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Bill O'Brien will have to figure some things out with Will Fuller now gone for the season.
Bill O'Brien will have to figure some things out with Will Fuller now gone for the season.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

NFL Week 9: Texans-Broncos — Four Things To Watch For

We've talked plenty about the NFL trade deadline in this space over the last few days, both speculating on what MIGHT happen, and then breaking down what DID happen. Here in Houston, we know what ended up happening — the Texans acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from the Denver Broncos, essentially for a 2019  fourth round pick.

It's a good deal for the Texans, one that sends a great message about what GM Brian Gaine is going to be about going forward, and one that turns this Sunday's game between the Texans and the Broncos in Denver into an interesting football Petri dish. How does dealing a franchise icon at the trade deadline adversely affect locker room morale? How does acquiring a five time Pro Bowler boost the morale of a locker room fighting for a playoff spot?

We get to see both of these questions answered on the same field on Sunday! That's football-watching efficiency, baby! Daryl Morey, efficiency aficionado, would be proud! So let's get to some other storylines we will be watching in this game on Sunday, and let's start with some of that Thomas trade reaction....

4. All the sad emojis!
In case you're wondering what Demaryius Thomas' respect level was in the Bronco locker room, here are some examples...

Man, dude was even beloved by the kicker! Wait, there's more!

Wow, so you're saying Bob McNair allowed Brian Gaine to trade for a player who didn't stand for the anthem? YA DON'T SAY! Unsurprisingly, nobody is mentioning this.

Shawshank Redemption reference. Drop the mike, right there.

3. Case Keenum's shoulder chip
So one storyline that some folks — some Bronco fans, some Texan fans, but mostly U of H fans — got quite agitated with over the course of the week was an excerpt from Case Keenum's autobiography in which he recounts his conversation with Bill O'Brien from training camp in 2014, when the Texans released Keenum to make room for Ryan Mallett (which does sound funny to type these many years later). Here it is:

"I wanted to face my destiny like a man. i also wanted to get some feedback from the coaches after they'd spent the offseason with me. I wanted to at least find out where I could improve and maybe even get some advice on taking the next steps as a player.

"That's not what happened. Coach O'Brien looked right at me and told me I'd never be more than a third-string quarterback in the NFL. I knew I hadn't performed as well as I could that preseason, but I couldn't help but feel some anger. He went on to give some more specifics, but I didn't process much after that. Here I am coming off a season in which I started eight games — some good games, some bad games — and now I was being told that I couldn't play at that level? I'm not sure if he was trying to motivate me or what, but it definitely got my competitive juices flowing. I knew that wasn't the end."

To Keenum's credit, he's been downplaying it this week, and for good reason. First, O'Brien was no different than the other 31 teams in the league at that time. Keenum wound up on the Rams' practice squad midway through the 2014 season, so any team could have had him. Second, you know which team pulled him off the Rams' practice squad? THE HOUSTON TEXANS, coached by BILL O'BRIEN. Keenum, to his credit, went 2-0 as the starter in Weeks 16 and 17 for the Texans that year. It would be two more years before Keenum would get a shot at being a full time starter, and even THAT was necessitated by a Sam Bradford injury in Minnesota. So let's call this what it is — the whole NFL has pretty much missed the boat on Keenum as a capable, mid-lower tier NFL starter. Let's not lose sight of the fact that, before Chad Kelly decided to get hepped up on goofballs and make himself a guest in a random Englewood living room, many Bronco fans wanted Kelly to get a shot at Keenum's job. At the end of the day, though, the biggest question I have is "Case Keenum wrote an autobiography?"

2. Deshaun Watson's continued ascension
For the Texans to continue their ascension in the AFC, they will need more games from Deshaun Watson like the last two. He's been incredibly efficient, with the best part of both games being his clean turnover sheet. If Deshaun Watson protects the football, and understands that, at certain times, there is value in punting or throwing the ball away, this team can beat anybody. That's how well the other two phases, defense and special teams, are performing right now. Perhaps the number I like the most is the 44 pass attempts by Watson combined over the last two games. He's been out of harm's way, with fewer chances for the defense to get after him, and that's a function of running the football. Make no mistake, the Texans will need to run the football on Sunday, because....

1. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney
...yeah, this is a pass rushing fan's dream match on Sunday. If you have a son who is aspiring to be an NFL pass rusher, just have him watch this game Sunday, and he will get to watch four of the best. Thankfully, the Texans have two of them, and this may ultimately be what decides the game. Which pass rushing tandem can either (a) get to the opposing QB more often, and/or (b) free up their teammates — Shane Ray, perhaps, for the Broncos, and Whitney Mercilus, hopefully, for the Texans — to do the same? Watson has done a nice job being mindful of his body these last couple weeks since sustaining the bruised lung against the Cowboys, it'd be nice for him to head into the bye week with a green arrow pointing up next to his health description. Also, it would be REALLY nice for the offensive line to have another game like they did against Miami, in which they allowed just ONE QB hit.

SPREAD: PICK EM
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Broncos 22
RECORD: 4-4 SU, 3-5 ATS

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.

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