During this time of year, NFL fan bases all over are excited about how their respective teams will do as the season gets set to kick off.
It’s not much different here in Houston where the Texans are fresh off back-to-back four-win seasons. Fans are excited about the possibilities of this season despite the many question marks, starting with so-so second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
It hasn’t helped that the Texans are coming off an undefeated preseason, which is really the equivalent of trying to cash Monopoly money at a real bank.
But first-year Texans coach Lovie Smith and second-year general manager Nick Caserio know better. They are doing their best to manage expectations while delivering just enough optimism to keep their players and fans locked in.
“I understand most head coaches are going to say the same thing right now. I like ours,” said Smith, whose team opens the 2022 NFL season against AFC South rival Indianapolis at NRG Stadium on Sunday. “Every step along the way, we’ve evaluated in detail. We’ve liked a lot of the things we’ve seen. I know we need to get to the game and play it, but I like where we are right now.”
Where the Texans are right now is in the midst of a massive rebuild that takes them another step away from the disastrous Deshaun Watson breakup and a giant leap away from the frustrating Bill O’Brien era.
With the exception of a few players here and there, the Texans’ entire roster looks completely different from two seasons ago.
What does that mean for this season? Probably not quite what you hope.
With the addition of talented rookies like corner Derek Stingley Jr., safety Jalen Pitre, left guard Kenyon Green and running back Dameon Pierce along with some strategically placed veteran additions, the Texans will be more competitive than last season when they were a blowout loss waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, more competitive games won’t result in a huge turnaround from their 4-13 finish last season. Five or six wins this season seems most realistic.
“It’s going to be about working hard,” said Caserio. “It’s going to be about doing the right things day after day, week after week, month after month, game after game. Where does that lead? I have no idea. Nobody really knows. Are we a better football team than we were last year? I mean, I don’t know. We’ll find out here come…Sunday.”
On paper, it feels like the team has improved its overall talent from a season ago. Smith’s Tampa 2 defense has a much more talented secondary and more athletic ability up front to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks will make his fair amount plays and Nico Collins seems primed for a stellar sophomore season. Cornerstone left tackle Laremy Tunsil is back healthy, which should solidify an offensive line that was constantly overwhelmed last season.
Pierce has looked like he will inject a needed spark into the pedestrian ground attack, leaving Mills as the biggest concern on the Texans’ offense. Mills likely has this season to prove he can be a true franchise quarterback or the team will be forced to move on, taking either Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young with one of its two first-round picks in 2023.
But for now, the Texans are putting all of their trust in Mills.
“It does come down to the quarterback an awful lot,” Smith said. “Everything you can do as a young quarterback, he’s done and he’s ready to take that next step. We’re going to give him all the tools that we think are necessary for him do to well, and that’s not just offensively. That’s how we play defense and special teams.”