Anthony R. Wood of SI Texans Daily answers five questions heading into the Lions' Week 12 contest with the Houston Texans.
1.) What's the pulse of the Houston Texans, following their 27-20 victory over the New England Patriots?
Anthony R. Wood: If nothing else, it acted as a release. The tension surrounding the franchise has been palpable this season, particularly in recent weeks. And for the team to have made such marked improvements from one week to the next was both unexpected and a very welcome surprise.
Expectations remain low. But, seeing Deshaun Watson at his best, the run defense pick things up and some of the team's stars on both sides of the ball take it up a notch was a great change of pace.
2.) What's the biggest strength and weakness of the team?
Wood: Its biggest strength is its biggest asset: Watson. The offense starts, and ends with him.
Ex-Texans head coach Bill O’Brien assembled this offense, specifically to play to his strengths of playing in a high tempo, RPO-heavy and deep-ball heavy scheme. Throw in the fact that Watson has been by far their most consistently productive rusher this season; thus, he is irreplaceable. He has arguably been playing the best football of his career this season, having thrown just five interceptions and taking fewer unnecessary sacks. And last week, we saw just what he’s capable of.
If the offensive line can keep him upright -- as it did against New England -- and the likes of Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks and Jordan Akins remain healthy, then Deshaun should thrive.
In terms of their biggest weakness, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific area. Prior to last week’s game, you would have said Houston’s run defense, which has been appalling this season. But, it showed that it is capable of keeping teams below 100 yards, if it plays aggressively -- something which had been missing at times this year.
Therefore, it has to be the Texans' secondary. At safety, Justin Reid is steadily returning to the form Texans fans know he is capable of, while second-year pro Lonnie Johnson is still adjusting, following his move this year from corner to safety. Defensive back Eric Murray is looking like a free-agency miscalculation, having cost the team $18 million over three years.
Switching to corner now, which is where the biggest issues lie. Bradley Roby has had a decent year, but aside from him, it’s been a mess. Vernon Hargreaves has shown flashes, but consistency has not been his friend. Phillip Gaines was at fault for New England’s sole TD pass last week, and has done little all season to show he deserves to be on this roster. And rookie John Reid is promising, but doesn’t see enough game time to make a big impact.
3.) In his fourth season, Deshaun Watson is playing the best football of his career. How has he improved the past couple of seasons?
Wood: As previously mentioned, his decision-making has improved drastically. His confidence has been both a strength and a weakness in the past. Especially when playing behind a weak offensive line in previous years, he would try to make a play where there simply wasn’t one to be made and take a sack unnecessarily.
This has not been an issue this year, despite the line taking a step back from last year (with the exception of last week).
Watson has also cut down on the interceptions. He currently has five on the year, and hasn’t recorded one since Week 5. In fact, he is currently on course for a career year in passing yardage, touchdowns and interceptions. And as it stands, he has a 68.9 percent completion percentage -- also a career-high mark.
He simply doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves, partially because the team has a losing record and also because the team has never gotten a great deal of air time regardless.
4.) Everyone is still scratching their heads regarding the trade Houston made prior to the season with the Arizona Cardinals involving DeAndre Hopkins. Why did Bill O'Brien trade Hopkins, and how much did that hurt the franchise going forward?
Wood: The logic behind the move, according to the team, was that Hopkins supposedly wanted a new deal, which the Texans didn’t feel they could afford given the other new deals they had/have yet to complete. Whether this was the only reason or not is something we can only speculate on and may never truly know.
The optimists among us saw this as a chance for the Texans to remove their clear-cut No. 1 target and create a sense of unpredictability in this offense.
With Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter at receiver, we had a deep group, capable of making plays both underneath and deep. Throw in a solid group of tight ends, two dual-threat running backs and a quarterback who can run and this "spread-the-love" approach looked like a solid idea. So far, this hasn’t entirely worked. There have been weeks, like last, where Watson was able to use his arm effectively, with three receivers reaching 80-plus yards receiving.
However, the run game has been non-existent for multiple reasons, and first-year play-caller Tim Kelly has struggled to find any sense of rhythm in his offense. His insistence on establishing the run has held the team back on many occasions -- again this was not the case last week, for the first time this year.
Looking to the future, this move will sting for some time. Had the Texans been able to acquire a first-rounder from the trade, the damage could have been limited. Of course, as we now know, this was not the case.
Trying to replace Hopkins with a group approach is tough, especially with Fuller's and Stills' contracts expiring after this season. Throw in the cap hit taken by signing Cobbs and David Johnson, and the new management will have a lot on its hands, when trying to create space for new additions this offseason.
5.) What is your prediction for the Thanksgiving matchup between the Texans and Lions?
Wood: Predicting Texans games this year has been tough from day one. They have yet to win two straight games, and therefore, haven’t been able to find a real rhythm from week to week. If there was ever a time to do it, however, it is now.
They are coming off of their best performance of the season, and are back on the field just days later. If they can pick up where they left off last week, especially given the injuries to Detroit’s corners, Houston could win this game. Also, keep in mind, the Texans have only played in a Thanksgiving game once before -- back in 2012 when they beat the Lions at Ford Field.
My prediction today: Texans 30, Lions 23
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