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Could J.J. Watt Opt Out Of The 2020 Season If Face Shields Are Required?by Mike Bullock on July 10, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images The Houston Texans star has little desire to play under a proposed COVID visor initiative. Amidst all the other COVID-19 craziness going on right now, the NFL has reportedly proposed making every player wear a helmet bolstered with a face shield, presumably to prevent a player from coughing/sneezing/spitting or otherwise getting breath droplets that carry COVID-19 on other players. On the surface it makes sense, but there’s a lot of debate on about the potential oxygen inhibition potentially created by masks that are mandated all over the land. Surely if oxygen may not pass through a cotton mask as easily as it should, passing through a plexiglass face shield could prevent problems. That’s where the greatest defensive player in Houston history takes umbrage with the whole idea. Pro Football Talk has the following quote from J.J. Watt in this story: “My second year in the league I thought it’d be cool, I put a visor on my helmet. I was like, ‘It looks so cool, I wanna put a visor on.’ I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, ‘Take this sucker off I’m gonna die out here.’ … So now you’re gonna put something around my mouth? You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don’t think you’re gonna see me on the field.” According to PFT, “The league wants players to wear, basically, an extension of the visor that many players currently wear, with the rest of the inside of the face mask covered by a plastic barrier.” In a game with a lot of really big men sucking up all the oxygen they can get, it’s easy to see how this could lead to fatigue, affect a player’s endurance over the 60 minutes of game time, and potentially bring about secondary effects of insufficient oxygen intake. It’s not unusual to see players huffing and puffing after exerting themselves on the playing field; that’s one of the reasons there are oxygen tanks on the sidelines of every NFL game. If the NFL does mandate a face shield requirement, would that lead to players having to leave the field far more often to take a turn on the tank? It’s all theoretical at the moment, but you can bet this and other proposed safety measures (including a ban on jersey swapping) will certainly create more unease among players the closer we get to Kickoff 2020. What do you think? We’ve discussed whether you would feel safe to attend a Texans game and what it would take to get you to that place, but what about the players?
BRB GroupThink: Where Would You Rank Deshaun Watson?by Matt Weston on July 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images Is he elite? Earlier this week, ESPN ranked the top ten quarterbacks in the league. They had Deshaun Watson fourth in the NFL. For this week’s GroupThink, I asked the masthead where they would rank Deshaun Watson. These are their answers. MATT WESTON: This is a difficult question. Are we talking from a talent perspective, or are we talking about from a results perspective? Because Deshaun Watson has had to play in Bill O’Brien’s “run-heavy, tight-end read option into the flat, force-feed DeAndre Hopkins to convert on third downs, and use play-action to take manufactured deep crossing deep shots” offense. From a talent perspective, I would have Watson fifth. I’d place him behind Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson. If we’re talking about production, Deshaun falls to around tenth. Yes, last season, Watson was less efficient than Ryan Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo, and even Kirk Cousins. Hopefully, Houston’s 2020 offense meets these summer dreams and all that offseason speed comes to fruition. For two seasons now, Bill O’Brien should have based his offense around Watson’s vertical passing ability instead of Carlos Hyde’s ability to get three yards a carry. CARLOS FLORES: I think I’d keep Watson where he is. Patrick Mahomes is an easy #1. He’s literally the half-billion dollar man. He’s a Super Bowl MVP. All of this before the age of 25. He does things that other quarterbacks just don’t do. He deserves to be the highest ranked quarterback. Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson are the future of the NFL. The kids seem to be alright. That being said, the adults are still in the room. Russell Wilson is a threat any time he steps on the turf. He’s still has elite athleticism and comes with plenty of big game experience. When it comes to being clutch, Wilson is one of the last opposing quarterbacks you’d want to see (except at the goal line during the Super Bowl). Aaron Rodgers has the weakest grip on his lead over Watson. He’s fully leaned into the wily veteran role, much to his dismay. He’s got ice in his veins, but it seems that Father Time is starting to catch up to him. Mentally, he’s still one of the top guys around. Physically, we’ll just have to see. Watson is solid at #4. He doesn’t have the playoff success of his elders, but he has so much untapped potential. He’s the future of the franchise and the pillar to build this team around. Deshaun keeps the Texans competitive in any game. Lamar Jackson is hot on his tail for this spot, but I think Watson does more in a worse situation. KENNETH L.: Watson is certainly elite. His game-changing abilities are unquestionable and his accuracy is much better than expected. We are all waiting for the day where he is truly unleashed and goes off on a team. However just like his demeanor, he is more smooth than excitable. Watson has to begin to build his resume in the postseason. The other three quarterbacks on this list ahead of Watson have already won a Super Bowl. Watson has yet to make it to the AFC Championship Game. The top of ESPN’s list leaves off Lamar Jackson. I think he will return to Earth this season and be simply elite, but for now, he’s still above Watson. I’ll also throw in Drew Brees in there above Watson. His arm talent still is among the best ever to play the game. Michael Thomas was key to Brees’s 2019 season, but the Saints did move away from Brees to manage his workload. I think I “trust” Brees to win a game right now more than Watson. I also think that Watson has a much higher chance of being injured, which is a major factor in his abilities. Here’s my ranking: 1. Patrick Mahomes 2. Aaron Rodgers 3. Russel Wilson 4. Lamar Jackson 5. Drew Brees 6. Deshaun Watson 7. Carson Wentz 8. Tom Brady 9. Jameis Winston (KIDDING) Jimmy Garoppolo 10. Jared Goff MIKE: People were throwing shade at Deshaun Watson leading up to the draft, with some campaigning to undermine his potential with pitch speed stats and other stuff that’s been a non-factor to date. Those same haters are the ones dogging him now for playing too much yard ball and not reading a defense the way Peyton Manning could. But ya know what? That same cacophony of crap rose up around another all-time great quarterback with a lot of the same skills, abilities, and X-factor traits Watson has: Brett Favre. The very same skills people trashed in Favre are what made him so exciting to watch. We can grind out metrics, debate stats, finger through the minutia of measurables and all that, but at the end of the day, the NFL is entertainment. The quarterback is the captain of the ship, and watching Deshaun play is one of the most entertaining things happening in NFL circles these days. With all that in mind, I’d place Watson firmly in third place. Patrick Mahomes is the undeniable king of the hill right now, and Lamar Jackson is seriously super-human. Sure, the old guard is still hanging in there, with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers doing great things, not to mention what may come of Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. But that generation of passers has had their day in the sun. It’s time for Mahomes, Jackson, and Watson to rule the league and I for one, can’t wait to see more of it. CHRIS: I think the fourth spot is pretty spot-on for Watson. With more experience, better coaching, and additional weapons, I could easily see him climb to the top. Pat Mahomes for sure is all that he’s proven to be, but he was also fortunate to land in a spot that immediately maximized his potential, surrounded him with elite weaponry, etc. Deshaun Watson’s situation is decidedly different. Though the Texans do have some dangerous talent around him, Watson’s best weapon was traded, his offensive line has been in flux every year (which I understand is not uncommon), and the supposed offensive guru/GM/head coach has proven to be anything but. In fact, the only visible glimmer that O’Brien is the brilliant offensive tactician he was advertised to be only appeared once Deshaun Watson came into his life. Oh, right, this post is about Deshaun Watson. Yes, fourth I think is pretty much a perfect spot for him. He will continue to improve, and he may very well drag his coach along with him. What about you? Where would you rank the Texans’ franchise quarterback?
Where Does Pro Football Focus Rank Houston’s Offensive Line?by Matt Weston on July 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images You’ll be shocked when you find out! Pro Football Focus is ranking various position groups ahead of the opening of the NFL’s training camps (if training camp even happens). Last season, PFF had Houston slightly below average; heading into this season they have them ranked there again. This is what they had to say: 19. Houston Texans The quest for mediocrity is a crucial one for poor offensive lines, and Houston took a huge step in that direction last season, finishing 20th in our final rankings. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil made an immediate impact after coming over from the Miami Dolphins as the Texans’ left tackles had allowed a pressure once every 10 pass-blocking snaps across 2017 and 2018. Tunsil allowed a pressure once every 28 snaps last season and finished with the third-best pass-blocking grade in the league at 88.2, but he also led the league with 20 penalties including the playoffs. Even with the penalties, Tunsil immediately turned a weakness into a strength at left tackle for the Texans. The rest of the line made strides in pass protection, as all five starters posted pass-blocking grades above 70.0. QB Deshaun Watson holds the ball longer than any quarterback on standard dropbacks and invites plenty of pressure himself, and the Texans had the league’s sixth-best pass-blocking grade last season at 79.1 after two years ranking near the bottom. The run blocking was not nearly as good, finishing fifth-worst at 52.2. Left guard Max Scharping and right tackle Tytus Howard finished with near-identical grades — 59.1 for Scharping, 59.4 for Howard — as both rookies struggled in the run game, ranking near the bottom of their respective positions. Center Nick Martin profiled similarly, with a 79.8 pass-blocking grade that ranked eighth but a run-blocking grade of 58.0 that ranked 25th among centers. Right guard Zach Fulton was even worse in the run game with a 42.5 grade that tied for fourth-worst among guards, but he finished 21st with a pass-blocking grade of 73.9. Houston returns all five starters from last season, and there is no line with a bigger discrepancy between pass blocking and run blocking ability. You can read the rest of their analysis here.
Houston Texans News: July 10, 2020by Jeremy_Brener on July 10, 2020 at 11:00 am
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images Your one-stop shop for Houston Texans, local sports, and news from around the league for Friday, July 10, 2020. Houston Texans News Best Backup QBs | Daily Brew (HoustonTexans.com) NFL News Jersey swaps nixed under proposed game-day protocols (NFL.com) Big Ten plans to play conference-only schedule in 2020 (NFL.com) Which college produces the most NFL defensive backs? (NFL.com) Edelman offers to take Jackson to Holocaust museum (NFL.com) Top 8 DROY candidates: Who can challenge Young? (NFL.com) Cam to be first Patriots player to wear No. 1 since ‘87 (NFL.com) State of the Bears: Mitch aside, team should make noise (NFL.com) ‘Bittersweet’ for Watt to root on wife, Kealia, from afar (NFL.com) Houston & Collegiate Sports Rockets restart player previews: Austin Rivers (The Dream Shake) Who should start at the 3? Harden My Take breaks it down! (The Dream Shake)
The Five Best Linebackers in Houston Texans Historyby Mike Bullock on July 9, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images Alfred Blue had more than Brian Cushing to fear. While the Houston Texans are far from the Chicago Bears when it comes to a storied history of Hall of Fame linebackers, Houston has still had its fair share of great linebackers playing for them, particularly when placed under the lens of the franchise’s short lifespan. Over the course of 18 years, the Texans have had one of the best defenses in the league many, many times. Even if last season’s defense was a bit of a train wreck, the history of run-stuffing, quarterback-terrorizing schemes from the minds of Wade Phillips and Romeo Crennel gave the Texans a well-deserved reputation of having a staunch defense. With players like J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Johnathan Joseph, Mario Williams and more, it’s easy to see how that reputation came about. At the heart of every great defense, you’ll often find a feared linebacker, if not two. In the case of the current Texans, they’re actually set with three on this list. While none of the current guys may actually strike fear in opposing offensive coordinators, they surely make an impact on game plans. #5 Zach Cunningham Straight out of Vanderbilt (is that a hot new rap song? No? Ok, nevermind...) the Pinson, Alabama native was the first unanimous All-American in school history. A Dick Butkus Award finalist and SEC Most Valuable Linebacker, Cunningham left his mark on the toughest conference in college ball. Draft guru Mike Mayock touted Cunningham as the fourth best linebacker entering the NFL in 2017. Taken with the 57th overall pick in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cunningham filled the void left by Texans staple Brian Cushing when Cush was suspended (again) for using performance enhancing substances. Cunningham’s rookie campaign saw him start 13 games and finish with 90 combined tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble. By 2019, he started all 16 regular season games, contributing 142 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, 2 passes defensed, and 2 fumble recoveries. Cunningham has already climbed to #12 on the Texans’ all-time solo tackles list with 220, behind guys like J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph, Brian Cushing, and Jamie Sharper. Often mentioned as one of the most overlooked defenders in the league, Cunningham is poised for a breakout year in 2020. #4 Benardrick McKinney Another second rounder and former highly acclaimed SEC defender, McKinney spent his collegiate career at Mississippi State, where he shared SEC Freshman of the Week honors with Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. Thankfully, McKinney’s NFL career has been far more fruitful than Johnny Football’s. McKinney would go on to win ALL-SEC Freshman honors, First Team Freshman All-American, and in his junior year, First team All SEC and All-American. The same draft guru who said Cunningham was the fourth best linebacker in 2017 ranked McKinney as the second best in 2015. The general consensus of draft mockers was McKinney would surely go in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft after opting to leave college at the conclusion of his junior year. Somehow, McKinney slid through the first round before the Houston Texans traded their second, fourth and sixth round picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up and take McKinney with the 43rd overall pick. Originally slotted behind Brian Cushing on the depth chart, it didn’t take long for McKinney to crack the starting lineup. He started eleven games in his rookie season. To date, McKinney sits at #8 on the Texans’ all-time solo tackles list with 295, 8th on the all-time tackles for loss list with 34, and 9th on the QB hits list with 30. McKinney is the epitome of the Bill O’Brien “speak softly and carry a big stick... or lunch pail” player type, letting his play do the talking for him. While this doesn’t bring a ton of drama/attention his way, you can bet opposing offenses are paying attention every down McKinney is on the field. #3 Whitney Mercilus The ‘tweener’/converted defensive end has seen more time as an outside 3-4 linebacker in Houston’s defense than he has at DE. Not unlike Jadeveon Clowney, Mercilus could have landed on the Top Five Defensive Linemen list if it were a little less crowded. Yet many recognize Mercilus as a linebacker, and looking at him through that lens earns him a spot in the dead center of this list. Mercilus (#1 on the Best Named Texans List), led the NCAA his junior season with 16 sacks and 9 forced fumbles while dressing for the University of Illinois. This performance led to him winning the Ted Hendricks Award, Bill Willis Award, CFPA Defensive Player of the Year award, and unanimous First team All-American honors. Unlike McKinney and Cunningham, the Texans didn’t let Mercilus slide out of the first round, grabbing him with the 26th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Merci would only go on to start four games his rookie year, fighting for time behind Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed, but he broke through in 2013 and hasn’t looked back since. Despite never quite consistently and fully achieving the potential he’s flashed throughout his career (arguably due to the defensive coordinators inability to scheme him alongside Watt and Clowney for many, many years), Mercilus is still a special player. Landing at 13th on the all-time Texans’ solo tackles list with 216, he lands #4 on the all-time tackles for loss list with 63, second on the all-time QB hits list with 105 (the only Texans not named J.J. Watt with triple digit QB hits), third on the all-time sacks list with 50, second on the all-time forced fumbles list with 13, and second among defenders with 8 fumble recoveries. Add to that his work in the community through his With Merci Foundation, dedicated to helping families of children with special needs, and it’s pretty clear #59 is an all-time Texans great. #2 Demeco Ryans Another SEC second round draft pick of the Houston Texans, Ryans was a gem in Houston’s defense from the moment they drafted him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. His pile of NCAA honors reads like a list of all the available awards one could possibly win, including Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and many more. The Alabama Crimson Tide ‘backer anchored their defense for years before doing the same for the Texans. Ryans grabbed 12 solo tackles his first game in battle red and never looked back. He finished his first NFL season as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, coming in second among all defenders with 155 total tackles (31 more than the next nearest rookie). Unlike many payers these days, Ryans was an every down kind of guy, a true “quarterback of the defense,” and a player others looked to for leadership, both on and off the field. My heart still breaks remembering the moment I heard Houston had inexplicably traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles on March 20, 2012. It was the same feeling I had when I heard Clowney was traded to the Seahawks and then DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. Ryans sits atop the Texans’ all-time career tackles list with 479, 5th on the tackles for loss list with 43, 12th with 25 hits on the quarterback, 6th with 6 forced fumbles, and 5th with 8 fumble recoveries. If the Texans had allowed Ryans to finish his career in Houston, there’s no doubt he would be #1 on this list and in competition with J.J. Watt for the top seed on the Texans’ All Time Defenders list. Sadly, we never got to see that reality. #1 Brain Cushing There’s an old football adage that a defender can’t truly bring his best unless he plays angry. Enter Brian Cushing. The only other Texans’ first round pick on this list, Houston drafted Cushing out of USC with the 15th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft to some, ahem, criticism. Cushing wasted no time making his mark in Houston when he scored a safety during their Week 4 29-6 rout of the Oakland Raiders. Over the course of his career, Cushing was everything you’d ever want in a middle linebacker and then some. Unfortunately, the “and then some” included multiple suspensions for performance enhancing substances that seemed to bookend a potential Hall of Fame career. Over the course of nine seasons with the Texans, Cushing landed third on the all-time tackles list with 424, holding the top spot when you filter out plays others made with teams not located in H-Town. He lands at 6th on the tackles for loss list with 42, 6th on the QB hits list with 57, 4th on the forced fumbles list with 9, and 1st on hits on Alfred Blue during “Hard Knocks”. Despite the way he went out, Cushing has earned his place in the Texans Ring of Honor, the NFL Hall of Fame, and the top of this list. While he’s not Dick Butkus, he’s the closest thing your Houston Texans have ever had. — Now, while guys like Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, Jamie Sharper, and Barkevious Mingo (j/k) have certainly left their mark on the Texans, the men ranked above are the best of the best. There it is, the linebacker list, to add to your collection of Top Fives. The Five Best Texans Running Backs The Five Best Texans Wide Receivers The Five Best Texans Defensive Linemen What do you think of this list? Think someone was snubbed? Feel like the order is all wrong? Give us your Top Five in the comments.