The Houston Texans, after Monday night’s domination of the Tennessee Titans, have now won eight straight games and hold the third seed in the AFC. They are tied at 8-3 with the two seed NE Patriots and only one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs. At this point, there are five teams that look like they could win the AFC; out of all these teams, the Texans may have the most talent on their roster. A Houston Texans Super Bowl appearance is not out of the question.
The offensive strength of this team is clearly in the passing game. Entering this season, the Texans biggest question was whether Deshaun Watson could fully recover from last season’s ACL tear. He started off rough, which is to be expected, but is now back near his level before the injury. Watson is Houston’s most important player not only for the future of the franchise, but also this year.
In 10 games, the Texans quarterback has completed 65% of his passes this season with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. While those numbers don’t exactly blow you away, they show that he has been able to play consistent, reliable football. Watson’s added presence in the running game keep defenses honest with their pass rush.
In addition, DeAndre Hopkins is a top-five receiver in the NFL and has been playing like it. He makes plays all over the field; whether it is out-jumping defenders for deep balls, turning short slants into good plays or catching sideline balls for first downs, Hopkins does it all. Now that they added another great receiver in Demaryius Thomas; when he becomes fully acclimated with the offense, doubling either receiver will be risky.
As for the running back, Lamar Miller is a reliable if not explosive running back. He is good enough to make defenses keep an eye on the run game and gets tough yards when needed. Further, both Miller and backup running back Alfred Blue are adept pass blockers.
While their offense is really good, the defensive side of the ball is what makes a Houston Texans Super Bowl possible. The Texans defense is top 10 in stopping both the pass and run game. They have allowed the sixth fewest points in the NFL, and no more than 23 since week 4.
Houston has playmakers on all three levels of the defense. This allows defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to be aggressive with his play calling and get after the quarterback.
JJ Watt’s return to Pro Bowl form has forced defenses to put multiple blockers on him, freeing up the other pass rushers. Even with double and sometimes triple blocking, Watt still has 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, seventeen quarterback hits and twelve tackle for losses on the season.
The rest of the team, including studs like linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus are able to go one on one with their blocker to get in the backfield. The linebackers are also playing great in run defense, allowing under 100 rush yards per game.
Lastly, the big time players in the Texans’ secondary are living up to their names. The offseason additions at safety, signing Tyrann Mathieu and drafting Justin Reid, have paid off. Pro-football Focus has both as top 20 safeties this year overall and both in the top 15 for run defense. Just last week, Reid had a 101-yard pick six that ended up being the deciding score in the game.
At cornerback, Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph are both past the age of 30 but are playing extremely well. PFF has both of them rated top 10 in the league this year due to their excellent coverage all season. In addition, slot corner Aaron Colvin just returned from injury and Kayvon Webster may come back later this season.
The Texans biggest weakness by far is their pass blocking. Their offensive line, arguably the worst in the league in the passing game, has allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked 37 times. That number, which is third highest in football and only one behind the most sacked quarterbacks, could be much higher if Watson wasn’t as mobile. Houston must shore up its pass protections; not only teams with good defensive lines will be able to get to Deshaun Watson and disrupt the passing game, but Watson’s injury risk is also increased.
Another question mark for Houston is in coaching; Bill O’Brien has shown to be a competent coach, but is not nearly as experienced as other in the AFC Playoffs such as Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin. He usually plays conservative football, but will have to be be bold in order to beat great teams. O’Brien needs to prove he can handle the pressure of big games, both in play calling and clock management.
The Houston Texans are certainly in a position to make a playoff run. They have a great, well-rounded defense, a reliable quarterback (who actually showed his clutch factor in College Football Playoff games) and playmakers on the outside. If Houston can earn a first round bye and not have to travel to Foxborough, they have a good chance of going deep.
However, Houston must improve their offensive line play because it is arguably the most important unit for the playoffs. They need to be able to play at their tempo and give Deshaun Watson time to operate. But as long as they can shore it up a bit and Bill O’Brien can rise up to the playoff challenge, a Houston Texans Super Bowl berth is not out of the question.
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