Recently, I found myself watching a History Channel Series: Doomsday: 10 Ways The World Will End. I found this via
YouTube the History Channel App. It was a ten-episode series that presented a series of events that would result in the end of humanity. Some, like all-out nuclear war, are human-driven. Most were random, space-borne events (rogue star that throws Earth off its orbit and into the Sun, a powerful gamma ray striking the Earth, a mobile black hole, or a corona mass ejection (CME)). How likely are these events to pass? All seemed plausible, even if the depiction was overly dramatic. All in all, such a wonderful, uplifting program to be watching in the middle of 2020.
Setting aside the question of why the History Channel produced such a non-history type program, it got me thinking about the Texans for this season. If there is anything we can say about the Texans it is that disaster is never far from the surface, and it can usually come in creative ways. As the 2020 season dawns, whatever final shape it will take, the team sits in a precarious situation. There is talent on this squad (Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Laremy Tunsil in the NFL Top 100) and a desire to move on from the debacle that was the Divisional Round Playoff Game against Kansas City (only the second-worst loss against KC in the NFL Playoffs under the BO’B regime). However, a few things could spell disaster for the team in 2020. Let’s examine some of those possible scenarios.
MAJOR SEASON-ENDING INJURIES TO KEY HOUSTON PLAYERS
Sometimes, the most successful teams are those that either have (a) enviable depth and/or (b) incredible luck when it comes to injuries. Depending on the injured, it can be a minor inconvenience or a major disaster for an NFL squad. For Houston, a team with a few key stars and so-so depth, injuries could prove fatal to success.
Consider the Top 100 players mentioned above. If any of them are lost, especially for an extended period, do you have any faith in their replacements, either the individual player or the collective to replace their Approximate Value (AV)? Perhaps if one, say Tunsil, is out for an extended period, the team might be able to at least mitigate the loss (having a scrambling Watson helps), but the other two? What if it is a combination of two, if not all three? Then what?
The two biggest and most important players (Watson, Watt) have suffered season-ending injuries before. In particular, Watt has missed 32 games since 2016. While he did have a nice bounce-back year in 2018, the combination of multiple significant injuries and age have the team in a position where they rely on someone who may not be able to play every game. As for Watson, he has torn two ACLs in his playing career (once in college and once in the pros). Additionally, he has been sacked 125 times in three seasons, to say nothing of the quarterback hits and contact he takes as a runner.
To make this scenario even more depressing, other key positions have players with significant injury histories. With the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans will need their stable of wide receivers to step up. However, two of the bigger names, Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks, have robust injury histories (Cooks’ concussions and Fuller’s, well, take your pick) In the secondary, CB Bradley Roby has missed several games in the past due to hamstring injuries and CB Gareon Conley is starting the year on the PUP list. Add to that FS Justin Reid gutting out a torn labrum last season and concussions affecting him and CB Lonnie Johnson; the team’s secondary is not the picture of health. Throw in the drastically altered practice schedules, which portend more injuries, and the medical staff of the Texans will need to be at full alert.
HOW LIKELY IS THIS TO HAPPEN? This doomsday scenario has happened before and could probably happen again. Recall 2017. Watt, along with key defensive partner Whitney Mercilus, went down in Game 5 and Watson after Game 7. The 3-4 Texans proceeded to win only one more game the rest of the season. While that defense still had Jadeveon Clowney, who had his best statistical season to date, the team could not overcome those losses. On offense, the loss of Watson left the team with a series of back-up QBs who could not overcome one of the worst offensive lines in NFL history. By the end of the season, the Texans had 21 players on IR.
If the team suffers those losses again, a 2017-like result is all but assured. AJ McCarron is not a bad option as a QB2, but to expect him to carry the team for an extended period is asking the impossible. Maybe the new draft picks can help the squad, but if last year is any indication, the loss of Watt could render the defense impotent, and that could happen with a healthy secondary. Since the Texans lack first and second round picks in 2021, they would not reap any of the benefits of a bad finish, setting the franchise even further back. With cap space starting to decrease, especially after the expected extension of Watson, the squad has limited options to reload for 2021, setting the stage for an extended downturn.
BILL O’BRIEN vs. THE LOCKER ROOM: INTERNAL STRIFE WRECKS THE TEAM
For all Bill O’Brien’s flaws, one area where he generally succeeds is as a “players” coach. He generally takes the side of his players; while he can get emotional with them, especially in heated game situations, said players generally respond well to BO’B. This is not to say that the team hasn’t faced potential flashpoints since 2014. The quarterback controversy/1-4 start to the 2015 season, the friction between BO’B and [NAME REDACTED] for the 2016 season, the players versus Bob McNair after the owner’s ill-timed “Inmates running the asylum” comments in 2017, the 0-3 start to 2018… all of those things had the serious potential to undermine the team and wreck the season. However, while there are multiple reasons why each of those seasons saw the team either rebound to win the AFC South (2017 was more injury-related than internal strife), some credit must go to BO’B for working with the players to keep the team going.
However, prior to last summer, BO’B was just the HC. He picked up the mantle of GM after the botched poaching of Nick Caserio from the Patriots. No need to rehash O’Brien’s first personnel moves. In theory, BO’B came into this offseason wiser in the ways of being a GM.
Then BO’B opened up the free agency period with a bang, and not a good one. The trade of Hopkins to Arizona stunned everyone, especially Hopkins’ former teammates. Players from Kenny Stills to Watson voiced their displeasure via social media. Watson’s reaction was especially concerning, with the team striving to sign him to a long-term extension. Subsequent reporting and interviews revealed that potential friction existed between Nuk and BO’B due to issues ranging from lack of on-field communication to condemnation of Nuk’s lifestyle. Even Watt did not exactly endorse BO’B’s actions in a TV interview given weeks later, a rare move for him.
The tone appeared to change in the wake of the protests after the death of George Floyd. BO’B indicated his support for players who would kneel to protest injustice, saying he would kneel with them. This garnered several new positive tweets from players. Yet the move with Hopkins and the dangers of being both GM and HC are not forgotten. Recent publications note that agents did not look upon the Texans favorably after BO’B ditched Hopkins, and while the Texans did acquire players to replace him and Watson is seemingly happy with those moves, not all the bad blood is gone.
HOW LIKELY IS THIS TO HAPPEN? Much will depend on BO’B. Should the team perform well, winning will mask many issues. If BO’B follows his word and supports his players in all actions including kneeling to support social justice, he may overcome the ill-will from this offseason. However, should he go back on those words, or should BO’B the GM contradict BO’B the coach with personnel actions that upset key players, the team could react negatively, with the worst case being they quit on him on the field, producing a poor win-loss result. There is a reason most teams do not dual-hat the HC and GM, and the 2020 Texans validate that position. With little real draft ammunition, the team would need free agents; while they could make some cap room, the Texans may not be an attractive destination. Even worse, if BO’B alienates Watson, no contract extension for the franchise quarterback, Watson could be gone after 2021 (or in years to come, when the franchise tag becomes an untenable way to keep him in Houston), sending the franchise into a losing purgatory.
That’s enough gloom and doom for today. Tune in tomorrow for the second part.
In the meantime, what are the odds these scenarios come true? Think injuries are inevitable? Holding your breath for BO’B to lose the locker room? Or are you convinced 2020 is Houston’s year? Tell us what you think in the comments.