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2018 Houston Texans Preview: Football Outsiders On Houston’s Offensive Line

On a scale of terrible to somewhat less terrible, how will the Texans perform up front this season?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing our Texans preview series with the writers of Football Outsiders (and in promotion of the release of their yearly Almanac, which a must-buy for all die-hard football fans), FO’s Tom Gower is back to answer the second of our five biggest questions about this Houston squad for 2018.

What are your thoughts on the Texans’ new-look offensive line this year? Most expect this to be a bottom five OL, but is it possible that they can shock the world and at least be average?

One broader point here: sacks are more a quarterback and scheme stat than an offensive line stat. My favorite natural example of that is Denver a few years ago, who went from low sack rate (Kyle Orton) to very high sack rate (Tim Tebow) back to pretty low sack rate (Peyton Manning) without that many changes in the line. Watson was sacked at a high rate last year, as were the other guys. Past Houston quarterbacks have also been pressured at high rates. Sure, those may have been slappies, but a couple years of the same thing happening suggests that regardless of whether the line is 16th or 32nd, Watson will probably be sacked and pressured at fairly high rates this year.

Looking specifically at the line, I’m not a real technical evaluator of offensive line play, so I tend to look at skill proxies like investment and demonstrated past performance. Looking at that, it’s hard to be too optimistic about Houston’s 2018 line. Davenport and Rankin were mid-round picks. Kelemete and Henderson were lower-tier free agents. Fulton got average starter money rather than Andrew Norwell money. If they come together quickly and all play up to their potential, sure, average could happen, but that feels like the top end of the range of outcomes.

Most analysts and fans expect more of the same from the Texans’ offensive line this season (and rightfully so), but is it possible that Deshaun Watson’s inevitable improvement can also lead to improvement along the offensive line? After all, zero Texans quarterbacks have been sacked so far this preseason, which perhaps speaks more to the stability and improvement in the QB room than added stability in the offensive line group through the draft or free agency.

What say you, BRB? Do you agree with Gower that Houston will likely still have a high sack rate? Or do you think it will improve just by virtue of not having Tom Savage taking ten sacks in a single game like a blind statue stuck in quick sand?