Texans O-line continues strong play with ‘Next Man Up’ mentality

Oct 3, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Houston Texans offensive tackle Charlie Heck (67) prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Texans O-line continues strong play with ‘Next Man Up’ mentality

Houston entered Week 16 without their starting left guard. They finished the game with three players in that spot.

The play of the Houston Texans offensive line has been significantly improved over the past month than at any point this season. It is especially so compared to critical early season close losses (and opening week tie) that saw the O-line collapse in critical late-game situations.

Offensive line failures contributed directly to an 0-2-1 start that could have legitimately been a 3-0 start. How different could this season have been with a 3-0 start instead of 0-2-1?

How much was Davis Mills’ confidence affected by those late-game O-line collapses? The sudden miscommunications that only seemed to rear their heads in the fourth quarter?

Since returning from being benched to start Week 14 against the Cowboys, Davis Mills’ play has been noticeably better. So has the play of his offensive line. In fact, the line’s play took a significant turn for the better the week before against Cleveland. Kyle Allen just didn’t play well enough to take advantage.

Rookie left guard Kenyon Green, who went through a midseason slump (along with a nagging shoulder injury), has seemingly gotten over both and raised his level of play considerably. Unfortunately, he also suffered an injury Week 14 in Dallas, so just as he was playing well, he needed to be replaced.

Houston moved Tytus Howard, one of only four tackles in the NFL to have allowed fewer than two sacks to that point in the season, inside to left guard and inserted swing tackle Charlie Heck at Howard’s normal position of right tackle. The line continued to play well despite the shuffling.

This past week, in Nashville, the plan once again was for Howard to play left guard and Heck to play right tackle. Howard would suffer a head injury after just seven plays and would not return.

Howard was replaced by backup center Jimmy Morrissey. Morrissey played the majority of the game and played well, taking 46 of the team’s 67 total offensive snaps. He would also suffer a head injury and be unable to return.

Reserve guard Justin McCray, who has been battling his own injury issues recently, stepped in for Morrissey for the team’s final 14 offensive snaps. Despite not playing the past two weeks and maybe not being 100%, McCray also played well.

It’s not just that the line is performing better; it is that they are shifting the pieces around and not losing the production.

Head coach Lovie Smith credited his coaches and the versatility of his players for the continued success despite the shuffling.

“George (Warhop) and Hal (Hunter) have been coaching the guys the same way. They coach them hard throughout. They’re detailed. The expectations in the room are high, and you practice for moments. There is a reason why we dress eight offensive linemen. Injuries can happen, and you have to be ready at any moment. Not just at your position, but also to move in the way Tytus (Howard) has done the last couple of weeks. A lot of the things we’re talking about right now, especially offensively, is kind of based on what that offensive line has done. Pass blocking is great. The last month, it seems like there’s someone (in the defensive front) that’s been on that All-Pro team or a couple of them. But they just keep stepping up, and the protection has really been good lately.”

The coach admitted that both Howard and Morrissey were in the league’s concussion protocol, and their statuses would be updated depending on when they cleared the protocol.

“They are feeling well, feeling good, all that. You can start the process, and we’ve been evaluating them. Both of them felt really good after the game. Again, we have a concussion protocol that we put the players through. If they are ready to go, we’ll be ready for them to go. If not, we’ll wait until they are completely healthy and ready to play.”

If Howard and Morrissey are unable to play, McCray would likely be inserted to start at left guard. Rookie Austin Deculus is a tackle and is the only other reserve lineman on the active roster. KC McDermott is a guard on the practice squad who has appeared in two games for the team this season and would be a candidate for elevation.

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