HOUSTON - The Houston Texans earned their third win of the season with a victory over the New England Patriots in NFL Week 11.
While the win is nice, how the Texans earned the win is especially important for the long-term prospects of the team.
Justin Reid, Jonathan Greenard, and Jordan Akins all played well in the win and all are key players in 2021 and beyond.
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Reid had a rough game last week against Cleveland. He was incredible against New England. He logged three tackles for a loss, including the first sack of his career. He led the team in tackles. Furious but focused. Recklessly in control. The Patriots boasted one of the better rushing attacks coming into this game, but Reid was a key in slowing it down.
The third-year safety played well last year, even with a shoulder injury, but had disappointed with a slightly different job description this season. Whatever Reid's role going forward, he's showcased regularly good and potentially great flashes. Considering the necessary turnover at some of the spots in the secondary, Reid must have far more games like Sunday's performance.
He wasn't the only player to snag their first career sack.
Jonathan Greenard has seen his playing time tick way up since the injury to Brennan Scarlett. He finally paid off in a big way today. Midway through the game, he was able to get right into Cam Newton's face and force an incomplete on what would have been a big play for the Patriots.
The first play of the fourth quarter would see Greenard flash off the edge and crush Newton for his first career sack.
He's coming along slowly, but Greenard has to continue to be a presence for the team in their pass rush. There are no other young pass rushers to speak of right now. J.J. Watt could be playing his last season in a Texans uniform. Whitney Mercilus is ineffective and aging quickly. It will be up to Greenard, until some sort of help arrives, to lead the Texans' pass rush.
The offense had a bright spot as well. Jordan Akins set a new single-game high for receiving yards with 83 yards spread over five catches. If he hadn't missed weeks with a concussion and ankle injury Akins would be blowing away all his previous career benchmarks.
The rapport Akins has with Deshaun Watson is clear. He's easily the most athletic tight end on the Texans and he is also the most versatile. Despite being in his third season, he's the longest-tenured tight end for Houston.
Akins, though a little older since he played minor-league baseball before football, is a reliable option at the tight end spot going forward. He isn't amazing but he's just finally unlocking his true potential for the Texans at tight end.
While Reid, Greenard, and Akins are the most notable there were a couple of more young pieces deserving of mention. Keke Coutee returned punts and caught a touchdown. Lonnie Johnson had a hand in key defensive plays down the stretch.
With a lack of cap space and missing high-round draft picks in 2021, the next couple of seasons will be dramatically influenced by how these younger players develop for the Texans.
If Sunday is a sign of things to come, the future doesn't look nearly as bleak as it did weeks ago.