DISLAIMER: This post was written prior to any Trade Deadline Day moves.
Within moments of CBS commentators mentioning that J.J. Watt currently led the league in quarterback pressures in 2019, Watt went down awkwardly, came up grimacing and grabbing his shoulder, and his time of quarterback harassment for this season came to an end.
When the Texans shipped Jadeveon Clowney off to Seattle for what amounts to arguably the worst trade in franchise history, all eyes landed on Watt – and rumblings arose about Watt’s durability, with him having missed significant playing time over the last three years. With Clowney and Watt delivering the lion’s share of Houston’s backfield pressure in 2018, expecting the defense to apply the same pressure without Clowney seemed fanciful at best.
But then the 2016 ghost of Whitney Mercilus woke up in 2019, terrorizing opposing offenses in ways he hadn’t in years. Maybe the loss of Clowney wasn’t as big of a deal as people surmised it to be. As long as Watt could stay healthy and Mercilus could continue to play at a lights-out level, the Houston front seven could remain one of the most feared in the league.
Unfortunately, opposing teams have figured out ways to game plan for Mercilus, whose impact has fallen off in the last month. Now J.J. Watt is out for the season, and it seems like his absence completely destroys Houston’s pass rush.
The run game to replace Watt should not be too much of an issue. They can do that with one of their current defensive lineman on the roster. The issue is the pass rush Watt gives. #Texans defense already has issues, no Watt is Defcon 5.— patrick (@PatDStat) October 28, 2019
Add to that the injuries to starting cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph, Bradley Roby and starting safety Tashaun Gipson, and this just isn’t racking up to be the Texans year on defense. There’s still some hope, with today’s NFL Trade Deadline hitting at 3 pm CDT and with several worthwhile players allegedly on the trade block.
Word out of Texans camp is the team feels like they can get by without Watt...
Bill O’Brien and Texans players have emphasized today that the nearly impossible task of replacing JJ Watt will be a group effort. Players mentioned: Whitney Mercilus, Jacob Martin, and Barkevious Mingo, who has played one defensive snap this season.— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) October 28, 2019
So replacing Clowney and Watt with Mercilus, Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo is the plan, eh?
Maybe Houston is at Defcon 5...
As a tangent, according to NBC Sports, by way of Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, several teams are inquiring about the availability of DeAndre Hopkins in trade. Bill O’Brien would have to either be full-on crazy or have completely given up on the 2019 season to let Hopkins out the door, but that’s the same sort of thinking that preceded the Clowney trade…so apparently anything goes in Bill O’Brien’s WILD WEST WIN NOW mindset.
With the wide receiver backdrop of the oft-injured Will Fuller V, the “Imma be over here in the doghouse” Keke Coutee, and the still emerging Kenny Stills, sending D-Hop out of Houston amounts to season suicide at this stage. Unless someone was willing to give up something like say, Von Miller, a first round pick, and a second round draft pick (which won’t happen).
Some of the potential trades that are far more realistic include cornerback Marcus Trufant, cornerback Chris Harris, edge rusher Vic Beasley, and a handful of other players who will hardly be able to patch the holes in Houston’s defense. The Los Angeles Rams are also allegedly looking for a trade partner to offload cornerback Aqib Talib so they can work a long-term deal with Jalen Ramsey. Talib, a former New England Patriot, might fit nicely in Romeo Crennel’s defense.
All hope is not lost, yet Houston cannot afford to stand pat today. And, no, the answer is not bringing back Alfred Blue.
No matter how you slice it, any team forced to replace not one, but two once-in-a-lifetime players in a few short months is going to have an uphill battle ahead. But that’s okay. The Texans have two more once-in-a-lifetime players in Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Deshaun Watson's kicked-in-the-eye touchdown pass with overlaid commentary from (breath): Watson, Carlos Hyde, DeAndre Hopkins, Jon Gruden, and Bill O'Brien.— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 28, 2019
"I kind of threw it blind."
"You see Michael Jordan ... you see some of the great athletic plays in any sport." pic.twitter.com/JgvEaMCYSV
When Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was making the case for Deshaun Watson to be the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, he said any team that passes on Watson will be passing on Michael Jordan.
Eleven teams passed on Watson before the Texans traded up to get him and many of them surely regret that decision after seeing how Watson has developed since coming to the NFL. Raiders coach Jon Gruden got a close look at Watson during Sunday’s 27-24 Texans win and he borrowed a page from Swinney when talking about Watson after the game.
“He wills it out of his team. He makes something out of nothing . . . it’s like going against Michael Jordan,” Gruden said, via Vic Tafur of TheAthletic.com.
Maybe, instead of targeting the obvious defensive needs, Houston should be all in on further bolstering the offensive line, which is also falling apart due to injuries. Redskins guard Brandon Scherff could certainly help shore up the line and keep people’s big feet out of Watson’s eyes. Yes, that might be the oddest sentence ever written about a franchise quarterback.
No matter which way they go, if today’s trade deadline passes with no further moves from the Texans, odds are we can expect Houston to continue looking up at the Indianapolis Colts, not to mention the AFC Champion New England Patriots, for at least another season.
What do you think? Are the injuries too much for the Texans to overcome at this point, or do you see daylight through a combination of roster moves and ‘next man up’ strategies?