Patrick Storm

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D’Onta Foreman’s Return

It has been 384 days since D’Onta Foreman tore his Achilles on a 34-yard touchdown run in Week 11 of the 2017 season. It was Foreman’s second touchdown of the day, ending a promising season for the rookie running back out of the University of Texas. Foreman’s season would end with 327 yards and 2 touchdowns.

There was much speculation heading into this season about how the Texans would handle his recovery, or even if he would play this year at all. Foreman was always adamant that he would play this year, but many felt he hadn't handled his recovery the way he should have. Plenty of people were speaking on the subject yesterday in a Facebook group named Houston Texans Empire. There were lots of assumptions being thrown around when a direct source, D’Onta Foreman’s father, spoke up on the subject.

Yesterday, Foreman’s father, Derrick Foreman, and I crossed paths (unknowingly at first) on a thread about D’Onta possibly returning to the active roster. Foreman’s father stated on Facebook in a brief conversation between he and I, that Foreman has been “ready for weeks.” However, he followed that statement with, “When you're winning games, I understand the team not rushing him back. He’s been practicing hard and not feeling any soreness.”

Adding Foreman to a pretty solid run game between Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue could help propel this Texans’ offense over the hump and thrust them deep into the playoffs. The Texans currently rank third in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1689 yards and are tied for second in rushing yards per game with 140.8. So far this season, the Texans have lacked a power run game inside the red zone, scoring a measly 6 rushing touchdowns on the year. Let’s see if Foreman can help in this department.

*Statistics from NFL.com

A Line in the Sand

The Texans season has made a dramatic turn for the better over the last 9 weeks! After starting 0-3, the Texans have ripped off nine straight wins. The offense has been crafted to unite their skill sets for victory. The defense is playing at a high level, especially now that most of their key players are healthy: they’ve forced twenty takeaways to date in the season (NFL.com).

Do they have what it takes to make a run deep into the playoffs? They do, but health could be the greatest danger to their chances. Over the past three weeks, the Texans have only carried seven active offensive linemen into games, and they've needed all seven of them due to injuries. Right Guard Zach Fulton is battling a hand injury and missed the last part of yesterday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. Left Tackle Julien Davenport missed one snap after a brief visit with the trainers to re-tape his ankle. Right Tackle Kendall Lamm missed the final quarter after being placed in the NFL’s Concussion Protocol.

I spoke with Lamm after the game. When I asked him if he thinks he will play this week against Indy, he said, “I’ll be fine.”

With injuries starting to nag at the offensive line starters, do the Texans look to carry eight guys on the game day roster, or continue to roll with seven? In my opinion, they need to carry that extra guy for a few weeks, just in case. The worst case scenario is having to throw a tight end in the guard position and shuffle the line around to keep rolling; there’s no sense in risking that scenario.

The Texans have Kyle Fuller, Roderick Johnson, Chad Slade, and David Steinmetz on the practice squad should they feel the need to promote someone to the active 53-man roster. I’d have the most confidence in Fuller or Slade, because of their experience over the previous years. Fuller started two games last season while playing in nine total, and Chad Slade starting in three games while appearing in five games (Pro Football Reference). For a quick plug-in lineman, familiarity with the offense would be a big plus.

This has to be a topic of discussion in O’Brien’s meetings this week, to help keep this team rolling. He has done a fantastic job of hiding weaknesses in the line by running the ball a lot; the result is a successful ground game. O’Brien has done enough to win nine games straight, the best streak in the NFL right now. Lamar Miller has been a beneficiary of this, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in four of the last six games (NFL.com). The line, while still a question moving forward, has improved week after week. Could injuries push them back to week one? Let’s hope not, and let’s hope they can continue to improve.

Texans: Tyler Ervin Out and DeAndre Carter is in

On Tuesday afternoon the Houston Texans made a somewhat of a surprising move in releasing former fourth-round draft pick, Tyler Ervin. Ervin was drafted out of San Jose State in 2016. Ervin spent the large majority of his time on the field returning kicks for the Texans, eclipsing over 1100 kick return yards* over his 3-year career in Houston.

He very seldom saw time in the backfield, only attempting five rushes for 15 yards* and 14 receptions for 91 yards. The speedster’s primary role was to return kicks, which never really took off for him. Ervin was hampered by injury in the 2017 season when he tore his patellar tendon in Week 4.

One area the Texans have appeared to focus on this season really is the special teams unit. They are continually bringing in free agents to try out. These players come in with the hopes of grabbing a spot on special teams and continue their NFL career. This became evident early this season and even pre-season with the signing of veteran NFL QB Joe Webb, who has a reputation as a journeyman special teams ace.

This week the Texans made a move to upgrade the return game by cutting ties with Tyler Ervin and claiming WR DeAndre Carter from the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.

Carter has spent time with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers practice squads before making the Eagles 53 man roster this season after a flashy preseason. So far this season Carter had ten punt returns for an avg. of 10.3 y/r and ten kick returns for an avg of 20.4 y/r with a long of 30 yards*. So why Carter over Ervin? Well after watching some quick footage on Carter a few things became evident.

Carter appears to have more commitment when hitting a lane and getting downfield faster, whereas Ervin appeared timid at times. Carter also seems to have a much stronger build and ability to break arm tackles, something that Ervin often would allow to end his returns short of their potential. Carter also had some flashes in the preseason of a strong-handed receiver out of the backfield and when split out too. Something the Texans could use to their advantage to give Deshaun Watson yet another weapon.

I have been very pleased with the moves first-year GM Brian Gaine has made this season, and this one so far on paper appears to be a good move. I'll be very excited to see how Carter is used in the offense if at all with Keke Coutee still nursing a hamstring injury.

While Carter’s return numbers are not much better than Tyler Ervin’s, he could potentially blossom into a good return specialist, something the Texans have been without over the last few years. Carter’s first test will be against a Washington Redskins team that has allowed a league-low 40 yards* on seven returns this year.

* All stats per NFL.com

Texans: Contenders or Pretenders?

Are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” Is Houston’s six-game win streak all smoke and mirrors, or are they really putting the NFL on notice to generate respect? Starting the season off 0-3 against Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota, and Eli Manning and not putting up a single W, seemed to spell disaster for the Texans’ 2018-2019 season. Then something in Week 4 clicked, as the Texans have rattled off six straight wins against some decent (but not brag-worthy) opponents.

The Texans stumbled out of the gate against the New England Patriots, having no answer for Rob Gronkowski and of course, the arm of Tom Brady. Watson threw for a meager 176 yards on a 17/34 passing day. Next up was the Texans first divisional opponent, the Tennessee Titans, led by former Texans Defensive Coordinator, Mike Vrable. The Titans absolutely embarrassed Houston with a trick play on what appeared to be a punt, but turned into a 66-yard touchdown pass from Byard to Cruikshank early in the game.

Houston’s worst loss of the season came against the Eli Manning-led Giants. This week, Eli suddenly turned into his brother Peyton, and torched the Texans for 297 yards and two touchdowns to pair up with rookie RB sensation Saquon Barkley’s 82 yards and lone rushing touchdown. 0-3 was not exactly the start Bill O’Brien was looking for after coming off a very disappointing 2017 campaign.

I for one was ready to write this season off, and was already looking forward to the draft in September. Then October rolled around, a new Texans team appeared, and boy was I wrong! The Texans started by knocking off their divisional opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, and then grabbed the bragging rights over Texas from the Dallas Cowboys. Next, the Texans obtained a sure-fire win against Buffalo, which was followed by a surprising win against the imploding Jaguars. Their streak continued with a very convincing win over Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins, and most recently pulled off a squeaker in Mile High over the Denver Broncos.

So what changed? Did the offense suddenly become unstoppable? No. Did the defense turn into the Legion of Boom? No. Did Bill O’Brien become some football mastermind? No. To me it’s been a combination of opponent coaching mistakes, inferior talent on the other side of the ball, some very good play-making from several players, and just some down right, knock down, hard fought football from the Texans to rack up six straight wins.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the Texans didn't earn these wins, but also I'm not saying they did, either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, they've done just enough to win these games, something already difficult to do in the NFL, for a shocking six straight weeks.

Now we sit in the bye week, which couldn't have come at a better time in the season, as the Texans are pretty banged up and getting thin at some very key positions. So how does the rest of the year look? Well, if the team can get some key players back (Jonathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, D’Onta Foreman, Zach Cunningham, and potentially Jermaine Kelly), I’d say they have a real shot to finish the season out with at least ten wins. They have three divisional games left: the Jets, Browns, Redskins, and defending Super Bowl Champs, The Eagles. Don’t let these teams fool you: the Browns have lost several close games; the Eagles are battling; and the Titans just made Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys look absolutely foolish on their home field after one of the worst offensive starts I’ve ever seen.

The Texans will have their hands full with the Redskins and Adrian Peterson, despite some recent injuries to a few members of Washington’s offensive line, and a defense with former Texans’ safety, DJ Swearinger. Definitely a winnable game, the Texans could very well bang out ten straight wins and lock up the AFC South in early December. Now that’s fine and dandy, but will they truly be satisfied with another AFC South banner? Of course not.

This season around the NFL has had its twists and turns, shocking winners, upsets, blowouts, and excitement. When the playoffs arrive, if the Texans continue to improve with the addition of veteran wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney continuing to attack opposing QB’s, I could see the Texans making a decent run into this year’s playoffs. Guys like Kareem Jackson, Deandre Hopkins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Lamar Miller will have to continue to get better and keep opponents on their heels.

Of course, those potential playoff opponents will likely include Kansas City, New England, and possibly Pittsburg or Cincinnati. Can Houston compete with these teams? Yes, if the team can stay healthy, and things continue to click for them. I would, however, be cautiously optimistic that this trend of wins continues, but don’t get your heart broken if things go astray.

Until I see Bill O’Brien make a dramatic change in his predictable play calling, I cannot see the Texans making it past the first round of the playoffs. Watching the tape of the Denver game, the Texans ran the ball on first down seven (7) times in the first two quarters of football. That’s seven out of a possible eleven first down plays Houston ran. Bill needs to mix in more plays on first downs; maybe with the addition of Demaryius Thomas, the Texans will be able to do so. I would love to see the tight ends be more involved in the passing game, especially considering the flashes we've seen from rookie TE Jordan Thomas. I understand they have been cautious with the offensive line being so inconsistent, but week by week, that group has been improving and keeping Watson upright more and more often.

So in conclusion, are the Houston Texans “Contenders” or “Pretenders?” With everything seeming to come together at the right time for them at this point in the season, the Texans are contenders. They are three wins away from matching Bill O’Brien’s best season. There are several winnable games on the docket; this is a very hungry team, with a previously un-seen type of camaraderie. Players are getting healthy, rookies are getting better week by week, and veterans are returning to form. These are all signs pointing to Houston making a push for the playoffs, and a strong one at that!

* All stats from NFL.com

Watson's Rookie Season

At the conclusion of Sunday's matchup in Denver, Deshaun Watson has completed his rookie season. Rookie Season, you ask? Yup, Deshaun has finally completed 16 games in the NFL. Yea, its spread out over two seasons, but it’s finally our first true benchmark to measure Watson against the best QB’s to step on the gridiron.

It hasn't exactly been all MVP performances and highlight reel film, but to say Watson isn't putting the league on notice is foolish. Deshaun Watson has amassed 4,088 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a 101.7 quarterback rating per NFl.com. So how does this stack up against some of the all-time greats? Well, Peyton Manning recorded 3,739 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions. Tom Brady threw for 2,849 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in his first 16 games. Now I'm not saying Watson is the next “GOAT,” but he’s certainly put up a good case for becoming a top quarterback in the NFL for the foreseeable future!

Now, of course, everyone knows about his injury in Week Nine during practice, in which Watson suffered his second ACL tear, downing him for the remainder of the season. One thing that quickly gave most hope was their memory of what Watson did in college after suffering a torn ACL at Clemson. Watson tore his ACL in 2014, missed one game, then played against South Carolina. In that game, Watson threw for 269 yards, two touchdowns, and amazingly still rushed for 13 yards and two touchdowns as well. I believe that gave everyone in Houston hope that it wouldn't take long for Watson to return to form and help lead their beloved Texans down the field again.

Of course, there have been some bad things from Watson, but he’s a rookie, so I’m not entirely surprised. Watson has this incredible ability to escape pressure that he somehow sees with the eyes in the back of his head. However, sometimes it appears he tries to do too much and runs into more trouble than he should put himself into. What do I mean by this? Watching recent games, Watson has a habit of running into sacks. Now I know everyone is going to want to place the blame on the offensive line; I implore you to trust me that it's not all their fault, regardless of how you feel about that group's lackluster performance over the last two seasons.

Watson has been sacked an astounding 49 times in his first 16 games. That is a ton of hits to take for a QB in today's NFL! Just this past week, off the top of my head, I can think of two plays where he was “sacked” in which it appears he held onto the ball too long instead of dumping it off and moving on. This area is where Quarterback Coach Sean Ryan and Head Coach Bill O’Brien can work with Watson the most and help him turn that corner to become a prolific passer in the NFL, and stay healthy!

Now I don’t want it to seem like I’m some QB guru, and that I know exactly how to turn Watson into the best QB in the league because I don’t, or I would be getting paid a ton of money, and my phone would be blowing up! These are just general observations from re-watching game tape, and keying in on some things.

With only 16 games under his belt, a 9-7 record, arguably the best hands receiver at his disposal, the recent addition of Demaryius Thomas, and Will Fuller coming back next year, I fear the best is yet to come from the young QB, and that should put fear in the souls of defensive coordinators around the NFL.