Much has been made of the "worst" offseason in the NFL, that the Houston Texans have supposedly had. Media "experts" will tell you that no team can recover from losing their star Wide Receiver, and that incompetent Head Coach/General Manager, Bill O'Brien has no right to hold the position of power he has. While I am not a BOB fan whatsoever; I can thoroughly hate some of the bold moves he's made, while also entertaining and understanding his vision to "do what's best for the T.E.A.M". While the Texans are regularly ranked in the bottom 5-10 teams in the NFL, I'm here to share the case of why I still believe they will win the AFC South, over the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Why the Houston Texans will win the AFC South
There are three main reasons I believe in, that will help prove my point, but none are more important than the most vital position on the field. Quarterback. QB has always been the most impactful player, in generating wins for a football team, I don't have to explain that at all. The difference between "Elite" and "Pretty good" or even "Good" Quarterbacks, makes all the difference in the world. As Texans fans, we should know how frustrating it is, to have confidence your team could make a run at the Super Bowl, only to be let down by a QB who can't even keep his head afloat, let alone elevate a team and the players around them. To further prove my point, here's a list of the past 24 starting QBs for the team that won the Super Bowl.
Out of those 24 names, apart from Brad Johnson and Nick Foles, every single other name is already in the Hall of Fame, or will be in the HOF in the future. The Favre's, Elway's, Brady's, Manning's are the cream of the crop, the most "elite" you can get. I'm not saying as long as you have an "elite" QB, they will carry you to a Super Bowl. Of course you need a solid surrounding roster, but having a Warner, Brees or Mahomes certainly doesn't hurt.
And that brings me to my point about the Texans. You're probably wondering why I chose 24, as the number of Super Bowl winning QB's I looked at. Well I chose 24 because that's exactly how old Texans QB Deshaun Watson is. And he, like most QBs on this list, will be in the Hall of Fame one day. Out with the old Brady and Manning, and in with the new Watson and Mahomes. The new era of AFC dominance, courtesy of the two brightest young stars in the game.
Deshaun Watson is a winner, there's a reason why he hadn't lost a game by more than one score (until this season) since his sophomore year in HIGH SCHOOL. His former head coach at Clemson said it best, he's Michael Jordan. I'm not even going to get into his throwing capabilities, ability to read defenses, or his magical ability to escape the pocket. The most important quality that Deshaun Watson has shown throughout his career, is that he's clutch. He had the most game winning drives (5) in the NFL just this past season (was robbed of one against the Saints) and added another against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wildcard Round.
When the moment is the brightest, Deshaun steps up to the plate, and hits the ball out of the damn park. He never backs down from a challenge, whether it was playing through a torn ACL, throwing touchdowns and bringing home victory. Or winning a National Championship in 2017, playing against a stacked Alabama roster which would have 7 defenders drafted that year and 7 the next. Or being thrown to the fire as a rookie, and being on pace to break almost every statistical record for a QB, before injury. What about being down 16-0 against a tough Buffalo Bills squad, refusing to be tackled and leading his team to triumph. No matter the animosity, Watson shuts it all out, and rises to the occasion. If there's one player I would bet my life on, it'd be Deshaun. He's the type of talent to elevate everyone around him, and play out of his mind, despite his situation being less than ideal.
He didn't get a chance to sit for a year and learn the ins and outs of the NFL. He didn't get protected by an offensive line much better than 5 tree trunks, entrenched in the ground. He's never had a reliable running game, to take pressure off. He's never had a defense that hasn't consistently choked away games. Yet somehow, every full season he's played for the Texans, we've come out of it with a winning record. He doesn't care what hardships he's dealt with, he pushes them to the side, goes out and wins. Why should this year be any different when he's in the best situation he's ever had in the NFL?
Now, this isn't all about the Texans, to crown them the winner of the division, we've got to also consider the competition, and what we're up against. Let's start with the Tennessee Titans, simply because they had the next best record last year, going 9-7 (because we let them). Looking at the QB position I find myself grinning. As soon as Adam Schefter (or whoever) tweeted out that the Titans had resigned Ryan Tannehill to a FOUR year 118 million dollar contract, I was jumping for joy. Tannehill had pulled off one of the greatest heists Tennessee will ever see. I mean seriously, this is what Tannehill does. He plays well for a couple games, maybe even a season, but he'll always come right back down to earth and revert to mediocrity. And in this league, you cannot be paying a mediocre QB 118 million. It just doesn't work. Pay an elite QB around 30m APY, sure, that'll get the job done. But as I mentioned before, there is a HUGE difference between the "Elite" , "Pretty Good" and even "Good" Quarterbacks. Tannehill is not even close to the "Elite" tier, no matter how great the numbers may paint him as.
When I watch the Titans film, I see a QB who is the product of a system, and helped out by the talent around him. Good OL (that got worse), elite run game that forces stacked boxes, GREAT playcalling that opens up easy throws off play action, and a defense that forces tons of turnovers. He's put in a position to succeed where life is easy for him. But he's not someone who elevates the talent around him. Does he make AJ Brown or Corey Davis better? Does the threat of his arm open things up for Derrick Henry? Did he properly utilize underrated talents like Dion Lewis and Adam Humphries? The answer to all those questions is undoubtedly NO. At the end of the day Ryan Tannehill is someone who can steer the ship just fine, but when a storm is forecasted, he crumbles under the pressure. He's not a winner like Deshaun Watson, he doesn't do well under adversity. He doesn't do well when challenged and that lack of "Elite" ability, will eventually come to terrorize the Titans. Best of luck to y'all, have fun enduring the roller coaster of inconsistency that is Tannehill. He'll have some great games that will make you think you were geniuses to lock him up. But when the stakes are at their highest, he's certainly no Michael Jordan. And the biggest thing is that there is NO WAY in HELL that he's gonna repeat the ridiculous numbers efficiency wise, that he put up last year. It just screams regression in my opinion.
Next up let's talk about the Indianapolis Colts. After going 7-9 and disappointing heavily, the Colts have made some key changes. None more important than pushing Jacoby Brisket to the side and bringing in veteran QB Phillip Rivers. I like Rivers, I think he's one of the more underrated QBs in the NFL. However, I believe his prime has come and gone. Yes, he'll have a better OL than with the Chargers. Yes, he'll have a run game that can make the offense more balanced and take pressure off. Yes, he'll have probably the best head coach he's had in his career, with Frank Reich. All of these are true, and I'll admit, the Colts are the biggest competitors to the AFC South Crown. But let me ask you this, if you're drafting a team, trying to win the Super Bowl, for only this year, which QB are you going to draft? Phillip Rivers, or Deshaun Watson. Now, really try to take out your Texans bias here.
I don't care that Watson is younger, we only care about one year. Are you really going to sit here and tell me you'd take Rivers over Watson? Rivers has turned into an INT machine, throwing 20 of them last year, to just 23 touchdowns. Watson on the other hand, has only thrown 21 INTs in the PAST TWO YEARS. It's clear from the stats, but also watching some Chargers games, that Rivers is on the decline. Being 38 will do that to you. Sure, he'll look better with the Colts than with the Chargers last year, but only marginally. And it sure won't be enough to beat the 24 year old phenom that is Deshaun Watson. That's because at the end of the day, Rivers is a choke artist. I don't watch Charger games often, but EVERYTIME I turn on a game, he has the chance to win the game late, on the final drive, and somehow ALWAYS loses. Have fun with that. Bye bye Colts, another year of sitting out the playoffs, hope you enjoy.
That brings me to our last divisional opponent. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Quarterback Gardner Minshew. This dude is your QB? Yeah, enough said, let's move on,
The next point I want to touch on is the passing game. It's become the most effective and efficient way to gain yards and score. With how the NFL has evolved, the best teams have become more and more reliant on the passing game, yet a lot of people still trying to hold onto the importance of the run game. Pointing to the rushing and passing yard leaders, and the subsequent success they had. The top 5 passing teams in terms of yardage were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, and Los Angeles Chargers. None of which made the playoffs. So the passing game means nothing right? And we should still be focusing on running the ball? WRONG. Volume is not the right metric to look at when analyzing the passing game. What do all these teams have in common? THEY'RE ALL BAD. And bad teams are often losing throughout the game, thus they need to pass the ball to make the comeback. Thus leading to inflated passing yards.
Those same people will point to the top 5 rushing leaders, as an indication that the run game is what matters. Those top 5 teams are the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings. All teams that made the playoffs. In contrast to the top 5 passing yards teams, these teams are all good, and good teams lead throughout games, and thus run the ball more to kill the clock. VOLUME BASED STATS DON'T REALLY MATTER. While some of these teams have built their identities around running the ball, when it comes down to big time games and big time moments, they all crumbled against a team that has revolutionized the league, in the Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans, up 17-7 vs the Chiefs, tried to lean on the run game to kill the clock and put them to sleep. But it didn't work. The Chiefs didn't run the ball to get back into the game, they passed it. You have to pass the ball at a high level, to succeed at the highest levels. The 49ers were up 10, heading into the 4th quarter against the Chiefs. But in the biggest moment that is the Super Bowl, the Chiefs passed it 42 times and only ran 17. Was Patrick Mahomes perfect? No. But he made plays when it mattered. Plays that Damien Williams (while great in that game) could not have made. No running game could've made those plays happen, or scored 21 points in the 4th quarter like Mahomes did. Yes, offenses need a balance, but it's the passing game that is the ultimate kicker.
That leads me to discuss the various passing offenses in the AFC South. We know the QB leads the passing game, and have already determined Deshaun Watson as the best QB in the division. If you are going to argue with me on that, I will just give up, you are clearly an irrational person who is not worth the time and effort to persuade. Moving on, let's look at the passing game as a whole from the Houston Texans. While having an elite QB is great, you need to protect him, and the Texans have done just that. Investing THREE first round picks and TWO second round picks into their OL. This financial investment saw great returns through yielding the 8th highest pass block win rate in the NFL last year (62%). Keeping Deshaun Watson upright at all costs, was the major key going into the 2019 season. And while Watson himself and the other weapons in the offense need to get better in some areas, the OL is doing their job.
Now, looking at the weapons that BOB has surrounded Deshaun Watson with. Trading DeAndre Hopkins seemed like a stupidly irrational move at the time, but the plan with how to replace him, is actually one that I'm a fan of. When on the field, Will Fuller is hands down WR1 material. His connection with Deshaun Watson is video game like numbers. In their 2 seasons together, Watson has targeted Fuller 64 times, completing 45 of those for 70% completion rate. Adding 11 TDs and a ridiculous 138.2 passer rating when D4 targets Fuller. The only defense that can stop them is Fuller's health, and while that is a serious concern, on paper, this is one of the best QB-WR duos in the entire NFL. Because Will Fuller is so boom or bust, BOB knew he needed to get someone who could replicate Fuller's best quality, being an ELITE deep threat. Enter Brandin Cooks. Cooks has been a perennial 1000+ yard WR and he too, when healthy, will destroy defenses in his way. Always a threat to take the top off the defense, Cooks is also an extremely valuable route runner, who can separate with the best of them. He adds juice and YAC, a dimension this offense has long lacked, and certainly not something Hop brought. I'm really excited about his addition, which is being heavily slept on. If Fuller can't stay healthy, we really won't miss much of a beat with Cooks. That takes me to Kenny Stills. Oh Kenny Stills, the most underrated WR in the NFL. I've written about him here: https://texansunfiltered.com/articles/texans-kenny-stills-is-the-most-underrated-wr-in-the-nfland made a video on him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQPadSM8xGU
I'll save my comments on Stills because those pieces do a much better job, but just know that he can do anything this offense asks of him and is the ultimate insurance policy. Next, we've got Randall Cobb, finally BOB and Deshaun Watson will have a legit veteran slot WR who knows what he's doing. No longer will we deal with Braxton Miller or Keke Coutee running the wrong route, or dropping the ball. While I would still say Cobb is a bit overpaid, I was PLEASANTLY surprised by his film. I thought he was schemed open, and the attention that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup got was the prime reason for his resurgent year in Dallas. But I saw a 30 year old who looked like he was 25. He still had JUICE and got open like it was nobody's business. The most encouraging thing I saw was that he wasn't just someone who was running slants and drags over the middle of the field. He was destroying on downfield vertical routes, accumulating a ridiculous 15.1 Y/R. Dallas used him as a legit explosive threat, and that's how we can get the most out of him too. All of these big play weapons can really take the top off the defense, and create easy touchdowns.
But what if defenses play deep, and hone in on the Yankee concepts and four verticals? Well, we've got two of the best receiving RBs in the NFL to feed underneath. I've just finished watching David Johnson's 2016-2019 seasons and he FEASTED on underneath routes, as defenses took away the Cardinals main options. Time and time again he would find himself wide open underneath, and pickup extra YAC. Cooks, Stills, Fuller and Cobb will force the defenses main attention, and at times act as a decoy to Johnson. But wait, we don't have just one killer Johnson, BUT TWO! Duke Johnson has long been one of the best receiving backs in the NFL, and I honestly think he's better than David Johnson in this regard. He hasn't lost any of his juice and is a far superior route runner. Cutting off corner, angle or out routes so sharply you could cut through cement. He's one of the best YAC threats in the league and his yards after contact is among the top at his position as well. Just go to PFF, they always tweet out how great he is, and go to my Twitter as welll (Texans_Thoughts) because I always quote tweet whenever PFF praises my boy lol. So the Texans have got the QB, the OL and the weapons to make serious noise on offense. It might take some time to gell, but by the end of the season, don't be surprised to see us in the top 5 DVOA rankings. The biggest thing is the WRs they've brought in are molding the offense to Deshaun's strength, of being an elite deep ball thrower. He's the 2nd best in the NFL, right barely behind Russell Wilson, but has never had weapons like he has now. Fuller has been often hurt, but with Cooks right there to take his place, we should expect the numbers to be even better.
Moving on to the Titans and I just don't have as much confidence in their passing offense. We've already covered Tannehill, and that's a big part of it, but the rest of the picture is important as well. Their OL lost strong RT Jack Conklin, who was a mauler in the run game and good in pass pro too. The interior of their OL has been a weak point forever, and are counting on Ben Jones, Nate Davis to not shit the bed. Rodger Saffold and Lewan Taylor are the only things holding it together, and rookie Isaiah Wilson's tape from Georgia screams project. He could be good in 3-5 years, but there will be a huge drop off from Conklin to him. Next, the weapons: AJ Brown is ridiculous. Like absolutely ridiculous. But who else is there? Corey Davis' career has been uninspiring, Delanie Walker is done. Dion Lewis hasn't been productive there and Adam Humphries hasn't done much either. And as Texans fans have seen, if you only have one star WR, you won't get very far. Now that NFL defenses have seen the rookie phenom perform, they're gonna start double teaming him, and do you trust Davis or Humphries to help carry that offense? I dont.
Now let's look at the Colts. The OL is as of now the best in the division, I'll give them that, but it's close. In addition, they are more of run blockers than pass blockers. And Phillip Rivers does not do well when under pressure. Looking at his weapons and T.Y. Hilton seems to have caught the injury bug. Sure, he will probably always dominate the Texans even without two working legs, but he's not a dependable target at this point in his career. Zach Pascal? Sure he killed Lonnie Johnson, but if you're counting on him as the main guy, good luck. Second round pick last year Parris Campbell showed how raw he was, even when he was rarely healthy. Now, they drafted Michael Pittman, who is a big bodied WR with a huge catch radius. He's cool, but how big of an impact can he make when he's not a great athlete or route runner. I'm fine with putting Lonnie Johnson on him, he's the exact type of WR he can thrive against. So overall, the Colts offense just really doesn't scare me. Our secondary is much improved, and fit to dominate their weapons. The best thing they have going for them is the run game, but as I showed, the run game really doesn't matter. Let them run it 30-40 times a game, it won't win them rings let me tell you that.
Lastly, we've got the Jags. Gardner Minshew at QB. Is Cam Robinson still their starting LT? DJ Chark as WR1? Leonard Fournette hasn't gotten out of there yet? Yeah, who am I kidding, let's move on.
I'll keep this one short, seeing as I've already poured way too many words into this that most just won't read (and that's okay!). Personnel is one thing, but coaches need to elevate talent and most importantly put them in a position to succeed. I'll say it, BOB is not the best coach in this division, I'm not even sure he's the 2nd best. But as much as we may not like to admit it, he's improved every year of his career. And he has finally delegated the offense and is now able to focus on other parts of being a head coach. Tim Kelly (yes his disciple) will reportedly have full reins to the offense. And the early returns are already great. Watson has raved about him and wanted him in this role, and Kelly has been asking all the skill position guys, what routes and concepts they like to run, and implementing that into the offense. Will the offense look entirely different, no, but I would hope that it's more creative and consistent. We saw our offense completely dismantle the Patriots elite defense one week, then lay an egg against the Broncos the next. Consistency was our biggest issue on offense, and a lot of that was because BOB wouldn't be able to install the offense until Friday or Saturday before the game. He would have way too many duties as HC/GM, that getting the offense ready in practice just wasn't at the top of his list. But clearly he's acknowledged that, and is letting Kelly take on those duties. If he really does let that happen, and stick to it, the offense will only prosper.
We've talked a lot about offense today, but BOB's decision to promote Anthony Weaver to DC is something that can't go unnoticed. I'll admit, I wasn't happy that we promoted from within, I wanted someone else with different views (just like with OC) but after watching film on Rex Ryan's defenses (Weaver's main teacher/inspiration), I'm very excited about the potential schemes he can bring. I wrote about Weaver and Ryan in this article: https://texansunfiltered.com/articles/how-anthony-weaver-can-change-the-texans-defense-pt2 and made a video about it too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab5LLbjqdfM
I'll make you read/watch those to get a sense as for why I'm so excited about the potential that Weaver brings.
Now let's move onto the Titans. The biggest coaching adjustment they made was Mike Vrabel taking over as DC, once Dean Pees retired. Pees has been one of the best DC's in the NFL for some time now, and his exotic blitzes and pre/post snap misdirection has helped the Titans defense flourish. Apart from Jurrell Casey and Kevin Byard, that defense has next to no one (I do like Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry some). But it's the scheme that has allowed them to play well and actually be a positive. Now, as Texans fans we've seen what Vrabel is like as a DC, and it's not great. Now that he's taking over that role, I would expect a down season from their defense. Also, the added duties (much like BOB) will make his overall job as HC much tougher. This is my biggest reason for doubt against the Titans.
Now as for the Colts, they still have some of the better minds in the NFL with Frank Reich and Matt Eberflus. I don't have anything bad to say here tbh, I wish they were our HC/DC. Their coaching is what will make them never a 2,3,4 win team ever again. But even the best coaches need talent to actually make the plays. Reich isn't gonna be throwing for TDs, and Eberflus isn't going to be sacking anyone. I've always been scheme > team, but as I learned from Madden lol, that only works to a certain extent, and as I've shown earlier, I'm just not sold on the Colts personnel.
Finally, we arrive to the Jaguars. THE END.
Boy, that was a doozy, and the longest article I have ever written. It was a fun practice though, and something different from what I normally write. If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments, or tweet me! I hope I've helped persuade you as to why the Houston Texans will still win the AFC South. Through elite QB play, a dangerous passing offense, and some key coaching adjustments, the Texans are in the best situation to win that they've ever been. They've molded the offense around Deshaun Watson's strengths and finally have an OL that is an actual strength again. Tim Kelly taking the reins could prove to be extremely fruitful and if Anthony Weaver really does play an "exotic" defense and put our players in a position to play to their strengths, this defense could squeeze out a top 15 performance. And that would be just enough for Deshaun Watson to work with. He's never had the perfect situation, and likely never will, but that hasn't stopped him during high school, Clemson or in his first three seasons in the NFL. So why would we expect anything different this year? Deshaun Watson owns the AFC South, and he'll be owning the rest of the NFL very soon.