HOUSTON – We are off and running to this new 2019 NFL Regular season and league-wide Injuries have been a key storyline so far.
Quarterbacks continue to fall and the list is growing. Some are out briefly (mononucleosis for Jets starter Sam Darnold), while the others like Andrew Luck (retired), Ben Roethlisberger (elbow, out for season) are topping the charts. Add in Saints QB Drew Brees who could miss significant time with what appears to be a torn ligament in his right thumb, and fantasy leaguers are going nuts.
Here in Texans-land, our hometown squad stands 1-1 now after narrowly beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 13-12 on Sunday thanks to a big stop at the one-inch line on a two-point try from the Jags, when Leonard Fournette was denied by Justin Reid and kept Jacksonville from taking the lead with 30 seconds left to play.
Exhale everybody, a win is a win, right?
So, victory number one is in the books and time to ask some questions. What did we learn from the win over Jacksonville?
Watson is human after all
Deshaun Watson is destined for long term greatness. He's shown us what he can and what he's made of. Sunday was an "average" day from the Texans franchise quarterback in which he was 16 of 29 for only 159 yards through the air. He rushed for 5 yards and 4 of those came on his and Houston's only touchdown of the day. Watson got banged up a little in the loss to New Orleans and my stance is maybe the struggles had something to do with his sore back. He'll recover and will be back to his dominating form and I believe it will happen against the Chargers and certainly next week at home against Carolina.
Protecting the franchise: Deshaun Watson
This has to change and change quickly or the Texans won't have Watson around at the end of the season. He's taking a pounding so far in the first two games. He was sacked six times by the Saints and four more times by Jacksonville on Sunday. Ten through two games? Really? Not to be "on pace guy" but let's just say it's not trending well.
In all seriousness, things will improve but still, it's a big concern not only for the offensive line but also for Watson who is also responsible for some of these sacks. He's got to stay upright for Houston to have any shot this season.
O'Brien and game management
Overall, I thought O'Brien called a good game at New Orleans (no disrespect to Tim Kelly, but let's be honest). O'Brien was aggressive and offensively, the Texans showed flashes of how great they can be. They took a step back in some areas against Jacksonville. Late in the half O'Brien had two timeouts he could have used and instead the Texans had to settle for a field goal instead of going after a touchdown. Each week it's been on my keys for the Texans as they approach gameday. Use of timeouts, challenges and play-calling every week is a test and O'Brien needs to get it done as he is now in his 6th season as head coach. Some of these mistakes can't happen anymore.
Run, run and run some more
The running game has really been a spark for the Texans so far. The offensive line deserves some credit here for the job they have done. Tunsil's addition has been huge. He went down with an injury (ankle) but returned to play against the Jaguars.
Credit also to newcomers Carlos Hyde who has 173 rushing yards already and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Duke Johnson, a smaller frame, is also producing and playing a nice role in this offense. They need to keep it up. I live the style and attitude that Hyde brings to the field each week. He's playing with a passion to prove a lot of people wrong. So far, so good in the run game.
There was a good step in the right direction after a tough opener at New Orleans against Drew Brees. The Texans responded by sacking Jags rookie Gardner Minshew four times. Whitney Mercilus stepped up with two sacks giving his three already this season. Zach Cunningham picked up his first while also finishing with double-digit tackles in the win. Charles Omenihu. Still seeking his first sack of the year is J.J. Watt. Watt was held out of the stat sheet in the opening loss to the Saints but came back with two tackles and one QB Hit against Jacksonville. Watt will be fine and is ready to break out in 2019.
A new week and a new focus for the Texans. Like every week, practice is where they will go in and clean up mistakes and shore things up on the mental side. After wins O'Brien has given the team off quite a bit but not this week. They were all there Monday working out and meeting. It's early but they know what is in front of them.
Next stop: LA and a date with Phillip Rivers and the Chargers.