Is Brian Cushing auditioning for his 2018 job with the Texans?
Is Brian Cushing auditioning for his 2018 job with the Texans?
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Five Houston Texans For Whom These Last Two Games Matter

Longtime coaching great Bill Parcells once said, of NFL performance, "You are what your record is," meaning that there are no excuses, there are no qualifiers — at the end of the day, if your record is, say, 4-10, then that's what you are.

That's all well and good, but here in Houston, where the 4-10 Texans are getting ready to set an NFL record for number of players used on their active roster in a single season, we know that when the ashes of whatever-record-the-Texans-end-up-with (put me down for 4-12) are smoldering, many of the fixes will involve mere rehab of injuries by players already in the fold.

Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, D'Onta Foreman, Ryan Griffin, Nick Martin, D.J. Reader... these are all players on injured reserve as of this week, and, like Frosty the Snowman, they will all be back again someday. So while the walls come crumbling down on the 2017 season, and 4-12 looks like the likely landing spot, there remains purpose for these last two games for a handful of the non-injured.

If you're searching for reasons to watch the final two Texan games of the season (non-gambling reasons, that is), here are five players to track:

Kevin Johnson's play has taken a drastic dip this season.
Kevin Johnson's play has taken a drastic dip this season.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

5. KEVIN JOHNSON, CB
The third year cornerback out of Wake Forest has been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2017 season, and unfortunately, it hasn't just been durability concerns, as it's been in prior seasons. Yes, Johnson did suffer another injury (knee strain) that knocked him out for a few games during the first half of the season, but what's been even more troubling has been his actual performance when healthy. His tackling, normally a strength, has not been overly reliable, but even worse, his coverage has been atrocious, leading to big plays allowed and/or pass interference penalties. With Johnson entering the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2018, since he was a first round pick, the Texans will have a decision to make in May on exercising his fifth year option for the 2019 season. Before this season, exercising the option would not have even stirred a debate, as Johnson's first two years in the NFL showed great promise (aside from the injuries), but now my guess is that it at least warrants a discussion before exercising the option. Regardless, Johnson can send the team into the offseason feeling much better with a couple big plays in these final two games, and most importantly, no explosive plays allowed.

Brian Cushing is one player to keep an eye on in these final two games.
Brian Cushing is one player to keep an eye on in these final two games.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

4. BRIAN CUSHING, LB
I will admit (again) that I was entirely wrong on how the Texans would handle Brian Cushing coming back from his PED suspension. Call me crazy, I assumed that the team would be disappointed in a player who was a repeat PED policy offender, whose contract was super pricy (in the weeks he was actually getting paid), and whose performance was average, at absolute best. Instead, Brian Cushing waltzed right back into the starting lineup and resumed his captaincy. Dopey me. The true test for how the Texans feel about Cushing will come this offseason, when they have to come to grips with a nearly $10 million cap hit for a guy who is like their third most impactful inside linebacker. Since coming back, Cushing has been getting some time at outside linebacker, so maybe he shows a thing or two there. I think there is no chance he returns at his contracted salary in 2018 (I'm guessing they ask him to take a pay cut), but if we've learned one thing over the last month, it's that I have zero clue on how the Texans will handle Brian Cushing.

Yates should start the final two games of the regular season.
Yates should start the final two games of the regular season.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

3. T.J. YATES, QB
So far, in his 2017 return to active football, Yates has had one good game (stepping in for Tom Savage against the 49ers) and one horrific game (last week's 45-7 loss to the Jaguars). It would appear that Yates is going to get the start in these last two games, and with a couple good games, he might be able to secure a backup spot heading into next season with the Texans, or at least lay down some good tape for some other team to sign him up. At this point, the ship has long since sailed on Yates being considered a regular NFL starter, but backup QB can be a nice, safe, lucrative spot for a guy in his early 30's.

DeAndre Hopkins is still gunning for accolades and records this season.
DeAndre Hopkins is still gunning for accolades and records this season.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

2. DeANDRE HOPKINS, WR
Hopkins, along with outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, was named to his second career Pro Bowl this past week. Pro Bowls are awesome, even if half the guys given the honor have no intention of playing in the actual Pro Bowl game. The REAL honor for greatness, though, is the All-Pro team, for which there are two receivers named to the first team and two to the second team. Antonio Brown, despite missing the upcoming final two games with a leg injury, has one first team spot locked up. Hopkins, as of right now, deserves the second spot, as he is second in the league in receiving yards, tied for fourth in catches, leading the league in TD catches, and has done all of that with three quarterbacks throwing him the football, and two of them are Tom Savage and T.J. Yates. Hopkins also has an outside chance at breaking Andre Johnson's single season franchise records for catches and/or yards — he's already broken his own franchise record for receiving touchdowns in a season —  with 24 catches and 286 yards. Hopkins makes at least a couple plays every weekend where you go "How the hell did he do that?", so if you paid for tickets, you at least get SOMETHING.

For the first time in his life, David Quessenberry gets his shot in an actual NFL game.
For the first time in his life, David Quessenberry gets his shot in an actual NFL game.
Screenshot from houstontexans.com

1. DAVID QUESSENBERRY, G
And now we get to the one really good reason to watch this game on Monday afternoon. Normally, I wouldn't recommend focusing in on interior line play, especially with this year's version of the Texans' line, mostly because then your eyes would theoretically run past the performance on any given play of Xavier Su'a-Filo, and I'm told that can cause nausea. However, on Monday, David Quessenberry will make his NFL debut, nearly five full seasons after being drafted in the spring of 2013, and after countless treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma (treatments that ended earlier this year, even though he's been cancer-free since 2015), Quessenberry has been called up to the Texans' active roster. Bill O'Brien has said that Quessenberry WILL play on Monday, and with some anticipated shuffling along the line with Nick Martin going to injured reserve, a spot at right guard could be there for Quessenberry's taking. How cool would it be, on Christmas Day, to see Quessenberry introduced as the starting right guard? It would be worthy of a Watt-post-Harvey-sized ovation. Beyond the feel-good portion of the story, Quessenberry will be in a fight for a spot on this team in 2018, so a couple good games would be a nice way to head into the offseason for him.

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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