The 2019 NFL season is upon us and with that comes an array of questions as the defending AFC South champion Texans get set to open a wildly uncertain campaign.
The Indianapolis Colts entered the preseason as the favorites to win the division but with the unexpected retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck and the moves the Texans made on cut day, they could be poised for a repeat.
The Texans, winners of the division three of the last four years, seemed to answer their more glaring offensive line weakness by trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and then adding another play-making receiver in Kenny Stills in the same deal.
Coach Bill O’Brien, who now has the dual role of general manager, has made some questionable moves by dealing an impact player in Jadeveon Clowney for role players and then dealing two first-round picks and a second-rounder for a star left tackle in the final year of his contract.
Here are three things to watch as the Texans get set to kick off the season in a Monday night showdown in New Orleans.
1. Impact of Clowney trade
O’Brien clearly felt like he could win without Clowney based off how he entered negotiations with the premiere defensive end. Now Clowney is in Seattle and fans are about to find out if the defensive front is nearly as strong without his pass rushing presence. The absence of Clowney will be felt by J.J. Watt most. Look for Watt to face far more double teams now that opposing offenses don’t have to deal with Clowney’s freakish pass rushing ability.
2. Change in offensive line
Not even a week ago, the offensive line looked to be the Texans biggest weakness and the one that could prevent them from repeating as AFC South champs. But the outlook has changed considerably with the addition up Tunsil to protect Deshaun Watson’s blindside. The presence of Tunsil seems to improve the reputation of an offensive line that gave up an NFL-high 62 sacks last season, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t plenty to be concerned with along the Texans’ offensive front.
Injuries played a major role in the deficiencies of the front five last season and if the preseason was any indication that theme will continue this season. Injuries in the preseason have kept key players sidelined, which means continuity could be issue early on as the unit adjusts to Tunsil. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson is back after missing all but one quarter of last season after breaking his ankle in the season opener, but durability questions remain.
3. Watson and supporting cast
Indications are the impressive third-year quarterback and franchise cornerstone is ready to elevate his game. Watson will now have four quality receivers to throw to in DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee and Stills, if they can all stay healthy. He also has some exciting tight ends and while the loss of Lamar Miller will hurt some, Duke Johnson and the addition Carlos Hyde in the backfield should help Watson by keeping opposing defenses honest because of their versatile abilities.
If Watson can get the ball out of his hands a little faster that may help a leaky offensive line. If there is any concern at quarterback going into the season it is the health of players behind Watson. Backup A.J. McCarron is coming off a thumb injury that forced him to miss most of camp with his new team. Third-string quarterback Joe Webb appears to be on the shelf for a while after being knocked out of the preseason finale.