After opening the 2020 NFL season with a seven game stretch that included, arguably five of the best ten teams in the sport, Sunday was supposed to make the beginning of a stretch of very winnable games for the Houston Texans — at Jacksonville, at Cleveland, home for the Patriots, and at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Technically, Sunday did prove one thing — that the first game in that stretch was indeed winnable. After all, the Texans DID win on Sunday, 27-25.
However, what we learned about this team is that, as of right now, and admittedly with a slew of absences for injury and COVID (and discipline, when, ROBY) reasons, this team is essentially the equivalent of the Jacksonville Jaguars, except they have one thing the Jags don't have. Deshaun Watson. Of the plays that were the difference in this game, most of them can be attributed to Watson's incomparable escape skills, and his electric right arm.
Let's get to some winners and losers in a game that was a win in the standings, but far from a hall pass out of NFL purgatory. Hell, at this point, purgatory would be punching up for the Texans. Here we go....
4. Opening drive success!
As has been outlined many times in this space, one of the really confounding statistical trends for a team with Deshaun Watson as its quarterback is the Texans' inability to regenerate points on opening drives. Well, guess what? That changed on Sunday! In a season where literally all of their drives had ended in a punt thus far, the Texans answered the Jaguars 75-yard TD bomb to D.J. Chark on Jake Luton's first career pass with a 57-yard Brandin Cooks catch and run to tie the game at 7-7. It was just the second time in three seasons worth of regular season starts where Deshaun Watson has engineered a touchdown in his opening drive.
3. Jake Luton
You can tell the obscurity of a player when it requires a trip to YouTube to watch old interviews with him in order to learn the correct pronunciation of his last name. And that is where I was with Jaguar starting QB Jake Luton, thumbing through old combine videos to get his name right. Well, Luton's performance on Sunday belied his obscurity, as the former sixth round pick did a lot of very nice things for a rookie making his first start. Granted, it was against a defense that is already bad at full strength, and REALLY bad with its backups dotting the lineup, but credit Luton for giving the Jaguars a chance to win the game. Alas, for the second time in two seasons, against a sixth round Jaguar rookie QB making his first start, the Texans were able to stop a two point conversion to seal the win.
2. J.J. Watt, century club
Just days after the trade deadline came and went with Watt remaining a Texan, Watt was able to get his 100th career sack, joining DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Smith, and Reggie White as the fastest players to 100 sacks in league history. After the game, Watt addressed his teammates in this speech:
I'm happy for Watt getting to that milestone, although any time he is asked about it (he was asked often the last few weeks in anticipation of this day), you can tell that it seems to serve more as a reminder of how injuries have kept him from getting there earlier than a reminder of just how truly great a player he is.
1. Deshaun Watson
With the Texans' defense a disaster and the offensive line a massive disappointment, one thing is becoming increasingly clear — the Texans' hopes of a victory every week rest on the absolute necessity that Deshaun Watson be great. He must be stupendous every week, with no margin for error. On Sunday, against a 1-6 team starting a rookie at quarterback, the Texans needed Watson to throw for 281 yards and a 109.0 passer rating, and make several big plays with his legs while escaping the seemingly inescapable, just to win by two points! Watson has been a statistical dynamo for the last month, and the Texans are 2-6, in case you need any further evidence that Bill O'Brien was an awful GM.
#Texans QB ?@deshaunwatson? joins Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Steve Young and Peyton Manning (twice) as the only five players with at least 275 passing yards & a 105 passer rating in five consecutive games in a season in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/bkvKEtnxdC— Texans PR (@TexansPR) November 8, 2020
4. Texans' health insurance provider
About the only good non-Watson thing you could say about the Texans this season is that they had managed to stay pretty healthy. That is, prior to Sunday they had. Actually, it goes back to late last week, when contact tracing from Jacob Martin's positive COVID-19 test led to Whitney Mercilus and Dylan Cole being left off the roster on Sunday. Then, in game, the Texans lost RB David Johnson (concussion), linebacker Brennan Scarlett (broken forearm), defensive end Charles Omenihu (hamstring), and guard Senio Kelemete (concussion). Add in Bradley Roby being left at home for disciplinary reasons — more on that in a moment — and the Texans' depth chart was Swiss cheese by the time the game was over.
3. Bradley Roby
On Friday, Romeo Crennel told the media that Bradley Roby had a good practice, and he was looking forward to his return from a knee injury on Sunday. Then on Saturday afternoon came this announcement from the Texans:
Houston #Texans CB Bradley Roby (not injury or COVID-19 related) will not travel with the team to Jacksonville and has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Jaguars.— Texans PR (@TexansPR) November 7, 2020
Then came this clarification from Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle:
Texans corner Bradley Roby isn't playing against the Jaguars for disciplinary reasons, according to league sources— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) November 7, 2020
Then, on Sunday, came this very angry tweet from Wilson's Chronicle colleague John McClain:
Bradley Roby didn't make the trip because of disciplinary reasons. He embarrassed himself, his teammates, his team and Texans' fans. The secondary is bad with him and awful without him. He let down his teammates at a time when he's needed the most.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) November 8, 2020
This did not sit well with Roby, who responded to McClain:
We will monitor further this week. Soap operas are fun!
2. Jadeveon Clowney
Before the season, the Tennessee Titans signed Clowney to a one year, $12 million deal to provide some semblance of a pass rush. This is less than two years after the Texans made a very competitive multiyear offer to Clowney that would have made him one of the higher paid defensive players in football. Instead, we know how it ended up. Bill O'Brien traded Cloweny to Seattle, and Clowney had had all of three sacks since then, including ZERO for the Titans this year. Now comes this news:
#Titans edge Jadeveon Clowney -- listed as questionable with a knee injury -- isn't expected to play against the #Bears, per source. @MikeGarafolo reported Clowney has a meniscus injury and may end up having surgery.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 8, 2020
So after three Pro Bowl seasons with the Texans in 2016, 2017, and 2018, Clowney is basically back where he started in his rookie year — damaged goods, with a meniscus injury, and a ton of questions about his future. Circle of life.
1. Jags Lady
As bad as the Texans are, they have still now beaten the Jags six times in a row, and they are 12-2 against Jacksonville since 2014, with the two losses coming in the Texans' horrific 4-12 season in 2017. Someone check on Jags Lady and make sure she is OK!
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