Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Richard/AP/Shutterstock (13626652e) Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson looks to throw a pass during an NFL football practice at the team’s training facility, in Berea, Ohio Browns Watson Practices Football, Berea, United States – 16 Nov 2022
To say the Texans have experienced problems replacing quarterback Deshaun Watson is a profound understatement.
Since Watson demanded to be traded the week after the 2020 season, Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, and Kyle Allen have thrown passes for the Texans without much success, combining for a 5-21-1 record going into Sunday’s game against Cleveland.
Watson’s return to NRG Stadium after being inactive in 2021 and suspended for the first 11 games of this season has created some excitement in Houston, but nothing like it could have if the Texans were at least competitive and not the worst team in the NFL with a 1-9-1 record.
No matter how many women who accused Watson of sexual misconduct sit in attorney Tony Buzbee’s suite, or how many members of the national media cover the game, or how much local and national talk shows try to drum up interest, the fact is there isn’t a buzz for Watson’s return to Houston and his first game since Jan. 3, 2021.
There’s no buzz because the Texans are a buzzkill. They’re so bad in Lovie Smith’s first season as coach and Pep Hamilton’s first season as offensive coordinator and play-caller they’ve caused fans to become disillusioned and apathetic.
The opportunity to see Watson’s return is getting cheaper by the day. Just check out the ticket sites, and the price will be right.
If the Texans were at least competitive and fans thought they might have a chance to upset Watson and the Browns, there might be more interest in the game. But there’s not. And it’s the Texans’ fault for being so pathetic.
One reason the Texans have a six-game losing streak is an offense that’s dreadful under Hamilton, especially the passing game.
The one thing the Texans didn’t have to worry about with Watson was the passing game. Then he issued his trade demand, was sued by 24 women who accused him of sexual assault and misconduct, sat out 16 games last season before being suspended 11 games this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Along the way, general manager Nick Caserio traded Watson to Cleveland, where he was rewarded with the greatest contract in NFL history – $230 million fully guaranteed.
Starting Sunday, Watson has to start earning his money. And it shouldn’t be too hard, considering the incompetence of an opponent that’s averaging 15.8 points a game, including 13.6 over the last five. Only Denver is more futile at scoring.
The Texans have been outscored 50-0 in the first half of their last two losses to Washington and Miami.
Hamilton’s offense has been at its worst in the last five games. In the first half, the Texans average 68 yards. In the first six games, including the tie with the Colts and victory over the Jaguars, they averaged 147 yards in the first half.
Defenses have caught up to what Hamilton was doing in the first half, and he hasn’t been able to adjust. Plus, his players have been overwhelmed, especially his offensive line in the last two games.
A big part of the problem over the last five games has been the quality of the competition. The Titans, Eagles, Giants, Commanders, and Dolphins are playoff contenders with a combined record of 39-17, but the severity of those beatings – the total domination by Tennessee, Washington, and Miami — is ridiculous.
The Browns also have been a disappointment with a 4-7 record, just not as disappointing as the Texans, who have been outscored 60-17 in the first quarter. The offense is so inept the Texans have a minus-86 point differential, worst in the league.
When looking at the Texans’ slow starts, it’s not hard to see what the issue is. They’re awful on their first series.
On the first possession in their 11 games, the Texans have gone punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, missed field goal, interception, touchdown, punt, pick-six and punt.
On eight of those possessions, they’ve had three or fewer plays.
The only score on their first series was Mills’ 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Teagan Quitoriano against the Eagles. Mills threw two touchdown passes in the first half against them, and the score was 14-14 at halftime.
If you’re paying attention to the game, here’s something to keep an eye on: If the Browns win the coin toss and defer until the second half, the Texans will get the ball first. Fans booed the offense off the field on the first series against Washington because Mills threw a pick-six.
If fans boo the offense after another wretched first series, a lot of people may not realize it and think they’re booing Watson as he trots out for his first series since a 41-38 loss to the Titans in his last game with the Texans. And perhaps they will be.
Fans can watch Watson’s return from his suspension and wonder what might have been if he hadn’t demanded to be traded. How would the McNair family have handled the civil lawsuits filed by the plaintiffs and the sordid details described by his accusers?
If Watson still played for the Texans, would fans fill NRG Stadium and cheer his return or boo him because of the shame he brought on himself and the organization? Those are questions that can’t be answered, of course.
The quarterback question the Texans can answer will be April 27 when they have the first overall pick in the draft and, hopefully, use it on Alabama’s Bryce Young.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).