2020 NFL Team Previews: Houston Texans
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
The Texans won the AFC South title for the fourth time in five years. They pulled off a great playoff comeback win over the Bills after being down 16-0 in the third quarter.
However, they were the victim of a huge comeback themselves in the following contest by squandering a 24-0 lead in Kansas City. They were completely overwhelmed in the last 40 minutes of the game at Arrowhead Stadium and ended up losing 51-31.
2. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Houston Texans are expected to win 7.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Texans won more or less than 7.5 games.
Here are the results:
- Tip: Bet OVER 7.5 wins
- Return On Investment (ROI): +4.1%
- Rank: 29th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
- Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -103
Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Texans’ 16 regular season games:
- HOME: +5 vs BAL, -6.5 vs CIN, 0 vs GB, -2 vs IND, -9 vs JAX, 0 vs MIN, -3 vs NE, -1 vs TEN.
- ROAD: +3.5 @ CHI, +2.5 @ CLE, +1 @ DET, +4.5 @ IND, -3 @ JAX, +9.5 @ KC, +5 @ PIT, +4.5 @ TEN.
Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.
3. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
DeShaun Watson entrenched his status as a top 10 QB in the league by posting good numbers for a third straight year. He came close from the 4,000-yard mark, while throwing 26 TDs and 12 interceptions. He also added a career-high 7 rushing touchdowns.
There is no doubt he is one of the top signal callers in the league. He now has a good mix of youth and experience. He has a bright future ahead of him.
A.J. McCarron will back up Watson, but the team crosses its fingers they won’t need him on the field. He’s clearly not starter material; he has 6 TDs and 3 interceptions over a five-year period.
3.2 Running Backs (RBs)
The Texans had a very nice duo in 2019 with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. Still, Houston decided to shuffle things up a little bit.
David Johnson was acquired via a trade, even though the 28-year old has shown signs of declining. After racking up more than 2,000 rushing+receiving yards and 20 TDs in 2016, Johnson played just one game in 2017 after dislocating his left wrist in the season opener.
He simply hasn’t been the same since. His yards per rush average has gone from 4.6 in 2015 to 4.2 in 2016, 3.6 in 2018 and 3.7 last year.
David Johnson will be the lead back since Hyde has not been re-signed. Hyde rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time of his career and will need to find work elsewhere.
I really like Duke Johnson. He seems to have enough talent to take a heavier workload, but he’s been stuck behind guys like Isaiah Crowell, Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde.
He hasn’t missed a single game in five years! He has caught at least 44 balls in each of those seasons, which shows how dangerous he is as a pass catcher. I would love to see what he could do as the workhorse back, but it’s not going to happen this year, unless David Johnson gets hurt.
3.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
I’ll do my best to stay polite: the DeAndre Hopkins trade was bad. That’s the nicest I can be when talking about this trade.
Hopkins is a rare talent. David Johnson isn’t. It’s as simple as that.
Losing Hopkins is a big blow. He is a game changer and often draws double coverage, which leaves more room for his teammates.
Will Fuller is a difference-maker when healthy, but the problem has been just that: health. He has missed between 2 and 7 games in each of his first four years as a pro. And when he’s on the field, he tends to play at less than 100%. He graded as the 25th-best WR last year (out of 122 guys).
Kenny Stills is not a #1 WR in this league, but he can be a competent #2, or a very good #3 wideout. He’s been pretty durable during his first seven years in the NFL, averaging 43 catches, 671 receiving yards and 5.1 TDs.
The team acquired a couple of WRs during the offseason: Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks. Both graded as a middle-of-the-pack wideout last year, per PFF.
Cobb will be 30 when the 2020 season begins. He had a very respectable season in Dallas last year by posting a 55-828-3 stat line.
Brandin Cooks topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. His play took a huge dip last year; he caught 42 passes for 583 yards and just 2 TDs with the Rams.
The big source of concern about Cooks is his injury history: he has suffered at least five concussions in the NFL. Will he bounce back with Watson as his quarterback? It’s hard to tell. If he goes down, at least the team has nice depth with Fuller, Stills and Cobb.
3.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
Darren Fells used to be viewed as a run blocker throughout his career. He had never caught more than 21 passes in a season. In 2019, he broke out with 34 receptions, but most importantly 7 TDs! Watson made good use of his big 6’7’’ frame.
Jordan Akins went from 17 to 36 receptions in his second year as a pro. Both Akins and Fells aren’t game breakers. They ranked 50th and 48th out of 66 tight ends based on PFF ratings in 2019.
3.5 Offensive Line (OL)
This has to be the offense’s weakest link. Other than Laremy Tunsil, all starters are either average, or below-average. Tunsil did finish as the #21 tackle out of 81 qualifiers (he wasn’t as good in run blocking). The Texans gave up a lot of draft capital in order to acquire him and Stills, so they need Tunsil to produce.
The other guys on the line, along with their PFF rankings, are as follows: Nick Martin (18th out of 37 centers), Tytus Howard (60th out of 81 tackles), Zach Fulton (61st out of 81 guards) and Max Scharping (48th out of 81 guards). As for backup Roderick Johnson, who was re-signed to a one-year deal, he finished as the #42 tackle.
Last year, the Texans attempted the 20th-most passes in the league, and yet allowed the 8th-most sacks. And that’s despite having a pretty mobile quarterback. Those numbers are not re-assuring.
Since the same guys will be protecting Watson in 2020, you could be concerned about his health. The only good news is continuity is important on the offensive line. Having played a full year together might help improve their play.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
It’s difficult not to downgrade this unit after losing such an impactful player like DeAndre Hopkins. At least they picked up adequate receivers like Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Along with Fuller and Stills, that will still provide nice weapons for Watson.
Switching Carlos Hyde for David Johnson isn’t necessarily an upgrade, in my humble opinion. Hyde did well in 2019 by finishing as the 18th-best RB (versus 22nd for Johnson).
The starting tight ends are the same as last year. The OL remains intact.
Overall, I’ll go with a small downgrade. Hopkins not only consistently racked up big numbers, but his presence alone opened things up for his teammates. It won’t be the case anymore.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
4.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
The Texans had four guys rotating on the interior of the defensive line. None dominated nearly as much as D.J. Reader. He left for Cincinnati, which is a huge loss for the Texans.
Reader was not much of a quarterback chaser, but he was an animal as a run stuffer. Despite posting just 2.5 sacks, Reader ranked as the 7th-best interior defender out of 114 qualifiers. The Texans were 25th in rushing yards allowed per game, and things are about to get worse following Reader’s departure.
Bill O’Brien tried to compensate for that loss by signing Tim Jernigan away from the Eagles. He is an “okay” player, but not nearly as good as Reader was.
The other three guys obtaining playing time at the position were Charles Omenihu, Angelo Blackson and Brandon Dunn. They all played between 37% and 41% of the snaps last year. Here were their PFF rankings out of 114 interior defenders: 84th, 113th and 97th. Ouch.
The organization hopes second-round rookie Ross Blacklock can provide a spark right away. He played pretty well as a freshman with TCU, then missed the entire 2018 season due to an Achilles injury and came back leaner and faster as a junior. He’s an agile pass rusher who isn’t super strong.
Therefore, we’re talking about a pretty weak and worsened group.
4.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
J.J. Watt is the heart and soul of this defense. In his first five seasons in the NFL, he hadn’t missed a single game. Since then, he has played 32-of-64 games (i.e. 50% of them).
Now 31 years old, Texans fans have to be concerned by the situation. He did get 16 sacks in 2018, though. The big question revolves around his health because the abilities are still there for sure.
Whitney Mercilus isn’t getting any younger either. He will be 30 years old when the next season begins.
He led the team with 7.5 sacks last year. As a whole, Houston’s defense posted the sixth-fewest sacks, so thank God Mercilus was there.
Unlike Watt, Mercilus has not missed many games throughout his career. He’s been involved in 15 games or more in seven of his eight seasons in the NFL. During those seven years, he has averaged 7 sacks per season.
We do observe a worrisome tendency when watching his PFF grades, though. His marks have gone down quite a bit over the most recent two years. Coupled with his age, I am wary of his 2020 outlook.
4.3 Linebackers (LBs)
Zach Cunningham did a very fine job at linebacker last season. He had the 6th-most tackles in the league with 142, improving upon his 105 the year before. The former second rounder from the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt has shown some nice steady progress thus far. He graded as the 21st-best LB out of 89 players.
Benardrick McKinney is another guy that does a good job, despite not receiving much recognition around the league. He’s missed only two games over the past four seasons, while racking up at least 95 tackles in each of them.
McKinney had his worst PFF grade of his career, and yet finished in spot #30 out of 89 linebackers. Not bad! He’s still young at 27 years old, so a bounce back year is likely.
4.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Bradley Roby was one of the starting corners for the Texans last year, but he missed six games due to a hamstring injury. Prior to this, he had been very durable in five seasons with the Broncos.
As a former first-round pick, he’s had ups-and-downs in his career. Houston just locked him up with a lucrative three-year contract, so they believe he’s one of the building blocks towards a Super Bowl run. He ranked as an average CB last season based on PFF ratings.
Johnathan Joseph is done in Houston. Both sides agreed to part ways. He played almost all games last season, and just like Roby he was marked as an average cornerback.
After getting traded at midseason from the Raiders to the Texans, Gareon Conley significantly improved his play. The former 2017 first-rounder showed some promise and could be Joseph’s replacement.
Another candidate is Lonnie Johnson. Bill O’Brien took him in the second round of the 2019 draft, but he struggled big time in his rookie season. His 29.0 grade in coverage by PFF was abysmal. He finished as the worst of all 112 qualified cornerbacks in the NFL.
4.5 Safeties (S)
Justin Reid has been a nice pickup so far. In his first two seasons in the NFL, he has received very good marks from PFF. He has intercepted five passes, forced one fumble and recovered three.
Tashaun Gipson secured the number 71 spot out of 87 safeties in PFF rankings last season. His play tailed off significantly compared to his previous two years in Jacksonville. Entering his age-30 campaign, the team released him this offseason.
The #3 safety was Jahleel Addae, but he won’t be re-signed. The guy who is most likely to take Gipson’s job is Eric Murray. His three-year, $20.25 million contract is a bit of a head-scratcher (what else can you expect from Bill O’Brien), but the dollar amount indicates he has a good shot to be a starter.
Murray played his first three seasons with the Chiefs before joining the Browns last year. His PFF grades have been all over the place. As a rookie, his 74.0 mark was awesome! However, he crashed down to an atrocious 49.8 grade in his sophomore year before obtaining 67.5 and 62.5 the most recent two seasons. To me, he looks like a middle-of-the-pack guy (if not below-average).
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
In the secondary, the Texans let CB Johnathan Joseph and their #2 and #3 safeties Tashaun Gipson and Jahleel Addae go, but picked up Eric Murray. That’s pretty much a wash. For a team that allowed the fourth-most passing yards in 2019, it does not bode very well for 2020.
Replacing stud DL D.J. Reader with Tim Jernigan is clearly a downgrade. As for the edge rushers and the linebackers, no changes have been made. J.J. Watt missed eight games last year and will be back this year, but his age (and Mercilus’ age) worry me a little bit.
For these reasons, I expect this already fairly weak unit to decrease even more in terms of production.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
5. Predicted Record
MOST LIKELY 2020 RECORD: 8-8
(based on the one-million simulated seasons using BetOnline’s 2020 point spreads)
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