Richard Justice: Lots of close games and a slew of young players. Don’t give up on the Texans yet

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock (13387982a) Houston Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard (52) celebrates a Texans’ defensive stop during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in Houston Colts Texans Football, Houston, United States – 11 Sep 2022

Richard Justice: Lots of close games and a slew of young players. Don’t give up on the Texans yet

   The thing that just feels different about the Texans this season, the thing that’s either infuriating or a cause for optimism, is that every last one of these four games has been winnable. I know, I know, to quote Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.

   In this case, the Texans (0-3-1) are the NFL’s only winless team. In the last three seasons, they’re 8-28-1, and that booing of the home team during a 34-24 loss to the Chargers on Sunday says fans are tired of words like “rebuild” and “youth” and especially “patience.”

No fan base in the NFL has been more patient than this one. Despite the bottom line, this season does feel way different in 2022. For one thing, the first three games were all one-possession decisions. One possession! Tip a pass, you win. Complete a big pass play, you win. One possession!

Is that tiptoeing to the threshold of a string of victories or finding ways to lose?

   “Nobody wants to lose. We’re right there,” wide receiver Nico Collins said. “I mean yes, it’s a little bit (of) frustration but you can’t let that kill the rest of the season. Game over now. Last week’s over with. It’s on to another week, another opportunity.”  

   The Texans led the Colts by 17 in the fourth quarter, led the Broncos by three in the fourth quarter and were in a 20-20 tie with the Bears in the fourth quarter.

   In all, they won the first three quarters of the first three contests 49-29. They were walloped 30-0 in the fourth quarter.

   They flipped the script against the Chargers, rallying from a 21-0 deficit to get within three in the final minutes. Again, they lost. Again, it was right there to be won.

   It was not this way last season when the Texans had a -172 point differential, third-worst in the NFL. This season, they’re -20. Eight other teams are tied or worse.

Here’s the sobering part: the Texans began this season’s with the NFL’s fifth-most difficult schedule based on 2021 won-loss records. With the Eagles, Dolphins, Cowboys and Chiefs ahead, the Texans also have the fifth-most difficult schedule the rest of the way, beginning with Sunday’s contest on the road against an improved Jacksonville team.

   So our little team isn’t in a class with the Eagles or Bills, but if we look at things a certain way, it’s trending in a better direction for a team with nine rookies on their active roster and 20 players with three years or less of experience.

   Offensively, there are six players with two years or less experience likely to start this week. Defensively, that number is four.

   When the Texans stopped the Chargers on three straight possessions to open the second half, then forced a fumble on a kickoff and got scores on three offensive possessions in a row, it was the best stretch of football they’d played this season. Is that who they can be?

   “That right there was our football,” linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “That’s what we need to be, and that’s what we need to do. If you go back and look at that, everyone’s doing their job, everyone’s in their gaps, everyone’s locking things down. That’s our level of football right there. That’s what we want to do and that’s what we’re capable of.”

   The Texans aren’t beating themselves as often. They’ve lost just one fumble in four games, and their +1 turnover margin is tied for eighth-best.

   Penalties are still a problem. Only seven teams have been penalized more than the Texans. They’re tied with the Eagles if you’re into moral victories.

   The Texans are 29th in total defense—hide your eyes—and only the Bears have allowed more rushing yards. Offensively, the Texans are 27th in yards thanks to a passing game that’s—let’s be kind—isn’t there yet. Per ESPN stats, Davis Mills is 29th among 32 quarterbacks with a 28.4 rating.

   If you believe that the front office and coaching staff finally have stabilized and that competence is no longer an issue in either area, then these young players have a chance to get better.

   General manager Nick Caserio is in the midst of a massive roster overhaul and has accumulated extra first-round draft choices in the next two drafts, an extra third-rounder in 2023 and an extra fourth-rounder in 2024. (There are some additional late-round picks, but these are the ones that give the Texans a real chance to acquire impact talent.)

   For now, though, the Texans have delivered a season in which they could have won the first three games and rallied furiously in the fourth. To look at 0-3-1 from 30,000 feet, you see the same old, same old.

   This season, though, every game has been winnable and watchable. Maybe this is the standard loser’s lament, but it does all feel like some kind of page is being turned.

   “We’ve got the ability, we’ve got the talent,” defensive end Jonathan Greenard said. “ just have to put it together. That’s the hardest part about winning in general. As you see, some teams make it look easy, but obviously it’s just a different formula for each team. We just have to find our own niche. That’s what we’re going to continue to work towards.”

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