The 2020 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Houston Texans, to say the least.
After making the playoffs four out of the previous five years, including in 2019, the Texans have sputtered to a 2-7 start this year. They fired head coach Bill O’Brien in early October, and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel took over on an interim basis.
Both of their wins have come against the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars. Four of the Texans’ losses have been by one score or fewer, including one in overtime to the Tennessee Titans and a 10-7 setback to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday.
The Texans host the Patriots (4-5) on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST. The Texans were favored by 2 points in the initial spread, but as of Thursday, the Patriots are 1.5-point favorites.
Here are four things to know about the Texans.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn’t been the problem
In September, quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed to a four-year, $160-million extension with the Texans. The total value trailed only Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’s 12-year deal as the largest in NFL history.
It would be easy to glance at the Texans’ record and view Watson’s start to the season as a disappointment, but in reality, that hasn’t been the case.
Watson, who tore his ACL in 2017, has been one of the NFL’s most consistent and durable QBs since his return in 2018. His passer rating of 107.0 is the highest of his career, and he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes compared to just five interceptions. He’s averaged 8.4 yards per completion as well.
He said his focus is on doing what he can individually to help the team improve.
“Not trying to do too much and being too much of a superhero because that can really turn out bad,” Watson told reporters. “Sometimes it can turn out good, but for me just really controlling and mastering my craft and doing what I can to try to get our team an opportunity to win games.”
While it’s been a frustrating start to the season, Watson isn’t deterred.
“It really brings out true character and who you are, and what you’re made of, and how determined and motivated you are to keep pushing forward,” Watson said.
They’re missing wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and struggling defensively
Part of the reason the Texans’ situation has been so bleak is because they’ve lost close games and haven’t been able to capitalize when they’ve had the chance.
The other major factor is that they’ve lost talent from last year’s team. In March, the Texans sent star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, along with a fourth-round pick, in exchange for running back David Johnson and second- and fourth-round picks.
You remember what Hopkins did last week:
Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and Randall Cobb still form a talented receiving corps, but the absence of Hopkins has been noticeable.
Hopkins has been electric alongside quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals while Johnson only has three rushing touchdowns on the season and is currently on the injured list (concussion).
Even with the acquisition of Johnson, the Texans are second-to-last in the NFL with 87.9 rushing yards per game. Defensively, they’re allowing the most rushing yards (167.4) and fourth-most total yards (409.1) per game.
Sunday should be a prime opportunity for Patriots running back Damien Harris to continue to build on his recent production.
“I think, Coach [Bill] Belichick, one of the things that he’s always done is he will play to his strengths,” Crennel told reporters. “And so having that stable of running backs that he has and good offensive line, and he’s running the ball and teams are not able to stop him because he’s No. 1 in the league. So, why change it? I think that as long as he can run, he’s going to continue to run.”
Romeo Crennel has helped guide the Texans in the right direction
Crennel, who was instrumental in helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls in the early 2000s, has guided the Texans to a 2-3 record after they started the season 0-4.
ESPN reporter Sarah Barshop said Crennel has lightened the team’s mood and livened the atmosphere.
“As Romeo Crennel danced around in the locker room, doing the ‘Macarena,’ cranking the ‘Soulja Boy’ and doing the disco after the Texans’ first victory of the season in his first game as interim head coach, the world saw what players in Houston have known for seven years,” Barshop wrote. “Not only does he have players’ respect as a coach, but he’s fun to be around.”
Crennel acknowledged it’s difficult to take over in the middle of a season because everyone’s mind immediately starts racing.
“What’s the team’s future? What’s my future? What’s my family’s future? And so all those questions are in the back of their minds,” Crennel said.
Romeo Crennel was asked if he wants to coach the team beyond this season:— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) November 18, 2020
“I’m worried about this game. … And then at the end of the season, we’ll sit down and we’ll talk and make decisions about what the future holds.”
He credited his players for continuing to work hard and be competitive in games while blocking out the outside noise.
Belichick said his former racquetball partner Crennel would be “at the very top” of the list of coaches he’s worked with over the years. He said he thinks “the world” of him and appreciates his friendship as well as his coaching acumen.
“I learned probably a lot more from [him] than I would have taught him,” Belichick said. “He’s a great man, a great coach.”
Former Patriots team chaplain Jack Easterby is Houston’s interim general manager
Another unique wrinkle of Sunday’s matchup is that former Patriots team chaplain Jack Easterby is currently the interim general manager of the Texans.
Belichick called Easterby a “very valuable” member of the organization when he was in New England, but he indicated earlier this week that he didn’t envision Easterby in the role he’s in now.
“Jack’s not a personnel person, no,” Belichick said.
Belichick said Easterby, who clearly has a daunting task ahead of him with the Texans, worked well with players, coaches, support people, and many more as a character coach in New England.
“He was a person who could connect well with everybody,” Belichick said, “from the owner of the team to the equipment manager that picks up towels, and all of the people in between.”
Texans CEO Bill McNair said Thursday that Easterby is a major part of the team’s plans going forward but will not be the general manager long term.
McNair 2/2: "(Easterby) is going to be an incredibly valuable part of our franchise moving forward as he works with our next general manager and head coach."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 19, 2020
"I want to build something that our fans, players and staff are proud of. It’s ok to be under construction right now." https://t.co/uuvwgX1yFv