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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 Texans as they prepared to play the Jaguars at EverBank Field Sunday.

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Question: The Texans lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 26-16, Sunday. At 4-9, this is not the season the two-time defending AFC South champions expected. Where do they stand through 13 games? And what has gone wrong?

Answer: I have never seen a team that has had so many injuries, especially key players. When [quarterback Deshaun Watson] started six games, they averaged 34 points a game. In his last five starts, they averaged 39. He went down for the season on top of [end J.J.] Watt and [outside linebacker Whitney] Mercilus and a bunch of others. They've lost five of their front seven [on defense] at one point. [Linebacker] Brian Cushing's the only one back. They've started five left tackles on offense and none of them have been any good.

Q:There is talk about Head Coach Bill O'Brien. What are your thoughts on his status?

A:I don't expect a coaching change. [Owner] Bob McNair understands they're down to their third starting quarterback (T.J. Yates). They play hard and they're competitive. Other than the [Los Angeles] Rams game, when they were trailing by three midway through the third quarter and got blown out, they were in every game.

Q:The Texans' quarterback situation is well-documented. They have lost five of six games since Watson sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in early November. His replacement, Tom Savage, is now out with a concussion. Yates will start Sunday against the Jaguars. What else has defined this season for the Texans?

A: Turnovers have killed them. Their secondary has given up too many big plays. [Linebacker] Jadeveon Clowney is the only pass rusher they have. They're good against the run for the most part. If you can neutralize Clowney and keep him away from the quarterback there's nobody else to rush the passer, so the Jaguars will do everything they can to neutralize Clowney. A smart coaching staff will say "We have to put a tackle and a tight end or a tight end and a guard on him and keep a back shaded over there and run away from him or go around him." Other than [wide receiver DeAndre] Hopkins and Clowney, they haven't had anybody stand out.

Q: Does the franchise feel like this is sort of a fluky year because of the injuries?

A: Yes. Most people understand that except people with knee-jerk reactions. This is the first time O'Brien has had a losing record. They won the division the last two years and won a playoff game last year. I think [O'Brien] will be back. He coached Watson. He oversaw the game plan. You want to see what O'Brien can do for a season with Watson. When we were asking O'Brien about his job [Monday], Watson saw somebody tweeted about it and he tweeted: "I want to be with O.B. [O'Brien]." Players line up to support him.

Q:The matchup of the Jaguars' defensive front against the Texans' offensive line defined the first game between these teams. The Jaguars had 10 sacks in a 29-7 victory. Any chance of that being different?

A:We don't know who the backup quarterback is going to be. They've got somebody [Taylor Heinicke] on the practice squad I've never heard of. They signed him two weeks ago. They have to sign somebody. There's a good chance this guy's going to be playing because the Jaguars are going to kill Yates. He's going to take one-step drops. They're in worse shape now than they were in the opener. We're talking about playing retreads.

Q:What's defining the Texans right now?

A:They've had to overcome turnovers. The defense gives up a lot of yards passing. I'm sure the Jaguars will stick to their formula and run it, but I look for [Jaguars quarterback Blake] Bortles to be able to throw it down the field. Their M.O. is to have no more than one turnover, but they haven't been able to take the ball away defensively. With Savage, they turned it over too much.  Yates didn't have a turnover Sunday, but Hopkins lost a fumble. They're typical of a bad team. They have too many [turnovers] and they don't force enough.

Q: What do you expect to see from this team the last three games? Are they still playing like these games matter?

A: They matter for players, of course. O'Brien coaches them hard and they play their butts off. I don't see them quitting on him. I think the Jaguars will blow them out but they'll blow them out because they can't hang with them because of who they'll put on the field. I think the Jaguars and Steelers will blow them out, then they'll play in Indy the last game of the season to see who gets the last-place schedule [next season]. If they lose out and get that last-place schedule with all of their players coming back … that would be the best thing that could happen to them.

Q: You mentioned Watson earlier. He's obviously the future. You watched him closely. Is he the real deal?

A: Nobody knew what they had until they went to New England [in Week 3] and he put them ahead – and the defense let [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady go to the distance to win it. In Seattle, it was the same situation. He put them ahead and the defense blew it on the last series. [Seahawks cornerback] Richard Sherman said he [Watson] played better than any quarterback to ever play against them. He was on pace for 43 touchdown passes and about six touchdowns rushing. Those would have shattered every rookie record. To get hurt in practice on a little toss to a running back is just shocking. Watching Watson, it's the first time I ever thought they were going to have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Not this year. Maybe not next year, but the year after.

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