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Deshaun Watson Can Be Even Better Behind an Improved Offensive Line

Sure, the Texans have flaws. But that hasn't stopped them from posting a winning record in four of the last five years.

The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he considers the Houston Texans, who finished 11–5 and won the AFC South last year.

Rookie offensive tackles revamp the O-line. Good thing, too. The front five felled this team in 2018. First-rounder Tytus Howard of Alabama State and second-rounder Max Scharping of Northern Illinois are projects, but O-line coach Mike Devlin, who quietly got the line to play better as last season progressed, is a skilled teacher. Howard and Scharping remove the ceiling that deficient talent imposed on the line last year. True, the rookies must make a quantum leap and the line’s interior is below average, but the line no longer leaves Bill O’Brien feeling compelled to employ seven-man protections on nearly every dropback.

Deshaun Watson improves. With more reason to trust his O-line, Watson becomes steadier in the pocket, which is vital for any NFL QB, no matter how mobile. His progress still doesn’t put him near Patrick Mahomes’s level, however. Watson is less accurate and has less than ideal arm strength—a problem he must offset by throwing with anticipation. That only comes from acute field reading. Watson still has a ways to go, but willing to be more of a pocket passer and less of a scrambler, the game starts slowing down for him.

As Jadeveon Clowney goes, so goes this defense. J.J. Watt is unequivocally Houston’s best player, but Clowney—who was displeased to receive the franchise tag, and is still holding out, but is not expected to miss any regular season time—is the primary source of this scheme’s dimension. Besides being a dominant run defender, his interior pass rushing from various standup positions define the Texans’ pressure concepts, including from their patented five-down front. Remove Clowney and the Texans become extremely reliant on eighth-year pro Whitney Mercilus, who was great in 2017 but invisible in 2018.

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The secondary woes continue. Though not as bad as in the Wild Card spanking from the Colts that ended their season, the Texans, who employ a lot of two-deep matchup zone coverages, still struggle to match up in coverage downfield. 35-year-old corner Johnathan Joseph’s veteran savvy no longer completely hides his diminished speed. Slot man Aaron Colvin has been a disappointing free agent pickup. New free agent pickup Bradley Roby (one-year, $10 million) remains inconsistent—which, the Texans come to realize, is why Denver let the 2014 first-rounder walk.

BOTTOM LINE: This team is not without flaws, but that’s been true in all five previous seasons under Bill O’Brien, four of which resulted in a winning record. 9-7.

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