The Houston Texans have been out of the playoff picture for most of the second half of the season. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any drama as we approach the new year. I sat down with Shaun Bijani and Brandon Scott of Sports Radio 610 to get their thoughts on some key questions as the season comes to a close. Bijani and Scott cover the team and are at virtually every press conference asking questions, so we wanted to get their perspective.
Do you see any way Lovie and Pep survive this season? Do you generally think they underachieved or is the talent on this team generally reflective in the results?
Shaun Bijani: With so much uncertainty and countless questions about why and how things have gone down the way that they have since the Spring of 2020 when DeAndre Hopkins was traded to Arizona, there’s always a chance until there’s not. That is to say, that unfortunately nothing this organization does would surprise me much these days given the circus that’s ensued the last three years.
With that being said, no. This staff cannot be brought back the following season. The Texans will draft a guy they believe is a franchise quarterback in April, there is no chance they can allow a head coach and/or an offensive coordinator to fail whoever that is in their first year. It’s only good business to get the staff that believes in the same guy you do (if your Nick Caserio or whoever the GM is ahead of the draft, which I have to believe will be Caserio).
The last thing the Texans want or need is to have to make another coaching change ahead of ‘24 and stifle any growth, chemistry, continuity or comfortability of said quarterback. The coach, staff and quarterback need to be given time to develop and build and create. They all have to be people you believe in and the best scenario is those kind of people that currently exist outside of the building. Nothing against Lovie or Pep, but they were simply the right type of individuals to have for the state that the organization is currently in. This was a tank. Don’t get it twisted, it might not have been forecasted to look as bad as it did, or result in just one win to this point but it was a tank and quite frankly, beautifully orchestrated. Give Nick his props there.
As far as the talent, they certainly have guys that are NFL caliber players. The entire 2022 draft class got to play this season with exception to John Metchie. All showed potential, some more than others. As a roster, I think they could have been better than they showed but not by much. I do think the staff’s inability to properly utilize personnel groupings, play their best players in the most important, high leverage situations cost them. Players can’t play when they’re not on the field and for those reasons alone the staff has to shoulder most of the blame for the team’s inconsistencies and underwhelming performances. Mills cost the Texans games, so did the staff with poor scheme, questionable play calling and misuse of personnel.
Brandon Scott: If the Texans continue to play watchable, competitive football, the McNair family could see enough progress to feel good about what the coaching staff is doing. It’s reasonable to say Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton are coaching for their jobs in these final three games.
That said, it’s also hard to blame all of the team’s underachievement on lack of talent. The job of the coaching staff is to maximize whatever talent it has, and these coaches did not really start doing it until the Cowboys game. There is enough blame to go around for what we’ve watched this season that firing anyone and everyone would be justified. One-win seasons are unacceptable, even if you’re aiming for the number one overall pick.
Should Nick Caserio’s job be safe? Does the fact that most of the rookies (outside of Dameon Pierce) struggled reflect more on him or the coaching staff when compared to other players at those positions that have played well from this rookie class?
SB: Yes. However, the part that bothers me the most about Caserio is the weird dynamic that he was caught up in the last two years with Jack Easterby and how culpable he really was in the decision making process in terms of coaching hires and free agent signings.
Drafting well in 2023 can quell a lot of those concerns that again, are major questions that we may never get real answers to. As far as judging talent in the NFL goes, it’s a difficult task particularly when you look at first year players. It is about the individual players at the end of the day for the most part, but an important key to their success is right place, system and staff. I think all rookies that played from the ‘22 class showed some things that warrant excitement going into their second year as professionals.
A healthy Derek Stingley could benefit more in man-to-man coverages, Jalen Pitre can afford to get stronger, add some good weight and improve his tackling. While Kenyon Green should benefit from an NFL offseason and get stronger, work on his hands in pass setting and continue to improve his run blocking which looked good early in the season. I like the way he played through pain with his shoulder which I think could’ve been a contributing factor to some of his struggles before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Teagan Quitoriano started the season on IR, but projects to be a complete tight end. He can block, run and catch. He’s quick off of the line, can catch through contact and runs good routes.
Aside from Jordan Akins, if he’d have been healthy all season we’d likely be talking about him more instead of not really at all. He could really be a pleasant surprise for many next season. Christian Harris has showed steady improvement since being activated from a hamstring injury. He still has a lot of work to do in learning NFL defenses and becoming a better tackler, but being unsure and not in the right spots can hinder that sort of growth. He can make plays all over the field.
Austin Deculus and Thomas Booker remain big question marks but expectations are low already for fifth and sixth round picks anyway. Hopefully John Metchie beats cancer and can return to the football field and live out a dream of his. Nico Collins is really the lone bright spot from the ‘21 class. It is early to fairly grade but on the surface, it appears Nick Caserio can do a solid job drafting and evaluating talent.
BS: Should it be safe? No. Is it safe? Probably. By the standard of this rebuild being a three- to five-year process, firing Caserio after just two offseasons never seemed likely. But the roster construction leaves a lot to be desired. It certainly does not instill confidence that one constructing the roster is right for the job. Both first-round picks, Derek Stingley Jr. (number three overall) and Kenyon Green (number 15 overall) have been underwhelming. Then consider who the Texans passed on to take them, Sauce Gardner (number four overall) having a potential All-Pro season for the New York Jets, and Jordan Davis (number 13 overall, where the Texans traded down and selected Green).
Jalen Pitre, Dameon Pierce and Teagan Quitoriano look like good value picks for Caserio, but the rest of it raises more questions than answers.
Let’s assume that Smith and his coaching staff are gone. Who out there do you feel is a realistic option in the coaching ranks to take over this team next season?
SB: There are two guys that I like above all of the rest. The first is Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. He’s had an interesting career path in the sense that he started on the defensive side of the ball, to now coordinating an offense for the likely MVP of the NFC, Jalen Hurts. He’s a master at creating mismatches, maybe seeing the game through different lenses his first couple of years as a defensive assistant contributes to that skill set. He’s young, innovative and it would be fun to see him build a roster with Caserio in Houston.
Former Texans linebacker and current San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is going to be another hot commodity this offseason. He’s risen quickly through the ranks on the west coast and is coordinating one of, of not the best defenses in the league this season. It’s been a pretty good lineage in San Francisco lately. If Ryans leaves, he’ll be the third consecutive coordinator that left the 49ers to land a head coaching job. Robert Salah, whom Ryans replaced, took the Jets job while Mike McDaniels left for the Miami Dolphins.
Ryans is a leader, always has been, it comes naturally but he knows how to build a strong defense and game plan against creative, out of the box thinking offenses. If the Texans could bring him back to Houston and utilize his ties to the Shanahan coaching tree and get a good offensive coordinator and someone that can develop a quarterback that would inject some life into what has been a dire situation in recent years. I think Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is going to get serious consideration from a number of teams this offseason. I’m not sure he’d leave, it is just his first year as an OC, but he’s been a rising name in recent weeks and is a dark horse candidate for me. He, too, is another guy that hasn’t bounced around a lot and has steadily risen through the ranks with the Dolphins and Lions organizations.
BS: Jonathan Gannon was interviewed last hiring cycle and is sure to get interviews again after the season the Eagles are having. Shane Steichen, Gannon’s offensive counterpart in Philadelphia, should also get a call early in the process. DeMeco Ryans is an obvious candidate, given his background as a former Texans player and the success of the 49ers defense since he took over as coordinator in 2021.
I’d also keep an eye on Ben Johnson, offensive coordinator for the Lions, and Luke Getsy, offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. The Lions’ offense ranks seventh in total DVOA and Getsy has done a nice job adjusting his play-calling to fit Justin Fields’ strengths after a rough start to the season. Getsy also gets high praise from Aaron Rodgers as the former quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in his last two MVP seasons.
We know QB is high on the shopping list but some have suggested forgoing one this year and waiting on Caleb Williams in 2024. Would you prefer they draft one in 2023 or wait on Caleb Williams?
SB: I think waiting on a quarterback is ridiculous. There are plenty of talented players in this draft and you shouldn’t EVER (looking at you 2020 New York Jets) get caught up in that dangerous game. There is no such thing as a sure thing. There’s a lot of life to live between now and then that has nothing to do with football.
I’d like to see the Texans take their chances, make good hires and develop Alabama’s quarterback Bryce Young. I tend to like guys that are proven winners. Young is just that. He was an unbelievable high school player in California, set records that will likely stand for years to come. He won the Heisman in 2021 and came back in 2022 and looked just as good, despite not having the numbers to boot, the touchdown-to-interception ratio was terrific and he kept his team in games when they weren’t playing their best.
Yes, he’s young but has a great feel for where defenders are, good arm strength, has that elusive quick twitch to him that can extend plays. He’s good, he’s really good, you get the picture. The thing that I always worry about with any quarterback, is trying to decipher what type of offense they’re familiar with and what can they grow into. I don’t know how many of Young’s throws are predetermined routes or what type of player he is going through progressions and things of that sort. And sure, he’s more slight of build than most, maybe any quarterback that I can think of at 6’0” 190-ish pounds, but he’s good and worthy of the overall pick on April 27, 2023.
BS: Unless you can guarantee Caleb Williams in 2024 (you can’t), or if you absolutely lack confidence in the quarterbacks from this upcoming draft, then this strategy makes no sense. It would be foolish to pass on Bryce Young if the evaluation is consistent with his play over the last two years.
From a skillset standpoint, Young checks every box. The only concern is his slight build, which is more of a question about durability than actual football ability. He’s shown on the field that he can overcome whatever size disadvantages he has. Whether he can stay healthy and be durable enough for the NFL game is a fair question to wonder.
For me, Young’s skills project as a player who is worth the risk. Nothing is more important in this rebuild than landing the right quarterback, head coach, and offensive play caller. So the Texans should be looking to improve in those areas as quickly as possible.
The Cincinnati Bengals did not wait until they had the perfect environment to surround their franchise quarterback before selecting Joe Burrow first overall. They didn’t wait the next year for Trevor Lawrence, because that would have been silly.
Waiting on Caleb Williams sounds amazing, but is not a plan at all.
The team has won nine games in nearly three seasons. How quickly can they turn things around? When is the first year you think they will compete again for a playoff berth?
SB: I might be called crazy for thinking this, but as bad as the Texans were this season, they had opportunities to win more than just one game. Considering if the staff had utilized Dameon Pierce earlier, not have been historically bad defensively against the run, played so conservatively other times, and would’ve taken better care of the ball (gotten better quarterback play) they could be looking at four or five total wins.
They’ll have the money on top of a ton of draft capital and with a new staff and energy in the building compounds with the fact they will still be playing in the AFC South division, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for the Texans to be playing meaningful games deep into the regular season next year. More realistically, I think we’d all agree that if this team doesn’t show marked improvement next year, Caserio’s job should be in jeopardy. This team should be competing for a legitimate chance to not just win its division but looking to make a run by 2024. Period.
BS: With the right draft picks in 2023, I truly believe it could be as soon as next season. Just look at the current AFC South standings and playoff picture if you need convincing. The Titans are leading the division at 7-7. No team in the NFC South has a .500 record, with Tampa leading it at 6-8.
Getting to the playoffs is not an insurmountable task with good coaching and an offense that can move the ball. Draft Bryce Young and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the first round and you immediately have an offense that at the very least can compete in the AFC South.