If we've learned anything in the first couple weeks of the 2019 NFL season, it's that judging the difficulty of a team's schedule during the preceding offseason is folly. The Texans, on paper, and in June, had one of the hardest first seven game stretches of any team in football. Then, important pieces of those first seven opponents began dropping like flies, guys like Nick Foles, potentially Cam Newton, Tyreek Hill, and Andrew Luck (voluntarily dropping like a fly by retiring).
Suddenly, this patch of games appears to be much more manageable, which is what makes this Sunday's game against the Chargers in Los Angeles so pivotal. The Chargers have issues of their own in the secondary (injuries galore) and the area of offensive weaponry (Melvin Gordon's holdout), not to mention the fact that they play in a city that ignores them, in a stadium that holds just 27,000 people, most of whom will be Texans fans on Sunday.
This game on Sunday was labeled by me as a "STEAL" game before the season, meaning if the Texans won the game, it would feel like found money. Now, though, the Texans find themselves just a three point underdog. Beating the Chargers is absolutely doable, so let's see what needs to happen for the Texans to come away with the win.
4. Chargers depleted secondary
Last week's game against the Jaguars was one of the roughest, statistically, for Deshaun Watson, who completed just 16 of 29 pass attempts, and was unable to consistently push the ball downfield. Assuming the Texans can protect Deshaun (and that is a major, MAJOR assumption, what with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the passer for LA), he should have more success on Sunday. The Chargers are without their Pro Bowl safety Derwin James, and they lost backup Adrian Phillips in the game against the Lions last week. A depleted Charger secondary should be just what the doctor ordered for DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills.
3. Texans running game
Of course, the Texans will need to be balanced to take full advantage of the holes in the Charger defense, and the good news is that, so far, the running game has been one of the somewhat surprising bright spots for the Texans. Consider, for a moment, that when training camp started, the Texans planned on the following components being in these roles in the run game:
RB1: Lamar Miller
RB2: D'Onta Foreman
LT: Matt Kalil
RT: Seantrel Henderson
Now, it looks like this:
RB1: Carlos Hyde
RB2: Duke Johnson
LT: Laremy Tunsil
RT: Roderick Johnson
Say what you will about Bill O'Brien the GM, perhaps, not really grasping the value of draft choices in trades and such, but this is a massive four person upgrade. Massive. And it shows in the numbers, most prominently with Hyde gaining 173 yards on 30 carries (good for fifth in the NFL), and zero carries for negative yardage.
2. Whitney Mercilus' career season (so far)
We are only two games in, and on the stat sheet, it's been a rough go for J.J. Watt, who has yet to register a sack, and has just two tackles and one QB hit, much of that slow start attributable to constant double teams from opposing offensive lines. I suppose, though, that those double teams for Watt are a little easier to tolerate, so long as the Texan rushing the passer from the other side is doing what Whitney Mercilus is doing:
#Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus (@Merci380) has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. This marks his 2nd career Player of the Week award & first since Week 1 of 2016.— Texans PR (@TexansPR) September 18, 2019
Mercilus finished with 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hits and two total tackles in Week 2. pic.twitter.com/pZAVb93T03
It's only two games, so there is still plenty of season left, but thus far, Mercilus is putting on a clinic in how to perform during a contract year. Also, he has done far more for the Texans in two games than Jadeveon Clowney has done for the Seahawks in two games (three tackles, one sack in which he was credited for the sack because he chased Andy Dalton out of bounds).
1. O'Brien closing the deal
After blowing the huge Week 1 opportunity in New Orleans, we are down to three sure fire games that would qualify as the biggest victory of the Bill O'Brien Era if the Texans head coach can lead the team to victory — this Sunday's game, Week 6 against the Chiefs, and Week 13 versus New England. (NOTE: Week 11 at Baltimore is trending in that direction, as well.) In previous opportunities to secure a huge win on the road, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, here's what happened:
* Week 3, 2017 @ New England: Texans kick FG to go up 33-28 with 2:24 to go
* RESULT: LOSE 36-33, defense gives up 8 play, 75 yard TD drive in final minute
* Week 7, 2017 @ Seattle: Texans left field up 38-34 with 1:39 to go
* RESULT: LOSE 41-38, defense gives up 3 play, 80 yard TD drive in final minute
* Week 16, 2018 @ Philadelphia: Texans score TD to go up 30-29 with 2:04 to go
* RESULT: LOSE 32-30, defense gives up 11 play, 72 yard drive for last second FG
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* Week 1, 2019 @ New Orleans: Texans score TD to go up 28-27 with 0:37 to go
* RESULT: LOSE 30-28, defense gives up 6 play, 35 yard drive for last second FG
Gotta close the deal this time, Bill. However, until you do, I can't, in good conscience, pick your team in this spot. I can't.
SPREAD: Texans +3
PREDICTION: Chargers 23, Texans 21
SEASON RECORD: 2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS