Alas, the end of football season is near. The Houston Texans have reached the last week of their season, and to some there may not be anything to play for. However, there will always be another season. Unless a lockout occurs, but it’s not that year, so we’re definitely going to have another season. The best way to start the process for next year is to finish this one off right. Win or lose, there are eight things I want to see when the Texans face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon.
1. Davis Mills Bounces Back From Poor 49ers Game
Oh, the woes of a rookie quarterback. Words I never thought I’d be saying before this pandemic, when the Texans were up 24 points on the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs...okay, I’m spiraling again. Let me get back on track.
Mills looked befuddled against the 49ers last week in a disappointing fall back to Earth. One week, the media is calling him the best quarterback in the class, and the next he can’t find anybody downfield. This too shall pass. The best way to put a poor performance behind him is to follow it up with a strong outing. The Titans allow 242 passing yards per game, which is 22nd in the league. Their secondary is not the most proficient at turning the ball over either. Tyrod Taylor suited up against the Titans in a win earlier this season; Mills needs to finish this season with a consistent performance more than anything to gain the team’s trust heading into the offseason.
2. Rookies Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins Total Over 125 Yards
This team is a one-man show with Brandin Cooks. He has SEVENTY-SEVEN more targets than the next player, rookie Nico Collins. The Texans’ lack of a WR2 has been critically damaging to their success and the development of Mills. The team went from overflowing with slot and receiver talent to barren in one season.
Nico Collins is a prototypical WR2. He can catch the ball in traffic, is solid down the sideline, and can occasionally stretch the field. He’s complimentary, but his ceiling has yet to be discovered. His average season had sparks of solid performances, though no game has truly “come together” for Collins.
For Brevin Jordan, the second half of the season has been promising. He’s worked his way up the depth chart and should enter the offseason as the team’s starting tight end. More of an athlete than anything else, Jordan has been a good surprise late in the year. I’d like to see both of these guys develop better chemistry with Mills in the offseason, so a little success now wouldn’t hurt.
3. Pep Hamilton Calls The Plays On Offense
Many are calling for Offensive Coordinator and Bill O’Brien regime holdout Tim Kelley to be fired at the onset of this offseason. Even more are clamoring for current quarterback coach Pep Hamilton to take Kelly’s place on the sideline. Some even suspect Hamilton could be the recipient of head coaching interviews. The former Colts offensive coordinator and Chargers QB coach was with the XFL’s DC Defenders for a short while as both their Head Coach and General Manager. Him somehow landing with the Texans as quarterback coach was questionable, but his help in developing Davis Mills is undeniable. If the Texans want to keep this gem of a coach, they should hand over the reins as early as possible.
4. Jonathan Greenard Ends The Season Strong
Greenard is two sacks away from reaching ten sacks on the season. That milestone is not to be overlooked for the second year defensive end. With 25% of the team’s sacks, Greenard has been by far the biggest surprise on Houston’s defensive line. He started the season as the third stringer behind Jordan Jenkins and Shaq Lawson; honestly, Greenard was closer to DE5. Now, he’s the cornerstone of the front seven and will hopefully be paired with a top flight pass rusher come the draft. Greenard is nursing a shoulder injury and has been limited in practice all week, but if he’s able to play, it would be excellent to see him finish this campaign strong.
5. Texans Surpass 100 Rushing Yards
It’s only happened three times this season. Gaining over 100 yards on the ground would be another major milestone in this offensive line’s progression. Running back Rex Burkhead didn’t crack 50 yards on the ground last week after setting a career high of 149 yards two weeks ago against the Chargers. Running the ball will take some pressure off of Davis Mills as the Titans will look to pressure him constantly and disrupt his throwing technique.
6. Jimmy Morrissey Starts Over Justin Britt At Center
Morrissey is an undrafted rookie center out of Pitt and has been one of the few bright spots on the offensive line. He recently lost his starting role to old man Justin Britt who, at 30, is past his prime and been injured for a majority of the season. Morrissey is a run-first center who can develop into a respectable interior lineman in the league. A good showing on Sunday could convince the Texans’ front office to not draft a center or sign another in free agency. That would allow the Texans to draft another player at a weaker position.
7. Maintain A Positive Turnover Differential
Last year the Texans had a -9 turnover differential; they caused a league low 9 turnovers last year and gave up 18. This year, the new coaching staff has emphasized turning the ball over, and it’s quite possibly been the only saving grace of this entire season. The Texans are 9th in the league in turnover differential with a +3 rating. If they can stay in the free (I.e., the Titans not have three or more turnovers more than the Texans), it would be a strong statement by Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith.
Smith truly took a rag-tag group of free agents and underdeveloped prospects and turned them into a respectable defense. If it wasn't for this offense playing fast and loose with the ball themselves (offense has had 22 turnovers, 15 of those being INTs), we could be talking about one of the biggest turnarounds in franchise history.
8. Don’t Get Blown Out
This wish list may be a little too late for Santa to bring us. The Titans are playing to maintain their first place in the AFC and a first round bye in the 2021 NFL Playoffs. They will not be going easy on the Texans in any manner. Additionally, the beatdown the Texans delivered in Tennessee earlier this season will definitely be bulletin board material and discussed ad nauseam in the Titans’ locker room.
Expect punishment to be dolled out in wallops on Sunday. But if the Texans can hang around and play inspired football to end the season, it could be an entertaining game. No one wants to go out on a whimper. The coaches want to end the season strong, the players want to ensure they have jobs next year, and the fans just want a competitive game.