The Houston Texans had one of the stranger seasons in the entirety of the NFL in 2018. They started 0-3, then won nine games on the bounce, before finishing the regular season 2-2. Unfortunately for them, their season ended in a tame and disappointing defeat, at home, at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. For the second time in four seasons the Texans were soundly beaten at home in the Wild card round, and this is the third time in those four years they have been well beaten in the playoffs.
So what did we learn from the Texans this year? The best place to start is to look at the three parts that made up their season.
A Shaky Start
It was always going to be a tough start to the season. Watson coming off an ACL injury and playing two games on the road, one in New England and one in Tennessee. The performance in New England was strange. They won the turnover battle, rushed for 167 yards and yet still lost 27-20. Against the Titans they rushed for 148 yards, but got out coached in a big way.
The performance against the Giants was the most concerning. The Giants had not looked good themselves and they came down to Houston, shut down the run game and forced two turnovers. Meanwhile, the Texans could not stop the Giants either through the air or on the ground and the Texans offence turned the ball over twice.
The positives from this stretch was that the run game operated semi-effectively, and the passing game looked better every week.
The Winning Streak
The Texans then won the next nine games on the bounce. Some of the wins were convincing, some were not. Even some of the convincing ones had question marks about them, and they were never a team I could buy into.
They beat the Colts because Frank Reich went for it on 4th down in overtime. It took overtime to beat the Cowboys and a pick-six to beat the Bills. Blake Bortles handed them a victory in Jacksonville, before the Dolphins young team folded like a house of card in the second half on Thursday Night Football. They squeaked past the Broncos, thanks to dreadful coaching from Vance Joseph, and then only got past the Redskins in a game where Alex Smith broke his leg.
The final two wins of the streak actually made me believe they had turned a corner. They comfortably handled the Titans and the Browns in Houston and all but locked up the AFC South. It meant they headed into Week 14 against the Colts at 9-3, with their heads up and a chance at locking up a bye.
Splitting the Finish
If the Texans could finish 3-1 or better then they would be virtually assured of locking up the #2 seed. However, things did not go to plan. First they left it too late to mount a comeback against the Colts. Then they went to New York and just managed to limp past a fiery Jets team. They then managed to fail to win in Philadelphia despite winning the turnover battle 3-1, and lost control of the #2 seed position. They managed to handle their business against the Jaguars in Week 17 and ensure they locked up a division that should never have come down to the final week.
Let’s start with the key positive takeaways. Bigger than anything is the fact that Deshaun Watson proved that he is the talent we thought it was. His rookie season was a small sample size but he backed it up in a big way in 2018. DeAndre Hopkins is also a tremendous weapon, as he proved by not dropping a single catchable ball thrown his way. That is a tremendous statistic and in him they have an incredibly impressive weapon to build an offence around. They also have some promising weapons in Will Fuller and Keke Coutee if they can keep them healthy next season.
Their defensive line is also impressive. They were superb against the run this season and they have two really good pass rushers. That is a great start to their defence, and they have some solid players on the back end as well.
The root of their offensive problems is the offensive line. Anyone who followed the Texans last season and though the offseason should not be surprised. The offensive line was always going to be the problem and it proved that way as expected. They ranked 19th in rushing yards per attempt with 4.3 and 12th in net passing yards with 6.7.
However, their biggest problem was their offensive efficiency. They ranked 20th in third down conversions, with a 37% conversion rate. Their red zone conversion was even worse. In terms of converting red zone attempts to touchdowns they ranked 27th, scoring touchdowns just 50% of the time. Again a lot of that comes down to their offensive line. However, the fact that their secondary wide receivers just kept disappearing through injury was also a major issue. They have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but they need to improve their offensive line and get healthier.
Their defence was a story of two extremes. The run defence was the best in the league, restricting opponents to the lowest rush yards per game in the league. However, their pass defence could not do the same. They allowed the 18th most net passing yards per attempt and the 18th most passing touchdowns.
Efficiency wise their defence also struggled, not just on third down and in the red zone but on fourth downs as well. The Texans defence ranked 20th in allowing third downs conversions, 22nd in allowing fourth down conversions and 29th in red zone touchdown percentage. When you combine those numbers with their offensive inefficiency, then sustained offence will be hard to come by.
What Comes Next?
I will be digging into the offseason needs of all the AFC South teams in detail in the coming weeks. However, for the Texans it is not rocket science. Improve that offensive line and improve in the back levels of their defence. They have a very good defensive line and really good talent at their offensive skill positions, but they need more talent at those other positions.
Image credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports