The Houston Texans and their fans experienced a tumultuous three years. Season ticket holders have evacuated, players have fled, coaches have carouseled, and even general interest has wained.
But there’s one person restoring sanity in the inner sanctum at NRG Stadium; rookie QB C.J. Stroud.
After three seasons with uninspired football, the mere presence of competitive games is refreshing. Regardless of the final record, the current play by the Texans on both sides of the ball have reinvigorated interest in the team.
It’s a rare thing in the professional world where a season unequivocally doesn’t matter. That is, from a wins and losses perspective. For those who experienced the Great Recession in 2008, the summer of 2009 when things started to turn around was this unrelenting relief. There was an underlying concern that things could continue to be bad, and in fact were in the wake of a disaster. However, for a brief time the turning of the tide restored optimism in the American people.
That renewed optimism is pervasive in the Houston Texans fanbase. What’s unique about this club’s predicament is the lack of expectations associated with the team. Think about it, in any other season outside of the inaugural year, were you just happy that ‘football was back in Houston’?
Let’s break it down. The early 2000s featured devastatingly talent-less teams operating from behind. The Kubiak era featured growing momentum, expectations, and thirst for playoff victories. The beginning (‘06 - ‘10) coveted a playoff appearance. Then the backend (‘11 - ‘13) was the squandered window of opportunity to win the AFC. O’Brien’s era featured a similar pattern. ‘14 - ‘17 playoff appearances were the goal. ‘18 - ‘20 was the another window with unrelenting ambition. The second half of ‘20 through last season will be considered the Dark Ages - I wonder if I can rally the other writers to start using that term or come up with a better one.
Now, we enter the true start of Nick Caserio’s era. The first three seasons were cleaning up the disaster created by O’Brien and his crony Jack Easterby. Now, Caserio has put into place enough pieces to deliver a credible team with enough tangible talent across the team to pull off hard fought wins.
But again, it isn’t about the wins. If you are a fan of college football, you are well aware of the “eye test”. The eye test is in contrast to the statistical and empirical approach to ranking teams of similar record. The eye test evaluates how teams are playing in comparison to the talent they are playing against and similar teams at their level. It takes into account the pathos with which a team convinces you of their quality.
As it applies to the Texans, the eye test validates their improved performance, dynamic talent, and competency rushing the passer. Particularly on offense, this is the best performing team in a while. The efficiency they are able to move the ball down the field and success on third down has been leaps and bounds better than anything we’ve seen recently. Sure, everything looks great when you’re winning, but compare the quality of play from when we were winning any game in the past three years. Those mundane wins were so unconvincing it made rooting for the Texans impossible.
This Texans team passes the eye test in comparison to the last three years of “rebuilding” with flying colors. A competent coach. A bought-in locker room. A mixture of veteran talent and promising rookies. And most importantly, a quarterback.