The NFL world suffered a devastating loss to its 2017 season when it was reported that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. Watson had not only saved the Texans, but he became the biggest sensation in the NFL.
In his seven games played, Watson put up record-breaking numbers, and he was well on his way to snap even more. He was completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards, as well as 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Only Carson Wentz — an MVP candidate — had as many. Watson was on pace for 43 touchdown passes; the rookie record is 26.
With Watson out, things not only change for the Texans, but there will be a ripple effect throughout the NFL with half a season to go.
The Houston offense isn’t going to look nearly the same
It doesn’t matter who the Texans decide to put under center. He won’t be able to replicate what Watson did, period. Tom Savage has shown in his small sample that the Texans’ offense is mediocre at best with him at quarterback — it’s why Watson got a chance in the first place.
It really didn’t make sense to start the season with Savage. The Texans traded up to draft Watson, who was an absolute stud in college, at No. 12 overall. It wasn’t surprising that Savage lasted just one half.
In his lone start this season, Savage went 7-of-13 passing with 62 yards and two lost fumbles against the Jaguars. Watson took over in the second half of that game and although the Texans suffered a 29-7 loss, they had hope. The Texans were actually fun to watch. They quickly became the highest-scoring offense in the NFL with Watson at quarterback. That was a first for Bill O’Brien’s team, which had cycled through eight starting quarterbacks since O’Brien’s tenure started in 2014.
After Watson’s injury, the Texans signed two quarterbacks: T.J. Yates, who played four seasons for the Texans, and Matt McGloin, who played under O’Brien at Penn State. While there’s a connection there, neither will not be able to save the Texans’ offense.
Yates is 4-3 as a starter in his seven-year career, but he has just a 58 percent career completion percentage and has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six). McGloin, the former Raiders quarterback, is 1-6 in his seven career starts, completing just 58 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
More than anything, they’re emergency backups if Savage is injured or proves to be even worse than expected.
The Texans have dynamic weapons on offense, including DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Lamar Miller. But as we saw last year with Brock Osweiler and Savage, it doesn’t mean much if the quarterback can’t distribute the ball effectively. Hopkins saw his production slide last season with Osweiler in an offense that was 28th in scoring and 29th in yards. This season under Watson, the Texans improved to first and 10th, respectively.
You have to feel for Fuller and Hopkins, who were seeing incredible production under Watson. The teammates had seven touchdown receptions apiece, tied for the NFL lead — and that’s despite Fuller missing the first three games due to injury. They also combined for nearly 900 receiving yards. That will take a hit with Watson out for the season.
The defense can’t hold them up like it has in the past
The Texans were able to combat Osweiler’s subpar play at quarterback last season with the league’s best defense, even while missing J.J. Watt.
Eight of their nine wins came by seven points or fewer, thanks largely to a top-ranked defense that limited big plays. They went 9-7 and won the AFC South.
Although the Texans are missing Watt again this season, they’re also down Whitney Mercilus who has been one of their better pass rushers. Earlier this week, they placed defensive end Christian Covington on IR, one of their lesser-known but good performers. Linebacker Brian Cushing is also out while he serves a 10-game PED suspension.
This offseason the defense lost a few other playmakers. John Simon and A.J. Bouye left in free agency, and Vince Wilfork called it a career.
Through eight weeks, the Texans are 18th in total defense. Two of their losses — against the Patriots and Seahawks — came when the defense couldn’t get a stop at the end of the game.
With Watson now out for the season, the Texans will likely look more like the team we saw in Week 1 against Jacksonville, compared to the team we’ve watched compete since he took the reins in Week 2. That’s unfortunate for Texans fans and fans of good football.
What does this mean for Bill O’Brien?
Sources told SB Nation’s Thomas George earlier this week that Texans owner Bob McNair and team management are wondering if O’Brien was the right man for the job. O’Brien caught fire in Week 8 against Seattle, when he took the ball out of Watson’s hands on three straight plays while they were trying to hold on for the win. The Texans didn’t get a first down and were forced to punt from their own 28, ultimately leading to the Seahawks’ game-winning drive. It mirrored their earlier loss to the Patriots, when O’Brien threw away another Watson gem.
Right now, the Texans’ season seems lost, despite what O’Brien said Friday:
Bill O’Brien on Watson injury: “We’re not buying into (the narrative): 'The demise of the Houston Texans is upon us.' That’s ridiculous."— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) November 3, 2017
Based on what we’ve seen from Savage, when he’s healthy, there’s not a lot of reason for hope. It’s not like Yates or McGloin is going to all of a sudden become one of the league’s best gunslingers either.
Let’s not forget: The only quarterback in the entire NFL who had as many touchdown passes as Watson was Carson Wentz (who has played one more game than Watson). He was putting in not only a Rookie of the Year season, but he was playing good enough to get MVP consideration, even if just the slightest.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the Texans’ upcoming schedule isn’t exactly tough. Outside of playing the Steelers on Christmas, a road game against the Rams, and a rematch with the Jaguars, some of their remaining games are against the Colts (twice), Cardinals, and 49ers.
Of course, the confidence in Houston winning any of these games is immensely lower without Watson.
With the inevitable Texans dropoff to come, this could mean O’Brien gets the ax at the end of the season. Or maybe McNair and management will trust what they saw from Watson in seven starts and believe that O’Brien can continue to develop him in the future.
O’Brien’s reputation has been that he can build up quarterbacks because of his work with Tom Brady as the Patriots offensive coordinator. Watson seems like one anybody could teach. So perhaps he could get at least another shot at it — it’s not like it was O’Brien’s fault that Watson went down with a freak injury.
The AFC South is now a two-team race
Thursday was a tough day as we learned that along with Watson, Andrew Luck would be out for the remainder of the season. Luck had missed every game this season, and the 2-6 Colts were already an afterthought in the AFC South. But we still expected big things out of the Texans this year, and it changed with one play in practice.
Now, the Jaguars and Titans will be duking it out for the division crown. Jacksonville has looked like a possible contender as of late, with one of the most fearsome defensive lines in the NFL, a top passing defense, and the league’s strongest rushing attack. But of course, there’s always the Blake Bortles question.
The Titans are currently tied with the Jaguars atop the division. They came into the season with high expectations after they battled the Texans last year, coming up just short when Marcus Mariota went down late in the season with a broken fibula. The division went to the Texans due to a tiebreaker.
Many thought the Titans would take a jump this season, but like the Jags, they have been hot and cold throughout. They’ve benefited the past two weeks with games against the Colts and Browns, not exactly two of the NFL’s more elite teams.
Both the Jaguars and Titans are 4-3, and the Titans already beat the Jaguars once this season. They will appropriately play each other in Week 17 in Nashville. That one could be for the division title and make for some compelling football.
There’s one less star for us to watch
The amount of NFL stars who have been lost for the season seems cruel. I wrote about how we were lucky to have Watson around after already having so many injuries through six weeks of football after Aaron Rodgers’ injury, and then Thursday happened.
For the 2017 season, we’ve now lost:
- David Johnson
- Joe Thomas
- Eric Berry
- Andrew Luck
- Ryan Tannehill
- Jason Peters
- Darren Sproles
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Aaron Rodgers
- Julian Edelman
- J.J. Watt
- Whitney Mercilus
- Dalvin Cook
That’s a lot of talent, some even the cornerstones of their respective franchises. The NFL season has been fun so far, but to lose all of these great players seems unfair.
After his injury, Watson promised he’d be back better than ever. Hopefully, Watson and the rest of the players on this list can make full recoveries, and we can look forward to a healthier 2018 season.