The Texans Were Almost the Panthers
How close did it get to being the Texans in the position of the Panthers?
The Houston Texans were almost winless with no draft pick in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.
Instead, the Carolina Panthers are suffering through that fate right now. They host the Houston Texans this weekend as both teams get back in action after a bye week.
The hellacious start to the 2023 season for the Panthers could have easily been what the Texans are dealing with.
Let’s start with the head coach. The Panthers talked to the offensive coordinator of the Lions Ben Johnson who at the time was one of the top coaching candidates in the cycle. Johnson opted to stick around in Detroit. Carolina put in to talk to DeMeco Ryans.
Ryans turned them down. He only had eyes it seems for the Texans. Carolina pivoted back to offense, but a retread coach in Frank Reich who had never won a division title and was fired from a rudderless Colts team.
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The Texans at least considered they’d be unable to give the unproven Ryans a chance. Sean Payton was interviewed. An offensive-minded savior, but a couple of levels higher than Reich in both success and price. Ultimately Payton ended up coaching the Broncos who have been one of the most hapless and disappointing teams in the AFC.
Then there is the quest for a quarterback. The Chicago Bears almost executed their master plan this past offseason. Chicago was going to send the top pick to the Houston Texans for a bounty that likely included both the first-round picks the Texans owned. Then, the Bears would trade again with the Panthers and get even more treasure for their draft war chest.
The draft was almost Houston selecting first and the Panthers selecting second. Bryce Young is in a Texans uniform. C.J. Stroud in a Panthers uniform.
I do believe Young would be playing better for the Texans than his time with the Panthers. He’d be facing some of the same issues he’s faced in Carolina though. The protection has been suspect, as it was for the Texans early. The rushing attack is inconsistent.
The pass catchers in Houston blow the Panthers away, that’s a point for the alternate-reality Young. Bobby Slowik has clearly showcased a better handle of a rookie quarterback than Frank Reich did. Reich has already handed over the duty of calling plays to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. More on Brown and the offense in a moment.
The simple fact of Young’s rookie season to this point is he isn’t C.J. Stroud. The presence doesn’t stand taller than his frame like it did at Alabama. The accuracy that gave SEC teams fits isn’t always there. Young’s poise is tested constantly with uphill battles on offense and the scoreboard. He’s already missed a game due to injury too.
C.J. Stroud has a legitimate case to be called a top ten quarterback right now. It isn’t just that Stroud is greater than Young but the environment has allowed more growth as well.
More almost for the Texans from the Panthers exist too. Thomas Brown is now calling the plays for Carolina. He was once a head coach candidate for the Texans before they hired DeMeco Ryans. There was even a theory he was interviewed to gauge his interest in being the offensive coordinator in Houston.
Ryans spoke glowingly Monday about Brown.
“With Thomas [Brown] starting as the play caller, I’m happy for him to get the opportunity,” Ryans said. “He’s been a fast riser in this league. Going against him with the Rams, he’s done a really nice job there with the running backs, tight ends. And now, for him to get the offensive coordinator and also the play caller gig, I think it speaks to the kind of coach that he is and how much respect those guys have for him.”
A few more almosts from this matchup. Josh McCown was once a favorite to be the head coach of the Texans but is now the quarterbacks coach of the Panthers. Thank goodness for that. Ejiro Evero interviewed to be the head coach of the Texans just like McCown and Brown did. So did Jim Caldwell in 2020 before David Culley got the job.
One more for you as well. Instead of drafting Derek Stingley a few Texans fans desired Ikem Ekwonu, the offensive lineman from North Carolina State, in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s been bad for the Panthers and is one of the most penalized offensive linemen in football since he got in the league.
Enough of the almosts for the Texans. It’s not the fate of Houston to row through the troubled waters Carolina is sinking in now. It does show you how close it was to being very different, and how lucky the Texans are, with a little of their skill mixed in, to be in the situation they are in now.
A few notes from the practice on Monday. There is no official injury report from this practice.
Laremy Tunsil did not practice.
Tank Dell practiced and is seemingly on track to return from his concussion.
Denzel Perryman and Tavierre Thomas both practiced. Both are playing with additional support on their injured arms. I would think until they can play without those they are unlikely to play or see their normal amount of work.
New defender Myjai Sanders is with the Texans. I say defender because I am not sure how he will fit with this team. He is listed as a linebacker but is a pass rusher primarily it would seem. I don’t know when or how he will be deployed but I will be interested to hear from Matt Burke who coached Sanders last season.
Offensive lineman Juice Scruggs is still not practicing. DeMeco Ryans said the Texans will “see where he ends up over the next week or so.”
Derek Stingley is eligible to come off the injured reserve this week but he will not. He is still not practicing and this would be the best-case scenario for his return. I do not anticipate his return anytime soon.