We miss JJ Watt. I know, how is it possible to miss a player that is featured in every other ad on Sundays. How is it possible to miss someone that had a Hard Knocks season dedicated to them a year ago. Somehow we still do miss Watt’s salutes after a sack, his primal scream after a positive play from the defense, and perhaps just a much we miss how his stellar play took attention away from the mediocre to borderline atrocious play on the other side of the ball for the Texans.
Is it simply bad luck that Houston has been unable to find a quarterback that would be able to capitalize on a the assortment of talent that side of the ball has stocked away.
DeAndre Hopkins is a top 10 wide receiver that has never had a respectable arm on the other end of passes. Yet, he has somehow managed to emerge as a league best despite playing with that handicap. Houston went out and snagged Lamar Miller, the under-appreciated running back who played his entire career in Miami before accepting the feature role with Houston. Houston GM Rick Smith even dipped into the draft to snag a couple promising rookie wideouts, hopping to establish a weapon across from Hopkins as well as improving upon depth at the position. Both Braxton Miller and Will Fuller have had their moments breaking past defenders, though each has suffered setbacks due to injuries in their rookie campaign.
The biggest concern for the Texans has been their play at QB, similar to what the Dolphins experienced before Adam Gase implemented a run-heavy O, and QB Ryan Tannehill settled down in the pocket. 2015 seen Brian Hoyer(9), Ryan Mallet(4), TJ Yates(2), and Brandon Weedon(1) all start for the team. That stat had to factor significantly into GM Rick Smith going into Free Agency and signing Brock Osweiler to a lucrative contract, essentially giving him the keys to the offense.
Before touching down in Houston, Brock was the tall QB (6’6) with even higher expectations as the ‘guy in waiting’ for the Denver Broncos. 2015 seen him help guide the Broncos to a couple wins, but QB play in Denver, even with a Hall-of-Famer in Peyton Manning taking snaps was less than stellar for everyone in the QB room. Late in the season after hitting a bump in the road Broncos coach Gary Kubiak decided to make the move back to Manning as the starting QB, in the hopes of sparking an anemic offense with Brock at the helm, a move that rubbed Osweiler the wrong way, a rift that some felt was the catalyst to him wanting to move on from Denver.
However, it’s been John Elway that has appeared to gotten the better end of letting Osweiler leave and relying on his impressive defensive unit to get by with Trevor Simien and rookie Paxton Lynch. Osweiler on the other hand is being paid as a franchise QB, yet has shown little to justify the bump in salary. This is a major concern for many reasons.
The first of which is that both GM and HC have tied their names, reputation and job security to developing their newly acquired QB. GM’s don’t make-up attempts to find a franchise QB. You can draft a guy early, but if that guy struggles, you’re likely to lose your position before said player does. Or as in the Texans scenario you bank on a commodity and hope the gamble pays off. While the label of bust is much too soon to be thrown out, the pressure to make the most of the talent Houston has stockpiled mounts each season.
Which brings us to the title concern.
A couple weeks ago the face of the franchise and NFL wrote a piece for The Players Tribune in which he outlined the obstacles he’s had to overcome since he was ruled out for the 2016 season with what was described as a back ailment. The 2-time Defensive Player of Year talked about how he had removed himself from the glamour that was his life before the injuries, back to his humble roots in Wisconsin, sounding as if he has a renewed spirit to return back to the field, a feat that sounded in doubt purely based on the title of the article and it’s opening paragraphs.
Let’s stay on the optimistic side of things, assuming Watt returns back to form in 2017. How much longer can his body hold up to the toll of a NFL schedule? Watt remains on the positive side of 30 (27), but given the injuries, how much patience can he show before chasing a title becomes imperative before the conclusion of his career? While his back has been operated on multiple times now, the likelihood of a flare up is not uncommon. I guess the question we’re raising is, can the Texans contend in the AFC without JJ?
Fortunate enough the Texans play in a horrible AFC South conference that doesn’t appear to be in a rush to crown a true champion as the Colts play with next to no sense of consistency, the Jaguars continually underperform and the Titans appear to be a growing power, yet remain a young team. In the Texans defense, they’re getting younger across the roster. Yes, Vince Wilfork and Brian Cushing are still counted for valuable snaps and downs, but the youngblood has started to make a name for themselves.
Linebacker Benadrick McKinney has been a solid positive for the team that has been looking for a compliment and future replacement for Cushing. JD (Jadaveon) Clowney has shown more glimpses this season to that player that the franchise selected first overall based on his pass rushing arsenal and ability to shoot into the backfield. In fact most of the wide receiver room with the exception of Hopkins is made up of 1st and 2nd year players.
While there won’t be another player on this roster, or in the league, that would be able to wear JJ’s cleats, Houston sure could use a boost from somewhere. That position should be at QB after the way that the defense has carried the team in the past, but that has yet to occur. Are we just a season too early? The Injured/Reserve List is lengthy, featuring plenty of names that likely would have been meaningful contributors such as Center Nick Martin CB Kevin Johsnon, Tackle Derek Netwon and of course Mr.Watt.
With everything we’ve mentioned, with four games left in the 2016 regular season Houston is in a three-way tie with the Colts and Titans for the division lead. The Texans’ saving grace being that they have not dropped a game all season to a division foe. With 3 of the 4 games remaining against divisional opponents there is still the chance of a playoff berth.
Will the team being able to avenge 2015’s 30-0 beatdown at the hands of the Chiefs? Can Osweiler shuck the criticism of his game especially given the scrutiny Houston created by offering such a mega-deal to a fringe-worthy star last season?
The answer to both questions will be no if the newest additions, young (Will Fuller IV, Braxton Miller), and old (Lamer Miller, Osweiler), are unable to play to their strengths. That answer will be a HELL NO if the a pass rush can not be manufactured in the coming weeks and the offensive line falters much like they have this season.
For Christmas all we want is that No. 99 back on the field doing what he does. I can imagine that Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith would echoe those sentiments.