Sean Pendergast

Four Things the Texans Must Find Out Before Season's End

It's time to let Davis Mills quarterback this team the rest of the way.
It's time to let Davis Mills quarterback this team the rest of the way. Photo by Eric Sauseda
From the time that Deshaun Watson officially demanded a trade, on the same day that the Houston Texans hired the woeful David Culley as their head coach, we knew this day was coming, but until it's put into a Twitter graphic, it doesn't really hit home, but here goes — the Houston Texans were the first team to be eliminated from the 2021 NFL playoff race yesterday.

Now, admittedly part of the Texans' planting the flag in this hill of incompetency FIRST was due to the fact that the Jaguars didn't play until the afternoon yesterday — the Jags joined the Texans on the "laugher list" by dinnertime — but this is a precipitous crash for a team that was up 24-0 in a divisional round playoff game less than two seasons ago.

This season is lost for the Texans, and it probably won't be the last lost season before the Texans return to relevance (if that happens in our lifetimes). For now, it is up to the franchise to do what's in the best interests of the team, and right now, that is finding out what pieces you have for 2022 and beyond. Thus, forget about actual wins, these are the things the Texans need to prioritize for the rest of the season:

4. Can David Mills be a competent NFL quarterback?
For weeks, head coach David Culley and been adamant that Tyrod Taylor is the quarterback that gives the Texans the best chance to win, and the only way Taylor would NOT start would be because he sustained an injury. Well, Taylor reportedly suffered some slight bump to his left wrist on Sunday versus the Colts, but if Mills regains the starting job, it will likely be more due to the fact that (a) he and Taylor are practically identical statistically now (passer ratings both in the high 70s), and (b) it's more important to find out what exactly the Texans have in Mills, whose rookie contract runs through 2024, than the 32-year-old Taylor, who is gone after this season. For that matter, all five rookies in this 2021 draft class should see significant snaps over the last month of the season.

3. Which "one year contract veterans" do we want to keep beyond 2021?
The Texans already made one decision on one of the gaggle of veterans signed to one year deals, when they extended CB/KR Tremon Smith, giving him a contract for 2022 at a little over a million bucks. Smith has been a nice versatile piece for the Texans on defense and special teams. The veteran names that are higher up the priority list for me are all also on defense — defensive tackle Maliek Collins, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, and cornerback Desmond King. All of these veteran players have been, at a minimum, very solid for the Texans, and I would welcome back all three on reasonable deals for the next couple years.

2. Can Tytus Howard play tackle, maybe even LEFT tackle?
Until two weeks ago against the Jets, Howard had been playing left guard all season, and floundering horrifically. Pro Football Focus had Howard rated as the worst guard in the league. Howard, the Texans' first round pick in 2019, had spent his first two seasons at right tackle, so thankfully, the team appears to have punted on the experiment of Howard at guard, and they're going to let him sink or swim as a tackle for the rest of the season. Even better, if regular starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil continues to stay on the injured reserve list, maybe Howard plays well enough to where the team shops Tunsil this offseason to playoff teams in need of offensive line help, albeit expensive offensive line help, as Tunsil is the Texans' highest paid player not named "Deshaun Watson."

1. Can Pep Hamilton call plays better than Tim Kelly can?
The Texans started off the first month of the season as one of the least talented, worst executing offensive teams in all of football. Somehow, they've managed to actually get worse throughout the season. If it were possible to be ranked lower than 32nd in any offensive metric (in a 32 team league), this Texans' offense might find a way to do it. So why not whack the guy calling the plays, Bill O'Brien staff holdover Tim Kelly, and give quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton a shot at it. I have no idea if Hamilton would want the responsibility of trying to fix what might be unfixable without new players, but the coaching staff needs to be evaluated for the future the same way the roster does. It starts with the offense.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast