My three favorite Texans are Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson.
Watching two of them go down for the year in the course of one drive was a nightmare all of us want to wake up from immediately. It’s a nightmare Houston has to live with until next season.
When Watson first took over for Tom Savage behind the pasta-strainer known as the Texans’ offensive line, I thought for sure he’d be the first of my Texans Trinity to hit the training table.
Having Whitney go down in a manner like what happened with Mario Williams years ago was unimaginable.
Then watching J.J. drop a few plays later made time slow down and eerie horror movie music start playing in my mind.
How could this be happening? How could this team go on from a roller coaster ride of offseason hype to offensive disaster to the greatest game in Texans’ history to this? All in the span of a few months…
Unfortunately, the NFL tends to have seasons like this on an increasingly frequent basis. There are years where it seems a record number of superstar players go down in horrible ways.
Looking into the future, I’m sure Whitney Mercilus will recover and return to form next year.
But while J.J. is nigh superhuman, every man’s body has its limit of what it can endure and recover from.
NFL Films has an old episode about the great Dick Butkus. For those too young to know the name, Butkus was a Chicago Bears linebacker from 1965 to 1973. He was the first defender to ever completely lock down the game the way Watt has over the last few years. After an early career of utter domination, including winning Defensive Player of the Year twice, Butkus suffered a devastating knee injury. During the NFL Films piece, an old Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman referred to Butkus as the wounded lion that everyone wanted to pay back for the years of decimation he wrought on their teams. After that comment film of cheap shots by the bushel rolled.
The idea of J.J. Watt hobbled by a bad leg, a questionable back, and who knows what else, enduring unsportsmanlike abuse from previously embarrassed opponents, is unbearable (no pun intended).
However, that’s a discussion for next year.
Right now, the focus is filling the gaps left by Merc and Watt.
Bill O’Brien stated, “You don’t replace a guy like J.J. with just one person” and unless Houston can manage to trade Duane Brown for Khalil Mack, Von Miller or Justin Houston, I don’t see one man replacing Merc either.
The vaunted, most feared front seven of the preseason is now down three (Brian Cushing, Watt and Mercilus) with guys like Dylan Cole and Zach Cunningham stepping up to take their place on the front lines. Beyond them, the Texans don’t have much to help oft-injured Jadeveon Clowney.
And make no mistake, Clowney will be lucky to make it through the year healthy with what’s going to be expected of him by defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and what’s going to be thrown at him by opposing offensive coordinators and less than sportsmanlike opposing offensive linemen.
Where does that leave the Texans?
Looking outside the locker room for help.
But the Houston brass does have a little trade capital in Pro Bowl left tackle turned unhelpful teammate Duane Brown. Maybe a team with a nearly comparable offensive line like Seattle might take Brown in exchange for Bobby Wagner. Maybe O’Brien can convince Bill Belichick to trade Brown for D’Onta Hightower (not likely). Maybe the Chargers might consider moving Melvin Ingram – I mean, no one is watching them anyway, so why not give Philip Rivers a little more protection before he rides off into the sunset?
Realistically, the Texans will probably elevate a practice squad guy, sign another off some other team’s waivers, and do their best with the pieces already on the board.
Hopefully, facing the hapless Cleveland Browns this week will give the Texans some stability heading into the bye week before they travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks, who have an even worse offensive line than Houston currently employs. That could put Houston back on the right side of .500 going into November when the Texans host the Colts on the 5th.
Somewhere in that span, general manager Rick Smith is going to have to do something to shore up the best front-seven-turned-best-front-four in football. Hopefully he does a better job than he has shoring up the other side of the trenches.
What do you think? How would you move on without Merc and Watt?