On Sunday, in Pittsburgh, the Houston Texans fell to 0-3 on the season for the second time in the last three years under Bill O'Brien. Two seasons ago, in 2018, the Texans were able to pull the plane out of a nosedive, recover with a nine game wining streak, and go 11-5 and win the AFC South. Of course, they would go on to lose at home in the wild card round of the playoffs, but overall, the resilience of the year in total was commendable.
I am here to tell you, that THIS version of 0-3 feels NOTHING like the one from 2018. Oh sure, the Texans may pull out of the free fall — hell, the next two games are against the Vikings and Jaguars, a combined 1-5 this season — but this is a franchise that is going nowhere in the grand scheme of things. The first three weeks of this season were the test of Bill O'Brien's and Jack Easterby's grand plan, built on a foundation of "dependable, tough, smart" players as the primary criteria., with being "good at football" seemingly taking a back seat.
Three games in, it stinks. All of it. It stinks. I could live with 0-3 if the Texans hadn't spent most of the 12 quarters of football the last three weeks looking like the JV to the Chiefs', Ravens', and Steelers' varsity. O'Brien made big moves this offseason, presumably as an avenue to ASCEND in the AFC, not backslide to "very clearly light years behind the elite" in the AFC.
That's where they are now. Going nowhere, burning daylight on J.J. Watt's twilight years and Deshaun Watson's prime, with inept play calling, infuriating personnel moves, no concept of player value, and no answers to the question "What now?"
The Steelers won 28-21 on Sunday. That doesn't begin to open the can of worms that has become the "Oust O'Brien" campaign that Texan fans are about to unleash. Winners and losers, let's go....
4. Ben Roethlisberger
My feeling about the Steelers coming into this season as that they would be the third best team in the AFC, if Ben Roethlisberger returned from elbow surgery healthy and productive. Well, he has done just that, and on Sunday, it wasn't necessarily a vintage Big Ben performance, but at 23 of 36 for 237 yards, two touchdown passes and no picks, it was certainly good enough to where that would have won at least two or three more games for the Steelers last season, when their starters were Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges. Roethlisberger looked to be about 85 percent of Peak Ben, which with that defense, is good enough to make a run at the Super Bowl.
3. T.J Watt
Speaking of the Steelers' defense, in the battle of the Watt Brothers, T.J. won in fairly convincing fashion. That's no knock on J.J. Watt (and Derek left the game with a hamstring injury), who is operating with far less help than T.J. has in that Steeler front seven, but a sack, two TFL's, and four quarterback hits speak loudly for his impact on the game. The three brothers did get a nice photo opportunity before the game....
The family photo! Where everyone's a winner!
2. Randall Cobb
If we are looking for one of O'Brien's moves that at least be categorized as "ascending," perhaps it's the signing of Cobb, which looked disastrous after Week 1 (two meaningless catches against the Chiefs), better in Week 2 (5 catches, 59 yards versus the Ravens), and pretty damn solid yesterday (4 catches, 95 yards, and a touchdown). The problem is that the three key pieces in the receiving corps can't seem to synch up and achieve productivity the same week. One week, it's Fuller. Then, it's Cooks. Now, Cobb. At some point, these complementary pieces are going to have to actually complement one another, win no small part because....
1. DeAndre Hopkins
..... is destroying the league out in Arizona. On Sunday, in the Cardinals first loss on the season, Hopkins had 10 catches for 137 yards. He now has 32 catches on 37 targets, which should surprise nobody. Perhaps, where his absence is showing up most for the Texans is in their inability to extend most of their drives Sunday beyond a three-and-out. Among their ten drives, they had three touchdowns, an interception, and six mind-numbing three-and-outs. You'd have to believe Hopkins moves the chains at least a few times on those drives, keeping the Texans' defense off the field long enough to get a cup of water.
4. Texans opening drives
Of course, an inability to extend drives beyond one third down is just called "tradition" on Texan opening drives. On Sunday, for the third straight week, the Texans' offense went three and out on their opening drive, bringing their astoundingly crappy numbers on opening drives during the regular season with Deshaun Watson at quarterback to the following since Week 1 of 2018:
20 punts (11 three and outs)
7 field goals
4 fumbles lost
1 missed field goal
3.5 yards per play
I have nothing left to say. Just print those numbers, and use it as toilet paper, Appropriate metaphor.
3. Texans 2020 draft class
We know that Bill O'Brien values draft picks, the same way that an alcoholic values brain cells. Completely expendable, despite the fact they are necessary for survival (figurative and actual, respectively). That said, if you're going to just burn money on overpriced contracts for Zach Cunningham, Whitney Mercilus, Nick Martin, Randall Cobb, Eric Murray, David Johnson, Darren Fells, and on and on and on, then you need to hit on some of your (paltry and infrequent) draft choices. They re the cheap labor that at least masks SOME of the overspending. Well, on Sunday, here was the Texans' inactive list....
If you're scoring at home, that's the first THREE picks in the Texans' 2020 draft all INACTIVE for the game on Sunday. Yet another broken piece of the O'Brien/Easterby machine.
2. Mike Devlin
Hey, speaking of broken, the Texans' offensive line! Perhaps you've heard, they've invested multiple high picks in the offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be a strength of this team. They even made Laremy Tunsil the highest paid offensive lineman in football. Well, they have the WORST rushing offense in football (truthfully, there may be one or two statistically worse, but my eyes tell me the Texans SUCK at rushing the football, and therefore, to me, they are the WORST). They had 29 yards in 15 carries Sunday. That's nothing new for this group, though. They sucked at run blocking last season, too. At least they can pass block, right? Think again! They allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked five times and hit a dozen times on Sunday. Watson is on pace to be sacked 69 times and hit 165 times this season. For some context, in 2018, when the line had his lung literally collapsed by Week 6, they gave up 62 sacks and 133 QB hits. No good times.
1. David Johnson
Bill O'Brien described David Johnson as an "excellent three down back" in the preseason, in trying to explain his thinking behind trading the best wide receiver in football in a deal that brought back Johnson (at his full salary of $11 million) and the draft pick used to take Ross Blacklock (who was inactive on Sunday, did I mention that?). Johnson, again, had 13 carries for 23 yards on Sunday, and here is the REALLY disheartening part about that:
Did I mention that DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 137 yards on Sunday?