With the smell of Thanksgiving turkey in the air, just a few days away, it's officially holiday season in my house, and I refuse to let anything get me in a bad mood. Not the weather, not any bad gambling beats, and certainly not the Texans' 3-7 record. In fact, in an effort to erase Bill O'Brien from my brain, what you call a 3-7 record, I choose to call a 3-3 record UNDER INTERIM HEAD COACH ROMEO CRENNEL.
The Texans have also now won in back to back seasons against the Patriots and Bill Belichick (more progress, more optimism!), and the really good news from this past Sunday — many young Texan players who were trending either toward eventual departure or toward being tossed onto the scrap heap under a new general manager had good games, or at the very least flashed a moment or two that made you say "THERE IT IS!"
Let's run through the list of players still on their rookie deals, so 2018 draft class and forward, for whom we are hoping that Sunday is more of a trend than an outlier:
S JUSTIN REID (2018, 3rd round, 68th overall pick)
As we outlined in "Four Winners, Four Losers" for the win over the Patriots, a performance like Sunday's was a long time coming for Reid this year. He was arguably the best defensive player on the field, leading the Texans in tackles (9), tackles for loss (3), and notching his first career sack. Reid came in motivated after a subpar performance the week before:
Justin Reid on D playing ????: "That Cleveland game got away from us at the end of the game. Felt like we could've won it. Me, myself, personally, I had a lot to prove today ... we came together and really believed in the system and scheme ... knew we had to stop the run today." pic.twitter.com/77NWXZDaLG— Asinine Punk (@riversmccown) November 22, 2020
Reid was a player, coming into this season, that I viewed as one of the most likely Texans to make the "leap" to Pro bowl status, and while that's likely not happening, Reid's flashing some of the playmaking of his first two seasons would be a welcome sight for a new GM, new head coach, and Reid's teammates.
TE JORDAN AKINS (2018, 3rd round, 98th overall pick)
On Sunday, Akins was part of a three-headed monster at tight end, along with Darren Fells and Pharaoh Brown, that had five catches of 16 yards or more in the first half alone. Of those three players, Akins is the one with the most athletic upside, as shown in his catches of 22, 24, and 25 yards in the win on Sunday. After cycling through numerous tight ends since Owen Daniels was here in 2013, perhaps the Texans have found that guy for Deshaun Watson.
WR/PR KEKE COUTEE (2018, 4th round, 103rd overall pick)
Coutee's season, up until Sunday, had consisted of largely two activities on game days — either being put on the inactive list and watching in street clothes, or being on the active list and watching while in uniform. Either way, he wasn't seeing the field. Then, the Texans FINALLY cut DeAndre Carter this past week, and VOILA! Coutee had punt return duties given to him. Then, Randall Cobb went down with a toe injury during the game Sunday, and VOILA AGAIN! Coutee was one again the slot receiver! He even scored his second career touchdown!
Deshaun Watson throws it on a ROPE to Keke Coutee for the touchdown! ??pic.twitter.com/LmHUUbZd5S— Texans Nation (@TexansNationCP) November 22, 2020
Chronologically, Reid, Akins, and Coutee are the three most important "rookie contract" players on the team because a new general manager will likely need to make decisions this offseason about offering them contract extensions. That said, here are quick hits on the 2019 and 2020 rookies who figured into Sunday's win, a few with just spurts, but GOOD spurts, nonetheless:
RT TYTUS HOWARD (2019, 1st round, 23rd overall pick)
LG MAX SCHARPING (2019, 2nd round, 55th overall pick)
The two second year offensive linemen played nearly all of the snaps (Scharping played all, and Howard missed one after getting banged up) on Sunday, and were part of an offensive line effort that was stellar protecting Deshaun Watson (0 sacks, 2 QB hits), but wretched opening holes in the run game (13 carries by Texans' RB's for just 19 yards). There is work to be done, but a new offensive line coach next season will probably do wonders for these two.
S LONNIE JOHNSON (2019, 2nd round, 54th overall pick)
Johnson made the move from corner to safety in the preseason, and he has steadily grown into the role, and on Sunday, DC Anthony Weaver decided to unleash him on some blitz packages that worked very well, particularly on the 4th down stop that sealed the win. Here is Reid on the "evil twin" blitz the two executed to finish the game on Sunday:
Justin Reid on fourth-down stop: "Same double edge pressure ... they really either focus on blocking either me or Lonnie, and one of us was coming free every time ... we both came together and made the tackle ... it's definitely one of our favorite pressures." pic.twitter.com/4IukhGJciV— Asinine Punk (@riversmccown) November 22, 2020
Johnson played 65 percent of the snaps on Sunday, a positive trend for him.
DT ROSS BLACKLOCK (2020, 2nd round, 40th overall pick)
Blacklock will forever be known as the guy taken with the pick they received for DeAndre Hopkins. So far, the growth has been slow but steady. The season ending injury to P.J. Hall probably means more snaps for Blacklock.
OLB JONATHAN GREENARD (202, 3rd round, 90th overall pick)
Greenard is a similar story to Blacklock, slowly growing into his role, and on Sunday he had his first career sack:
Six more games, starting this Thursday, for this group to make an impression and put some good film out there for the next general manager and head coach.
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