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Houston season review: The Texans have a star in DeShaun Watson but as a team have yet to truly impress

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
“Here, have a win, DeShaun!”
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m open to the idea of being impressed by the Houston Texans. As of now, I’m not.

I am, however, impressed by rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, who has shown great poise and athleticism through the first six games of his career. Watson was my favorite quarterback in the draft this year, and a guy who I thought should at least go second to the San Francisco 49ers (or Chicago Bears, as they ended up trading up to two for Mitchell Trubisky), if not first overall to the Cleveland Browns.

Regardless of his opponents so far, it’s very encouraging for fans to see a QB who can put up 15 passing touchdowns on his first 174 attempts, plus two rushing touchdowns on 28 carries, including 7.2 yards per rush. For the Texans to finally find their quarterback (as I believe they have, or at least, we’re seeing what a productive QB in Houston can actually look like) is major.

Unfortunately for them, I think many other pieces are now missing. And if they aren’t missing, then the current pieces have not truly been tested yet. Especially not like they’ll be tested on Sunday in Seattle against the Seahawks.

The Texans have three wins this season:

  • A 13-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night in Week 2, Watson’s first career start
  • A 57-14 win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 4, with Marcus Mariota exiting the game just after halftime and being replaced by Matt Cassel
  • A 33-17 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, with Kevin Hogan making his first and only start at quarteback

The Texans have three losses this season:

All told then, Houston is 1-3 against teams with winning records and 2-0 against teams with losing records. (A combined record of 2-11 for Cleveland and Cincinnati.)

Their win over the Titans is certainly a mark in the positive column. They juiced up their PPG mark by putting up 57 points, including 33 unanswered after the score was 24-14 just before halftime, and then Tennessee losing Mariota right after the break. The Titans are 4-3, including wins over the Seahawks and Jaguars, though they’ve also managed to lose to the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins.

I watched each of Houston’s wins this week and here’s a few observations.

Texans 13, Bengals 9

Thursday Night is always an asterisk, good or bad. Also, the Bengals had three days to prepare for Watson, who’d be making his first career start after Bill O’Brien quickly (and unsurprisingly) flipped from Tom Savage to him after their loss to Jacksonville.

Darqueze Dennard dropped what would have been an easy pick on a Watson pass in the first quarter. Later, Bengals receiver John Ross fumbled the ball and it goes straight to Jadeveon Clowney. From that play, field position for Houston starts at the CIN 20. FG, 3-0.

Much to his credit (I already said I love the guy) Watson has an incredible 49-yard rushing touchdown on 3rd-and-15. 10-3 lead for the Texans.

In the second half, Tyler Eifert caught a TD that would’ve given the Bengals a 13-10 lead but Eifert went out of bounds for no real reason. Just seemed to find himself out of bounds then came back in bounds, wiping a touchdown off of the board and then forcing a field goal to make it 10-9 instead.

The final drive for CIN was marred by penalties, bad throws/decisions by Andy Dalton, which is nothing new. Houston gets the win.

Texans 57, Titans 24

Mariota throws an interception to Andre Hal on the third play of the game. It was a bad overthrow directed towards Delanie Walker, giving Houston an early advantage. A short field of 43 yards leads to a touchdown by Lamar Miller, 7-0 HOU.

The Texans defense forces consecutive three-and-outs, leading to two more touchdowns, indeed making it 21-0 just after the end of the first quarter. But Mariota leads them back with two rushing touchdowns to make it 24-14 with 1:50 before half.

However, the ensuing KO return goes to the HOU 42, which is followed by a hands to the face penalty on the defense, then a PI in the end zone. 30-14. Another poor, ill-advised throw by Mariota is intercepted. However, an even worse-looking interception by Watson before half kills an opportunity for the Texans to get early points.

Mariota left early in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and Cassel goes 4-of-10 for 21 yards and two interceptions. As Matt Cassel is wont to do. It’s even easier at that point to pull away, giving Houston a 57-burger and Watson scoring five touchdowns.

Texans 33, Browns 17

I don’t know how much really needs to be examined in a win over the 0-7 Browns.

Beautiful 39-yard touchdown pass from Watson to Will Fuller makes it 10-3 late in the first quarter. Hogan looks bad and with the Browns actually driving deep into Houston territory, he throws a very high pass that goes right to Jonathan Joseph for an 82-yard pick-six. 16-3. A minute later, Hogan throws a second interception.

I mean, it’s 24-3 at half, 26-3 after a Hogan safety, and 33-3 late in the third quarter. They beat the worst team playing perhaps the worst quarterback on their roster. Hogan threw three interceptions, fumbled, and was sacked four times. Watson also ended up throwing a 56-yard pick-six to Jason McCourty.

This was also the first game without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, who went on IR after their loss to the Chiefs.

I also decided to watch their loss to New England.

Patriots 36, Texans 33

Tom Brady with an easy-looking 44-yard pass to Brandin Cooks sets the Patriots up at the 10. Touchdown to Rob Gronkowski isn’t too difficult. 7-0.

A 34-yard pass interference call on Houston’s second play from scrimmage gives them the ball at the NE 43. A 39-yard field goal makes it 7-3.

After trading punts, Brady just trips near his own end zone to kill New England’s next drive. The punt gives the Texans great field position and two Watson passes later, he throws a touchdown to Bruce Ellington to make it 10-7.

A couple minutes later, Watson makes a bad decision/worse throw on an interception to Stephon Gilmore that is returned to the Houston 12. Brady makes it 14-10 two plays later. Texans get the ball back and drive for 55 yards (15 on an unnecessary roughness penalty by Gilmore) to get a field goal, 14-13.

Next drive, Brady is sacked (horrible o-line protection) by Mercilus (as mentioned, now out for the year) and the ball pops into the arms of Clowney for a touchdown return. 20-14. On the next drive though, Brady has almost no issue driving down the field in a few plays, ending in a 47-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan. 21-20 Patriots. The half ends without anything else of note happening.

First drive of second half, Brady makes it look easy again, ending in a 19-yard pass to Jacob Hollister followed by a 42-yard touchdown to Cooks. 28-20. What’s clear is that a great quarterback is having almost no issue with this defense, and this defense includes Watt and Mercilus.

Sighting: Cassius Marsh with a sack, forced fumble (recovered by HOU) on Watson.

Watson has a semi-unreal roll left, throw to his right 35-yard completion to Ryan Griffin. He throws a 12-yard touchdown to Griffin. 28-27.

Drive by Patriots is halted inside Houston territory by a sack/strip on Brady. The next drive by the Texans includes a key 34-yard catch and run by D’Onta Foreman, setting up a field goal to give Houston a 30-28 lead. The Pats run it to Mike Gillislee three straight times on the next drive, ending just short of a first down. Conversely, the Texans next drive stalls on three straight incompletions by Watson. Brady throws three consecutive passes on New England’s next drive but they only gain nine yards and the last one is dropped by Gronkowski. Another punt, now 6:05 remaining in the game.

After a 12-yard completion to Griffin, Watson avoids about four sacks, dumping it off to Foreman for a 31-yard gain. Incredible. His next completion is 18 yards to Bruce Ellington, but then Bill O’Brien goes into time-shaving mode and runs it three times to Lamar Miller. The Pats stop them on 3rd-and-1 and force a field goal to make it 33-28 instead of 37-28.

Then incredible luck for New England. Brady fumbles the ball on the final drive, but it goes right into the hands of his guard David Andrews. He then throws deep Brandin Cooks and it looks intercepted, but it’s dropped at the last second. On 3rd-and-18 it’s a 27-yarder to Danny Amendola, then a 25-yard game-winner to Cooks.

The takeaways from this game for me are that Watson really is special, but especially special against a Patriots defense that has been inconsistent at best and the worst defense at worst. The defense was not very good, but could have looked a lot better if not for some huge mistakes and missed opportunities. Now that defense doesn’t have two of their best players, one of whom is one of the best players in the league. The Texans were good enough to beat the Patriots in New England in this game, but also didn’t because overall Brady was able to do what he wanted. I was also impressed with Ryan Griffin, who could be someone to be mindful of on Sunday.

Houston could be a good team, but I don’t think they have that impressive of a win yet, and impressive losses simply aren’t as valuable as ho-hum wins. They have a couple of ho-hum wins, a blowout win over an average Titans team that was half-without its starter, and three losses to good teams.

The Texans might be great. They just haven’t proven to be great. A win over the Seahawks in Seattle would do that — maybe they’re capable of it. Maybe they’re still a year away from being capable of that. With Watson in the fold, they’re certainly on the right path.