4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Houston Texans

We move on to the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with the Houston Texans, who won the division last season.

The Texans’ offseason centered around QB Brock Osweiler for the second straight season — last year for signing him to a big-money contract, this year for being able to trade him after a mediocre season. With Osweiler now on the Browns, the Texans decided to trade up in the draft to make Clemson QB Deshaun Watson their first-round pick, and he will compete with QB Tom Savage for the starting job. Whoever gets the nod will be without a key piece of the offense for the first half of the season after WR Will Fuller broke his collarbone early in training camp, which is expected to cause him to miss up to three months. The defense was among the league’s best last season — and that was with DE J.J. Watt not playing after Week 3. With him back and expected to be healthy, the defense should be even better than it was in 2016. The defense will, however, be without veteran NT Vince Wilfork, who retired, and CB A.J. Bouye, who went to the division-rival Jaguars in free agency. Veteran T Duane Brown has yet to report to camp as he holds out in an attempt to get more money, but he will likely to join the team before the regular season begins.

Osweiler started most of the Texans’ games at quarterback last season, with Savage starting two games and playing in three overall. He went 46-for-73 on pass attempts for 461 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass — or an interception — in his limited playing time. WR DeAndre Hopkins was the team’s best receiver, but his production was limited given the team’s quarterback play. He had 78 receptions for 954 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz became a favorite target of Osweiler, who liked to throw short passes his way, and he caught 54 balls for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE Ryan Griffin went 50 for 442 with 2 touchdowns. Fuller played in 14 games and caught just 47 passes — partially due to his tendency to drop passes — for 635 yards and 2 touchdowns. RB Lamar Miller carried the majority of the workload on the ground, with 268 yards for 1,073 yards and 5 touchdowns in 14 games; he also caught 31 passes for 188 yards. Backup RB Alfred Blue totaled 420 rushing yards on 100 attempts, scoring 1 touchdown in the process. In his final season at Clemson, Watson completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, though college stats don’t always translate well to the NFL because collegiate competition often isn’t to the level that it is in the NFL. The offense was tied for the fourth-fewest points scored last season, but the defense was the top-ranked team in terms of yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.

No matter who gets the bulk of the starts under center — and it’s looking like Savage will get first crack at it in Week 1 — will almost certainly perform better than Osweiler did last year. With Fuller likely out for about half the season, other wide receivers will have to step up their game, so expect WRs Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong to see increased reps and targets, with Fiedorowicz probably continuing to be an important part of the passing game. Lamar Miller is still the starting running back, but Blue may lose some of his work as the backup with the Texans having drafted Texas RB D’Onta Foreman in the third round. As the season goes on, he should see an increased workload as he gets more entrenched in the system as he goes through his rookie season. If Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney can both stay healthy and on the field together — which hasn’t been the case much in Clowney’s first three seasons in the league — the defense should again be a formidable unit and among the best in the league.

The schedule opens with a divisional battle at home against the Jaguars, then the Texans head to Cincinnati for Week 2 to take on the Bengals on Thursday night. Then, for the second straight year, the Texans play at the Patriots in Week 3 as they look to avenge their playoff loss against the eventual Super Bowl LI champs. They go back home to play the Titans in Week 4. They could face off against Osweiler when they host the Browns in Week 6. Their bye follows that game, then it’s off to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in Week 8. The Texans host the Colts in Week 9 and the Cardinals in Week 11. They’re on Monday Night Football in Week 12 when they play at the Ravens, then stay on the road for their second game against the Titans in Week 13. They host the Steelers in Week 16 for a nationally televised game on Christmas Day, and the Texans finish the season on the road in Week 17 to take on the Colts. Obviously the quarterback play will affect how many games the Texans win, but with their stout defense I can see them getting double-digit wins with just decent quarterback play.

Sources: http://www.houstontexans.com/, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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