We’re now less than two weeks away from the 2020 NFL season opening, with your Houston Texans kicking off in Kansas City to rampage among those phantoms that crushed them and their AFC Championship dreams last January after Houston blew a 24-0 lead. Entering a new season, the projection systems simulate the upcoming reality, ownership and management come up with goals for the season, and fans lay in bed and indulge themselves with their wildest fantasies.
For this week’s GroupThink, I asked the masthead a simple question that falls in line with these archetypal precursory preseason explorations: What would you consider a successful season for the 2020 Houston Texans? Further development from Deshaun Watson? The rookie class providing a few defensive starters? Lonnie Johnson Jr. no longer being one of the worst corners in the league? An AFC Championship Game appearance?
These were the masthead’s responses.
If you asked me this question before the middle of March, I might have said AFC Championship or higher. However, now that we are in the era of Corona, I guess the real definition of success must be that we could even get some semblance of a season played with no significant losses to the pandemic...oh, and that if Bill O’Brien can actually pull of a trade that doesn’t make him, and the Texans by extension, look like the yuuugggeeesst morons in the league.
In a pre-COVID world, I would have demanded an AFC Championship Game appearance. With all the investment in this current roster and the rapidly closing window for a Super Bowl, I’d expect nothing less. However, now that the world has been turned upside down and the sports landscape is left reeling and dealing with bubbles, testing, and prorated training camps, those expectations have been tempered somewhat.
In order to consider this season a success, I’d need this offense to be ranked in the top five in the NFL. With the upheaval from the Hopkins trade, the addition of Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, plus the acquisition of David Johnson, there has been too much change to not see quick results. To be nice, considering all the current circumstances, I’ll expand the range to falling in the top ten. It will take time to build chemistry between the new additions; that’s completely expected. However, to justify shipping one of the best receivers in the league for what is currently perceived to be “not enough”, the results need to be realized very quickly.
On the other side of the ball, this season will be a success if we can see a few rookies contribute and the defense can stay in the middle of the road. For how difficult this offseason has been for vets around the league, it’s been even harder for rookies. That, combined with a new defensive coordinator, means I’ll cut the young guns some slack. If we can get a few spark plays here and there, I’ll be happy. The secondary and pass rush are the largest concerns for the defense this year. If they can do just enough to preserve whatever leads we may have in late-game situations, I’ll feel satisfied.
AFC Championship Game appearance or bust.
We’ve been asked to have patience with Bill O’Brien because he didn’t have a solid quarterback. Got one.
We’ve been asked to have patience with Bill O’Brien because he didn’t have a general manager who got him the players he wants. He’s now the general manager.
We’ve been asked to have patience while he traded away Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, two of the most talented players in team history.
In this “what have you done for me lately” NFL world where O’Brien has been utterly decimated not once, but twice by the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Playoffs, anything short of an AFC Championship Game appearance is unacceptable. Honestly, anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, if O’Brien doesn’t have major excuses to cover the outcome of not making it there (losing several key player to injury, etc.) is unacceptable at this point. Those excuses won’t cut it for anything less.
O’Brien wanted total team control - he has it. He was no one left to blame and a team with multiple star level players. Bill Belichick won the Super Bowl with less, and so have several other coaches. It’s time for O’Brien to step up or step down.
Because of COVID-19, I’ll genuinely be happy if a season of football is successfully played without outbreaks, illness, canceled games or teams, etc. The context of a pandemic has meant any sort of sporting entertainment is greatly appreciated regardless of its quality.
Beyond that, if I were acting as if a pandemic was not going on and I were defining my basis of a successful season on what the team accomplished in 2019, I would be expecting at least another appearance in the Divisional Round or an AFC Championship Game appearance. A successful season for me would be Deshaun Watson going full Patrick Mahomes and passing for well over 4,000 yards, 30 TDs, a passer rating over 95, and at least two receivers posting 1,000+ yards. High expectations, I know, but this should be the season Watson proves he can utilize all of the weapons around him and becomes the MVP player that the organization is banking on.
I also would define success as a running game with either one 1,000 yard rusher or two rushers with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) each. David Johnson and Duke Johnson were brought in to be elusive backs that can turn checkdowns into first downs, so I expect both to get busy in the receiving game. If not, the pure rushing attack should be solid enough for one of them to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. Pair this with Houston’s passing offense, and we should be a top eight offense in the league. Anything lower would be a disappointment.
On defense, I’m honestly just hoping the Texans don’t regress further. I don’t expect them to decline, but I certainly don’t expect much improvement with little changes made to the atrocious defensive line and Eric Murray set to see meaningful playing time. A success would be if the line sees modest improvement in the additions of Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard (and hopefully a season-long diet of J.J. Watt). In the cornerback room, I’d want to see continued improvement from both Bradley Roby and Gareon Conley, hopefully to the point that they become a fairly intimidating duo. As for Lonnie Johnson, any consistent play showing he was worthy of the second round pick is good enough for me at this point. Some meaningful snaps from John Reid would be encouraging to see as well. A top twenty defense is expected, but a top sixteen one would be a resounding success.
Mix it all together, and a successful season would contain an absolutely bonkers offense that scores practicaly every time it touches the ball, and a defense that is good enough to keep them ahead in the shootouts. Could be a lot like the 2019 Chiefs, but I won’t get too ahead of myself. Hosting an AFC Championship Game would be great to see.
I don’t know that I agree with Carlos or l4blitzer. Even though everything has been turned upside down, the objective is still the same. We play to win the game. I don’t think that this roster will be able to get away with some of the miracles it has in the past; they are going to have to outright beat teams this year with the schedule they have. It is a lot to ask any team to get to the AFC Championship Game, but after the number of trips we’ve taken to the second round of the playoffs without any luck, it’s time to take that next step or begin to rebuild.
I would say the emergence of a new pass rusher is going to be more important than the re-emergence of J.J. Watt. Having someone consistently get sacks over the next five seasons will be more important than getting Watt back for two or three more.
Also, I’d really really like to see the Texans’ 2018 draft class take a big step. More than the rookies because they don’t have a fair shake this year. There is a lot of potential in that group that can elevate the play of the rest of the roster. Quality play by Tytus Howard and Max Scharping on the offensive line will benefit the entire offense. Lonnie Johnson Jr. taking a leap will give us a huge bump in the pass defense. Charles Omenihu developing into a solid pass rusher would be a major benefit and load off of other guys.
I don’t see how the currently constructed Texans can break into the Kansas City-Baltimore AFC tier with the current talent level they have. I’m expecting 2020 to be a brutal fight for an AFC South title; if they fail to capture that, they should end up with a Wild Card berth as a consolation prize.
That being said, the goal for this season has to be an AFC Championship Game. Bill O’Brien was handed the holy grail of roster construction with Deshaun Watson’s rookie contract, and so far all he’s done is use it as a spit cup for his vitriol. A 1-2 postseason record, constantly squandering talent because it doesn’t fit his NCAA mold of what a T.E.A.M. should be, and sticking to some offensive ideal that limits Watson because it just wins games is what the last two seasons have amounted to. Watson, a top five quarterback talent with fringe top ten production, is in the fourth year of his rookie contract. Another Divisional Round exit will be another failed season. Teams with quarterbacks of Watson’s caliber on a rookie contract should be competing for titles, not falling down 21-0 at home in the Wild Card Round, or blowing a 24-0 lead.
How would you define success for the Texans this year? Has your answer changed from what it would have been in February?