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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week Four

Where do the Texans land after their loss to the Panthers?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It was fun while it lasted.

The Texans were competitive and exciting while Tyrod Taylor was on the field, and they were the absolute antithesis of that Thursday night when Davis Mills stepped up to cover for the now injured starter. Despite a literal handful of good throws, the Texans offense struggled to get anything going against a Panthers defense that eats rookie quarterbacks for breakfast.

The defense was pretty good for awhile, though! Even after the injuries and an offense much more adept at getting off the field than staying on it, the defense still made big plays well into the second half, keeping the game interesting far longer than expected. Davis Mills wasn’t completely awful, either. Maybe if both he and the rushing attack can improve for next week, we can make a game out it against…the Bills….never mind.

The most interesting thing to watch this coming Sunday will be finding out how good this passing defense really is. Against MVP-level Josh Allen and a fully loaded Bills receiving corps, they’ll have their work cut out for them every snap. Poor Davis Mills gets another top of the league defense in his second regular season game, further cementing how injuries came at the worst possible time for Houston.

Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Sometimes everything goes wrong. No amount of preparation, scheduling, clever decision making, or management can save you from having a bad day. On days like this, blame often finds no shoulder to rest its head on as none could have foreseen the perfect storm of mistakes gathering into a day where everything went perfectly, exactly wrong. Like us, organizations are built upon decisions made by people genuinely trying to make things better. Built in our image, they too have bad days. Unfortunately, the line of bad decisions made by the Texans will ensure they will continue to have bad days for awhile longer.

Yeah, but where were we last year?

After losing to the Ravens in week two of 2020, the Texans packed it up and went north to go and lose to the Steelers. This was the game last year when the wheels started to really come off, here’s what Dan Hanzus of NFL.com had to say about it:

21. Houston Texans (0-3)

Previous rank: No. 21

Another dispiriting setback for Houston, which sits at 0-3 after a 28-21 loss to the Steelers. The same issues continue to haunt Bill O’Brien’s Texans: They can’t protect the quarterback, they struggle to run the football, they can’t stop the run and they don’t force turnovers (zero through three games). Yes, their losses have come to the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers (Nos. 1, 3 and 4 in these rankings), but this early litmus test tells us how far Houston is from legitimate contender status. Deshaun Watson finished the first half 14 of 18 for 202 yards and two TDs, but the offense was held to just 51 yards and two first downs over in the final two quarters.

Unfortunately, many of the issues we experienced in that game have yet to be improved. The pass-blocking is still bad, the run-game was looking okay until they went against someone other than the Jaguars, and the run-defense is still all over the place. We are forcing turnovers now, though! Given how little this organization was able to change during this offseason, any improvement is something to celebrate. The Texans have gotten production from plenty of younger players on defense, and may be closer to playoff-caliber than expected.

Even so, we’re still disappointed. And this disappointment is special, because it shows an acknowledgement that the Texans had built up legitimate expectations after entering the season with none. The Texans showed us enough in the first two weeks to actually make many of us excited, and hopefully, the only thing preventing them from returning to that level of play is a few more weeks of recovery. These games headlined by Mills are a glimpse into how far from bad the Texans really are when they’re healthy, and how much work still needs to be done.

Check out this guy’s neck, though:

Maybe one day we will realize the true power of a neck like that.

Here’s where everyone is ranking the Texans entering week four of the 2021 season:

ESPN:

28. Houston Texans (1-2)

Previous ranking: 27

Team QBR: 63.0

QBR rank: 9th

The Texans are 1-2, but the team felt really good about Tyrod Taylor’s play through the first six quarters of the season, before he injured his left hamstring against Cleveland. Now, Houston hopes to see growth from Davis Mills. The rookie quarterback will play at least two more games with Taylor on the injured reserve, and coach David Culley said he thought Mills showed that “he can handle a lot more than what we felt like, because of the way he handled himself” in his first NFL start. — Sarah Barshop

NFL.COM

28. Houston Texans (1-2)

Previous rank: No. 28

The Texans feel like the AFC’s answer to the Lions: A talent-deficient roster that fights hard for its coach but ultimately lacks the firepower to keep up. The Texans struggled to limit chunk gains from a Sam Darnold-led Panthers offense that played without Christian McCaffrey for most of the game, while Houston’s ground game was practically non-existent in a 24-9 loss in primetime. Davis Mills had moments in his NFL starting debut — most of them during Houston’s lone touchdown march late in the first half — but he’s a third-string rookie quarterback who’s been pressed into duty before he’s ready. The kid needs help, and Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsayand the rest of the Texans’ ground game couldn’t give it to him on Thursday night.

PRO FOOTBALL TALK:

29. Texans (1-2, No. 28): They’ll win just enough games to blow the top pick in the draft.

USA TODAY:

29. Texans (28): No matter the quarterback, you have to admire WR Brandin Cooks’ constant production — his numbers currently spiking to 107 receiving yards per game despite Houston’s offensive issues.

THE RINGER:

27. Houston Texans (1-2)

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

31: Houston Texans (1-2)

Last week: Loss at Carolina, 24–9

Next week: at Buffalo

Let’s just say that the football team in Houston should be thankful that it won its opener. Problems abound. If anything, the Texans have played above expectation so far this season. Most in football don’t expect that to continue.

CBS SPORTS:

29. Houston Texans (1-2)

Davis Mills did some good things against the Panthers, but they were too restrictive in their play calling. It’s time to let him play a little looser going forward.

BLEACHER REPORT:

28. Houston Texans (1-2)

Last Week: 27

Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Carolina 24-9

That the Houston Texans are a bad football team is not surprising.

That the Texans aren’t actually worse than they are sort of is.

A quick glance at the stats from Thursday’s loss to the Panthers isn’t especially flattering. Houston scored just nine points and managed fewer than 200 yards of offense.

But Houston was trotting out a third-round rookie making his first career start in Davis Mills. The Texans are overmatched talent-wise at just about every position group on the field. But Houston trailed an undefeated Panthers team by just a point at intermission and has somehow managed to stay in all three games this season, winning one of them.

Prior to Tyrod Taylor’s hamstring injury, the Houston offense was giving the Cleveland Browns all they could handle. Lovie Smith’s defense has exceeded any reasonable expectation. Sure, the Texans are bad, but they were expected to be terrible—perhaps historically so.

That they aren’t speaks well to both the effort level of the team’s players and first-year head coach David Culley.

YAHOO! SPORTS:

30. Houston Texans (1-2, LW: 31)

For all the angst about the first-round quarterbacks, third-round pick Davis Mills didn’t embarrass himself against the Panthers. He played a safe game and that’s a reason Houston scored just nine points, but he was OK overall. We’ll get a chance to see if he can improve over the next couple weeks with Tyrod Taylor out.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the world got a chance to see what they had waiting behind the curtain, the mass sell-off of Houston Texans stock is happening. Brandin Cooks is still racking up yards, though, and the development of Davis Mills and this offensive line will keep all of us long-haulers comfortably numb for a little while longer. Who roots for Goliath, anyways?

Here’s my personal rankings for week four:

  1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0) (Last Week: 2)
  2. Buffalo Bills (2-1) (Last Week: 6)
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) (Last Week: 1)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (Last Week: 4)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (2-1) (Last Week: 13)
  6. Green Bay Packers (2-1) (Last Week: 8)
  7. Cleveland Browns (2-1) (Last Week: 5)
  8. Arizona Cardinals (3-0) (Last Week: 7)
  9. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) (Last Week: 3)
  10. Las Vegas Raiders (3-0) (Last Week: 11)
  11. San Francisco 49ers (2-1) (Last Week: 12)
  12. Carolina Panthers (3-0) (Last Week: 17)
  13. Denver Broncos (3-0) (Last Week: 14)
  14. Tennessee Titans (2-1) (Last Week: 15)
  15. Seattle Seahawks (1-2) (Last Week: 10)
  16. Dallas Cowboys (2-1) (Last Week: 18)
  17. New Orleans Saints (2-1) (Last Week: 19)
  18. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) (Last Week: 9)
  19. New England Patriots (1-2) (Last Week: 16)
  20. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) (Last Week: 25)
  21. Miami Dolphins (1-2) (Last Week: 20)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (1-2) (Last Week: 27)
  23. Washington Football Team (1-2) (Last Week: 21)
  24. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) (Last Week: 22)
  25. Indianapolis Colts (0-3) (Last Week: 23)
  26. Chicago Bears (1-2) (Last Week: 24)
  27. Houston Texans (1-2) (Last Week: 26)
  28. Atlanta Falcons (1-2) (Lat Week: 31)
  29. Detroit Lions (0-3) (Last Week: 29)
  30. New York Giants (0-3) (Last Week: 28)
  31. New York Jets (0-3) (Last Week: 30)
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) (Last Week: 32)
Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Another crazy week full of nail-biters and games with massive playoff implications, and the Chargers got a monster win at Arrowhead to put the Chiefs in last place in the AFC West. The Raiders avoided an upset against Miami and are officially a scary team now. I think the Sunday night game said more about how close the 49ers and Packers are in terms of competitiveness than it said about either team specifically. After all that was said and done and the contenders finished the day clawing at each other for positioning, someone had to take the stairs the whole way down, and it was the Steelers. Losing to the Bengals put them comfortably in last place of their division, which will be a hard hole to dig out of, and that offense doesn’t have nearly the firepower needed to get started. Unless the offense completely changes for the better, the Steelers will probably finish the season neighboring the Texans.

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