For the first time all year, the Houston Texans were forced to deal with massive roster attrition on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They went into the game with four players unable to travel due to COVID reasons, with guard Max Scharping and linebacker Jacob Martin having tested positive, and linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Dylan Cole having been sidelined due to contact tracing identifying them as high risk from being around Martin for an extended period of time.
Add in four significant injuries during the game — concussions to running back David Johnson and guard Senio Kelemete, a broken arm for linebacker Brennan Scarlett, and a hamstring for defensive lineman Charles Omenihu — along with cornerback Bradley Roby left home for disciplinary reasons, and the Texans should actually feel somewhat fortunate they escaped with a win, even over a lowly team like Jacksonville. (This just in — the Texans themselves are only a notch above "lowly.")
Things should get a little easier this coming weekend from a roster standpoint, even if the opponent (the Cleveland Browns) is a significant step up in weight class. This bit of news from Texans head coach Romeo Crennel in his Monday ZOOM press conference availability:
Romeo Crennel on players affected by COVID: “Jacob (Martin), he’s gonna be away a little longer because he was on that 10-day COVID list.” Expects Scharping, Mercilus & Cole back Wed: “Knock on wood.” Martin & Scharping tested positive. Mercilus/Cole out b/c of contact tracing pic.twitter.com/3UR5shFICG— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) November 9, 2020
While Martin is the one player of these four where, if I could, I would choose to bring him back, getting Mercilus back on the outside is almost a necessity with Scarlett likely done for some time with the broken arm. Expect Jonathan Greenard, a rookie outside linebacker who saw action on 83 percent of the defensive snaps on Sunday, to see more time again this coming weekend.
The other returning players will likely play a role this Sunday, as well. Scharping, who tested positive for COVID during the bye week after losing his starting job at left guards earlier in the season, may be stepping back into his role as a starter with Kelemete in the concussion protocol. Meanwhile, Cole's impact this Sunday will likely be more on special teams, as Tyrell Adams and Zach Cunningham are coming off one of their best collective games of the season at inside linebacker.
Unfortunately, it's taking injuries to underperforming starters for the Texans to finally get a reasonable look at some of the rookies and younger players, something that would be awfully helpful for whoever is taking over the general manager's role for this team next year. Along those lines, one other position where it could be an upgrade by subtraction is at running back, where David Johnson, a massive disappointment this season as the starting tailback after coming over in the DeAndre Hopkins trade, is in the concussion protocol. He was replaced on Sunday by Duke Johnson, whose 41 yards on 16 carries look underwhelming on paper, but if you watched the game, you could see that there were clearly a handful of short runs that would have been negative yardage stops if David Johnson were toting the rock.
The Texans are back at practice on Wednesday to get ready for the Browns, continuing a stretch of very winnable games that could see the Texans climb back to the fringe of the playoff race by early December, if they can stack some wins together.
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