On Sunday, Sept. 10, the Houston Texans will embark on their 2023 journey with a visit to Baltimore to face the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Jackson, running back J.K. Dobbins, and the always mighty Ravens run-blocking will likely put on a show against a very inexperienced Texans defense. Even if not on the ground, Ravens receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, and tight end Mark Andrews will give Houston’s defense enough to worry about on their own. Beckham’s signing with Baltimore made headlines around the country as NFL fans pondered the potential of such a connection, just the Ravens to double down and take wide receiver Zay Flowers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. This is easily one of the best supporting casts Lamar Jackson has ever had while in Baltimore.
So … what about the Houston Texans’ offense? For all the hype surrounding Baltimore’s hot new offense, what about Houston’s? Well, fret not! I’ve come from faraway lands, bringing good tidings about the newest iteration of Houston’s offense. A fresh new look, oodles of blocking, and downfield passing to boot, there’s a lot to look forward to on this side of the ball as we enter the 2023 season. Here are four things to watch on offense when Houston takes the field on Sunday:
1: The Running Backs
Star running back Dameon Pierce, now flanked by veterans Devin Singletary and Mike Boone, leads a revamped Texans ground game through the flexing triceps of a new-and-improved offensive line. Houston ranked 31st in rushing offense last year, and the resources spent by general manager Nick Caserio over the offseason shows he’s determined to establish a more balanced attack. Singletary, a four-year starter for the Buffalo Bills, brings a level of reliability behind the starter that Houston hasn’t had for awhile, and Mike Boone is an X-factor back aching to get more touches.
With former San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik now as current Texans offensive coordinator, expect plenty of wide-zone running plays. Singletary and Boone make great options for this kind of scheme, their speed and lateral agility perfect for getting to the edge before the defenders. And, of course, we’re going to be seeing plenty more from the fullback position. Slowik loved using his fullbacks at San Francisco, making it no mystery why Houston brought in Andrew Beck during free agency. He’ll be blocking, running, catching passes, setting up screens, and doing anything else that Slowik can think of to catch defenses off guard or to set up plays for the running backs. The backfield is about to get far more interesting in Houston, and I’m all in on it. For the 2023 season, this is the Texans’ best bet at keeping themselves in games that they would normally lose.
2. Who’s Left on the Offensive Line?
On paper, this offensive line is one of the strengths of the team. But, factor in Tytus Howard, Juice Scruggs, and Kenyon Green all being put on IR to start the season, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster in between the two tackles. Thank goodness LT Laremy Tunsil is still healthy, now being the only healthy Week 1 starter that was here last year. Now, the question is: who will be starting along with him?
With Kenyon Green hurt, the starting left guard will be either rookie lineman Jarrett Patterson or former Steeler Kendrick Green, with the starting center job going to whoever of those two that’s left. The starting right tackle spot will likely go to former Arizona Cardinals lineman Josh Jones, making that sudden trade during the preseason look like a bargain. Are any of these players that good? I guess we’ll see in a few days!
My prediction: it’s going to be chaos in the middle of the line for the first few games. You can’t expect Jarrett Patterson, a rookie 6th-round pick, and Kendrick Green, a backup for another team’s interior line last year, to just immediately start blocking like seasoned-veterans because the team needs them to. Especially for players like Kendrick Green and Josh Jones who have only been in the Houston locker room for a few weeks, expectations for the first game should be pretty low. After a few weeks of gelling together (and getting Juice Scruggs and/or Tytus Howard back), I can envision Jarrett Patterson making positive plays in pass protection, or Kendrick Green taking it back to his college days and becoming a major blocking threat in the rushing attack. But success like that will take time for a very inexperienced pair of linemen, something C.J. Stroud probably won’t be happy to hear.
3: Who’s Getting the Most Targets?
Now this is a real dilemma. Houston doesn’t have a clear superstar wide receiver on the team, but they have plenty of young players with a lot of upside. Wide receivers John Metchie III, Nico Collins, and rookie Tank Dell will all get the chance to have a breakout season this year, competing to become the safety valve Stroud’s eyes will always drift towards when he inevitably encounters turbulence. Noah Brown and Robert Woods will also get targets as the seasoned veterans of the group, but I expect one of the younger receivers to become a quick favorite of Stroud’s.
Although, if Stroud is anything like many other rookie quarterbacks, he’ll likely be looking at his tight ends the most when he’s in danger. Dalton Schultz is already expected to be a big part of the offense this year, and he could be seeing a mountain of targets early on if Stroud’s offensive line gets out to a poor start. The former Dallas Cowboys tight end was a playmaker for quarterback Dak Prescott, and if Stroud can navigate the coverage packages Baltimore will set up to take care of Schultz, he could be in for a big first game as a Texan. Either way, get ready for a rollercoaster ride to start the season.
4: C.J. Stroud!!!
Yeah, this is the big one. This will be quarterback C.J. Stroud’s first regular season game as an NFL quarterback, and all eyes will be on him. He is the franchise, and every snap he takes in Week 1 will be a chance for Texans fans to glance at the glimmering future possible with an arm like Stroud’s. Usually a rookie quarterback’s first game isn’t anything special, but that won’t stop me from hoping Stroud breaks the mold. He’s been setting new standards since he became QB1 at Ohio State, why stop now?
The aforementioned John Metchie and Tank Dell have the quick feet and speed to get open early, and may demand plenty of targets from the quarterback. Stroud himself stated his desire for Dell to join him in Houston during the 2023 NFL Draft, so seeing him get attention won’t be a surprise.
CJ Stroud and Tank Dell's relationship goes back to the NFL combine.— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) May 2, 2023
⁰After Stroud was drafted by the Texans, he told the front office he wanted the Houston Cougar wide receiver and they delivered:@Tankdell4 | @CJ7STROUD pic.twitter.com/zqscFluXkc
But, judging from how much Stroud liked to throw far down the sideline while in college (7.0% Big Time Throw rate, highest among 2023 class of QBs), he might be looking for players like Nico Collins or Robert Woods more often than I suspect. On top of that, Baltimore’s pass coverage was severely lacking during stretches of the 2022 season, so aiming downfield might be Stroud’s path to victory in his first game. So, ultimately, he might as well just go full gunslinger in these first few games and see what kind of success his strong suit currently has at the NFL level. It will certainly make for some entertaining football, something no one could say about the Davis Mills passing attack.
And that’s it! These are the elements to the offense I’m most curious about, but how they all come together to create a brand new, 49ers-esque canvas will be one of the real big ticket storylines to keep tabs on throughout the season. This Sunday will be our first look at this new scheme, and I can’t wait to see what the new coaching staff has in store.
But what do you think? What part of this new team has you most excited for the upcoming season? What players are you most excited to watch in regular-season action? Let us know in the comments below!