Jets Know Your Foe Podcast Preview – Scouting the Houston Texans’ Offseason

Michael Nania continues his Know Your Foe series with a breakdown of the Houston Texans offseason…

Coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the New York Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the Houston Texans.

HOUSTON TEXANS:

Franchise Outlook:

Mired in mediocrity and marred by an aging, injury-prone roster, the Texans put all their chips in the middle of the table on the night of the 2017 Draft. Looking to elevate themselves out of the purgatory of three straight 9-win seasons, the Texans traded up to grab Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall selection.

Watson immediately turned heads, but the Texans elected to start Tom Savage in Week 1 against the Jaguars. After an embarrassing first half, they turned to Watson, and never looked back until his untimely injury. Over the next six weeks under Watson’s lead, the Texans were a very competitive team. Against a schedule featuring four eventual winning teams, Houston went 3-3 with a +49 point differential, averaging 34.7 points per game. Watson looked like a megastar, compiling 19 touchdowns through the air and 2 on the ground in less than half of a season while putting up robust rates of 8.3 yards per attempt and a 103.0 quarterback rating. Watson’s insane 9.3% TD rate was the best for a QB with 6+ starts since Peyton Manning in 2004, the best for a rookie since 1946, and the best ever for a player 22 or younger.

Unfortunately, Watson went down with an ACL injury, and the Texans became a hot mess. You read above that the Texans went 3-3 with a very strong +49 point differential in games started by Watson. In the rest of their games, they went 1-9 with a -147 point differential. That stark difference demonstrates just how much Deshaun Watson meant to this franchise in 2017; and will continue to mean for the foreseeable future.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Do keep in mind the impact Watson had on the offensive side of the ball. With him, Houston scored at a rate that would make them the league’s best offense. Without him, they scored at a rate that would make them the league’s worst.

Positives:

Offensive:

  • 6th in passing touchdowns (28)
  • 16th in rushing yards per attempt (4.1)
  • 12th in fourth down conversion rate (50%)

Defensive:

  • 10th in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.0)
  • 5th in third down conversion rate allowed (35%)

Negatives:

Offensive:

  • 31st in sacks allowed & sack rate (54, 9.3%)
  • 22nd in third down conversion rate (36%)
  • 20th in red zone touchdown rate (52%)
  • 25th in rushing touchdowns (8)
  • 26th in interceptions (17)
  • 28th in turnovers (28)
  • 32nd in average starting field position (own 25.3)

Defensive:

  • 32nd in scoring defense (27.3 PPG)
  • 32nd in punt return average allowed (12.3)
  • 27th in takeaways (16)
  • 29th in passing touchdowns allowed (30)
  • 27th in fourth down conversion rate allowed (63%)
  • 27th in red zone touchdown rate allowed (61%)

Draft –

R3, #68: Justin Reid, S, Stanford: Due to the Watson and Brock Osweiler trades, the Texans did not make a selection until the third round. Their first pick looks like a steal, as they grabbed former Stanford safety Justin Reid; the brother of Eric Reid. Scouts raved about his athleticism and versatility, and was thought by some to have a shot at going in the late first round. For whatever reason, he slipped and fell right into the laps of a team in desperate need of help on the back end.

R3, #80: Martinas Rankin, OL, Mississippi State: The offensive line is another weakness for Houston. Football Outsiders ranked the Texans 30th in adjusted sack rate allowed and 20th in adjusted line yards (estimate of rushing yardage created by the line). Pro Football Focus ranked them dead last.

Rankin was a left tackle in college but was projected by scouts to shift to guard. He has athletic deficiencies but plus technique and instincts. I wrote about him as a potential Jets target here.

R3, #98: Jordan Akins, TE, Central Florida: Very old for a draft prospect (26) and slightly undersized for a tight end (6’3, 250), but possesses very good speed and deep-ball ability.

On mockdraftable.com, Akin’s closest prospect comparison based on measurables is Jets fourth-round pick Chris Herndon.

R4, #103: Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech: Classic small and lanky but uber-fast receiver, also possessing return potential. Put up huge numbers with 93 catches, 1429 yards, and 10 touchdowns in his final year within the Texas Tech high-octane offense.

Round 6-7 picks:

R6-177: Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest

R6-211: Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi State

R6-214: Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

R7-222: Jermaine Kelly, CB, San Jose State

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – I’m going to go with Jordan Akins. Everyone who has ever taken a breath knows that the Jets have struggled with covering tight ends for all of eternity. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but let’s be real. Tight ends went to work against the Jets both down the field and in the red zone. Akins might not have superstar upside, but he is a good athlete with big play potential, evidenced by his back-to-back seasons with 15+ yards per reception at UCF. I think he has the best shot of his ragtag draft class of pulling a surprise big play on this Jets defense.

Hopefully Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Darron Lee and company have their tight end-covering issues ironed out in 2018. The progression the young defensive core makes in coverage against the tight end position is going to be a major factor in determining the level of success the Jets have this year.

Major trades:

None notable. Obviously as mentioned earlier, the Texans’ 2018 draft was highly impacted by two previous trades involving quarterbacks. Houston gave up its first round pick to move up from 25 to 12 and get Watson in 2017. They also gave up their second round pick to dump Brock Osweiler on the Browns.

Notable losses:

  • The Texans cut ties with franchise all-time leading tackler Brian Cushing.
  • Defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel became the head coach of the Titans. Romeo Crennel was promoted from assistant head coach to replace him.

Notable additions:

  • Signed CB/S Tyrann Mathieu to 1 year, $7 million deal: The LSU product that was highly recruited by Jets players and fans alike ultimately settled on Southeast Texas as his destination over Northern New Jersey. Mathieu has battled injuries and down years in recent seasons, but there’s no questioning that there is a lot of gamebreaking talent in there. The question is, how much of it is left?
  • Signed CB Aaron Colvin to 4 year, $34 million deal: Colvin had a very strong season as the Jaguar’s nickel/slot corner playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps.
  • Signed G/C Zach Fulton to 4 year, $28 million deal: Fulton was a decent center in Kansas City. It seems Fulton will shift to left guard next to center Nick Martin, but it’s possible the opposite could be true.
  • Signed G Senio Kelemete to 3 year, $12 million deal: Kelemete was a poorly graded occasional starter in New Orleans, and is currently slated as a starter at right guard.
  • Signed G Seantrel Henderson to 1 year, $4 million deal: The description to Kelemete applies here as well. Henderson started 1 game in Buffalo over the past 2 years after starting 26 in his first 2.
  • Claimed WR Sammie Coates off waivers: Coates has issues off the field but flashed tremendous deep ball ability in Pittsburgh in 2016.

Most damaging loss?

The Texans were mostly terrible last year outside of Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Jadeveon Clowney. There was no loss that will hurt them much, if at all.

However, the big question mark is J.J. Watt. When will he back? Will he back? If he does come back, will he be J.J. Watt or just his shell? Watt is one of the most dominant defenders in the history of the league. The version of him the Texans eventually get, if they even get one, is perhaps their biggest variable outside of Watson’s growth.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? 

The Texans emphasized addressing the offensive line, but I must say their additions are very uninspiring. I had to squint a few times to make sure they were serious with these names being their “solutions” in the starting lineup. Two of their three free agent additions were backups with poor performance reputations, while the other is a decent starter with only 30 starts to his name over the past three years. You have to start somewhere, but it seems clear that the Texans are going to have to fix this line through the draft or wait until a big opportunity presents itself in free agency.

With all of that said, I turn towards the Texans’ additions in the secondary as the most threatening to this Jets team. I’m really intrigued to see what Aaron Colvin will do. It’s ironic that he chose the Texans in free agency, the team who saw their own breakout young corner, A.J. Bouye, bolt to Jacksonville in free agency to join Colvin in 2017. If Colvin is close to as successful a signing as Bouye was, it will be a big win for the Texans. As for how Colvin will match up against the Jets, it’s going to be interesting to see who he faces the most. Who will get the most slot reps? Jermaine Kearse? Quincy Enunwa? Whoever it may be, it should be a good test.

Colvin gets my pick as the most threatening addition to the Jets, but Tyrann Mathieu is a close second. With the Jets-Texans game coming late in the year, it’s possible Sam Darnold could be early in his starting career at that point. If that is the case, could Mathieu take advantage and make some plays? Regardless of who is at quarterback at that point and how long they’ve been there, if Mathieu is healthy and at peak form, he’s dangerous. The Jets loved the go routes to their outside receivers last year. I wonder if talented safeties like Mathieu will be all over those types of routes this year.

Jets Connections –

  • Perhaps no free agent was as unanimously coveted by the Jets community as Tyrann Mathieu was.

Mathieu had a lot of Jets connections, including friendships with fellow LSU alums Jamal Adams and Morris Claiborne, playing under Todd Bowles in Arizona, and also having a relationship with Bowles’ stepdaughter. Alas, it was not meant to be.

  • New Texans DC Romeo Crennel was the Jets defensive line coach from 1997-99.

Synopsis –

Last year, Deshaun Watson emphasized the belief that “QB is the most important position in sports” more strongly than anybody ever has. He was already a cherished and valuable asset after the Texans traded up for him. Though, few expected him to be such a game-changer right off the bat. As soon as he stepped on to the football field, he quite literally single-handedly turned the Houston Texans from an embarrassingly poor offense and #1 pick contender to an explosive behemoth of an offense putting up 30 points every week like it was nothing.

The Texans have a bevy of question marks across the roster, and didn’t make many major moves to fix the holes outside of the secondary, but Watson already showed that his mere presence makes the team legitimate; and that was as a rookie playing the first seven professional games of his life. The Watson-led Texans were a .500 team with a top-5-caliber point differential against a schedule featuring games at New England and Seattle in addition to home games against eventual playoff teams in the Chiefs and Titans. All three of Watson’s losses were by just one score with the defense giving up 40 points per game.

As long as Watson picks up right where he left off, it seems safe to suggest that the Texans should at the very least be somewhere around .500. Now, if Watson continues to get even better and the secondary additions turn the defense around? Houston might be back in the AFC South throne for a very long time.

Thanks for reading, and make sure to keep an eye out for the Know Your Foe Podcast coming this preseason! Stay tuned for the rest of my Know Your Foe 2018 Jets opponent previews weekly throughout the offseason; check out the entire collection here. Follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania to keep up with everything Know Your Foe and Jets!

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.