Texans are the NFL’s biggest enigma

Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans are the NFL’s biggest enigma. Some weeks they’re fantastic, and other weeks they’re absolutely dreadful. What gives? What can we expect?

There are times during the NFL season where you’ll think to yourself, “You know who’s pretty good? The Houston Texans!” There is a lot to like about this team. They’re usually strong defensively and they have two unbelievable playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Then, Houston has problems.

The Texans are 8-5 and in an absolute dogfight with the division rival Tennessee Titans for the AFC South crown. With both the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars fading in recent weeks, whoever plays better football in December will win the division. Tennessee hosts Houston on Sunday afternoon and these rivals will meet again at NRG in Week 17 with the season on the line.

Tennessee has come on in the last month and change to emerge as arguably the best team in the AFC not named the Baltimore Ravens. They have lost only one game with Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback. This is the best he’s ever played the position and it has to make you wonder if his former team, the Miami Dolphins, is just that hopelessly dysfunctional.

What this comes down to is the Titans have one of the strongest identities in the NFL: Play great defense, run the ball with Derrick Henry and have Tannehill make big-time plays in the passing game. They never vary from it and they don’t have to because this is complementary football at its core. The Titans can win both shootouts and knock-down, drag-out fights in the mud.

And we now circle back to the Texans. What do they do well, and more importantly, what do they do well consistently? The Texans have beaten good teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, as well as hung tough against excellent teams like the New Orleans Saints. Then, they’ll get blown out by the Baltimore Ravens and play down to the level of the dreck of the AFC.

In short, we never know what team we’re going to get week-to-week in Houston. Sometimes, you feel like you’re watching the Clemson Tigers destroy a pitiful ACC team, as the Clemson connection between Hopkins and Watson is ever-present. Other times, you feel like you’re watching a team that went out the night before and the entire coaching staff performs like glorified gym teachers.

What has hurt the Texans the most this year is trading away former No. 1 overall pick in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks. Though clearly frustrated in Houston, he would have been a difference-maker on this Houston defense, as the face of the franchise with defensive lineman J.J. Watt out for the season again. Clowney has played well in Seattle. Houston’s loss.

It also doesn’t help that the Texans’ offense is so reliant on Watson’s magic and him throwing the deep ball to Hopkins and wide receiver Will Fuller. If you’re going to live by the deep ball, then you have to accept dying by the deep ball too. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, what makes the Texans so inconsistent is head coach Bill O’Brien and his staff.

No, this isn’t to say that O’Brien is a wacky, out-of-this-world guy, as he’s pretty much the same personality on the sidelines every week. With that being said, why does his team play so well against the AFC elite and so badly against teams that are surely picking in the top 10 of the 2020 NFL Draft?

This is a similar criticism that Mike Tomlin had faced for years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh notoriously played down to bad competition under Tomlin for much of this last decade. The Steelers would always get up for games at home and when they played somebody of substance. Are we seeing similar things happen in Houston under O’Brien?

And here lies the Texans’ biggest problem: They don’t have a general manager. O’Brien is the de facto general manager after he couldn’t get along with his last two. Having both roles, even if it is temporary, is too much power for one person to have in a given season. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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If the Texans look like trash against the Titans in their two meetings in December, then Houston brass may need to look at the man leading the Texans on the sidelines. Is O’Brien up to snuff? When was the last time he was up to snuff? Has he ever been up to snuff in Houston? The Texans can be good, but the only thing we know about them is they are consistently inconsistent.