There are three ways we experience time. There’s the past, the present, and the future. When it comes to the NFL, and the Houston Texans specifically, everything is currently focused on the future. The season ended almost a month ago after the Kansas City Chiefs put up 41 straight points. Since then, coaching staff and front office changes have been announced, and now everything else is wrapped up with how to improve the team. Free agent lust. Midround draft crushes. There aren’t first round draft picks coming.
This is all invisible and uncertain. Headlights can only see so far. Everything else past this little bit of illuminating light is phenomenological soothsaying. For me, the past is still fresh, ripe, and damp. I can still see Deshaun Watson’s throw to Kenny Stills against New Orleans on Monday Night Football, the pass option unveiled against Kansas City’s crappy linebackers is warm, and J.J. Watt’s Wildcard Round sack against Cody Ford wasn’t that long ago. The future will become the present soon enough. For now, let’s sit in the afterglow of the past, summarize and remember what happened, dive into what we know occurred, before subjecting ourselves to that vile and heartbreaking practice of what could, should, and doesn’t happen.
Charley Casserly Rick Smith Brian Gaine Bill O’Brien Worst Offseason Decision: Matt Kalil Is A Starting Left Tackle
When the Houston Texans signed Matt Kalil for one-year $7.5 million dollars the intention was for him to start at left tackle. He received first team reps in training camp. Then, immediately, something that all of us, the basement denizens, the Taco Bell sign subjugates, already knew, finally became apparent for the Houston Texans. Kalil isn’t a viable NFL offensive tackle.
This set off a nuclear detonation. Houston didn’t trust Tytus Howard to play left tackle, and didn’t think Max Scharping could play right tackle. They couldn’t go into the 2019 season with Kalil starting at left tackle, let alone practice with him there, so the world could see the unthinkable mistake they made. Houston crammed before the season to rescue themselves from their imminent doom.
They tried to trade Jadeveon Clowney after the deadline to extend franchise tagged players had passed, which limited his trade value. Teams didn’t want to give up top draft capital for a one-year rental. Clowney wouldn’t sign his tag if he went to Miami.
General manager Bill O’Brien continued his very important work, and eventually traded Clowney for a third round pick, Jacob Martin, and Barkevious Mingo, and then traded two first round picks, a second round pick, Johnson Bademosi, and Juli’en Davenport, for Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil. The Texans immediately released Matt Kalil.
I’ll never know why Houston traded Clowney. Was the relationship tarnished after he was shopped? Was O’Brien just trying to find cost controlled players since top draft capital went out the door? Was Clowney just not an O’Brien guy?
Whatever reason why doesn’t matter. The trade was one of the reasons why Houston’s defense fell apart. Their points allowed increased from 316 (4th) to 385 (19th). Their pass defense DVOA went from 8.8% (19th) to 19.5% (26th), and their run defense DVOA went from an all-time great -30.1% (1st) to -5.11% (22nd). Houston had one person who could create a pass rush on his own, J.J. Watt. Once he went down there wasn’t a source of it available. The Texans no longer had that savior who rescued them in those previous dark seasons when Watt was lost for the season. Their run defense wasn’t the same without Clowney and Kareem Jackson. They didn’t make the same number of negative plays that put opposing offenses in a hole. Houston’s tackles for no gain or less dropped from 92 (11th) to 64 (30th).
All of these per play issues didn’t destroy Houston. They ran a ball control offense to limit the number of possessions the defense faced, and the defense forced enough turnovers to get off the field. This brand of football didn’t destroy Houston, until, well it did, in their Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jacoby Jones Award: Tyrann Mathieu and Martinas Rankin
And everyday, well, everyday is a new hell.
As the saying goes, if you want to win a Super Bow, the first thing you have to do is not play football for the Houston Texans.
Deshaun Watson Play Of The Year: A Mystical Experience
Play Of The Year: Bradley Roby’s New England Interception
The top ten Texans plays from the 2019 season are all Watson wizardry. A collection of making the unbelievable mundane. To open the door for others, this category will have to be split in two ways.
Roby’s interception will always be the play that stands bright and clear from this season, and it’s just as tall, and just as beautiful, as the highlight plays Watson pulled off in 2019.
One Hit Wonder: Barkevious Mingo
At the time, everything I thought I knew was obliterated. Wait. Maybe Bill O’Brien is a super football genius. Maybe the Texans didn’t need Jadeveon Clowney after all, and that the trade was worth it, all because Barkevious Mingo blocked a punt, and Lonnie Johnson Jr. scooped it up to score. I wish I was wrong. I’d do anything to spend eternity in that moment again. Freeze the arrow in its path. We could all sit there, together, forever, well until the universe eventually collapses in on itself, and the process repeats all over again.
Hipster Jersey Of The Year: BIG PLAY #52
Someone send me $150. It’s not that I don’t have $150, it’s that I’ve really taken this idea to heart—everything you need is internal, not external. This has led to me not spending money on goods, except for the occasional book. I have my soul, my consciousness, and the melding of my unconsciousness and consciousness while I sleep, lingering for me to explore the next day. This is all I desire.
The last thing I need is a custom #52 Houston Texans jersey that reads BIG PLAY, but really, I don’t need anything at all. The end of all wanting is all that I want. If I wanted something, this would be it, but again, I don’t want anything.
Play Call Of The Year: Wide Receiver Screen Take Off
How many times have we seen this play not work? It’s first and ten. It’s third and seventeen. The Texans, even if the numbers aren’t in their favor, will throw a quick wide receiver screen. Does the tackle make a block in the alley? No he does not. Does the wide receiver ever break a tackle and turn this into a successful play? Seldomly.
I like to think O’Brien has been running this play for six full seasons for this moment. He wanted to ensure there were entire volumes of film on this play from this exact same formation, so opposing defenses would see, bunch left, shotgun right, tight end right, and laugh as Houston audibles to this exact play.
This time things were different. Both Stills and Hopkins block as Fuller flares out to the sideline, wait, what is that, Stills doesn’t block, but instead takes off down the sideline. One arm gasping for the ball. This is the greatest play design O’Brien has ever come up with.
Vince Wilfork Fullback Folly Of The Year: NOOOOOOOO!!!!
From the moment CBS gave us the skycam it just felt like something terrible was going to happen. The ball so pristine, so cherubic, so innocent, floating above it all. No. Hell was about to be unleashed. Every nightmare you’ve ever had, every vile Texans’ experience has culminated to this exact intersection of time and space.
Carter gets hit low. The ball pops out. I screamed when it happened. It flies directly to Darwin Thompson, who has no idea what to do once he catches it. He stutters. He shows it off. Yes, the ball, I have it. I’m sure he’s not even sure what happened, and if he could even return it. At least the Texans traded a sixth round pick for Keion Crossen.
This was the most unfathomable part of yesterday's game— Matt Weston (@Mbw987) January 14, 2020
I screamed when it happened pic.twitter.com/dUN32xZVah
Screenshot Of The Year: It Finally Happened
In Memoriam: Andre Hal
Last April, Andre Hal made the surprising decision to retire from the NFL. The Vanderbilt seventh round pick switched from cornerback to safety, overcame his late draft selection, and even cancer, to be a consistent starter in the Texans’ secondary.
Houston missed him last season. Romeo Crennel, like the rest of the NFL, enjoys playing three safety sets. Jahleel Addae played 520 snaps. Mike Adams played 75 snaps in Houston’s two playoff games after Tashaun Gipson was placed on injured reserve. Hal would have been a valuable contributor on this team.
Thankfully health had nothing to do with his retirement. He got his bag. He’s free to meditate, play Yoga with Adrienne, think, and do, as much as he wants to, now that his NFL career is over.
David Carr Worst Throw Of The Year: DeAndre Hopkins Plays Quarterback
Man, this sucked so much.
Kareem Jackson Hit Of The Year: Kareem’s Revenge
Thinking back on everything that happened, I can’t remember a soul crushing hit. Although it was the right decision to not keep Kareem Jackson, it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss him, crushing receivers like submarines in the bottom of some deep sea trench, or flattening bodies into sugar cookies, for Jackson is an artist, and his paints, his colors, his clay, are shoulders, pads, and helmet. Jackson delivered the biggest hit in a Houston football game as a member of the opposite team.
Wait, wait, wait, stop the presses, this is the correct winner. The Tennessee Titans with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback had a redzone touchdown rate of 86.8%. They scored 33 touchdowns. This was a member of the 13.2%.
Bill O’Brien’s Worst Decision: The Kansas City Field Goal
At one point during the Texans 24-0 run over the Kansas City Chiefs, Bill O’Brien was caught on the sideline, pulling on his collar, giving a sheesh, trying to relax, trying not to ejaculate nervous energy. The 24-0 lead the Texans has fell apart. They allowed 41 unanswered points. They only scored seven more.
During this devastating run the head coach made multiple devastating mistakes. There was the 4th and 1 field goal with 10:58 remaining in the second quarter. There was the fake punt attempt squashed by folk hero Daniel Sorensen that handed the Chiefs a short field. They scored four plays later. There was a time out called, down 48-31 with 11:45 left in the fourth, required to figure out a play on 4th and 4, to prevent O’Brien from carrying out his intention, punt.
The 4th and 1 field goal was the worst call of them all. The 2019 Texans had one of the worst pass defenses in the league. They ranked 26th in DVOA and 25th in net yards allowed an attempt. Against one of the league’s three best offenses, 24 points wasn’t going to cut it, and wouldn't push this game past a three possession lead. Regardless, Houston kicked the field goal.
Their win probability dropped from 93.6% to 84.8% after the Mecole Hardman kickoff return. If they failed, and didn’t convert, their win probablitliy would have been 81.4%, a -3.4% drop. And, most importantly, teams converted on 4th and 1 58.76% of the time last season. Houston led the league with 14 4th and 1 attempts, and had a conversion rate of 69.2%. If they converted at this point their win probabilty would have soared to 93.6%, an improvement of +8.8% from where reality took them.
Maybe O’Brien was afraid after they failed to convert a quarterback sneak against Buffalo. Who knows. But the Texans wouldn’t score again until there was :29 left in the third quarter, making the game 31-41.
DeAndre Hopkins Catch Of The Year: Kenny Stills Holds On
After a pass attempt to Will Fuller was dropped in the endzone, the Texans went right back at it again. Stills created an avocado shape of space. Watson put it perfectly in the back of the endzone. The Texans went up 21-3.
Hopefully next year Hopkins gets more sideline pass attempts to declare what is rightfully his. All the slot route catching, the first down making, was cool and all, but it prevented him from doing what he does best, win one v. one vertical isolation routes down the sideline.
Petey Faggin’s Memorial Most Hated Player: Chris Clark
No matter how much time has passed, this fanbase has to keep dealing with this same nonsense—watching putrid players hang around, instead of disappearing forever. It was awful quarterback play. It was Garrett Graham morphing into Ryan Griffin. It was Alfred Blue. Now it’s Chris Clark.
Clark was a fine break in case of an emergency swing tackle in 2016. It’s 2019 and Clark is still here, go home, the party is over, and somehow found his way onto the field as a starting right tackle for the Texans. This time it took the prophecy to be fulfilled, for I am the prophet, and Seantrel Henderson being bad is my prediction, a Tytus Howard injury, and then an emergency phone call to Clark for this to occur.
There he was, switching off with Roderick Johnson, like some Junior Varsity operation, to reward both players who had a great week of practice, getting beat in one v. one pass protection, and rarely, if ever, making a dent in the run game.
Hopefully next season this type of tragedy comes to an end, but even then, I’m sure we’ll be lamenting the return of DeAndre Carter kick returns.
Pet Peeve: Laremy Tunsil Giving Up
Laremy Tunsil is a great player. He’s a master at neutralizing the blind side pass rusher. He routinely makes one v. one blocks in the run game. The best part of the Texans’ rushing attack was his strong double teams with left guard Max Scharping.
There’s just something not perfect with him, and when he you trade two first round picks, a second round pick, and Juli’en Davenport, you want perfection. Most will look to the league leading penalties to pin point it.
There are two other things that drive me crazy. The first is that he doesn’t make any wow blocks. Houston doesn’t use him in interesting ways to allow him to do so. Watch how Oakland uses Kolton Miller as a puller in their sweep game, or how Taylor Lewan combines forces with Rodger Saffold to carry Derrick Henry in their weakside outside zone attack. Houston hardly ever uses Tunsil in an interesting manner. It’s one v. one pass blocks. It’s driving out the defensive end on his own. This is pretty much it.
My big pet peeve is how he gives up on blocks. After three seconds or so he tends to let go. If he does his own grocery shopping, I’m sure he has dinged dozens of cars rolling his cart across the parking lot into that inter-dimensional wormhole. My guess is he’s afraid of drawing more holding penalties. The problem is that Deshaun Watson is magical. He makes plays outside the structure of the offense. Offensive linemen, especially someone like Tunsil, need to block forever, to ensure Watson can cast his spells against a defense.
Take this sack for example. He gets beat by a Frank Clark rip, but because he’s Laremy Tunsil, one of the greatest athletes in the world, he’s able to push him past the quarterback. He stops playing then and there. Clark chases back, dives, and misses. Tunsil stands on the tattered fringes of the destroyed pocket, and proceeds to watch Clark, get up, sack Watson from behind, and then casually strolls back to pull bone from the wreckage. Great stuff.
Left tackles can be overrated, just see how Patrick Mahomes dealt with Nick Bosa eviscerating Eric Fisher in the Superbowl. Houston has work to do on their end to extract the most they can out of Tunsil’s talent.
Life Lesson: Passing The Ball Is Better Than Running The Ball
In 2019 teams averaged 7.2 yards a pass attempt. The league’s completion percentage was 63.5%. Run plays gained an average of 4.31 yards a carry. The Ravens constructed a gap scheme run option attack to create the perfect ecosystem for Lamar Jackson. They had an all-time great rushing attack with a DVOA of 21.1%. This season there were nine passing offenses that had a better DVOA than the Ravens’ rushing attack. Including teams like San Francisco, Los Angeles (C), Oakland, and Tennessee.
Passing the ball is better than running the ball. Time of possession is overrated. Scoring points and having a lead is what matters.
The Texans of course ran the ball 434 times (10th) and threw the ball 534 times (20th). The Texans ran the ball too often, despite having a top five talent level quarterback, ridiculous wide receiving talent, and a competent offensive line. Because of this insatiable desire to ESTABLISH THE RUN, the Texans had a mediocre offense when it should have been one of the league’s best.
Masochism Of The Year: ESTABLISH THE RUN
The thing about ESTABLISHING THE RUN, is that you never actually ESTABLISH THE RUN, it’s like the perfect work of art, or the perfect day, or the perfect gameplan, it is an impossible realization, an unattainable ideal, but at the same time, it’s the pursuit of it that makes life worth living.
I then proceed to drive my Lincoln off a cliff and unleash a combination of shrieking and cackling as it clatters into the ocean.
Training Table Warrior: Will Fuller V
New year, new me, says Will Fuller as he gets his hernia corrected and his dreads cut off. If he could only stay healthy. It’s the same words said year after year. It never feels good. It always feel worse.
This season Fuller didn’t suffer a cataclysmic injury. No torn ACL. No herniated disk. No concussion. Instead it was all that soft purple muscle. Groin. Hamstrings. Hopefully Bill O’Brien visits South Bend, Indiana, walks down into the dungeon underneath the library, and learns the proper prayers and apothecaric Catholicism required for Fuller to stay on the field. Because there are only so many times you can say if he can only stay healthy...
Battlefighter Of The Year: Justin Reid
There were times during the season when Justin Reid invoked visions from the last scene of The Wrestler as he tossed his shoulder off the turnbuckle into ball carriers. The thing was mangled, dangling, a bloody mess, a werewolf’s bite. There were multiple hits where he would come up holding onto the painful thing. The end of the season concurred with this. Reid tore his labrum. He had surgery to correct this, and despite this, he only missed one game in 2019.
Game Of The Year: Houston v. New England (2019)
The things we wanted to finally happen, happened. The Texans won in Kansas City. The Texans beat the Patriots. The things in the playoffs we want to happen for the Texans didn’t happen, and if you eat your eggs sunny side up, you’ll believe that progression is linear, and this is the step the Texans will take next season.
After a decade of hell, after losing eight games to the Patriots last decade, after watching: Bradie James covering Aaron Hernandez, Matt Schaub overthrowing Andre Johnson on 3rd and 7 after a wondrous Danielle Manning kick return, Case Keenum’s spread passing attack kind of working, Rob Gronkowski scorching Jeff Tarpinian, Rob Gronkowski scorching Quintin Demps, [NAME REDACTED] 4.72 yards an attempt, Dion Lewis kickoff tochdown return, Will Fuller’s endzone drop, Watson getting hot in Foxborough, Rob Gronkowski scorching Zach Cunningham, meaningless scores to make it look closer than it really was, the Texans finally beat New England last decade.
12/1/2019. Bradley Roby picked off Tom Brady. Duke Johnson capitalized on it by beating Kyle Van Noy in the flat. A quick passing drive made it 14-3. A deep Kenny Stills corner route, after a Will Fuller dropped a touchdown, gave them a 21-3 lead. New England’s sick passing attack couldn’t come back.
Finally something new and different. The end to everything previously. That same constant dumbness and numbness. Soon this decade will die and I can’t wait. Break the scratched CD in half. Tear the collage of newsprint from the wall. It finally happened.
Rookie Of The Year: Tytus Howard
Keeping reading this very serious journalistic operation we have here at Battle Red Blog. There will be thousands of words dedicated to Howard and Scharping’s rookie season. It’s a shame Howard couldn’t play left tackle. It’s a shame Scharping couldn’t play right tackle. It’s a shame Kahale Warring is too hot and too much of a chad for Bill O’Brien.
Offensive Player Of The Year: Deshaun Watson
Defensive Player Of The Year: J.J. Watt
Watt is past his prime. For defensive linemen the typical prime is age 27. Watt just finished his age 30 season. He once again dealt with a season injury after tearing his pectoral, and somehow, thanks to medicine, hardwork, magical pills, or what, was able to receover and play in the playoffs.
Although Watt is past his prime, the trip down the hill still leaves him among the league’s elite. In eight games he led the team with 21 quarterback hits, and 38 pressures. He only had 4 sacks, half as many as Whitney Mercilus, but sacks lie to you, and Watt as the entirey of the Texans’ pass rush this season. Without him they disappeared into a bottom five unit.
MVP: Deshaun Watson
You, a hater and loser, Deshaun Watson needs to stop playing hero ball, it’s hurting this offense. Me, a genius and an intellectual, the Texans’ offense was actually mediocre last season, and their win-loss record didn’t match their play by play performance, because the Texans had a 9-3 one possesion record, and in those games, Watson did things like throw a touchdown with his retina hanging out of skull, hit Hopkins downfield against Indianapolis, and break out of two tacklers at once to dump a pass off to Duke Johnson.
The Texans went 10-6 and won the division again, not because of some supreme offensive structure, playcalling, or genius team building strategy, but because of talent. Watson is one of the league’s best quarterbacks. He’s the reason why the Texans accomplished what they did this season. So who cares if he took some sacks in the process.
Please leave your personal nominations and winners below, along with your own awards, in the comments below. Tomorrow, we will unveil the ballot for the Reader’s Choice Awards.