

Remember: I’m supposed to be the idiot sportswriter. They’re supposed to be the franchise that has the data I don’t have, the knowledge I don’t have, and they are supposed to use those things to prove me wrong. When we play this game, me playing it with less information than them, I am supposed to lose.

If I would be outperforming you by virtue of just not doing stupid shit every year, that says a lot about how stupid that shit is and how unqualified the person leading the charge of all those moves is. To some people, that would be a sign that maybe they should get back on the trolley. To the Texans? They are permanently emboldened by Easterby’s toxic positivity.

So yeah, I understand in a vacuum that there’s nothing “wrong” with interviewing Josh McCown as a head coach. There’s nothing “wrong” with interviewing David Culley. But when your front office has a predilection for doing dumb shit, well, it’s dangerous. You see the gears working as they figure out how to pole vault off the tracks and into the Dunning-Kruger effect stratosphere. If the Patriots interviewed Josh McCown to be an offensive coordinator? Fawning everywhere. The Texans interviewing Culley? It’s like watching a child fiddling with a book of matches outside of a gas station.

***

“I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world?”

Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

The Texans are a slave to Jack Easterby’s desires. He holds them in his hands. It is okay to admit that. I know it feels powerful to blame Cal McNair, and he certainly deserves some blame for falling under the spell of this seersucker of a man. But Easterby holds the keys to the kingdom.

This will never be stated overtly, and because it will never be stated overtly, a segment of intentionally dense people will refuse to understand it. But the power dynamics at play here make it very obvious.

In a sense, it’s not hard to blame Easterby for what he is doing. He’s been empowered beyond the wildest dreams he could think of while using edgy Grand Theft Auto fonts on his South Carolina bible study power points. He is making, per reports, a metric ton of money for a long time, and he intends to keep making that money for a long time. So he has worked hard behind the scenes to install a general manager of his choosing. Based on the candidate pool for the head coach job — as well as the reported finalist pool — it’s very clear he has influence on that. Easterby doesn’t want anybody in town that will challenge his authority.

And if that means that Deshaun Watson has to go? Well, the preacher did tell us that his favorite game was watching Jesus struggle on the cross for six hours.

In Easterby’s vision of the Texans, we’re about to watch a lot of competing on the cross, every Sunday.

***

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

Meditations

I have a certain knowledge of how to play with words. If I want to convey “this player fucked up his tackle on this play,” I have many options. I could just outright state it — that’s usually pretty irritating and players don’t tend to like it. I could say something more demure, like “This player makes it to the box, let’s see what happens,” that calls it out without necessarily being quite so direct. I could use my words to paint it as a mental mistake or a physical mistake, I could say that the physical mistake occurred because the tackling technique went bad when the player bent his helmet forward here. I could say that the mental mistake occurred because the player wasn’t positioned properly to begin with. There are many different ways to characterize an action.

What I am getting at as we continue to drown in Deshaun Watson non-action is a very simple feeling: That it all matters. Jack Easterby’s presence, especially, matters. But the season that he just went through matters. Did Bill O’Brien play a part? Look at what happened to the roster under his stewardship as GM. Does not interviewing Eric Bieniemy (until later) and Robert Saleh play into that? Sure, it sucks that one of the preeminent black quarterbacks of our time can’t see a single path to a minority getting in the front office until he speaks up about it. Does Cal McNair have a part in it? He has enabled and allowed a lot of meddling and hasn’t shown much indication that he knows how to steer the course of the franchise successfully. Does watching J.J. Watt throw his career away for this franchise have a part in it? We saw them walk off the field together.

My reading of what we’ve seen leaked about Watson’s unhappiness is that he feels like the main character in a Resident Evil game — not only is everything going wrong, but there’s not really any time to breathe before the next thing goes wrong. When he finds a potential solution, it turns out that the environment around him was five steps ahead of him and that whatever victory he thought he won was Pyrrhic. When the plot is revealed, the plot is actually eight different subplots, and you better be mashing the circle button during this cutscene or you’re going to be eaten. The objectives to creating the culture and team that he wants in Houston are so numerous as to be overwhelming. Nothing ever resolves, it just concludes in a way to create the next obstacle.

As Watson grows into whatever he will ultimately be, he understands a little more each day. We give him a lot of credit for his growth on the field, but I think maybe his growth off the field is undercovered and underreported. I think he’s beginning to piece together more about what he wants and doesn’t want his future to look like. And I think of him walking off that field with Watt as a powerful scene in what he doesn’t want to see.

Watson is the kind of man who has always been able to say that he wants to win a title and then back that up. It was enough to have the goal and enough to be transcendent on his own. He’s learning that this isn’t Clemson. You need the organization and culture to have a drive to win a championship that manifests in actions rather than words. And he just watched his fellow superstar on the team spend his entire season trying to get that across to anyone who would listen:

Watson isn’t turning away from the Texans because he’s mad at them hiring Nick Caserio. He isn’t turning away from them exclusively because of Easterby, even though that is definitely a main issue from what I’ve heard.

He’s turning away from them because, on a very elemental level, he’s growing, and they are not. That’s the wedge.

***

Notoriety follows you
like beatings follow rain

McLusky, “Gareth Brown Says”

Where does that leave the readers, where does this leave the fanbase, and where does this leave me? I feel like we’ve collectively tried incredibly hard to get some message to the Houston Texans organization that Jack Easterby can’t be allowed to manage this team. I personally have an honorary doctorate in Easterby speaking appearance forensics. The Texans Unfiltered crew held a rally that Watson had to tell them to call off:

It is, objectively speaking, ridiculous that this happened. I don’t know that I can even recall a similar event in history. Not for the owner, not for a coach, not for a general manager. For a vice president.

Literally everything the Texans put out as an organization is instantly ratioed, #FireEasterby has trended multiple times in the wake of the most high-profile bits, as well as after the second Sports Illustrated piece was put up.

Steph Stradley has put it well when she has noted that the organization has chosen Easterby over everybody. It almost transcends that for me when you consider that the Texans are ostensibly an organization that faces the public. It’s not just that the Texans are choosing people over other people, it’s that they are literally disengaging with one of the purposes of a football team — their community — to serve Easterby.

Since Nick Caserio has been hired, there has been almost nothing of substance put out by the team website about the team itself. It is in a holding pattern, an airplane circling around the port while a hostage situation happens below it. They also have started putting up pictures of players who have worn each number. Did you know Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden both wore No. 3? Guess we’ll get familiar with that sight again soon.

It would be incredibly easy to fire or re-assign Easterby. It would be incredibly easy to make the steps that would be real apologies to Watson for the way this offseason was conducted and hire the best head coach on the market instead of the best one who prays exactly as Jack commands. It would be incredibly easy to have as much respect and concern for Watson as the mayor of the city does.

But it is beyond this cabal of Generational Intellects to do anything but serve Easterby’s ego. To do anything but watch the fire in the dumpster as Easterby throws the next thing in it.

And as we all go into that fire, the organization, the players, the employees, the media, the fans, I want to tell you that I understand perfectly if you want to check out of it. I have zero ill will for you. Life is too short to be tethered to something that brings you pain, and I say that even though it means I have a lot of eyes to lose.

As we get deeper into the 21st century, it becomes more and more obvious that the institutions that were set up to protect us have been underfunded, destroyed, or otherwise incapacitated. The NFL doesn’t have a system in place to demand an ownership recall. It never envisioned a scenario in which a person who made enough money to own a football franchise would be so hamheaded that he’d throw the figurative implements of money-making away for his pastor.

That is what we are on the verge of. We’re all waiting to see what gets tossed in the fire next.

***

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Jack Easterby is a distraction that will never end until he’s gone

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.

***

We have spent many words on Jack Easterby and Jack Easterby’s fate on this blog since October. I am, frankly, exhausted by this situation. I didn’t get into writing about football to write about front office coups. I could’ve done that in politics just fine if I wanted that heat.

I’m not coming into this piece to say anything bad about Jack Easterby — not because I’m worried about lawsuits, but because nothing he does at this point can be surprising. Both Sports Illustrated pieces — here’s the latest — as well as my own fact-finding, have done little but support the idea that he is an agent of chaos. Line up his employment with the Texans in a timeline and it squares straight with this organization firing Brian Gaine and starting its descent into a 4-12, values-obsessed, cultureless, rejected Mean Girls Netflix sequel. I don’t think that warrants death threats, just someone to step up and say enough is enough.

And, more importantly, for those people to be listened to.

***

Deshaun Watson was in an impossible situation because of the standard quarterbacks are held to. Every Texans fan besides the rumored Easterby burner would rather keep Watson than Easterby, and that’s fine. But the old school mentality that players should never dictate anything to the front office was going to make it almost impossible for Watson to do that and not get widely blasted for it. The idea that a black quarterback was going to take out a religious-minded front office VP — on paper — is the stuff that Sean Hannity’s writers room can only dream of.

Watson has done a lot of maturation in his game over the past two seasons, and took a major step forward this year. In particular, he’s done a better job of diagnosing blitzes and finding his open receivers when they come. He’s always shown a rare ability to take hits, keep his balance, and deliver under pressure. But this season he began to intentionalize the idea that there are hits he shouldn’t take. He has praised the offensive line for playing better and the receivers for getting open — and that’s what a good quarterback should do — but it was his improvement that set the scene for it all.

How much Watson believes that Easterby has to go is probably something that will never be public record, and I’m not going to tell you that I know for a fact that he wanted Easterby gone. But by appearing in the above picture, with this caption, and saying nothing about it, Watson said all he needed to. He read the situation, checked it down to Andre Johnson, and got ready for the next play.

***

Faced with his choice on Friday, Cal McNair chose Easterby.

Here’s the thing: There’s no amount of words or “agree to disagree” that will ever work here. The thing about agents of chaos, as four years of the Donald Trump White House has taught us, is that there is always a new fire.

When nobody in the building trusts Easterby, what it means is that nuggets like those that appear in the SI piece will continue to leak. Combine that for a national sports media that wants Watson to be a winner, wants him to be a face of the NFL, and has no qualms with trying to “free” Watson from the Texans. What you have mixed together is akin to a rolling boil of canola oil. The job of trying to keep it contained is almost impossible without actually firing Easterby — turning the heat off. Maybe there will be a month where we talk about something else. But, as any Vice Presidents of Communications in the crowd could tell us — boy, the Texans sure could use one of those — eventually when you put something in the pot, scalding oil is splashing out everywhere. What McNair did on Friday is akin to noticing the boil, dumping two packages of fries into it, then running out the door of the house into the Lamborghini and beating a hasty retreat.

Deshaun Watson posted song lyrics on Twitter yesterday and it became near-unanimously known by fans of the other 31 fanbases that it was about how mad he was. Even after he clarified it, what people took away from it was that he was pissed off. This is a situation that doesn’t happen if Easterby just isn’t part of the Houston Texans organization anymore.

It’s a situation that will repeat itself several times in the months to come, and for as long as Easterby is an employee. It’s a flaming dumpster of a PR disaster, and Cal McNair has an extinguisher.

But have you considered how beautiful the fire is?

***

The thing about what happens in 2021 is that while we have likely had scenarios like the one playing out with the Houston Texans before, we’ve never had the level of access to it that we’ve had. It makes it feel infinite, neverending, like a Ulysses that we are trapped in every day. That impacts fans, yes, but it also impacts players, employees, their families. It impacts Deshaun Watson’s day-to-day life, whereas before it would have been a bad choice that appeared in a newspaper column and didn’t get any traction until Training Camp.

What should happen in a scenario like this is that, eventually, you can’t escape the truth. Fans have been livid for weeks. Watson is fed up. Logic would dictate that you simply remove the problems and obstacles involved with keeping the franchise quarterback happy. The negative energy invited by keeping Easterby is lowering the value of the franchise every instant he is employed.

I wrote about McNair’s inability to grasp what is happening last week. I almost feel pity for him, because he has no idea what he’s in for in choosing Easterby here. I should be writing an article right now on the owner being dragged, kicking and screaming, into getting rid of his best friend who was ruining the franchise. I have tried to not go after him as a person because, well, that’s not actually productive. But his actions continue to paint a more damaging picture of him than anything I could write ever would. Choosing Jack Easterby over Deshaun Watson is the most incomprehensible thing I have ever heard of in my life. It’s like filming a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode that is 100% footage of Guy Fieri in his automobile. It’s the kind of thing that makes fans ask: What exactly are we doing here?

When Cal said in the piece that his religious beliefs don’t dictate how we play football, note that it was not a real answer to the question. Cal is not very good at answering the actual questions that are asked of him, and that’s not a great skill for somebody who has fancied himself a problem-solver. The problem is that the religious beliefs seem to be impacting who gets to stay and help lead a franchise. That is not technically dictating how they play football, but the business around it. It is all semantics in the grand scheme of things — Easterby is here for one reason, and we know what it is.

Cal has mentioned several times that he wants to build a consensus. That was something his father was big on, as well. But if you are a consensus builder, and people believe they should be part of the consensus and are ignored, you don’t actually have a consensus. The fans, the players, the employees and ex-employees that are leaking, the non-Easterby figures in this organization, everybody else seems to be aligned to ridding the team of its major problems.

But the consensus was never actual, it was just another front to hide behind as Easterby systemically stripped the organization of assets as if he were employed by another team to do it. If they somehow bungle away having Deshaun Watson, this organization will become one of the bleakest things in the NFL. I would say that we can get through it, but I read what the readers say. There are people who don’t even want to associate with this team if Watson isn’t here. I will be writing for six people.

Professional sports franchises are unique in that they are a corporation, but one that people actually want to interact with. Even when Bill O’Brien had obviously capped Houston’s upside as a playoff franchise, I had fans coming out of the woodwork to defend him or tell me they thought I was wrong. Sports teams have an imbued sense of community and representation that’s hard to fuck up.

But Cal, bless his heart, he’s trying real hard to prove that wrong.

***

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There are many megachurches in Houston

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.

***

I have been hoping to ignore this, because I know the kinds of comments these articles get and I don’t want to invite them into my life. But it continues to be a major theme of the Jack Easterby Houston Texans: The overbearing injection of religion and values as a factor in football operations:

It is clear from the Sports Illustrated article about Jack Easterby that Easterby’s hold on the Texans and his initial connection with owner Cal McNair came from their shared faith.

This is something that was a gateway previously between Bob McNair and Rick Smith, and that is an open secret as the clear mesh point between Cal McNair and Easterby.

I think that notation from Breer is a perfect way to put it: I’m not here to trivialize anybody’s religion or faith, but it is notable that we keep getting dragged back here and I want to explore why that is as the franchise continues to weight themselves down with the Easterby anchor. I think a lot of fans are struggling with the question of why a preacher could have such a particular impact on McNair. Let’s talk about it.

***

It is not all that notable that an NFL owner is getting grifted. NFL owners have been grifted by coaches and front office men since the dawn of football. The Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy this offseason after he went on an analytics photo opportunity at PFF. He brought along defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who hasn’t run a good NFL defense for more than a half-decade. There was almost no chance that it would end well on the merits of the coaching. In that way, save his background, Easterby is no different than several other would-be prophets.

This particular owner, though — and I say this with no joy — has been completely out of his depth as a speaker in every public appearance since his father’s death. The 40 minutes he spent with us at Nick Caserio’s press conference were a tour de force of ways to prove that he does not understand the gravity of the situation he finds himself in. He could not answer basic questions about Easterby’s role in the company. He chummed around with reporters who he knew about ice bucket challenges and golf games. He continued to try to present an extremely optimistic point of view about a deteriorating situation — 4-12, one star gone, a second star pissed all season, a third star pissed by the reason for this presser — as if going 6-10 because of a better record in one-score games would have changed any of the underlying problems.

Press availabilities don’t really stagger you if you know how to speak in them — you learn the ebbs and flows, and you understand how to give the kind of non-answer that can at least imply a hint of what you’re doing. “Getting it corrected,” in Bill O’Brien’s parlance, conveys that he knows that something is wrong. If O’Brien had fielded a question about his running game and replied: “I want to talk about my running game, we ran a lot of plays and we saw some good results. We want to run the ball very good at all times, we ask our fans to believe in us,” he would have been destroyed. McNair’s inability to even tonally hit the answers that you don’t want to hear speaks to how unable he is to see that any of this is wrong. Particularly given that he had to have been aware and briefed about grievances the fans have had and that it was no secret how this would play externally.

A lot of fans have attacked McNair through the bounds of regular fan logic: They see an issue and wonder why it isn’t being addressed and why he can’t see it. The thing about growing up rich and disconnected from any consequences is that it manifests itself in ways that make you, to normal people, profoundly weird. Take this quote from Tania Ganguli’s profile of Cal McNair in 2012:

No normal Houstonian grows up not understanding what Bud Adams did to make fans mad at him. I empathize in a way, because if you are chummy on an ownership level, where you see all these little-publicized donations and charity events and galas, it’s easy to just see the good you think you are doing and wonder what you could do that would be bad. The fact that this quote happened nine years ago and that McNair still doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate what he has to do to connect with normal people is a window into why someone like Easterby was able to touch him. Fans like to project themselves on to ownership — probably because of the fetishization of having that level of money — and pretend they are owners and decide how they’d act. What if Cal McNair is just a family-focused goober who happened to own a football team and saw it as a cheat code for respect at cocktail events rather than a description to be lived up to?

Anyway, for no particular reason after that paragraph, this bit from the clips that didn’t make this story is fairly revealing:

This is not to say that anybody has done anything wrong in this story — it is just tonally weird with how normal people live their lives. Many women who get approached like this would be understandably angry at best, and possibly file paperwork. I’m happy it worked out for them, and I’m not trying to shame anybody here. It’s just one of very few windows we have into Cal’s life. He met a girl he found attractive on Valentine’s Day and decided that the way to make this happen was concierge services, like she was tickets to the opera.

I can’t pretend that I know who Cal McNair is. I’ve never even talked to him, let alone in person. But it’s not hard to interpret the signs of who someone is when a carefully-choreographed paper appearance and long press conference show us that he doesn’t understand much about his fanbase or how life works for it. My guess, given the fact that he’s tuned in to (hat tip Steph Stradley) Easterby’s toxic positivity, is that he sees the fanbase as something that produces a lot of negativity in his life, and something that he has a mandate to ignore because they don’t understand all the good he does. He chastised nobody in particular but obviously someone on the outside for “a lot of heat” that Easterby took for taking over as interim general manager. Even a last-ditch Sports Illustrated article effort couldn’t get McNair to understand the legitimate grievances any fan or player would have with this culture.

All of us are attuned to hear the people who are positive to us a little louder — it is human nature to not want to be shamed and to be kind to those who are kind to us. McNair is no different than any of us in that regard. It is just that, by nature of his upbringing and his dismissal of the general outside, the potential audience of people who interest him is a lot smaller.

***

What is revealed, over and over again, is that “believes in family, believes in doing things the right way,” is what the Texans want. Since Bob McNair’s death, Cal McNair has run the team mostly in a hands-off way and wanted to build “consensus.” It was a “consensus” deal that they’d trade DeAndre Hopkins, ergo it was nobody’s actual fault.

As far as the consensus building goes, Easterby’s LARPing campaign as Texans GM was a lot louder when he was part of the committee. The committee could afford to believe that replacing DeAndre Hopkins with David Johnson would work. Hopkins, after all, would give footballs to his mother in the stands, which is dangerously close to glory. David Johnson, one imagines in Jack’s mind, calmly recited Psalm 34:18 as he waited for each gap that would never open. But once O’Brien ran out of HP and the decisions could actually be traced back to him, Easterby treated even Kenny Stills like an Elixir. You don’t want to waste that in a random battle, what if a third-round pick came in return? Let’s wait by the phone and see.

The most important part of the McNair family is that once you’re in with the McNair family, you’re there through thick and thin. A lot of faith is placed in you. Gary Kubiak coached here for eight seasons. Bill O’Brien for six and a quarter. Both of them had issues that would topple coaches in hotter markets fairly early.

But a family can only be as strong as the faith placed in it by all members. You’re reading this and you haven’t clicked out yet, so you’re part of my greater readership family. If you suddenly decide that I’m bad at this, the family dissolves. If I suddenly decide that I’d rather never write about the Texans again — maybe more of a possibility than it should be — the family dissolves. There’s a spirit of cooperation implicit in both a family and church structure where we don’t always do things we want to do for the greater good. People we are obligated to listen to. These are generally shared values. They are values that the Texans are trying to project on to their team and roster, yet they are ones that ownership is happy to overlook when applied to the family in charge.

When you hire opportunists to be family, and they are given a chance to seize more power in the family, they will. It’s how Bill O’Brien got Rick Smith out of the building. It’s how Easterby knifed Brian Gaine and, later, O’Brien. Opportunists can read the room and understand when a challenge is ready to be faced and how to avoid it. There are lofty standards about how the players and staff supposed to act and be, but they are applied inconsistently.

Easterby was supposed to be O’Brien’s right-hand man, but he understood that keeping power would not be easy after an 0-4 start, and distanced himself. O’Brien distanced himself from Smith because he was never interested in sharing power, something that was evident to anybody who watched their interactions on Hard Knocks. These people may have been “family,” in the sense that they lived with each other, but they don’t live up to the ideals and values that McNair set forth for them. They haven’t done things “the right way.” Easterby’s play to get close to McNair was easier than probably even he expected. To be fair to McNair, promises towards shared values and faith look damn good compared against O’Brien’s belief system of nihilism, inside zone, and the Yankee concept. To McNair, Easterby must have had an aura of extreme competency.

Because they can present themselves as people who did things the right way to someone without a discerning eye, they can be Houston Texans family and eat the family too.

***

Having subjected myself to a couple of different Jack Easterby sermons in the grander service of trying to understand how someone could be under his sway, there is little but enthusiasm there. The nervous energy he puts out as he spins his yarn is no different than a fourth-tier YouTuber asking for you to like and subscribe mid-video. His major sermon, and the thing that his foundation is named after, is The Greatest Champion. It goes a little something like this:

In the world that Easterby preaches, we are all “a mess” (his words) in the eyes of God. The way that you create your value isn’t through results, but through process and belief in the process.

Caillou-Manuel Propaganda over here preaches toxic positivity and improvement. The idea that if you’re just overwhelmingly positive, and you do “the work,” and “embrace humility,” that everything is going to be great. That in and of itself isn’t all that interesting — many people have written self-help books around that, and some of them, unlike Easterby, do it successfully. The problem isn’t that applying values to a person can inspire the person to find paths that make them happier. The problem is that applying values to an organization’s players isn’t Moneyball For The Galaxy-Brained. If there were a way for religion and values to create a winning football team, trust me, someone in the NFL would have found it before Jack Easterby. Probably Mike Singletary, maybe Tony Dungy, if we’re being honest.

The idea for his image of the team is self-contained: Why can’t your poem be greater? Why can’t you meet your challenge? The problem is that Easterby also preaches the process over the results, so the bar for the challenge is literally on the floor. Easterby’s promise falls flat when laid out to someone like J.J. Watt, who already has extensive self-motivation and doesn’t need to learn more about how to use his gifts from someone who can barely keep his anecdotes above the racially insensitive replacement level. If Whitney Mercilus gets four sacks but finds inner peace with his relationship with God, well, I’m very proud of Whitney but he’s not worth $11 million a season. This should be a business of results. The entire point of the game is the results.

The results since Easterby has taken over have been horrific. Not just on-field, but the destruction of relationships, the trades, the contracts, the constant theme of Entrance of the Gladiators that follows anything they do. The inability of this year’s team to give 300 snaps to a rookie on their way to 4-12, adjust to anything that this year gave them in terms of scheme, or do anything more than complain about the lack of tackling drills they had week after week for eternity. Once O’Brien was deposed, this team quickly became a loose collection of individuals playing in self-interest rather than an organization with any kind of direction. The Texans have brought up often that they are interested in competing for championships — McNair brought it up again on both Friday and Saturday — but nothing they do seems to understand the urgency involved with that goal.

Easterby’s vision for what the Texans are is self-preservation for his principles. The only ounce of shame in the entire thing is that even he can’t bring himself to go to the podium and speak about it. Jack tweets an awful lot about people who aren’t in the arena for a man whose one arena fight was Cal McNair’s bedtime on the team charter home from London.

But to Easterby, that line is just another challenge to motivationally Tweet through. If he has found a taker to his mantra in McNair, there’s ultimately no way within his reasoning to ever judge Easterby for what has gone wrong. After all, we’re all flawed creatures and we’re just following the process of the worker and the spirit to get to a better poem. What other opportunity could you want? Amen.

***

To be honest with you, I have had a terrible relationship with Catholicism. My grandfather wielded it as a cudgel on my mother and I. He would withhold money and benefits from us if we did not meet his standard of Catholicism. I responded by withdrawing. I don’t really mind that some Texans are religious and it doesn’t bother me that Deshaun Watson or Brandin Cooks mentions God often — I don’t connect with them in that light, but if that is what it takes to inspire their greatness then I embrace it. Likewise, I don’t begrudge Easterby for his faith. If Easterby and McNair were running a car dealership in Maine instead of the Houston Texans, I would blissfully not care.

If the Texans fancy faith and family as a major part of their approach, I think that’s both good marketing and a recognition of a major audience in Houston. But people don’t talk about football teams because of the charitable acts they do. People don’t consider the Texans in terms of them being a public good — if they want to be that way, McNair can turn ownership over to the city and we can pay teachers with their profits. People talk about how awesome Deshaun Watson is, how much help he needs, and how nice it would be if there were any chance he was going to get it. They talk about the last part that way because of Easterby’s greatest hits.

The fact that Watson trade rumors have been allowed to generate shows how this culture has failed. Forget the jolly forced summer camp hike to the end of the season that Romeo led, and forget the legitimate grievances Watson has over an ownership family that listened to his front office suggestions in the same way that our government listens to its citizens. The entire NFL news culture is thirsty to create a typhoon of poorly-sourced fantasies about where Watson would go. It draws eyes, it creates hope for a million fanbases, and it plays into the demand that he be “freed” from the Texans, which were an obligation to him this year and an outright piano on his back being forced to run O’Brien’s 2011 finest. This culture saw that and decided that the best move was to yank Watson around some more, as a matter of course, because the family is the family and they can’t just be handing out Zoom interviews to anybody; it would disrupt the nothing they had planned. That it has blown up in their face is both unsurprising and — outside of the effects of potentially creating an orphaned franchise nobody ever wants to read about — hilarious in the way that any ACME package delivered to Wile E. Coyote is.

In the press conference on Friday, McNair spoke to the need to “build a wall,” in an awkward word choice that possibly seemed like a nod to Joe Brady. In an interview with the official website on Saturday, McNair then said that he needed a head coach who would get players to run through a brick wall.

It was just another example of McNair’s public awkwardness, but it was also a perfect metaphor for what the mentality of this team has become since Easterby joined the front office. They want to build a wall, then they want to have the team run through the wall, and then they want to do it again. And again. And they want to embrace that philosophy eternally — defining walls and then breaking them down — because obstacles are what keep Easterby employed.

There are many megachurches in Houston. We don’t need a football team to aspire to be another.

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At Nick Caserio’s press conference, we learned that the Texans have no answers for why they’re keeping Jack Easterby or his culture

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.

***

Nick Caserio’s opening presser was overshadowed by the fact that the Houston Texans, as currently constructed, are just trying to put out a continually erupting series of brush fires. These fires have been caused and created by the fact that they continue to employ Jack Easterby and that he’s been tied directly to the hire of Caserio. Caserio did not help himself in that regard by referring to the relationship he has with Easterby as “special.”

Caserio dealt with malfunctioning microphones and was personable and alert — often to the point of jumping in front of Cal McNair to answer questions for him. It showed good instincts, but there isn’t really a way to cover up what McNair tried to sell people.

At his last media availability of the season — four days ago but somehow it feels like it happened two months ago — Deshaun Watson talked about the culture, and about people who think they have power but shouldn’t:

That culture was in the hands of Easterby. As is prominently displayed on his resume, “In his role, Easterby manages all football operations and directs the overall culture of the organization.” At Caserio’s presser, McNair’s opening monologue tried to stab at the idea that the culture was wrong, but never really touched on why that was.

“As we look forward, it’s important for me to remind everyone who the Houston Texans are as an organization. Our culture has been repeatedly under question this season, so let me clear that up for all of you right now … We believe you can’t go wrong by doing what’s right, and ask our fans to trust that we know what’s right.” If McNair had finished those first two sentences by uttering the phrase “and that is why we are firing Jack Easterby,” we could have all moved on to the business of football. I’d post something about Nick Caserio’s comments and how they relate to his job. But he didn’t. So I guess that’ll have to come later.

In asking the fans to trust in an organization that has sewn so much chaos within it’s relationship with Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt these past two years, McNair is asking for something that can’t be given by an appeal to authority. It is something that has to be earned by actions and words. If this was as disappointing of a year as it was supposed to be, why are the Texans proud of everyone involved? Why did they never address any reasons behind their poor record but win-loss record in close games? They want the benefit of the doubt that they think sitting up at a podium grants them, without any of the icky introspection and self-examination that leads to transparency and critical thinking.

This is not helping anybody understand Jack Easterby’s role. This is a statement of fact. Jack Easterby is buddies with my new general manager. Was that the overriding factor in why Caserio was chosen? Sure sounds like it was, because no other reason was given. Why was Jack Easterby given the power? What does Jack Easterby do that is good?

“He took a lot of heat for it,” McNair says, as if that is something that is noble or admirable. The question asked by Brandon Scott — who killed it as always — is why he is around. There was no answer given. There was no answer given because there is nothing either man could point to about why he was around that anybody wants to hear. Here’s Vanessa Richardson from NBC asking what exactly Easterby brings to the table:

“Other things that Jack has done really well over the past,” such as? I’m not even going to get into the “build a wall” thing or the several other tone-deaf statements that McNair uttered in this presser. I don’t think he’s a good public speaker and I think, in time, he will learn that his role in this press conference was a mistake.

We had a 30-minute press conference with several questions about Jack Easterby. Neither Nick Caserio nor Cal McNair could answer why he is here or what he does that is worth keeping. What they tried to do instead was give a value-based, preach-heavy analysis of how they want their culture to be viewed. Here’s Caserio:

These are all words, and they all mean something in the sense that if you were creating a self-help program for a college football team, it would sound something like this. But they have no factual relevance in the situation the Texans find themselves in. No amount of selflessness or serving is going to erase the fact that DeAndre Hopkins isn’t here, J.J. Watt wanted to be out all last season and probably hasn’t changed his tune, and that they pissed off the franchise quarterback for no reason. No amount of values is going to change the fact that this defense was a trainwreck last season. There isn’t a mindset change that alters the fact that coaches see that Jack Easterby is on staff and remains in power and skitter away from taking interviews with the team.

What the Texans revealed on Friday wasn’t so much a master plan to fix the franchise as a defense of the fact that they are where they were entirely by happenstance. In that sense, it’s no different than your typical Easterby lecture, the one where we are all born sinners and must simply DO THE WORK to get out of a tough situation. Easterby didn’t attend a press conference that was essentially all about him — you’ll have to forgive him, his most recent appearance at a presser in early September isn’t him hiding under a pile of coats as he counts his money, no sir.

Caserio very well may fix various aspects of the Texans by attempting to actually do Football Stuff instead of playing 5d chess about Who We Should Value and engaging in Christian Phrenology on star players. But what we learned on Friday is that he’s going to have to fight the organization’s established culture the entire way.

We all know who the culture belongs to, even if he wasn’t at that press conference.


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I’m writing this article free of charge — this website is ad-free and non-intrusive. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.