DeAndre Hopkins had 11 games with at least 80 receiving yards during his 2015 season and his 1,521 yards for the year finished behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown.
Those great numbers came despite the fact that Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden all started games for the Texans. So it should definitely raise eyebrows that Hopkins finished with just one reception for four yards — his worst game as a pro — against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday after the team handed Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million deal in the offseason to handle the duties under center.
While Hopkins caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, it’s his only game with more than five catches or 60 yards since Osweiler took over for the Texans.
On two of the six times Hopkins was targeted in Week 4, Osweiler was intercepted by the Titans secondary.
“He was one-on-one in both those situations ... I wouldn’t call it trying to force the ball to [Hopkins], I would call it ‘I need to make a more accurate throw,’ ” Osweiler said. “There is a fine line of ‘Do you try to force your No. 1 wide receiver the football?’ But in those cases I don’t think we were forcing anything.”
Osweiler is right. On both interceptions, throwing to Hopkins wasn’t a bad call ... he just missed.
Hopkins is double-teamed often by opposing secondaries, which makes it difficult not to go his way in one-on-one situations. But this isn’t a new problem. Hopkins has been the focal point of coverages for a while now and the emergence of Will Fuller should be freeing the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Regardless of what the issue is, the Texans need the Osweiler-Hopkins duo to get in sync.
Houston spent big money in the offseason to upgrade offensively. In addition to the $72 million given to Osweiler, the Texans gave $28 million to offensive lineman Jeff Allen and $26 million to running back Lamar Miller. The team also used its first four draft picks on offensive players, including receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.
That offseason shouldn’t have yielded an offense that is No. 29 in points scored, No. 25 in passing yards, and without a rushing touchdown through four games. It certainly shouldn’t be an offense that was shut out by the New England Patriots in Week 3.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien and Houston players insist they’re not concerned, though. Even Hopkins said he’s not frustrated, although that was before his one-reception performance in Week 4.
“The team’s success, for me, comes first, and all the accolades come after that,” Hopkins said after finishing with four receptions for 56 yards against the Patriots. “So, whatever I have to do, if it’s me drawing a double team, that means one of my other teammates are open. That’s not on the stat book, drawing a double team — people just see touchdowns — but, to me, my team’s success comes first.”
The Texans are out to a 3-1 start, but have a big test on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Things could be particularly tough for Hopkins, who will face Xavier Rhodes one week after the Vikings cornerback shut down Odell Beckham, Jr.
It could also set up to be a rough day for Osweiler, who has struggled against pressure and now faces a defense with 15 sacks in four games.
Brock Osweiler's passing stats when under pressure today.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 2, 2016
Coming into this week, he ranked 23rd in accuracy percentage under pressure. pic.twitter.com/pZk86jmUlt
The Texans defense already looks much less intimidating with J.J. Watt done for the year, so the offense can’t afford to get subpar numbers out of one of the NFL’s most dynamic players.
Thanks to the trash heap that is the AFC South, the Texans already have a two-game divisional lead, so there’s no need to panic. But the team’s expensive offensive upgrades haven’t yielded many points and the first priority has to be figuring out a way to make sure Hopkins doesn’t have another one-reception game again.