A wise man once said you cannot ignore in victory what you would harp on in defeat. The Houston Texans are basking in the glow of a 37-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The effort was shocking in spite of the fact that it was the sixth consecutive victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Why was it so shocking? The Texans were seriously outgunned and outmanned coming into that game.
While the Texans improbable victory was the story on Sunday, the sheer number of players on injured reserve was the story throughout the week. The list of inactives read like a MASH unit. It included four of the five starting offensive linemen and three members of the secondary and one of the starting linebackers.
There is a basic relationship between general managers and coaches in every sport. The general manager is in charge of making sure there is as much talent on the roster as possible. The coaches are responsible for putting that talent in position to win on game day. The Texans coaching staff clearly passed that test on Sunday. They took a clearly inferior roster into Jacksonville and kicked some serious tail.
There’s a reason why the roster is inferior. When the Texans went 4-12 in 2020 it appeared as if they would be embarking on a rebuilding project. J.J, Watt was moving on and Deshaun Watson wanted out. Furthermore, Bill O’Brien had frittered away the team’s first and second round picks in the 2021 draft. Nick Caserio walked in and had to deal with all of those situations at the same time.
Caserio handled the Watson situation as well as could be expected. Sure, there are some that claim he should have gotten more, but considering Watson’s legal quagmire, I don’t know that such an expectation was realistic. In the end, he got three first rounders and a couple of middle rounders as well.
The Case Against Caserio
That deft negotiation might be the last good thing that Caserio pulled off before DeMeco Ryans came to town. It is fair to wonder how much each had to do with the selection of C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson in the draft. Certainly, he was responsible for the package that went Arizona’s way to get the third overall pick. The returns are early but this might be a case of drafting the right two guys but paying way too steep a cost.
Meanwhile, in 2022, he selected Derek Stingley with his injury history right before the Jets selected Sauce Gardner. Gardner was the best defensive rookie in the NFL and went to the Pro Bowl. Stingley missed the last seven games with injury. Now, Stingley will be missing another four to eight weeks with the same injury.
Caserio traded down with the second pick in the first round. He could have drafted Jordan Davis to help plug up the middle or Kyle Hamilton to improve the secondary. Both of those players were amongst the top five rookie defenders last season. In particular, Hamilton was another Pro Bowl defender. It could have been Sauce Gardner and Kyle Hamilton in the secondary.
Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes you can make the right decision and get the wrong results. However it is hard to claim that in Derek Stingley or Kenyon Green’s case. Both had injury histories in college. Green was the worst left guard in the league last season. He is missing this entire season due to an assortment of injuries. Both could still be good, but we won’t know until 2024 and that will be in year three of their careers.
Add that to the absolute clown show that was the first two hiring cycles and you can see a whole lot that went wrong. Again, this isn’t about hindsight. There have been a ton of coaches over the years that have been hired in Houston that turned out to be duds. It isn’t about that. There has never been a coach I had less faith in from jump than David Culley. You could tell within three minutes that it was going to be a *kitten* show. Lovie Smith was more or less the same situation.
Adding insult to injury, there were interviews with coaching luminaries like Hines Ward and Josh McCown (twice!). Obviously, Vince Lombardi wasn’t walking through the door and if he was, he wasn’t taking the job, but there were people they actually interviewed that wouldn’t have been a dumpster fire. They could have coached the team for two seasons, been respectable, and then went on their merry way.
The Case for Caserio
The Texans were in dire straits when he came on the job. They had limited picks in the draft, a quarterback that wanted out, and were in salary cap hell. They will have the most cap room in the NFL next offseason and it appears as if they have their franchise quarterback moving forward. When you have cash and a young quarterback you can make up a ton of ground.
When we look at the 2020 Texans and their 4-12 record, we can track the other teams that had equal or worse records that season. How long did it take them to ramp up and become competitive? We will go through the exercise but Caserio defenders will correctly point out that he was dealing with more crap than those other general managers.
Team 2020 2021 2022 2023
Houston: 4-12 4-13 3-13-1 1-2
New York Jets: 2-14 4-13 7-10 1-2
Jacksonville: 1-15 3-14 9-8 1-2
Atlanta: 4-12 7-10 7-10 2-1
Jacksonville is the only team to advance to the playoffs at any point. Yet, all of those teams have improved record wise except for the Texans. They have technically gotten worse each season of Caserio’s tenure. We remember back to the opening thought: general managers assemble the talent and the coaches put them in positions to perform. So, we could blame the coaches except who hired the coaches?
The Final Verdict
None of us can hire or fire anyone as far as the Texans are concerned. I also will not recommend anything here. Instead I will ask a series of questions and leave it for DeMeco Ryans and the McNairs to answer. If we believe in DeMeco Ryans, and after Sunday’s game we should, then it becomes a question of who he would rather work with. Has Caserio been a good partner to him in this process or has he been more of an impediment in this process? Ryans is the only one that can answer that question.
For the McNairs the question is simple. If we consider this to be Caserio’s best draft then who gets the credit for that draft? Coaches frequently have a lot of input in those picks. Were Stroud, Anderson, and Dell DeMeco picks or Caserio picks? Maybe some (like Stroud) were McNair picks. If others were responsible for those picks then what exactly does Caserio bring to the table? If he is just responsible for deal making and contracts then has he done what is in the best interest of the Texans?
The Texans won on Sunday and they looked good doing it, but this situation will continue to fester as long as players like Stingley and Green aren’t performing. That’s particularly true when the players picked right after them in the draft continue to perform. DeMeco Ryans isn’t going anywhere and after Sunday every Texans fan has to feel good about Ryans and the coaching staff. It remains to be seen whether he has the right partner in the general manager’s chair.