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Texans talk: John McClain, Houston Chronicle


JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 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 Jaguars' matchup against the Houston Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Oehser: Assess the Texans going into the season? Where do they stand?

McClain: They're trying to win the division for the fifth time in seven years, and a third time in a row. Since Bill O'Brien has been here [as head coach], they have dominated the division. They're 14-4 [against AFC South opponents] and would be 15-3 if they hadn't given away the Tennessee game last year because they had everything clinched. As always, it's going to hinge on the quarterback. This is the fifth year in a row they'll have a different starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. It went from [Matt] Schaub to [Ryan] Fitzpatrick to [Bryan] Hoyer to [Brock] Osweiler. Now, it's on to [Tom] Savage. Savage has the least experience of any of them, and next year it will be [Deshaun] Watson, making it six in six years.

Oehser: Savage will start at quarterback for the Texans Sunday over Watson, a 2017 first-round selection. Can Savage get this done?

McClain: Nobody knows. He has started two games [at the end of 2017]. He's one and one – no touchdowns, no interceptions. He has been hurt in each of his first three seasons, and he hasn't played hardly at all. This is the last year of his contract. He has a chance to make millions and millions of dollars somewhere. Can he? They [the Texans] don't ask their quarterback to throw for 300 yards. They want him not to turn it over, move the chains, and hit the short passes. He has a great arm. He can make every throw. But if they thought that much of him, they wouldn't have given Osweiler $37 million [in the 2016 offseason] and wouldn't have traded up to get Deshaun Watson [in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft].

Oehser: The impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston in recent weeks is well-documented. What effect will that have on Sunday's game, if any?

McClain: That will be a motivating factor for them because of the fans. When [defensive end] J.J. Watt runs out there – and I'm just guessing here – as the last player to come out, waving a Texas flag, it may be the loudest that stadium ever has been. Sports is part of the healing process, especially football … The Texans have been great about helping, as have most of the athletes here, and they [the Texans] get the most attention because it's football. They say it has helped with chemistry and camaraderie and bonding, but who knows? They think it will galvanize the team, but the bottom line is unless they get better play from the quarterback, they're going to be playing a lot of close games again.

Oehser: Sunday's game is not only the 2017 regular-season opener, it's the 2017 AFC South opener. The means the tone for the season could be set Sunday. Assess the division as it stands entering the season …

McClain: The Texans went to the running game three years ago. Now, the Jaguars are doing it. The [Tennessee] Titans went to it last year. The only team that hasn't really got into throwback in this division are the Colts, and they need to more than anybody to protect [quarterback Andrew] Luck. … I think [Texans Head Coach Bill] O'Brien is a good coach, but everything [with the Texans] hinges on the quarterback play. It's amazing in this division the problems at quarterback. Here and in Jacksonville [it's] because of play … Indy because of injury and even [Marcus] Mariota [in Tennessee] can't stay healthy.

Oehser: The Texans finished No. 1 in the NFL in total defense last season with Watt – a three-time Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year – missing all but three games because of a back injury that required surgery. He's back this season – and it's easy to look at last season's ranking and think they didn't miss Watt …

McClain: They missed him a lot. They had nine sacks in the first two games when he played. He had one and a half, but he gets doubled all the time. [Defensive coordinator] Mike Vrabel moves guys all over the place. Now, their defensive lineman might be Watt and [Jadeveon] Clowney might be standing up right, left, over the middle – and Whitney Mercilus is no slouch as a pass rusher. They think they should have a much better pass rush and a much better defense with Watt and with [cornerback] Kevin Johnson coming back. Their goal is to force more turnovers and score more than one touchdown [defensively].

Oehser: You're one of the NFL's most entertaining Twitter follows. NFL Twitter perhaps knows John McClain best for your "Twitter" rants – usually when the Texans are struggling. Will we see rants from you this season?

McClain: Of course. People know it. The team knows it. There are players out there who block me, but they know I've always done it and I always will do it. If they play well, they get praised and if they don't, they get criticized.

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