Texans talk: John McClain, Houston Chronicle

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JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2018 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Houston Chronicle NFL writer John McClain on the Texans as they prepared to play the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field Sunday.

Question: The Texans have won their last three games after an 0-3 start, and they're now tied for first in the AFC South with the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. How do the Texans feel about themselves as they enter this game Sunday?

Answer: The Texans feel good about bouncing back from an 0-3 start. They lost those games by seven (to the New England Patriots), three (to the Tennessee Titans) and five (to the New York Giants). They should have beaten the Titans and they should have beaten the Giants. The Giants' loss in Houston was the low point, then they won at Indianapolis scoring a lot of points [in Week 4] and won in overtime over Dallas [in Week 5]. Everybody was saying, "Well, this Cowboys team is terrible; their offense is awful" and now the Texans' defensive performance looks pretty good after what the Cowboys' offense did to the Jaguars [in a 40-7 Cowboys victory this past Sunday]. They won [20-13] at Buffalo Sunday – and even though Buffalo's terrible, they [the Bills] still won at Minnesota and beat Tennessee. The Texans have been given a lot of grief about all the negative things they have going on, but right now to be tied for first place with the Jaguars and Titans after starting 0-3 the team feels very good about itself. But the Texans know they have a lot to improve.

Q: From a distance it seems the offense is struggling and trying to get its footing. Your assessment?

A: The offense went into the Buffalo game ranked fourth in the NFL at 424.4 yards a game, including 307.2 passing. Buffalo was the worst offensive game the Texans have had, and they had 216 yards. [Quarterback Deshaun] Watson was sacked seven times, making 25 sacks for the season. He was hit 12 times, tying a season-high with New England in the first game. Besides being sacked 25 times, he has been knocked down 66 times. It's not all the offensive line, but Sunday was the first time they had started the same five two games in a row and they were just terrible. The tight ends were terrible. The running backs were terrible. Watson played through sternum, rib and lung injuries. He started six games last season and was sacked 15 times compared to 225 in six games this season. He was hit 37 times compared to 66 this season. The Texans were averaging 34.6 in those six starts compared this season to 22.5. The red-zone offense has been awful. They were No. 1 in red-zone touchdowns when Watson was healthy last season at 67 percent; this year they are next-to-last at 34.6 percent. It's the same play-caller (Head Coach Bill O'Brien) and same quarterback with a lot of weapons and they still can't score touchdowns. If they get inside the 20, the Jaguars may as well let them get to the 20; they can not score from the one-yard line on a handoff.

Q: What's your assessment of Watson through six games this season?

A: He's playing through injuries. He's had seven interceptions, with three of them in the end zone. You're trying make a play with a guy down there and you throw it into double coverage. That has been a big problem: interceptions in the end zone to go along with their red-zone issues. Watson is holding the ball too long trying to make plays down the field. Teams are playing a lot of two-deep coverage and taking away the deep ball that worked last year. The Texans were No. 1 in rushing after two games and now they're 15th after six games, so they're plunging. Their running backs aren't doing squat – and I don't think it's them. The linemen can't get a push. So, really all they've got on offense right now is Watson and the receivers.

Q: The perception nationally is that the Texans' defense is back. Is that what you see?

A: The defense has played great in the last two games. They did a great job against [running back] Ezekiel Elliott against the Cowboys, and they did a really good job against [Bills running back] LeSean McCoy. [Defensive end] J.J. Watt's playing like he did in 2015 before he had back problems and a broken leg the last two years; he has looked great. He has been outstanding. The Jaguars will have two guys blocking him. The problem is they have yet to have somebody else step up to where you say, 'Ah ha, he's taking advantage of Watt getting all that attention.' [Linebacker Jadeveon] Clowney has been from great to OK. [Linebacker] Whitney Mercilus doesn't have a sack and has gotten off to a slow start, but their inside linebackers have played well. The defense is playing really well. The defense that [Jaguars quarterback Blake] Bortles saw when he abused them in that second game [last season] … they're a whole lot healthier than they were. They've played really well and made a lot of big plays on defense during the three-game winning streak.

Q: What's the key for the Texans going forward? Is this a team that can get hot and win the division?

A: First of all, Watson has to get rid of the ball quicker. He can't continue to get pulverized so many times every game. The offensive line needs to do a better job of run blocking and their red-zone touchdowns have got to improve. The defense has to continue to overcome the loss of three of your top four corners (including Kevin Johnson and former Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin). They have had to sign guys off the street. One of the worst things [former Texans General Manager] Rick Smith did was not [place the] franchise [tag on current Jaguars and former Texans cornerback] A.J. Bouye. Looking back, letting him get away after they developed him was just a terrible personnel decision and continues to haunt them.

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