The Seattle Seahawks host the Houston Texans on Sunday, the fourth-ever matchup between the two franchises, as it was the Seahawks who moved from the AFC to the NFC when the Texans entered the league and forced realignment in 2002. Seattle beat Houston 23-20 in an exciting 2013 matchup the featured a key Richard Sherman pick-six off of Matt Schaub that officially erased a 14-point fourth quarter deficit.
In order to get a better sense of the Schaub-less, DeShaun Watson-full Texans of today, I sent five Qs over to Brett Kollman of Battle Red Blog. In return, he sent me five very quick As.
Q: I thought DeShaun Watson was the best QB in the draft and I was surprised that so many teams talked their way out of drafting him. Were you skeptical of Watson and has he surprised you with what he's good at/bad at or is it still pretty much the scouting report we saw from Clemson?
A: I personally thought that Watson would have been a second round pick at the time. He struck me a more mobile version of Alex Smith (which isn't a bad thing, by the way), but obviously he has exceeded all of those expectations so far in his young career. His quick development from even just three months ago is one of the most stunning things I've ever witnessed in all my years watching the NFL. I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback go from looking that bad in the preseason to looking this good in the regular season, and yet here we are. People like me may have once thought he was destined to be another Alex Smith, but so far he looks like he's destined to be another Russell Wilson. For a more in depth breakdown on what Watson brings to the table, check out my video breakdown on him here: https://youtu.be/8ZJ5BDAsHy8
Q: With J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus out for the year, is the front-seven as harmed as it would seem from an outsiders perspective or are the reinforcements decent/this is really Jadeveon Clowney's defense anyway since he took over as the top player a year ago?
A: Jadeveon Clowney's sheer talent and force of will can still make a lot of plays on a week to week basis, but the team itself might be relying on generating pressure more with their inside linebackers than anyone else from now on. Clowney can't do it all on his own, but Benardrick McKinney is quickly establishing himself as one of the premiere blitzing inside linebackers in the NFL. He is second on the team in sacks this season (2.0) behind Clowney (3.0), but the numbers don't really tell the whole story. Mike Vrabel lines McKinney up all over the defensive front and blitzes him from every angle he can find. He usually hits the quarterback early and often every week, so expect to see him trying to run down Russell Wilson several times in this game.
As for the rest of the front seven, everyone else has been somewhere between good and serviceable. D.J. Reader is probably the best name to watch out of that group, as he is quickly becoming one of the best young nose tackles in the league. He has the physical talent to become Houston's version of Brandon Williams, but not quite the consistency yet. However, even if he becomes just 80% of what Williams is in Baltimore, Reader will be a damn good player for a long time.
Q: What was the situation at left tackle like with Duane Brown out and how much of an impact do you expect Brown to have this week, if any? Which parts of the Texans offense were most hurt without Brown and how much do you expect them to improve with him back?
A: Brown being out is what lead to Watson starting in the first place, in my opinion. Pass protection has been horrific without him in the lineup, so Watson was honestly the only quarterback on the roster that could realistically survive this offensive line (sound familiar, Seahawks fans?). Getting Brown back will be improve the zone run game that complements Watson's mobility so well, but it will also hopefully give him just a few fractions of a second more in a clean pocket to thrive in the pass game. He'll have his work cut out for him in his return, though, because the Seattle front seven is positively nasty. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texans throw some chips and double teams his way while he eases back into the game.
Q: Bill O'Brien has once again flip-flopped on QBs to open a year, to his own detriment. At least now it looks like Watson is gonna be "the guy" for awhile. What does O'Brien need to accomplish this season to be firmly on the cold seat, do you think O'Brien is great and shouldn't be fired no matter what, or do you think this isn't the year to really judge him since Watt is out, Duane was out, Mercilus is out, and Watson is still learning on the job?
A: I think that Watson's performance has already made O'Brien's seat pretty cold. He was being judged primarily on his ability to find and coach up a quarterback that this franchise could rely on for the future, and for the first time in four years it finally seems like he accomplished that task. It took a hell of a lot longer than it probably should have, but the wait was worth it. Watson is the real deal, and I have a feeling that both him and Bill O'Brien will be in Houston together for a long, long time.
Q: Which parts of the Houston special teams should we really be watching for this week? Gimme the scoop on kicking, punting, and returns. That's where this game could end up being decided, after all.
A: Shane Lechler is still the GOAT, even in his old age, and Ka'imi Fairbairn is looking like a really good young kicker that can generate touchbacks on kickoffs and nail 50+ yard field goals with ease. The problem though, as usual, is that Houston doesn't have any game-breaking return men and their slow coverage teams are average at best. Tyreek Hill ripped off a big return touchdown just two games ago that basically ended the Texans' chances at a comeback, and unfortunately that kind of heartbreak is becoming all too common for this team. If you have anyone on your roster that can run a 4.3 or below, just give them the ball on special teams and watch what happens. Somehow, some way, they'll find a way to break a big one on us. I guarantee it.