I’ve always wanted to visit Wisconsin in the summertime. For two weeks it’s 85 degrees. Cars and minivans traded in for boats. Meat can only be turned from pink to brown on a grill. Everyone is hammered drunk, even the wildlife, as they celebrate shaking off the ice, escaping teeth smashing shivering, and finally be able to see their genitals again. It’s All Summer In A Day as the people of Wisconsin partake in their pagan rituals to finally shine in our amazing sun’s goodness and light. Isn’t our sun an amazing one?
With the Texans up in Green Bay, I’ll have to live vicariously through them for now. While Lonnie Johnson is catching bodies and dropping Packers in kickoff drills, J.J. Watt is struggling to fit on a bicycle, Matt Khalil is driven back to the parking lot, and Aaron Rodgers is complaining about joint practices to the mayonnaise people, I’m imaging what it would be like to not need air conditioning, and for alcoholism and deer hunting to be mandatory in order to survive for nine months of the year.
But most of all, I’m imagining what this NFL season looks like once things become real and meaningful, instead of meaningless frame 313 practice clip analysis. The preseason typically gets lumped into all of this meaninglessness, but for the Texans this year, there are actual interesting things to gleam and learn as the dandruf in the snowglobe settles to the bottom.
This time, for this game, this is what I’ll be watching for as football kindofsortofbutnot really starts again.
1.) The Offensive Line
Every week until the season starts this is the most important one. The Texans have no idea what their offensive line is going to be come week one. It’s crash landing cannibalism as each member of the offensive line fights for playing time and the possibility to start. My guess is the starting lineup will be Matt Kalil (LT), Tytus Howard (LG), Greg Mancz (C) since Nick Martin is hurt, Zach Fulton (RG), and Seantrel Henderson (RT) for this first preseason game.
Hopefully this doesn’t end up being the week one lineup, and even if it does, I’m expecting the offensive line to be a waterbed, shifting and fluid, as Bill O’Brien scrambles around and tears at himself in his sleep while having nightmares of Deshaun Watson playing quarterback in a submarine scrounging around an ocean trench. Khalil and Henderson are bad. Martin shouldn’t be handed a starting job. I’d rather see Howard play right tackle until eventually moving over to left in a perfect world.
Week one will arrive one day. Time’s arrow on a twentysomething moves in one direction. In the meantime I have so many questions. Has Max Scharping developed a NFL caliber pass set? Can Howard quickly adjust from small time college ball to professional football? Is there anyone who can block the second level? Has Julie’n Davenport learned how to play right tackle after last year’s disaster? Where does Martinas Rankin fit in all of this? Will Henderson and Kalil stay healthy, and how long will it take for Houston to switch them out for someone else? Is O’Brien going to have to consistently chip once again and limit the number of routes the passing offense can use?
Additionally, they’ll be going up against a pass rush that could be a top five one this season. The Packers have a great interior rush with Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, and I still have no idea why they cut Mike Daniels. Blake Martinez is one of the better blitzers from the inside linebacker position. On the outside they replaced Midsommar extra Clay Matthews with Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, and Kyle Fackrell picked up a bunch of sacks but no pressures or hurries as the anti-Jadeveon Clowney. They also drafted Rashan Gary in the first round. Scary, very scary. It will be a great challenge for a cadaverous pass protection that needs it as they embark to find their true self before the summer ends.
2.) Someone, Anyone, Somebody Else
The Texans have two pass rushers. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt was dominant against crappy right tackles, and Clowney is a very good pass rusher, something that is overlooked if you only care about sacks. When both are dominant the Texans’ pass defense can hover around acceptable as they create enough big plays to extinguish drives all on their own. When they aren’t, games like week three against the Giants, and the Wildcard Round against Indianapolis happen.
Watt probably won’t play, and if he does, he’ll just be making an appearance like a wrestling manager hanging out and sliding chairs across the mat at the perfect time. Clowney is lifting weights and dreaming for week four of the preseason when he will reportedly report to the team. That’s it. That’s the entire pass rush. Sure, Whitney Mercilus has had great seasons before, but it will take a scheme change from last year to get him integrated into the defense again, something monumental for this pass rush.
But, Romeo Crennel probably won’t show off how he’ll use Mercilus in a preseason game, if he’ll use him at all this season. Nope. Instead expect a ton of four man rushes. And this is the key. Houston doesn’t have an interior rush presence aside from Jadeveon Clowney bungee jumping. D.J. Reader, Brandon Dunn, Angelo Blackson, Joel Heath, they are all the same player. They can play the run, but can’t play the pass. If one of them, or if some mysterious player X steps up and can even provide a modicum of inside pass rush, this pass defense will be hilariously better.
Let’s blow the dust off the canned goods. It’s especially important because of how that old saying goes—to beat the Houston Texans throw the football. The secondary is pretty much settled, it should be better, but it will probably be one of the bottom ones in the league. Lonnie Johnson’s college tape shows no indication of him being able to come in and make an immediate impact in coverage. Johnathan Joseph is a detective who can decipher routes, but struggles against deep passes. Bradley Roby is a great third corner in a great secondary, but not someone who you want to be your cornerback number one. The slot corner, well, we will get to that in a second. The strength lies in the safety position, but on the outside Houston is going to struggle.
For the pass defense to be mediocre they’ll need a great pass rush, and for the pass rush to jump from 20th in pressure rate to let’s say 10th, they’ll need an additional contribution from someone.
3.) Lamar’s Backup
D’Onta Foreman was engraved to be the team’s second running back after coming back from an Achilles injury at the end of last season, and our national esoteric nightmare coming to an end, Alfred Blue, inside zone, two yards, after moving to Jacksonville. Then Foreman was released. First he was in great shape. He was given the opportunity. Then he was sitting in the corner staring at the wall. Can’t pass block. Is late for meetings. Gone to Indianapolis.
Now there is an entire slew of guys trying to seize the day and find the sweet spot where hard work meets opportunity. Damarea Crockett. Josh Ferguson. Karan Higdon Jr. Buddy Howell. Taiwan Jones, hey!, I remember him. Aside from Jones, who I feel like has been in Houston before, I have no idea who any of these dudes are. The Texans are giving all of them a chance.
If not, Jay Ajayi is still out there, someone who can break tackles and turn nothing into something, and Duke Johnson still doesn’t want to live in Cleveland, and is a great pass catching back. If none of the current Texans work out hopefully Bill O’Brien realizes it’s great to have two good running backs, and when it comes to the running back position there’s no such thing as a starting back anymore. It’s best to savor each one, and split the carries among two to three bodies. Ajayi and Johnson both offer immediate opportunities to do exactly this.
Neither of these things will probably happen. I can already see it. I’m a geothermal mud pot. Alfred Blue will somehow find his way back on this roster by flattening himself and sneaking under the doors of NRG stadium after the Jaguars release him.
4.) Slot Corner
The Texans really didn’t have a slot corner last season. Aaron Colvin was supposed to be this. He wasn’t. He was injured, and even when healthy he was horrendous, which goes all the way back to last year’s preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s easier to play football when sandwiched between A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey then Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson or Shareece Wright. Kareem Jackson was forced to move from his best life at safety back down to cornerback where the results were the same. Everyone gets older. The athleticism couldn’t make up for the sloppy footwork any longer.
Colvin is healthy again, and hopefully last season was a skidmark, but if it isn’t the Texans took out insurance policies in Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who was eh, in the limited snaps he played in Cleveland, and Houston also added sixth round pick Xavier Crawford, who could also compete in this role.
The talent isn’t undeniable here. It’s the one big question mark in the secondary, and the Texans will look to erase it and replace it with a period this summer.
I’m not expecting for Bill O’Brien to bust out the weed pen after the wife and kids go to sleep just yet. He’ll probably allow Deshaun Watson to play two series. They’ll probably run the ball a lot, maybe throw a few curls to DeAndre Hopkins, and then the first string offense will remark after the game how good it feels to just get out there and compete again. This is typically how these things go.
That being said, I’m dying to see like one fake jet sweep play action pass that ends with the ball soaring through the heavens and into the arms of a downfield running receiver like some long lost lover. Houston is going to need to score a lot of points this season to compete against the ravenous horde of passing offenses that are gluttons for points. They won’t be able to win 20-13 against Kansas City. They’ll need to throw downfield, and average 27 points a game or so to be a playoff team.
For this to happen O’Brien needs to attack early and often, not just when the Texans are playing from behind. The passing game needs to be the focal point of the offense, not an extinguisher busted out when the strudel is forgotten in the toaster and the condom filled with icing has already melted. Some preseason week one heaving will do a lot to quiet these stammering hearts.