When you take into account the range of opinions on this team over the past three weeks, the cleanliness of this being the one quarter point of the season is really the ONLY reason it makes sense to do any measured assessing of the Texans at this point. Three weeks ago, we were lamenting the fact that the Browns would have two top five picks in the upcoming draft, theirs and the ones they got from the Texans. On Monday, we were looking at Super Bowl odds.
It's been a weird season, and with Kansas City coming to town in four days, we will have a much better idea of what type of team this is come next Monday morning. But for the time being, let's take a look at a few questions for which we will be seeking answers between now and the season's halfway mark in a month or so.
5. Is Braxton Miller the next third-round bust?
The list is long and ignominious — Jaelen Strong, Louis Nix, Sam Montgomery, Brennan Williams, DeVier Posey. For varying reasons, some under their control and some out of their control, all of these former third-round picks of the Texans have been swerved by the football gods. Now, the team's 2016 third rounder, Braxton Miller, was on the inactive list as a healthy scratch for the Titans game. Miller showed some signs of juice as a wide receiver at Ohio State his final season there, which is why he went in the third round, and he is a phenomenal athlete, as his combine results showed. However, NONE of that has translated at the pro level, and I'm not so sure that the element of gadgetry he teased isn't handled now with Deshaun Watson's versatility as a quarterback. I suppose you can never have too many guys who can do multiple things, but it doesn't matter if you don't do the PRIMARY thing you're being paid for at even a remedial level, and right now, Miller is barely a remedial wide receiver.
4. Exactly how good is this defense?
Right now, they are rated 13th in Football Outsider's DVOA, which probably matches what we've seen with our eyes — a defense that, on the aggregate has been slightly better than average. In their two losses, the Texans were torn up in different ways, shredded on the ground by the Jaguars and riddled through the air by Tom Brady. In their two wins, the defensive players were utterly dominant in every way. If there are Achilles heels on this defense, I'd say they are, in no particular order, the safety play, depth at corner, Jadeveon Clowney's lack of awareness holding the edge, and the mysterious lack of quarterback sacks so far from the Big Three (Clowney, Watt, Mercilus). If you're putting the over/under at 13 on where they'll FINISH the season in DVOA, I'd say UNDER because, as a rule, this defense has improved as the season has progressed under O'Brien, Crennel and now Vrabel.
3. Is J.J. Watt OK?
I think he's fine. He says he's fine. He looks like he's moving fine, but that won't stop there from being "What's wrong with J.J. Watt?" stories until he breaks out with a 2.5 sack game at some point. This I do know — he is drawing a TON of attention, more than he used to draw even in his Defensive Player of the Year seasons. I truly do believe that the splash plays will come, and as long as the defense is conceding less than 200 yards like it did on Sunday, in a game where Watt had ZERO tackles, who cares? Watt is worth every penny based merely on the benefit his presence has provided so far.
2. Is Tom Savage the right type of backup quarterback?
It's fun watching all of the new gimmicks Bill O'Brien has been able to unveil offensively — the pistol veer option, the quarterback draw, end around options, bootlegs. It's awesome, right? And is there any doubt that Deshaun Watson's athletic ability is the ONE thing that's allowed this offense to finally progress from perennially mediocre to way above average the past few weeks? No doubt, that's the secret sauce, and the playbook going forward will and should reflect that. So what happens if Watson gets hurt? We got a glimpse on Sunday of the answer to this question when Savage came in for mop up duty and got murdered on the first drop back. Hell, just watching the Titans try to function with Matt Cassel in Marcus Mariota's absence should be a wakeup call. In my opinion, the Texans should find a quarterback that has some mobility and can run MOST of the same stuff Watson does. I threw Colin Kaepernick's name out there yesterday and my Twitter mentions went to hell. I know that Kaep isn't happening, but would taking look at RG3 make sense? Heck, even Ryan Fitzpatrick would be more sensible than Savage, who can barely get to his car in the parking lot in under 20 minutes. This is an underrated storyline, as we are one bad hit away from being back in Misery-ville.
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1. So I predicted the Texans would be 7-9... how do I feel about my chances of being correct?
Well, they're 2-2 right now, and I'll know a lot better after a big boy test on Sunday against Kansas City. I predicted 7-9 before the season, so here are the remaining games with my prediction and whether the game looks easier, harder, or about the same:
October 8 vs. Kansas City (L, Harder)
October 15 vs. Cleveland (W, Same)
October 29 at Seattle (L, Easier)
November 5 vs. Indianapolis (W, Easier)
November 12 at Los Angeles (W, Harder)
November 19 vs. Arizona (W, Easier)
November 27 at Baltimore (L, Easier)
December 3 at Tennessee (L, Easier)
December 10 vs. San Francisco (W, Same)
December 17 at Jacksonville (W, Harder)
December 25 vs. Pittsburgh (L, Same)
December 31 at Indianapolis (L, Easier)
So four of my remaining forecasted losses appear to be easier — Seattle, Baltimore, and the two Indy games. Two of my forecasted wins appear to be harder — at the Rams and at Jacksonville. In the end, it's starting to feel more like a 9-7 season than my 7-9 prediction, but wake me up next Monday and ask again.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.