Hello and welcome to the first edition of “Over the Fence, from over the pond” where I, the ASC’s resident UK Saint will be looking into the Saints opponent’s week to week, starting with week 1 and the Houston Texans.
The Texans are a very hard team to predict at the moment, a team full of a few individual stars and no overall team brilliance, “hit and miss” is the best phrase I can find to describe them over recent years. Finishing with an 11-5 record last season, the Texans made the playoffs winning the AFC South. Previous years have seen the Texans finish 4-12 (2017) and 9-7 (2016, 2015 and 2014) with a horrendous 2-14 season in 2013. The AFC South as a whole is a mixed bag where anyone can beat each other on a good day the office. This is proven by the fact that the #3 seed Texans suffered a 21-7 home defeat to the #6 seed Colts in an all AFC South affair in Houston in last season’s playoffs. Hit and Miss indeed.
Offense: On the offensive side the ball the Texans certainly have weapons at their exposal. The will be 3rd year Quarterback DeShaun Watson has the tools necessary to be a performer at this level. A solid arm, upper body strength and quick feet to be used for QB running plays allows Watson to be mobile both in and out of the pocket. In the 2018 regular season, the Texans No.4 threw for 4,165 yards, 26 TDs with 9 Interceptions. 345 of 505 completed passes with a completion of 68.3% across the 16 games he played. Not bad overall stats, the one that stands out the most is the sacks column. 62 sacks, yes SIXTY-TWO. That’s nearly 4 sacks per game, compare that to our own QB with 17 sacks (although that was 15 starts). Having so many sacks is not acceptable to a division winning, playoff team. The offensive line clearly needs work and was addressed somewhat in the draft with 2 O-line picks in the first two rounds, whether the rookies can protect Watson in a game situation is yet to be seen. Laremy Tunsil, one of the better players at Left Tackle in the league, although not a superstar, was added in the past few days as a part of the Jadaveon Clowney trade to try and keep #4 stood up which looks a solid addition but the Texans paid a hefty price to get their man. We know about former Saints player Senio Kelemete as a rotational player but I bet Cam Jordan is fancying some Watson flavoured gumbo for dinner come MNF looking to expose rookie Tutus Howard or go straight up the middle.
DeAndre Hopkins doesn’t drop catches, well not in 2018 he didn’t finishing with a record 0 drops. Hopkins finished with 115 receptions (3rd), 1572 yards (2nd) and 11 TDs (5th) making him one of the top WR’s in the NFL. An explosive player with strong physicality, good hands and speed, Hopkins has amassed more than 1,200 yards 4 of his 6 seasons in the NFL. He is Watson’s and the Texans go to guy; double coverage might be coming his way, still expect him to make some big plays because that’s what Hopkins does. Across from him there is, well a not whole lot. Will Fuller chipped in with 502 yards from 32 receptions but after that no one caught more than 30 passes. Another former saints Kenny Stills is now also knocking around the depth chart in Houston, also a part of the Tunsil deal with multiple early round picks going the Dolphins way.
The running back position depth was addressed recently with the addition of Duke Johnson to play alongside Lamar Miller and give the Texans a 3rd usable asset in running plays. But then Miller went and did his ACL so now they are back to slim pickins’ at RB and in need of help. Miller was the Texans top RB with 973 yards on 210 attempts last year however only getting 5 rushing scores. Alfred Blue was 2nd RB on the depth chart but could only get 2 scores and 499 yards. He was behind Watson himself getting 551 yards on 99 attempts and 5 scores. I expect Johnson to offer a greater threat than Blue did and now he has to step up to the RB1 position. The Texans are usually a very run heavy offense but potentially utilise the RB receiver play with Johnson another runner as the designated RB in the same way the Saints used Ingram and Kamara to great effect last season. The bonus with the Texans is the triple run threat with the Watson read/run option for big plays up the middle but they will have to produce this without their top guy from 2018. Carlos Hyde will step up to the 2nd RB position for now but whether he can sustain this spot for 16 games is yet to be seen.
Defense: So Jadeveon Clowney is gone leaving J.J Watt as the only big time Charlie on the Texans D-Line. What was worrying me slightly with this one was protecting Brees from both Clowney and Watt at the same time, how often were both of these guys healthy at once? Now it’s just Watt to contend with, multiple blockers coming his way on Monday night. When Watt is on, he’s really on, a playmaker against any team Watt achieved 16 sacks last season with 24 tackles for loss and forced 7 fumbles. To put that into context the next highest sack man was Clowney with 9 then down to 4 with Whitney Mercilus. 37% of the Texans sacks were by Watt last season. Big time Charlie indeed.
Justin Reid led the team in interceptions last season with 3, he’s still around at the safety position so could be a factor this season but honestly the Texans feel like a team in transition from a defensive powerhouse to more of a balanced team maybe preferring to go offensively strong. I don’t expect this defense to be awful, they still have many good players but not on that elite level of say the Bears.
Ka’imi Fairbairn is a good kicker (and one I missed out on in fantasy, damn) and he will have plenty to do this season with the lack of stars to punch into the endzone game to game.
Prediction: Although the Saints are notoriously slow starters I can’t see past them in this one. With the Texans a team in the midst of transition coming into week 1 this is an ideal time to play them. Keys on offense will be protecting Brees, using the run game against a now weakened defensive line and scoring TDs when in the redzone. On defense it will be getting to Watson, if the likes of Cam Jordan can get to the Quarterback early I can’t see the Texans putting up too much of a fight, allow Watson to find his groove and it might be a bit too close for comfort.
Saints 31 – 19 Texans