Texans & AFC South: What Are The Early Trends?
Each week, reporters covering the AFC South teams for SI.com’s NFL community will weigh one aspect of the division as it relates to each of the franchises, the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
This week we look at an early trend for each of the four teams.
After Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing yards and attempts last season, there was a great deal of offseason discussion about his workload and whether it needed to be reduced in 2020. It already is abundantly clear that will not happen. In fact, the fifth-year running back is getting more work than ever.
Two weeks into the season, Henry led the NFL with 56 rushing attempts and was one of two players (Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs was the other) with at least 25 carries in the first two games. His previous high through Week 2 was 34 carries. That was last season, when he racked up 25 rushes or more just three times in 15 appearances.
At his current pace, Henry would amass 448 carries, which would shatter Larry Johnson’s record of 416, set in 2006. There have been just five players in NFL history with at least 400 carries.
Part of the issue is the absence of long runs that have been a hallmark of Henry’s career. His longest run thus far has been 14 yards and he has just four runs of 10 yards or more. The result is that he and the offense have had to grind out drives.
Rookie Darrynton Evans, the Titans’ third-round pick in this year’s draft, has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. Evans is small and quick and was drafted to be a change-of-pace from the big, powerful Henry.
When he finally is able to play, which could be as soon as Sunday at Minnesota, Evans could also slow the pace at which Henry has amassed carries thus far.
-- David Boclair, AllTitans
Two games, three players placed on injured reserve. Not just any players, either. The Colts have lost running back Marlon Mack, safety Malik Hooker, and wide receiver Parris Campbell. And who could have foreseen that Mack and Hooker would have their Colts careers likely end with a ruptured Achilles?
Both are in contract years and facing a difficult recovery, so Colts general manager Chris Ballard won’t be expected to re-sign them. The Colts drafted rookie running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Julian Blackmon, who have stepped in and performed. Taylor rushed for 101 yards and one TD in Sunday’s home in over Minnesota. Blackmon had two pass break-ups, including a tipped pass to safety Khari Willis for an interception.
Campbell underwent surgeries for a sports hernia, fractured hand, and fractured foot as a rookie. The second-round pick lasted two plays on Sunday as he suffered an MCL injury on an end around. The Colts placed Campbell and Hooker on injured reserve on Tuesday. While Hooker won’t be back, the team evidently hopes Campbell could still return. If so, the obvious question is how long will he be able to stay healthy?
In his absence, the Colts will handle slot receiver by committee. Zach Pascal, T.Y. Hilton, and others can rotate there, as can rookie Michael Pittman Jr., who had four catches for 37 yards against the Vikings. The Colts were carrying seven wide receivers before Campbell’s injury.
-- Phillip B. Wilson, AllColts
If there is any early trend from the first games in 2020, it is slow starts, which ultimately have doomed the Jaguars. No matter what they have tried this season, they have been sluggish out of the gate every game, making it that much harder for the Jaguars to find wins.
In each game this season, the Jaguars have won the toss and deferred to the second half. What has taken place each week since then has remained the same as well, with the Jaguars allowing touchdown drives on the first drive of every game. Add in the fact that each of Jacksonville's first offensive possessions of each game has resulted in either punts or turnovers and it is clear that Jacksonville has trouble simply getting off of the bus and getting ready to play.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, this isn't a problem or trend that has only been restricted to this season. Jacksonville was one of the worst scoring offenses in the first half of games in 2019, and they so far have had one of the league's worst scoring defenses in each game's first half. Jacksonville is allowing nearly 21 points per first half this season, making it hard for the Jaguars to get any momentum going week in and week out.
The Jaguars are an entertaining team that is far from being good. So far, though, the slow starts are making it harder and harder for them to convince the rest of the league of that.
-- John Shipley, JaguarReport
The Texans have struggled in a multitude of areas on both sides of the ball to start this season, so it’s hard to pick just one. That said, there has been one specific issue that has been plaguing them in both of their first two games, and it has led to their $40 million man being put in harm’s way far too often.
In weeks one and two, Texans quarterback and franchise face, Deshaun Watson, has been under fire and constantly pressured from both sides, throwing the Texans passing game out of rhythm early in contests. In fact, so far this season, Watson has been sacked eight times and taken 21 additional hits on 76 drop-backs. And that doesn't include the hits he has had to take on scrambles and other runs.
That sack number is tied for second worst in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Only Jacksonville with 10 (in three games) has allowed more. As a result, Watson has just two touchdown passes through the first two games. He also has thrown two interceptions … not what Texans fans were looking for following Watson’s big-time pay day.
READ MORE: Analysis: Watson Won't Blame Texans O-Line
Obviously, it's nearly impossible to lay the blame for Watson’s struggles on the quarterback himself. After all, Laremy Tunsil, one of the best tackles in football, just signed a three-year, $66 million extension. Tunsil, to his credit, has graded out well this season. On the other side, however, Tytus Howard has not, ranking 60th out of 71 eligible tackles per the Pro Football Focus Rankings. The Texans have also struggled on the interior at guard, with Zach Fulton and Max Sharping grading out rather poorly as well.
Does it help that the Texans traded away Watson’s top option and favorite safety valve DeAndre Hopkins? Definitely not. However, that trade is over and done with, and the Texans are going to have to find a way to make life easier on Watson, or risk losing their season before the Week 8 bye.
-- Matthew Galtzan, Texans Daily