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2018 Giants opponents: Health a big key for Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt return for Houston

Houston Texans v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

As the lead up to training camp begins, we’re continuing to preview the opponents on the 2018 New York Giants schedule. We’ll look at how 2017 played out and what 2018 might look like to get everyone ready for the season to come.

The second half of a two-game Texas stand at the start of the season will see the Giants play the Houston Texans a week after playing in Dallas.

When will they play?

Week 3 at Houston

2017 in review

Record: 4-12

Expected W-L (Pythagorean Expectation): 5.7-10.3

DVOA rankings: 28th overall, 24th offense, 23rd defense, 26th special teams

After a wild 41-38 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, the Texans were a frisky 3-4. But leading up to a Week 9 game against the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice and was lost for the season. Houston went 1-8 over the next nine games. The season spun so far out of control T.J. Yates started three games at quarterback, completed 48.5 percent of his passes, and threw for 5.4 yards per attempt. Houston also struggled on the defensive side of the ball, playing the opposite of bend but don’t break. They broke whenever they bent, ranking 31st in points allowed per drive despite being just below average (18th) in yards allowed per drive. There’s hope healthy and consistency on both sides of the ball will lead to a better season in 2019.

Offseason Overview

Draft Picks

3 (68) Justin Reid, S, Stanford

3 (80) Martinas Rankin, OL, Mississippi State

3 (98) Jordan Akins, TE, UCF

4 (103) Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech

6 (177) Duke Ejiofor, EDGE, Wake Forest

6 (211) Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi State

6 (214) Peter Kalambayi, EDGE, Stanford

7 (222) Jermaine Kelly, CB, San Jose State

Key Losses

Marcus Gilchrist, basically the entire offensive line that wasn’t very good anyway, except for center Nick Martin

Key Additions

Tyrann Mathieu, Aaron Colvin, Zach Fulton, Seantrel Henderson, Senio Kelemete, Sammie Coates

Houston’s two biggest additions to the 2018 roster are players who were on the team in 2017 — Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt. No move the team could make would outweigh the benefit of getting those two players back on the field healthy. What could help Watson is an improvement in the offensive line in front of him. Every starter from the 2017 season was let go, save for center Nick Fulton. It’s yet to be known if the replacements are any better, but at least there’s a change. Houston led the league in pressure rate allowed last season per Sports Info Solutions — they couldn’t run that out there again. Watson’s development in Year 2 will be more important since Houston used a 2018 first-round pick in the 2017 trade up to draft him.

The big actual addition is Tyrann Mathieu, who can be a versatile piece and instant impact player in the secondary. He’s only on a one-year deal, so he either costs a lot more in 2019 or he’s there to fill in while third-round pick Justin Reid makes an adjustment to a similar role. Another big move was re-signing cornerback Jonathan Joseph. Joseph has been one of the league’s most underrated corners throughout his career — he’s one of four cornerbacks to have at least three seasons with 20 or more passeses defensed. While he’s getting up there in age (he turned 34 in April) he has more in the tank than a typical 12-year vet — last season he was 21st in Success Rate among 81 qualified cornerbacks, per Football Outsiders.

Numbers to know

3: Number of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts and a touchdown rate greater than nine percent. Those quarterbacks were 1976 Ken Stabler, 2004 Peyton Manning, and 2017 Deshaun Watson. Watson’s 9.3 percent touchdown rate isn’t sustainable — it was 61 percent better than league average — but an improvement on non-touchdown throws could easily make up for a regression in touchdown rate.

31.5 percent: Jadeveon Clowney was a one-man show when it came to pressure on defense last season. He accounted for 31.5 percent of Houston’s overall pressure, per Sports Info Solutions, the third-highest individual rate in the league. To show how much help Clowney got, J.J. Watt (14, 9.8 percent) was second on the team in pressures while playing just five games (or maybe that shows how good Watt is).

29.57: Houston had the eighth-fastest offense on situation-neutral plays at 29.57 seconds, which “discards plays when the score differential is greater than 10 points in the first half, plays when the score differential is greater than 8 points in the 3rd quarter, plays in the 4th quarter or overtime, and plays in the last five minutes of the first half,” per Football Outsiders. They were just 16th (30.5 seconds) in 2016.

7.3: Houston allowed a league-worst 7.3 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt on defense, which adjusts for touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks.

Opponent Q&A

Jeremy Brener of Battle Red Blog answered some questions about the Texans heading into 2018.

Q: Whose health is more important to the success of the 2018 Texans: Deshaun Watson or JJ Watt?

A: Deshaun. No question. The team went 3-3 with him as a starter and the team won just one of their final nine games with him as a starter. JJ is important to the team’s success, but they have a ton of depth behind him in Clowney/Mercilus/Christian Covington. That’s why the Texans still made the playoffs in 2016 even when Watt went down. Watson’s depth is Brandon Weeden, and that isn’t a recipe for success.

Q: Per Sports Info Solutions charting, the Texans allowed the most offensive pressure in the league last season and there wasn’t much done to improve it in the offseason. Is that the biggest concern on the team, especially in front of Watson, who is returning from a knee injury?

A: I’m sure the Texans would have wanted Nate Solder and Andrew Norwell in free agency, but it did not happen. Instead, the team settled for Zach Fulton, Seantrel Henderson and Senio Kelemete, all of whom will likely start for the Texans this season. It’s a totally revamped O-Line.

Q: What’s the most underrated aspect of this team heading into 2018?

A: Probably its secondary, since it has improved a lot since last season. Kareem Jackson has moved to safety, Aaron Colvin has been signed, Justin Reid has been drafted, but most importantly, the best FA safety on the market came to Houston this year when Tyrann Mathieu signed with the team. If the Texans have a better secondary, there’s an argument that they win three or four more games that they lost. This year, they shouldn’t have those problems.

Q: If you had to predict a regular season record, what would it be?

A: 9-7. I see the Texans in a very similar position that the Seahawks are in right now. Seahawks have their QB but a lot of questions outside of it. Their defense also has the ability to be stellar, but injuries could stunt their growth. The Texans are in the same boat and they will go as far as Watson takes them. If he’s healthy, this team could win double digit games and back into the playoffs, but 9-7 seems like a reasonable record.