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Know Your Enemy: Houston Texans

Next up in the 2020 Know Your Enemy series is the defending AFC South Champion Houston Texans. The Texans went 10-6 in 2019 under Head Coach Bill O’Brien. Houston was 5-3 at home and on the road. The Texans lost a heartbreaker to the Chiefs after blowing a big lead in Kansas City in a wild shoot-out. The Texans came back down 16 against the Bills in the Wild Card round. They are still a playoff caliber team for 2020 despite some big changes.

DeShaun Watson continued his strong career with a 98 QB rating. However, O’Brien made a huge change trading stud WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals this offseason. The defense is led by DC Anthony Weaver as they look to improve in 2019. Houston was middle of the pack on defense allowing 24.1 PPG and middle of the pack on offense scoring 23.6 points per game. The Texans still have a solidly built team but it will be a little different in 2020.

Strengths

Passing Game

The Texans lose Hopkins (1,165 yards and 7 TDs) but still have plenty of weapons for DeShaun Watson (98 QB rating). Will Fuller (26th out of 122, 670 yards 3 TDs) will need to step up and stay healthy, Brandin Cooks is a nice addition if he can stay healthy from concussions and return to 2018/prior form to be a 1,000 yard receiver again.

Keke Coutee (254 yards) showed flashes last year but got hurt and Randall Cobb is still a solid veteran slot man and is added from the Cowboys. Veteran Kenny Stills is a good option as well (561 yards and 4 TDs). The Texans have no top tier 1 WR but plenty of good WRs that Watson can spread the ball around too.

Darren Fells (341 yards and 7 TDs), Jordan Atkins (418 yards and 2 TDs) and Jordan Thomas are average at best tight ends but provided a red-zone punch. Atkins and Thomas head into year 3 of their careers.

DeShaun Watson should have average to solid protection as well plus can move and extend the play (see Bills playoff game). We’ll see if that crazy trade losing Hopkins for David Johnson and 2nd round pick works out for the Texans.

Linebacker and JJ Watt

Bendarick McKinney is a good underrated Mike LB. Zach Cunningham has played well at Will LB as well. Whitney Mercilus (7.5 sacks) is typically a good pass rusher but had a down year in 2019. The Texans multiple front will need these LBs to have another good year. Jonathan Greenard was added in Round 3 to play JACK LB.

JJ Watt if healthy is always a defensive player of the year candidate. You can’t deny JJ Watt. He has reservations about playing in the COVID environment and is very oft-injured.

Could be Strength or Weakness

Protection and Run Game

Laremy Tunsil is a rock-solid LT (21st out of 82) and he better be after getting a 22 million per year contract this offseason. Max Scharping was below average his rookie year but is 2019 2nd round pick with potential at LG. Nick Martin was an average center at 17th ranked. Zach Fulton is a below average RG but Charlie Heck was drafted in Round 4 for competition. Tytus Howard is a first round pick from 2019 that was below average at RT but is a project from a small school.  Howard, Scharping and Martin all are high picks with potential to improve to help Watson. This will be a wild car for 2020.

Run Game

Carlos Hyde had a 1,000-yard season at 4.4 YPC (6 TDs) but he does not return in 2020. Instead, the Texans traded for David Johnson. Johnson had a terrible two years for the Cardinals and is on the decline (3.7 YPC in 2019 and 3.6 YPC in 2018 and injured Week 1 in 2017). The Texans see potential though and will pair him with receiving RB Duke Johnson (410 yards at 4.9 YPC). Duke is more of a receiver typically but will be the second back for Houston. Watson adds a big element to the running game though (413 yards in 2019 and over 500 in 2018).

Weaknesses

Run Defense

The Texans lost stud NT DJ Reader in free agency. Eddie Vanderdoes and rookie 2nd round pick Justin Blalock will have to fill the void. Watt should be a beast though and Angelo Blackson is a terrible DE though (117 out 118). I think the Texans will miss Reader greatly though in run defense.

Secondary

The Texans have lots of former 1st round talent in Bradley Roby, Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves at CB. All have been average to below average CBs.  Second round pick in 2019 Lonnie Johnson had a rough rookie season but they look for him to step up in year 2. John Reid was drafted in Round 4 as well for nickel depth. The Texans have talent but will need a pass rush to mask the secondary.

Eric Murray was added from the Browns but is an average SS. Justin Reid was the 13th ranked safety out of 85 and continues to develop as a 2018 3rd round pick. Reid will need to step up to help lead and fix this secondary. Texans need Mercilus and Watt to wreak havoc to have any chance at avoiding shoot-outs.

Overall

The Texans host the Vikings Week 4 and the Packers Week 7. The Texans travel to Chicago Week 14 and go to Detroit for the Thanksgiving game in Week 12. Hopefully the Detroit game is not a repeat of the 2012 Thanksgiving game (*cuts to Jim Schwartz throwing red challenge flag). Like the Colts/Titans, the Texans can beat anyone or lose to anyone in the NFC North. They have talent and a good QB and can win shoot-outs against playoff teams. They have just enough on defense to come up with a solid game there too every once in awhile. The Texans were a playoff team for a reason. We’ll see if Hopkins and Reader gone will make the Texans crumble or not and if David Johnson/Brandin Cooks can revive their careers with Watson.