In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the moment every Texans fan wanted to soak in on Sunday at NRG Stadium was the introduction of the Texans' defense, specifically J.J. Watt, and in a vacuum, that spectacle was the poignant moment we all expected it would be. Each listed Texans player, one by one, 12 in all, jogging through a tunnel of humanity with either a Texas state flag or an American flag in his hand, with the roof nearly coming off the building when Watt's name was announced. Unto itself, given all that has transpired in our city over the past two weeks, it was a loud, beautiful embrace between fans and players.
Unfortunately, there had to be a football game played afterward to spoil the fun. It was ironic that the Texans introduced 12 players as the "starting defense," because they could have used an extra guy on the field to stop Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette, who ran for 100 yards in his NFL debut, as the Texans laid a gigantic egg in their 2017 season opener, bowing to the Jags by a score of 29-7.
You have to strain REALLY hard to find anything positive that occurred on Sunday, if you're a Texans fan. The offensive line looks to be 2002-level bad (although even that group never gave up ten sacks in a game), the skill guys can't get open or make explosive plays, and the defense was sleepwalking all afternoon. About the only positive was that O'Brien essentially deleted the entire 2017 preseason by flipping the offense over to Deshaun Watson at halftime.
Apparently, intimate knowledge of the too-complex-for-any-average-human-to-grasp O'Brien system only buys you one half as the starter when you're just not very good at playing quarterback. Tom Savage found this out, not that he had much help around him.
The Jaguars basically thieved Houston's forecasted modus operandi for this season — THEY had the mistake-free quarterback, THEIR front seven was dominant (ten sacks — TEN!!), THEY forced turnovers, THEY put the game away with a grind-it-out running game.
The Texans? Well, they looked like the Jags of the past three seasons. Now, let's dive deeper with winners and losers...
4. Duane Brown
The Texans offensive line gave up ten sacks on Sunday, so there is certainly a lot more that's broken than just Duane Brown's left tackle spot. That said, Brown, wherever he was, had to be chuckling watching Kendall Lamm flub and flop around as if he were playing with the soles of his shoes covered in grease. If it's a reworking of his contract that Duane seeks, I don't know why the Texans feel so hell-bent on adhering so hard and fast to their own self-imposed rule about reworking contracts with more than a year left, especially when it's a rule that they've broken before for J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson. I get that Brown isn't at Watt's or Johnson's level as a player, but he's damn near as valuable, and now you've got the future of the franchise playing quarterback (it would seem; O'Brien should confirm that later today). If Brown is playing a game of "guts poker" — and the stakes just went WAY up the second he started missing those $553,000 game checks — then the cards came out as friendly for him as they possibly could on Sunday.
3. Leonard Fournette
For the Houston defense, the recipe all day was poisonous, as the Texans' offense couldn't sustain drives, the defensive game plan involved all sorts of exotic disguising that was probably unnecessary against a dope like Bortles (and seemed more confusing to the guys trying to execute it), and the Jaguars were able to possess the football using the bruising style of Fournette for 26 carries. The rookie was dishing out pain all day long, and showed everybody why he was the fourth pick in the draft.
2. Concussion doctors
If you are the company that handles CT scans for the Houston Texans, business just picked up for you on Sunday. The Texans have five players in concussion protocol, including all three of their tight ends (Ryan Griffin, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Stephen Anderson), linebacker Brian Cushing and wide receiver Bruce Ellington. This would already be a problem if the next game were on Sunday or Monday, but the next game is this Thursday in Cincinnati, so it's a HUGE problem. I have no idea how quickly guys can clear the concussion protocol, but three days seems aggressive. You may want to pick up Evan Baylis in your fantasy leagues (I'm somewhat joking); he's a Texans practice squad tight end who will undoubtedly get called up this week, and might be their only option at the position. (Also, expect a lot of "[fill in number of fat offensive tackle HERE] is an eligible receiver" on Thursday night.)
1. Cleveland Browns
The one benefit of having a terrible season, something that is entirely in play right now for the Texans, is that you get a high pick in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately for the Texans, the Cleveland Browns own their first and second round picks, so we are enduring this sucking so Cleveland fans can have all sorts of fun on draft night. (NOTE: If Deshaun Watson turns into the quarterback of the future for this team, then the Browns can have the Texans' whole 2018 draft, for all I care. For now, it just stings.)
4. Tom Savage
Let's be realistic about what Tom Savage is — he has a strong arm and decent size, but he also has lead feet and an internal clock in the pocket that may as well be a sundial. In short, he is the absolute worst kind of quarterback to put behind an offensive line that has four bad players and a decent center. So naturally, Bill O'Brien spent the entire offseason, roughly four months, working Savage with the 1's, treating him like a starter, telling the media "Tom's our guy," and espousing from on high about how important it was that Tom had spent time in O'Brien's vaunted system (NOTE: I hate O'Brien's vaunted system.), only to throw the entire picture against the wall at halftime, shatter it into a million pieces, render four months of OTAs and training camp moot and insert Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Don't get me wrong, I think Watson should be the guy, but what in the hell were we doing for the past four months? (More on this in a minute...)
3. Xavier Su'a-Filo
If the O'Brien era comes to an end any time in the next season or so, ground zero for the seeds of failure will be traced back to the 33rd pick in the 2014 draft, when the Texans drafted Su'a-Filo with acute needs at quarterback (among MANY other more important positions than left guard). In order for Su-a-Filo to have been the right pick, given where the Texans were (and in many ways still are) as a roster, he'd have had to become Will Shields. At this point, he may as well be Brooke Shields. Su'a-Filo is just not good, was awful again Sunday, and now with Watson back there, the smart money is on him to be the lineman who gets Deshaun Watson maimed. (On the bright side, Su'a-Filo had as many tackles on Sunday as Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt combined, so there's that.)
2. Mike Vrabel
It was an inauspicious debut for Vrabel in his new role as play caller on the defensive side of the ball. The Texans' front seven spent the first quarter and a half trying to get way too cute with their formations, and instead of leading to a dominant performance, it led to mass confusion and gigantic holes for Fournette and Chris Ivory to run through. The defense got exactly zero sacks and zero turnovers, two areas that everyone involved with the defense said they were focused on improving in 2017.
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1. (tie) Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith
Truth be told, the Texans' loss to the Jags on Sunday was less about the week of preparation leading up to the game and more about the series of decisions that have been made by the head coach and general manager over the past four years. Defensively, the Texans will be fine. That game yesterday will wind up being an outlier for Vrabel's crew. But offensively, this team has miraculously found a way to get worse offensively AFTER trading Brock Osweiler. Do you have any idea how difficult that is? And they've arrived at this point because of the decisions of O'Brien and Smith — the decision to enter the preseason with no wide receiver more experienced than DeAndre Hopkins, the decision to just stare at Duane Brown while he held out, the decision to roll with Kendall Lamm at left tackle and Breno Giacomini at right tackle, the decision to keep waddling Xavier Su'a-Filo out there, the decision to draft Su'a-Filo in the first place, the decision to sign Jeff Allen over keeping Brandon Brooks, the decision to sign Lamar Miller and then have him run plays like he's Alfred Blue, every mind-numbing decision made at the quarterback position since the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick up to the insertion of Deshaun Watson into Sunday's game.
Smith and O'Brien have committed malpractice on the offensive side of the football for four years, and should be served papers for punitive damages by the city of Houston for the wounds inflicted on our collective eyes. One game into the 2017 season, the Texans are on their way to regressing on offense for the fourth straight season, and considering the starting point was an offense led by Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2014 that floated in the mid-20's somewhere in the DVOA metrics, O'Brien is on his way to doing something that is darn near mathematically impossible. At this rate, the Texans are about two seasons away from just taking a knee three times every series and then punting.
Ironically, O'Brien's itchy, preseason-deleting trigger finger might have led to the one correct decision he's made on the offensive side of the ball — the insertion of Watson into the lineup. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'. It's time to let Deshaun Watson try to get this franchise moving in the right direction.
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.