In the Houston Texans' first three games of the 2020 season, it was generally accepted that their opponents were on a different level than the Texans were. The Chiefs and the Ravens are two of the three best teams in football, and the Texans' opponent last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is not far behind the Chiefs and Ravens. So the thought was the game yesterday against the Minnesota Vikings would be very telling as to where exactly the Texans reside in the tapestry of NFL teams.
Until yesterday, the Texans and Vikings were mirror images of each other, with identical 0-3 records, seventh year head coaches trying to get over some figurative career hump, and similar issues on defense. Namely, neither team could stop a nosebleed, let alone an opposing NFL offense. So Sunday was a crossroads kind of game for both teams, with the loser being relegated to the tier of NFL teams just above the woeful New York Giants and New York Jets.
So we got our answer as to what exactly the Houston Texans are — they are, by nearly any measurement, one of the worst teams in the NFL. Poorly coached, poorly constructed, not very talented, and operating with the swagger of a nerdy bookworm on Venice Beach. The Vikings won the game 31-23. Once again, all of the Texans' warts were on full display in front of a COVID-reduced crowd of around 20 percent capacity at NRG Stadium.
Let's lay out the winners and losers....
4. People betting against the Texans scoring on their opening drive
Say this about the Texans — they are remarkably consistent at failure. For the fourth straight game, they went three downs and out on their first possession of the game. This is an ugly trend for Deshaun Watson and Bill O'Brien that dates back to the first week of the 2018 regular season, a 35-game regular season stretch with Watson under center in which the Texans have scored exactly ONE touchdown on an opening drive. They've now punted on 21 of those 35 drives, with a dozen three and outs. They are averaging 3.45 yards per play on those drives. This is embarrassing.
3. The Houston Astros
If someone had told you a month ago that, in the first week of October, everyone would have checked out on the Texans and people would be fired up for an Astros playoff run, they may have believed the first part (I mean, it IS Bill O'Brien we are talking about here), but no way they'd have believed the Astros part of that statement. But don't look now, those two wild card wins in the sweep of the Twins last week have rejuvenated a fan base, even if just for a few days. The Astros begin their fourth straight trip to the divisional round of the postseason (five in six years) Monday afternoon against the Oakland A's in the COVID playoff bubble in Los Angeles. There will be very little good distraction that the Texans will provide. (Who knows, though. Maybe they pursue Earl Thomas again!)
2. Will Fuller
One fo the few bright spots on Sunday, Fuller continued his hit or miss 2020 season — remember against Baltimore when he wasn't targeted at all the whole game? — with six catches for 108 yards, and a touchdown. Unfortunately, the most memorable play for Fuller on the afternoon was the play that wasn't — a juggling effort in the end zone on fourth and goal that was originally called a potential game tying touchdown, and then overturned upon review.
1. Dalvin Cook
Here's how bad the Texans' rushing defense has been this season — they gave up 162 yards rushing, and it was a major improvement statistically. Still, 162 cards given up is pathetic, and the beneficiary was Dalvin Cook, and anybody who owned him in fantasy football. Cook, who was recently given a lucrative contract extension last month, finished with 27 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown. I am cringing as I think of some of the opponents lurking on the Texans' schedule — Derrick Henry and the Titans, the Browns and their stable of backs, the Colts and Jonathan Taylor. Yikes.
4. J.J. Watt
This is what J.J. Watt has been relegated to — a completely miserable fountain of curt answers, with all the charm of a hostage in a propaganda video....
Short, frustrated J.J. Watt answers have logged on pic.twitter.com/CLvVzkxfpE— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 4, 2020
I feel awful for Watt, who should demand a trade after this season, if O'Brien is kept after, say, a 5-11 season. Hell, 5-11 looks like a Lombardi Trophy right now.
3. Tim Kelly
So on Sunday morning before the game, we got this little gem from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
With an 0-3 start, and a talented offense near the bottom of the league, the Houston Texans are making some changes.
Head coach Bill O'Brien will be far more involved in game-planning and play-calling, sources say, after attempting to take a step back from both to begin the season. While offensive coordinator Tim Kelly will still physically relay the plays in to quarterback Deshaun Watson, O'Brien will take a heavy hand in which plays are called, just like he was intimately involved with the game plan.
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Now it's an 0-4 start, and O'Brien's handpicked pupil, whose football IQ was lauded throughout the offseason, with O'Brien saying that Kelly could be a future head coach, is losing his play calling privileges three games into the season. This thing is a mess.
2. DeAndre Carter
Hey, remember when the Chiefs were beginning to turn the tide against the Texans in the playoffs last season, when they cut the lead to 24-14, and the DeAndre Carter fumbled the kickoff which essentially dumped a vat of lighter fluid onto a burgeoning inferno? Well, Carter did it again on Sunday, fumbling a punt in the first half to allow the Vikings a possession that gave them their first two-score lead. It's one thing to turn the ball over on special teams, if you're a player who makes up for that in other ways. However, best I can tell, DeAndre Carter's sole existence on the Texans is to catch punts cleanly and then return them for very little yardage. He doesn't belong in the league, really. Carter is a fun story (he was substitute teaching a few years ago when the NFL came calling), and a nice guy, but he is one of several Texan players who are on the team solely for good practice habits and a likable nature. Unacceptable.
1. David Johnson
Four games in, and the DeAndre Hopkins trade is shaping up to be one of the worst in the history of sports in this town. Bad enough that Hopkins went into the weekend leading the NFL in coaches and receiving yards, but Johnson, the player coming over to the Texans in that deal, has been an abject failure as this team's lead back. On the Texans' final drive of the game in Sunday, Johnson fumbled a speed option pitch from Watson on third and goal, after being stymied from one yard out on second and goal. above and beyond that, Johnson just looks slow and plodding, and not worth a penny of the $11 million the Texans are paying him this season.