Season grade: Below average. The Texans finished with a losing season for the first time under head coach Bill O’Brien. They dealt with injuries to too many starters on both sides of the ball, but the Texans especially struggled in the second half of the season after quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. Houston won the AFC South in 2015 and 2016 but ended its playoff streak this season.
Season in review: Going into the season, the Texans were unsure of what they would get on offense with Tom Savage as the starting quarterback and a shaky offensive line that was missing left tackle Duane Brown, who held out. But the Texans looked like a team that could be playoff bound with an electric offense after Watson took over at halftime of the season opener and steadily improved the more he played. Although Houston’s defense was struggling, especially without injured defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, Watson was able to keep the Texans in any game, including in shootout losses to the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Then Watson tore his ACL in practice on Nov. 2 and the Texans’ season went downhill. The Texans went 1-8 after the injury.
Biggest play of season: The biggest play of the Texans’ season was actually one very few saw. Watson tore his ACL during practice on Nov. 2. According to those present, Watson appeared to trip or fall but did not yell. He got up and felt his knee before it was looked at, but at the time, no one believed the injury was season-ending.
He said it: “This is kind of like our playoff game.” — O’Brien, of the matchup between the 4-11 Texans and the 3-12 Colts in Week 17.
Key offseason questions:
Biggest draft need: The Texans need help on the offensive line, and they could fill a hole by drafting a left tackle. Houston doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick after trading away both to the Cleveland Browns (one in the trade for Watson during the draft and the second to the Browns to take on quarterback Brock Osweiler’s contract) during the offseason. So unless they trade 2019 picks, they likely won’t have a high selection.
Free-agency targets: The Texans could also address the offensive line through free agency and go after left tackle Nate Solder, who has been protecting Tom Brady since 2011. Houston also could upgrade its secondary and make a big-money move for cornerback Trumaine Johnson. The Rams corner has 65 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble this season, which he’s playing under the franchise tag.
Weapons for Watson: Watson primarily depended on wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller in the seven games he played. Outside of that duo, the Texans didn’t have a lot of depth in the passing game, and they need to determine who they can put around Watson to help him next season. Starting tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz had three concussions this season, and while O’Brien has said he hopes the fourth-year player can return for next season, there is a chance Fiedorowicz will have to retire. Watson helped elevate Houston’s ground game when he was playing, but without him, the rushing offense has been inconsistent. Starter Lamar Miller averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per game through 16 weeks and second-round pick D’Onta Foreman tore his left Achilles in Week 11.
Search for a backup QB: The Texans have their starting quarterback for 2017 — and they hope for a long time after that — but will need to figure out who can back up Watson in 2018. This season the Texans have played Savage, T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke and had Matt McGloin and Josh Johnson on the roster since Watson’s injury. Savage is now on injured reserve after a concussion in Week 14, but he struggled in his seven starts this season. Yates, who is in his third stint with the Texans, has not shown he is a capable backup for next season.
Offensive line shuffle: Three of the Texans’ starting offensive linemen this season — left tackle Chris Clark, right tackle Breno Giacomini and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo — are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Because the Texans don’t have a first- or second-round pick in April’s draft, Houston may need to be aggressive in free agency to address its needs. The Texans’ 2017 offensive line draft picks, Julién Davenport and Kyle Fuller, have seen more playing time toward the end of the season, and O’Brien has been impressed with them. He said last week that he’s hopeful that with good offseasons by the group, they could make an impact next season.