While it may have been hard to focus on, given that Thursday Night Football was a cacophony of bizarre calls and even stranger coaching decisions, the Texans notified the rest of the NFL that they are back in rhythm.
This 42–23 beatdown of the Dolphins in prime time—Houston’s fifth win in a row—should be terrifying for the AFC South teams unable to pull away when they had their chance. It should also be a signal for any general managers looking to shop talent before the coming deadline.
NFLPA records checked shortly before publish time showed the Texans with the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL right now behind the Browns, Colts and 49ers. They also have an additional second-round pick in stock thanks to the Duane Brown trade to Seattle a year ago. With a quarter of the league discarding talent at discount prices, this is a beautiful time to be a general manager with ample space on the credit card.
It would be hard to imagine watching this Texans’ dismantling of an average-to-slightly-above-average Dolphins team and not recognize the potential and ultimate frailty playing alongside one another in real time. There was J.J. Watt and the Texans’ defensive line creating a mile-wide hole for Tyrann Mathieu to blitz through in the fourth quarter, just before Jadeveon Clowney hobbled into the medical tent with a knee injury. There was DeAndre Hopkins handing the football off to an offensive lineman to spike, just a minute after Will Fuller walked off to the locker room.
Perhaps more than any team in recent NFL history, Houston has embodied the bitterness of the league’s 100% injury rate. For the better part of four seasons, they have been a consistently disembodied dream team unable to have their best players on the field at once. Watt without Clowney. Clowney without Watt. A healthy defense with Brock Osweiler under center. A surging offense jammed to a halt thanks to a horribly-timed ACL tear afflicting Deshaun Watson.
Thursday night was a glimmer of what the team can bring, creating the type of highlight-reel evening that has kept coach Bill O’Brien in Houston for almost half a decade now. If only it stayed that way.
With a new personnel head in place, finally beyond the days of having to spend draft capital just to rid the team of a horrid free-agent signing, Houston now has the chance to acquire an offense-specific backup quarterback who could control the ball and help the defense win football games. They can bolster their run defense and layer their depth chart at defensive end. They can be preventative, and for once, not regretful once the end of the regular season arrives.
For those who advocate pragmatism, consider how rare this window is for Houston right now. Clowney is auditioning for free agency this offseason, which he’ll hit at the perfect age (26). Two 30-plus year old cornerbacks are playing out of their mind. Watt is in the hunt for sack leader after having his tibial plateau reconstructed this offseason. Mathieu is playing on a one-year deal, also ripe to hit free agency at 26. Watson is coming into his own, while still on his rookie deal.
As good as O’Brien and general manager Brian Gaine are, it may never be this way again. Recognizing this may be their most important move yet.
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1. Josh Norman is not happy about Eric Reid’s “neo-colonialist” comments regarding Malcolm Jenkins and the players’ coalition.
2. The NFL is now in the business of firing underperforming officials. Football Zebras was first on the stunning move.
3. Blake Bortles calls himself a scapegoat, once again affirms he can block out the noise.
4. Von Miller is trying to distance his Halloween party from whatever the hell happened to former backup QB Chad Kelly.
5. Todd Haley said he has no problem with Hue Jackson wanting to “infuse” himself with the offense.
6. It’s not just the pass rushers: Houston is getting stellar cornerback play from their aging vets.
7. Previewing the 2019 quarterback carousel.
When all else fails, run like an antelope, out of control.
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