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2018 Houston Texans Season Awards: Handing Out Awards

Matt Weston starts the 2018 Houston Texans season review by giving out some imaginary awards. They’re real to me dammit.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I wish I was a lawn chair. Aluminum wrangled together by plastic criss-crossed teal and white contrasting straps sitting in a patch of grass surrounded by mobile home concrete. If I could design the world to my own liking I couldn’t design it any better. Orange sun. Bright blue sky. 65 degrees. Crows clawing at my eyes. If a world could be designed any better not even a different supreme being could give it a try.

It’s the 2018 season review. Ten weeks of winning games sandwiched in between the 0-3 apocalypse and an end season exposed whimper. In football time there is nothing today. There’s everything that just happened, and everything that will happen once those days come back following vital spring decisions and summer wasting. Before we really dig into the things the suits do, let’s put a carabiner on the umbilical cord of the past and spelunk down into the caves that house those old days, and remember 2018 one last time before it slips away forever like river water.

Charley Casserly Rick Smith Worst Offseason Decision: Retaining Alfred Blue and Ryan Griffin

Rick Smith stepped down as the general manager of the Houston Texans to be with his wife who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and damn, there’s no good way to type this, passed away recently. What an awful thing. Brian Gaine replaced him to become the third general manager of the Houston Texans. The new boss didn’t have a lot to work with. There was cap space, but the needs the team had and the free agents available didn’t mesh well enough to make an enormous move. There weren’t any big unrerestricted free agents to screw up. And Houston was without their first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Despite the limitations he faced, he had a nice offseason. His draft went well considering the capital available and the impact the collection of midround picks had on the 2018 season. Tyrann Mathieu was a nice low risk short term find. Aaron Colvin was a dubious signing, since he was going from playing on a team with A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey to a team with Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson on the outside, and he was terrible when he did sneak his way on it, but he was injured with a grapefruit ankle and never asserted himself into the lineup. There weren’t many other cornerback options available though. Zach Fulton had Pro Bowl potential, Senio Kelemete was inconsistent, Seantrel Henderson was enormous and moved well but was football weak. Aside from Henderson (whatever), each were nice offseason offensive line acquisitions, even if none of them went as well as they should have. Fire Mike Devlin.

The worst decisions he made were keeping Alfred Blue and Ryan Griffin on the roster. Blue was resigned as the team’s insurance policy in case D’Onta Foreman didn’t recover from his 2017 torn Achilles. He didn’t. Blue had 150 carries for 499 yards. That’s it. 3.3 yards a carry. In the same offense, behind the same offensive line, Lamar Miller averaged 4.6 yards a carry. Blue finished 44th out of 47th in DVOA and DYAR.

We’ve known Blue is terrible for years now, yet he refuses to go away. I get that he’s a third string running back, but with Foreman’s injury, him getting numerous carries was expected. And look around the league. Damien Williams, Rex Burkhead, Justin Jackson, Gus Edwards are all examples of third string running backs. Practice squad players and unemployed plastic guitar clicking athletes are better backup running back options than Blue. The only things he does well are the most basic skills a back can have. He keeps his legs moving, and doesn’t fumble. You can find that anywhere, and get some basic tackle breaking and pass catching ability out of it.

Additionally, he’s not a dependable pass blocker. Throughout this season he’s looked lost back there. Not knowing when to chip, how long to stay in the backfield before seeping out, and who to block. If a back finds the field because he’s a ‘great’ pass blocker, without offering anything else, it’s inexcusable to miss any blocks whatsoever.

Once in my life I was driving and walking and bleeding across the Colorado Plateau. Along the way I hiked the Narrows in Zion National Park and my cadence was similar to another solo hiker’s. We talked as we walked through open cattle grazing fields and followed the creek to the slot canyon. He was an optometrist. I was in between everything. At one point during the hike he we faced each other. He took off his sunglasses to soak up some sweat. His eyes pointed at each other. Even a cross eyed optometrist has better vision than Blue.

His broken tackle rate in 2018 was 5.9%. He broke 10 tackles on 170 targets. Great. On third downs smart defenses left him uncovered while they sat in zone, and baited Deshaun Watson into dumping off to his last progression. Just about every time he was tackled short of the third down marker, and went down at the first instance of contact.

Gaine didn’t resign Griffin at least. He was still on the roster, but could have been released to save a little bit of money. In 2017 Griffin had a catch rate of 50% and averaged 6.07 yards a target. Most receptions were a toss to the flat that was extinguished immediately. No athleticism to see here. The hands should be stickier. Providing nothing has a blocker.

He stuck around for 2018, and once again was a net negative. His catch rate jumped to 55.8%, and averaged 7.09 yards an attempt. The same problems were here. Bad blocking, whatever hands, limited athleticism. The stray seam route completion doesn’t make up for it. This year it was even worse though, because this year the Texans had options at tight end instead of him. The Jordan rookies could actually create separation and hold their own on the edge when they knew who to block. Griffin took tit milk that should have gone to the puppies instead. It all culminated in the Wild Card round when Griffin had 1 catch on 6 targets for 6 yards.

When I think of Griffin I’ll always think of this play. It’s 3rd and 10 against Denver. He’s on the line of scrimmage in pass protection against Bradley Chubb. This isn’t a chip. Griffin sticks and punches, and commits, but rather than stay, he is just dying to run into the flat to catch a three yard reception. Hand up. Screaming for the ball. Ahhhhh, damn. He turns and runs upfield to start the scramble drill while Watson is taken to the ground.

Even if Henderson, Fulton, Kelemete, Mathieu, and Colvin didn’t work out as well as they could have, or even should have, I at least get the decision. I know why they were made. They make sense. But resigning Blue, and keeping Griffin never did and never will. They’ve been putrecent since they started here, and will again next year if they somehow stay around. Hopefully Gaine learned to ignore Bill O’Brien after last season.

Jacoby Jones Award: Brian Hoyer, John Simon, Ufomba Kamulu

Why do you play football? What is the reason why you wake up every morning? Is it to make enough money to take care of your kids, your kids’ kids, your kids’ kids’ kids? The love of the game? A lack of any other options? Or, is it because you’ve done it all and want to win a championship. If the answer is this, then don’t play for the Houston Texans. That’s the first decision to make if you want to win a title. Go play for New England. They usually do. Brian Hoyer, Simon, and Kamulu, took advice from Jacoby Jones, Gary Kubiak, and Brandon Brooks and moved on to win a title of their own.

Play Of The Year: Watson’s 3rd & 11 Conversion v. Philadelphia

This play contorts reality. Watson breaks four tackles in the pocket, including two on Michael Bennett tackle attempts. Reality comes into question when Watson breaks these tackles. Each one has the same animation. A grip of the shoulder, a shrug, and a fall off. The game glitches. It repeats itself. It’s such cheating that Watson doesn’t go down. This game sucks.

After shrugging it all off he gets out of the pocket, resets his feet, and the ball morphs into a striking snake as it catapults into the leaping hands of Jordan Akins. I’ll never get this one out of my head.

Vince Wilfork Fullback Folly Of The Year: Opposing Quarterbacks; A Variety

It wasn’t that the Houston Texans played an easy schedule, they did, it ranked 29th by DVOA, but that the schedule coincided perfectly with Houston’s strength—their run defense. The Texans played a variety of teams with horrendous quarterbacks who would have been right at home in Houston from 2015 to 2017. Teams that ran the ball, not because they were great at it, but because there were no other options. It was the safest way to gnaw their way through games and try and win by one possession.

All these rabid manged packed leaders provided some hysterical plays. There was the [NAME REDACTED] revenge game where Danny Amendola was the best quarterback Miami had. The universe was almost perfect. [NAME REDACTED] threw a fumble further than his average yards per attempt against as a Texan against Denver in 2016, and almost did the same against Houston. Sadly, it was ruled an incompletion, not a catch, because spectacular and beautiful can be mutually exclusive things.

There was Blake Bortles making another start against Houston. He was benched for Cody Kesller, and was permanently benched again for him later in the season. He provided this wobbler before being benched the first time. Completely unabated, the ball flew like a a flying saucer exploding back to the extraterrestrial after taking one to its quantum nuclear core.

There was Houston needing a pick six to beat Buffalo and Nathan Peterman after Josh Allen was taken too early from us thanks to a busted elbow. Peterman threw the same throw he threw on the previous play. The first went to no one. The next went straight to Johnathan Joseph, who found a new profile picture that day.

There was Blaine Gabbert. Learning from Marcus Mariota, and flexing a self suck of his own. If you forgot, Mariota threw a touchdown pass to himself against Kansas City in the 2017 postseason. Gabbert did the same thing with much lower stakes with lesser results. At least he had the awareness to throw it out of bounds instead of taking the sack. That’s pretty good! He’s come so far since 2011.

There was the same game, where the best Titans’ quarterback wasn’t Gabbert, but the upback in the punt formation. No one is covering either gunner. He’s wide open. Houston lost by three points of course. That could have been useful for a team who was close to having the #2 seed in the postseason.

Screenshot Of The Year:

Let’s shake off that chagrin and scratch off all that dead skin. It’s better to celebrate one’s success instead of flail around in someone else’s muck. I now have a new Christmas Card.

Masochism Of The Year: Tyrann Mathieu Beat Deep

Houston played a great game against the Philadelphia Eagles last season. It was reminiscent of the 2017 Texans. Watson does a bunch of wild [kitten] while the secondary fails to keep up their end of the deal. That game found the Eagles tied 16-16 with Houston in the third quarter. To take the lead back Philadelphia took a deep shot to Nelson Agholor v. Mathieu. The Texans’ safety was beat, to recover he had to chase back to the ball, and by doing so, he over pursued taking him past the football. Reaching back he wasn’t quite able to deflect it. Touchdown.

Now, Mathieu had been beat throughout the season in man coverage. This was nothing new. It happened all season. It just never happened in a fashion this spectacular and this easy to see. The Colts were especially rude to him. They tortured him in every way imaginable. He couldn’t cover Eric Ebron in man coverage.

He took a false step to chase down Andrew Luck to make the big play, and gave T.Y. Hilton the window needed to get open and convert the first.

He gave up two touchdowns to Nyheim Hines in pass coverage.

But he’s a leader! on a defense with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, and Benardrick McKinney, all players better than he is, and have been on the roster longer. He makes plays on the ball! He provides that swagger the defense was missing!

He’s a great blitzer, and had three sacks this season. Free rushes without any ability to beat any sort of pass protection. Real impressive stuff. And my favorite. The time he had an easy safety with no one in his way against Jacksonville. He goes for the touchdown instead, and somehow Houston still ends up with the ball.

He had two interceptions. Each came after the receiver dropped the pass and the ball magnetically fluttered to him.

Throughout it all. The easy impact plays. The tackles made after twelve yards and a third down conversion. The touchdowns allowed. The easy sacks. The burnt man coverage. He was there yapping all the way. Doing things like getting in Corey Davis’s face after a first down conversion, and missing a tackle to allow a touchdown on the following play.

You see, Mathieu wishes he could make the plays Justin Reid, and Kareem Jackson made this year. He wants to be the guy with the 102 yard interception touchdown. He wants to run from one side of the field to force a fumble and save a touchdown. He wants to crush Eric Ebron at the goal line and force an incompletion. He want to make the 7.2 rib quaking, brain shaking tackles. He doesn’t though. He just acts and talks like he does.

Was I upset he gave up a deep touchdown to Agholor? Upset is too strong of a word. I felt a mild discomfort. Like eating slightly too much.

In Memoriam: Brian Cushing

The Texans released Brian Cushing last offseason after putting more things into his body that he wasn’t allowed to. He never caught on anywhere. Then the swelled biceps, cavernous eye black, orange gatorade puking, too much testosterone, unnaturally cranked up inside linebacker retired for good. He was the only player to ever wreck prime Marshawn Lynch.

Never forget. Gone forever, kind of. He’ll be helping the Texans’ bulk up this offseason. Soon they’ll be able to lift the crust off the mantle. Insert your PED joke here.

David Carr Worst Throw Of The Year: Watson Wildcard Round Interception

Watson has done a nice job of telepathically making defensive backs drop his mistakes. It seems like he gets away with one or two mistakes a game, that could have, and probably should have been snatched that aren’t. He’s young. Mistakes happen. This one was the worst though. There was no luck on the other end. Two defenders were there. Indy capitalized on this telegraphed curl to Griffin. Let’s bury this chili in the backyard.

Kareem Jackson Hit Of The Year: Sideline Smashing

Oh! There were so many this season. There were the tackles where he slips under the blocking wide receiver and squashes the screen pass, the leg lifting rugby tackles to save yards after the catch, the run blitzes that turned shoulder pads into shrapnel, and my person favorite, the fat pass to the sideline where Jackson gets a head start like an Arena Football League receiver going into motion and morphs into a Rhinoceros, gutting the receiver with his horn. Case Keenum owes Phillip Lindsey an edible arrangement for making this pass attempt.

Honorable mention was that time he cut the legs off Saquon Barkley. This was the hardest I saw someone hit Barkley in 2018. Barkley ended up slowing down time and running around Jackson to score later in this one though.

The best tackle was the Jackson sideline hit, but my favorite was Jadeveon Clowney scalping Chris Ivory. That’s a barber chair you don’t want to sit in.

Bill O’Brien’s Worst Decision: Adjusting

At the end of the day, no one is really going to remember all the wasted timeouts on terrible challenges that indirectly limit the ability to score points at the end of the half, the end game mismanagement that never catches up to him, or the never ending barrage of first down runs. By the end of the season these specific examples are lost. Lamented in the moment, but unless they are etched into post it notes, or scrawled into one’s heart, they’re forgotten.

Today. All the way over here. The biggest problem O’Brien had in 2018 was not adjusting his offense quick enough. He eventually came to the correct decision. It just didn’t need to take weeks for him to realize Juli’en Davenport shouldn’t play right tackle, the seam is open against cover three, chipping is a nice way to help your tackles, play action works really well, Deshaun Watson can be manufactured as a runner to help an ineffective ground game, and to throw it downfield because good things happen.

DeAndre Hopkins Catch Of The Year: Under The Legs

It’s the catch that didn’t count, but it was the best one he made all season. It’s also one I almost forgot about. Watson makes so many wild catches that stack onto of each other you forget about the ones immediately proceeding the one before. I now know what archaeologists feel like. Hopkins took the Aaron Gordon under the legs Slam Dunk Contest dunk, and put it in a regular season NFL game. Most receivers couldn’t even do this even as they jumped into a swimming pool.

This is my selection. This is the winner. Yet, if I had to go with one that counted, I would go with the one handed catch against Jalen Ramsey. He beats a top five cornerback off the line scrimmage, slyly creates extension with a little arm, and reaches out to save the smoky baby from the apartment fire. Ramsey following it up with a temper tantrum makes it all better.

Petey Faggin’s Memorial Most Hated Player: Shareece Wright

Sometimes we watch different football games. There were times when people were impressed by Shareece Wright’s ability to play the football. He’d sit back and drive down to knock a slant at the last second after getting beat by the receiver out of the break. He’d leap and somehow save a deep touchdown pass that should have been hung onto.

To me, these last millisecond heroics didn’t seem sustainable. Teams should isolate him in man coverage and attack him. In 2018 Shareece Right played 535 snaps, and was targeted only 43 times. Teams eventually caught onto to his loose tooth play. They found him, squeezed him, and popped him, spewing pus across the mirror.

Like glacier melt running along mountains, into creeks, down falls, and into the ocean, it took sometime, but eventually the hatred found its way to everyone’s heart, l

Lasting Impression: Don’t Run The Ball At The Houston Texans

Every season there’s one big thought that sticks in me. A nice tagline I can remember every season by. 2015 was the Houston Texans should have franchise tagged A.J. Bouye. 2016 was [NAME REDACTED]. 2017 was Tom Savage is going to be really bad. And this year it was don’t run the ball at the Houston Texans. A front seven composed of Watt, Clowney, McKinney, Zach Cunningham, with competent tacklers like Justin Reid, Mathieu, and Jackson, is a barbed wire wearing fort. Throw it at them. They can’t stop it. Once teams started they couldn’t stop. It took until the home stretch, but the teams with the competent quarterbacks figured it out.

One Hit Wonder: Vyncint Smith

All those weeks of standing and watching were worth this one moment. I’m so glad they kept him over, let’s say Braxton Miller, after training camp came to a completion. The gentle one knee slide is the perfect topping to a perfect throw.

Life Lesson Of The Year: The Season Is Long

This is very important. Football travels a week at a time. Every loss feels so dire, and every win is so monumental. The game is defined by a short sample size. Yet so much happens as it is torn apart 16 weeks. Houston was too talented to start 0-3. They were too talented to end up 4-12. They took off once the schedule helped them out, saw their one possession misfortune change for the better, and Jadeveon Clowney and Watson got used to playing football again. Next time a steam starts 0-2, or 0-3, or 4-6, or 5-7, remember, there’s a lot of football left. Think back on 2018 Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Indianapolis as examples of this.

Battlefighter Of The Year: Juli’en Davenport

You know, we really put him in a bad spot. That’s on me. We liked him at left instead of right, but when Seantrel went down we had to make a choice. We liked Martinas more at left because he had a short camp and that’s what he was used to playing. So we gave Juli’en a shot at right and Martinas a shot at left. It didn’t work. We brought Kendall in for Juli’en, and again, Martinas is a hell of a young player, he as all the potential in a world, but with a short camp he wasn’t ready yet, and to be honest, he struggled at left. During this time Juli’en didn’t complain. He kept going out there and fighting in practice. He was always asking me what he could do to help the team win. Not once did he have a bad attitude after he was benched. You gotta hand it to him. I can’t say enough about the kid. So we brought him back in the lineup for Martinas and even if it took sometime we figured out our tackle situation. You know. We chipped and did somethings to help those guys, but overall they played well.

We feel good about our tackle situation right now. Juli’en started playing some pretty good ball down the stretch. But we are evaluating every position this offseason, myself included, to see how we can get better.

Game Of The Year: Week 16 Houston v. Philadelphia

The Texans’ season hit a weird lull during the middle of it. They were winning games, but they weren’t fun to watch. It was a lot of running. A lot of holding on. A team with Watson shouldn’t have to win this way, but with his purple lungs, the offensive line issues, and the schedule, they were able to make it work out.

This was also the worst part of the season. I forgot how great Watson was. He played games against Denver and Washington where he never threw the ball deep. O’Brien was using him like how he did Hoyer, before his Superbowl victory.

Then the last month of the season came. The Colts, Jets, and Eagles all took the belt off and started throwing the ball downfield and put points on the Texans. No longer could they hide behind their run defense, and do just enough. They needed to lean on Watson, and had to win because of him. They called. He answered.

The best of which was against the Eagles. A game the Texans lost because they couldn’t cover Zach Ertz, or anyone for that matter. It was a duel between Nick Foles and Watson, with Watson breaking tackles, running for more, making sublime third down conversions, hitting it deep, slithering around the field, and picking and popping. It was his best game of 2018. It was my favorite. And it was the one where any questions I had regarding Watson were extinguished.

Rookie Of The Year: Justin Reid

The Texans first pick was also their best one. Reid was great as the team’s strong safety, the primary role he played after injuries to Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson, and Aaron Colvin squashed Kareem Jackson back to cornerback, forcing Houston to go play with three safeties and utilize their safety depth, instead of play next man up at an already putrid cornerback group. There he did everything. He played shallow zone, could play from the deep middle to the sideline and affect the play, make impact plays, and run and chase down free runners. He struggled a little bit down the stretch, it’s hard to forget that failed shoulder tackle attempt against Alshon Jeffery, but since the Jordan rookies, who are individual players instead of one player, he’s the clear choice and absolved of his end of season failures.

Offensive Player Of The Year: DeAndre Hopkins

Even when the offense blacked out in the middle of the year while Watson nursed and recovered, Hopkins was still there. Beating up on every defensive back he faced no matter the competition. Running precise routes. Subtly pushing off. Sword fighting at the line of scrimmage to beat press man coverage, and taking off deep occasionally.

I think I finally figured out. Hopkins isn’t the best receiver in the league. He doesn’t have that absurd athleticism that those guys have. He’s s the most skillful receiver in football though. He’s the best route runner with the best hands. Even when the offense is focused around an inefficient run game Hopkins is there catching everything.

Defensive Player Of The Year: J.J. Watt

This is only between him and Clowney. That’s it. Everyone else on the defense revolves around these two. The Texans had the best run defense in football because of this duo. You can’t run away from either, you can’t block them with one man, and double teams are stalemates. The only option was to use their aggressiveness against them. They were the sole source of the team’s pass rush. If they weren’t getting to the quarterback no one was. Against teams that could actually throw the football, if both players weren’t ripping, bullrushing, and long arming with success, 31 points was a minimum.

Skill and performance wise there wasn’t much difference between the two. Clowney is the better run defender, and Watt is the better pass rusher. Watt did have the better season. Watt had 16 sacks, 25 quarterback hits, 45 hurries, and 18 tackles for a loss. Clowney had 9 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, 35.5 hurries, 16 tackles for a loss. Watt started playing well sooner. Clowney wasn’t ready after standing and watching all summer, and didn’t have an impact until week four. Watt also picked up the majority of his production by dismantling back up right tackles in games against New York (G), Indianapolis, and Jacksonville. Clowney, against left tackles, didn’t get the same matchup advantages, and was the team’s sole interior pass rush source.

Watt is the guy. He wins. Yet, it was a strange year from him, and there isn’t that much of a gap between him and Clowney. Statistically, he was spectacular, and he was fully healthy, but it still wasn’t the same Watt from 2011 to 2015 before all the injuries. That universe devourer who reached a level maybe four defensive linemen have ever reached before wasn’t here this year. This is probably the new normal. I need to get used to it.

MVP: Jadeveon Clowney/J.J. Watt

The best part of the 2018 Texans’ team was their run defense. It was the reason why they were able to suffocate crappy quarterback led offenses and do just enough on offense to win ten games in a row. That run defense was led by Clowney and Watt. Brandon Dunn, McKinney, D.J. Reader, Cunningham, whoever, were all just spare parts surrounding these two. And again, when they weren’t generating a pass rush, there wasn’t a pass rush, and without a pass rush they couldn’t cover on the back end whatsoever. Hopkins was the best player had the best 2018 season. But,Watt and Clowney and the run defense was the most important.

Please leave your ideas for awards and your own suggestions to mine in the comments below. Tomorrow, we will unveil the ballot for the Reader’s Choice Awards.