The Titanic II is expected to set sail in 2022 and replicate the ship that sunk back in 1912. The current ship will be built in China; unlike the first one, it is expected to avoid any icebergs.
Compare that situation with this season’s Houston Texans. The only difference is that instead of a 110-year window in between ocean liners, there has been a five-week window.
The Texans started off this season losing in New England to the Patriots, followed by another road loss to the division rival Tennessee Titans, and then followed that up with a home loss to the abysmal New York Giants.
H-Town was screaming “Code Red” faster than pre-injury Will Fuller can get behind a defense. The offensive line was holding up a “Welcome To Our Quarterback” sign, allowing defenders to nonchalantly pass through. Deshaun Watson looked like a man who was more worried about protecting his surgically repaired knee than he was about throwing accurate passes from the pocket. The defense could not stop a stationary dummy from moving the chains and scoring. It was so bad that when the 2018 season ends, the New York Giants might have to thank the Texans for helping them avoid becoming the second winless team in the last two seasons. The Texans went into this year as a dark horse AFC contender, but life comes at you fast. Sitting at 0-3, they looked like a dark horse for the number one pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Like the Titanic, the 2018 Houston Texans set sail and struck an iceberg.
Then something changed. Magic happened.
Frank Reich decided his team would attempt a fourth and four from their own 43-yard line with 24 seconds left in overtime. It was a game that never should have gone to overtime, as the Texans let up on the gas after leading 28-10 midway through the third quarter. Nonetheless, after Reich’s questionable decision, Deshaun Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for 24 yards. DW4 spiked the ball to stop the clock. Ka’imi Fairbairn hit a 37-yard field goal. Game over. Season saved.
The next week, Houston overcame a bunch of failed conversions with goal to go against the new little brothers of Texas. An overtime win on Sunday Night Football put Houston at 2-3. Momentum might just have been shifting. Deshaun started looking like Deshaun, and the defense was holding up its end of the bargain.
A sloppy win at home against Buffalo in Week Six needs emphasis on the word “sloppy”, but watching the Patriots have their hands full with the Bills for three quarters on Monday Night Football a few days ago makes it a little more valid of a dub.
Walking into Jacksonville and winning 20-7 in Week Seven was impressive. The Texans finally caused Blake Bortles to get benched, albeit temporarily, about two seasons too late.
Top all of this off with a dominant, highlight-reel performance from Deshaun Watson on Thursday Night Football against the Dolphins, and the Texans are looking at the third seed in the AFC Playoffs. They went from being winless with fans starting to fill out their mock draft boards to leading the division and the quarterback sliding into the MVP conversation.
So what changed?
The main improvement is rush defense. The Texans’ defense ranks third in the NFL in rush yards per attempt at 3.6. Teams are not moving the chains as efficiently with their ground games, and they’re forced to pass. The Texans’ defense isn’t being forced to stay on the field because the other team is not milking the clock.
Additionally, offensive lines make all the difference in the world. The Texans’ offensive line ranks dead last in the league in quarterback hits by giving up 71, eight more than the 31st ranked team. A quarterback running for his life will be put in a position where he has to rush throws because he doesn’t have time to go through his reads and allow receivers to run the routes or let plays develop.
Houston’s offensive line has been playing a little better as of late. In the past two games, Deshaun Watson has been sacked once and hit six times. Running back Lamar Miller has also rushed for 100+ yards in back-to-back games because of the improved offensive line play. When a quarterback who makes plays with his legs is given the luxury of protection, great things can happen. Ask the Miami Dolphins what happened to them when they could not get to Watson.
The quarterback getting healthy and trusting his legs again is the third reason. It’s a simple reason, but it’s the biggest one. Watson tore his ACL on November 2nd last year. An ACL tear might be healed enough for an athlete to return in eight or nine months, but it typically takes at least at least a year for it to be completely back to strength. The need for patience with Watson as he returned from the knee injury was clear early on. On Opening Day in New England, Watson did not trust his legs enough to scramble around like he is now. He wasn’t getting the power from his legs under his throws. Even though he currently has a cracked rib and a bruised lung, the ACL is fine, and the Clemson Tiger great can maneuver like he did before the injury.
Houston will take a trip to the Mile High City and play the Broncos on Sunday. The Texans just acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to replace injured speed demon Will Fuller. Houston will then go into their bye week before playing the Redskins in D.C., followed by three straight home games against the Titans, Browns, and Colts.
The Texans have a shot to start running away with the AFC South and extend their winning streak. If they keep playing like they have the last few weeks, it would be wise to bet that the Titanic II is not going to sink.