So far in 2021, your Houston Texans have seen themselves rated dead last in just about every prediction category out there. From worst skill position players to horrific game by game expectations, the team has swirled around the drain of Abandon All Hope for some time now.
In fact, it would seem there’s nothing to look forward to with the 2021 team. However, that’s just not true.
Sure, about the only way this version of H-Town pro ball wins a championship is if 31 other teams all forfeit due to COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other storylines to follow when looking for wins, moral victories or other positives.
Lovie Smith’s Texans-2 Defense
The opening drive of last weekend’s third preseason game saw the new fangled Houston defense force the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go three and out. Maliek Collins baited a Bucs lineman into a false start. Tom Brady missed a pass. A tailback just butter-fingered a catch, but a three and out is a three and out.
Of course, Brady came back and eviscerated the secondary on the next drive, but Tom Brady, the most “guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer” since Joe Montana going against the likes of Vernon Hargreaves III? Brady could have done that with two broken arms, tied behind his back, uphill, in four feet of snow.
Smith’s old/new defense has players rallying to the ball, forcing turnovers, and trying to impose their will. This is a welcomed look after watching the prevent-bend-but-go-ahead-and-break train wreck of the 2020 vintage Texans’ D.
While head coach David Culley might be a lame duck candidate to suffer through the Texans Tank before H-Town gets a better leader, Lovie Smith might just put together another vaunted Texans defense given the right players and 100% buy-in.
Special Teams Look Special Again
New special teams coordinator Frank Ross has quietly taken a roster full of nothing but depth and used it to his advantage. Employing the same swarm to the ball mindset Smith has given the defense, Houston’s special teams should consistently win the field position battle.
Especially with Justin Reid handling kicking duties. Just kidding. Still, definitely not too shabby for a safety.
With an improved average starting field position for the offense and a unit that forces opposing teams to start deep in their own territory, the special teams are helping the offense and defense the way they should have been doing for a long, long time.
Alex Erickson: Unheralded Preseason Surprise
At 29 years old, Erickson is getting long in the tooth. In his five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the career kick returner amassed 3,746 total return yards, fielding both punts and kickoffs. While he hasn’t lit the world afire as a wide receiver, Houston doesn’t need him to do that. They need a guy who can field a kick, not fumble it inside the 20 yard line a la Tyler Ervin and DeAndre Carter, make smart decisions, and set the offense up with solid field position.
Unlike Houston’s ever-present string of promising young receivers, (see Lestar Jean, Jaelen Strong, Keyshawn Martin, Braxton Miller, Keke Coutee, et al.), Erickson has already cut his (long) teeth elsewhere and isn’t likely to get bit by the “Madden Curse” of Texans receivers.
Nico Collins Is Legit
Speaking of young receivers, Houston’s most exciting offensive draft pick of the Nick Caserio era so far is Nico Collins. The big-bodied pass catcher was impressing coaches early on, and now he’s impressing the press.
While it’s harder for a wide receiver to make an instant impact than it is for say, a running back, Collins is turning heads. During his two preseason games, he caught three passes for 30 yards, a first down, a touchdown and had 17 yards after the catch. While those are hardly barn-burner numbers, Collins is playing catch with Tyrod Taylor, who is learning his 75th offensive system, and Davis Mills, who is NFL (not for long) as a passing prospect.
Imagine if Collins had Deshaun Watson throwing to him. He’s certainly not as impressive as DeAndre Hopkins or Andre Johnson were right out of the gate, but Collins should solidly emerge as Houston’s WR2 quickly.
Nick Caserio is Finally Impressing Some People
Let’s talk facts: Rarely has a first time general manager had so much hype—and so much controversy—coming in, only to step into the biggest pile of Toro [kitten] imaginable. Caserio agreeing to take the Texans job after the Jack Easterby meets Tommy Boy disaster of the last twelve months seems ill-advised. But he did take the gig. It would seem, based on the lack of constant mind-numbingly stupid decisions trademarked by the prior regime, he's beginning to have a positive impact on the franchise.
We won’t discuss the “trade Benardrick McKinney to Miami for Shaq Lawson, pay them both, and then trade Lawson for a sixth round pick” fiasco. Caserio has brought in some good players (see Erickson and Collins above, among others) and managed to get some good return in other areas.
Additionally, as of this writing, Caserio hasn't dumped Deshaun Watson for a bag of magic beans the way his predecessor would have. Granted, you have to work really hard to get top billing for the worst trade in NFL history AFTER the league celebrates its 100 year anniversary. Good job, BO’B; thanks for not eating all the paste.
To summarize, in the context of every general manager post-Rick Smith, Caserio is doing a good job.
There you have it. Five things to be happy about as your Houston Texans prepare to go up against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In another life, Deshaun Watson is preparing to face Trevor Lawrence in the battle of the two greatest quarterbacks in Clemson history.
Unfortunately, this reality has robbed us of that spectacle. There are still other things to take solace in.