The Biggest Surprises at the Bye Week for the Houston Texans
Both good and bad these six weeks have been filled with surprises
The Houston Texans have surprised a lot of people with their 3-3 record and impressive stints of play. Davis Mills proclaimed last season the team would “shock the world” and, well, last season happened like most expected it to happen.
This season is off to a much better start.
What have been the biggest surprises so far?
C.J. Stroud’s Hot Start
I hoped C.J. Stroud would be excellent. I knew there was a good chance he would be a solid player in 2023 at some point. I never saw this coming.
The rookie quarterback has surprised almost everyone with his excellent start. He’s in the top ten of passing yards, touchdowns, yards per pass attempt, and quarterback rating. He has thrown just one interception.
It isn’t just the stats that tell the story. The whole vibe of the offense is different with Stroud at the helm. He’s unlocked the potential of teammates many believed didn’t have that level of play to them. The mobility in the pocket and on the run is a true weapon. The passing placement specialist he was billed to be might have been an understatement with his ability to place the ball.
He’s been awesome. And for the rest of the season, his continued growth represents a real shot at being considered one of the better quarterbacks in all of football when the season ends. There will be some bumpy moments, but C.J. Stroud is doing veteran quarterback things as a rookie and for it to happen this quick, it’s quite a delightful surprise.
Steven Nelson’s Contract Year
There was a chance Steven Nelson never started the season with the Texans. He made his unhappiness clear on social media over the summer and I felt like there was a real chance Nelson wouldn’t make it through training camp on the Texans.
Instead, he and the Texans agreed on a salary bump, and then Nelson’s level of play hit its peak here in Houston. Heck, he’s even a captain. I am sure he has played well at other stops but his best football in Houston has been right now. He’s been one of the best players on the team, and yes I stand by that even with the couple of rough moments in the game against the Saints. He’s a tenacious defender and one of the only members of the secondary to stay healthy. Nelson is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and he’s putting on one heck of a contract year performance.
The Unlocking of the Potential of Nico Collins
Nico Collins is 380 yards away from equaling his career total in his first two seasons in the NFL. Let that sink in. Collins has also stayed away from the injury report, something he couldn’t say in his first two years with the Texans. This third year has been excellent for Collins.
What impresses me the most is he’s playing a totally different style for him. He’s beating player after player over the middle. The first two seasons the Texans were content to turn him into a sideline specialist trying to win jump balls and win outside. Now Collins feels like a complete receiver and is frequently streaking through the middle of the field with the ball. He’s a beater of man coverage. Zone coverage just lets him get going and adds to his yards after the catch. It’s finally clicked for Collins.
Rushing Attack Starts Slow
The Texans were supposed to be mauling people on the ground. Dameon Pierce had an impressive rookie campaign. The offensive line was supposed to be set. The offense would be excellent for Pierce and his new backup Devin Singletary.
Then, it was mostly disappointing. Sure, there have been signs of life. But having watched some of the worst rushing attacks this century in the past few seasons, there were higher expectations than this. DeMeco Ryans claimed they were close before the Saints game and it did look better. Hopefully, that improvement continues because this offense, and Bobby Slowik emphasized the running when talking about it, was supposed to provide more than it has to this point. The 24th rushing attack won’t be enough for where this team can go.
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The Offensive Line Hokey Pokey
You put Laremy Tunsil in. You take Laremy Tunsil out. And then you shake the offensive line up. You do the O-line Hokey Pokey and you turn it all around.
This offense has played about ten different offensive line alignments. It looked dire the first two weeks. C.J. Stroud was getting crushed. There was no push up front. Injuries had zapped what was supposed to be one of the most expensive offensive lines in football.
Then it all settled down. After allowing 11 sacks in the first two games the Texans have allowed just two sacks in the last four games. It’s been quite remarkable. The team lost three starters before the season even started, then Laremy Tunsil got hurt. Then Josh Jones got hurt. THEN Kendrick Green got hurt. It’s been mixing and matching with injuries all while a late-round rookie starts at center in Jarrett Patterson.
It’s quite remarkable how good this line has been since the first two weeks. The linemen along with offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and quarterback C.J. Stroud deserve a lot of credit it getting it all to click and protect the passing game.
Blake Cashman Stands Out Among Linebackers
Let me know if you predicted special teams ace Blake Cashman would be playing the best at linebacker through six weeks. This is as much about Cashman playing well as some of the other linebackers disappointing too. Cashman showed up daily in training camp and once he was healthy he’s been a trusted element of the linebacking group.
The rest of the group has had some level of inconsistency. Henry To’oTo’o looks like a rookie a lot, which is okay, but it has cost the Texans a few times. Denzel Perryman has had an injury that hurt his production. Christian Harris hasn’t taken the step many hoped he would take in his second season.
There is potential here, but only Cashman has consistently shown his. To’oTo’o is close to figuring it out and Harris has all the tools necessary. Health will be the biggest key for Perryman going forward.
The Dismantling of the Steelers
I thought the Texans could win. Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett showed all the signs that a player DeMeco Ryans would have his defense ready to take advantage of on a Sunday. There was a concern about protecting C.J. Stroud from T.J. Watt and the Steelers defense.
Then the two teams played the game.
The Texans dominated the Steelers offense. C.J. Stroud stayed clean and whipped the ball around NRG stadium. At halftime, J.J. Watt went into the Houston Texans Ring of Honor. Then the second half saw the Texans put Mike Tomlin’s team away. It ended a home losing streak. It was consecutive wins. It was stunning to see the Texans take a heritage franchise like Pittsburgh down in such a fashion.
What is your biggest surprise this season? Let me know below.