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Texans Talk: John McClain, Houston Chronicle

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John McClain, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, provides commentary before an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on the Texans' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

Question: At 1-6, this is obviously a disappointing season for the Texans – the AFC South Champions last season. They beat the Jaguars, 30-14, for their lone victory of the 2020 season in Week 5 and subsequently lost their next two games. What has changed for the Texans since then? Any reason for optimism?

Answer: [Quarterback Deshaun] Watson is playing really well, and his receivers – especially Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks – are playing really well. They're still 31st in rushing and still 31st against the run. They can't stop anybody passing. Going into this [past] weekend, they were worst in the NFL in opponents' passer rating. They were second-most in touchdown passes allowed to Atlanta. The only two good games they've had against the run were the Jaguars and the Green Bay Packers, but in the last two games (Texans losses to the Packers and Tennessee Titans), [Packers quarterback Aaron] Rodgers and [Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan] Tannehill have thrown four touchdown passes each. Their special teams are good, but the only thing they can hang their hat on are Watson and the passing game.

Q: The Texans fired then-Head Coach Bill O'Brien before the victory over the Jaguars and replaced him with Interim Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Has there been any difference under Crennel the last three games?

A: They lost 42-36 in overtime to Tennessee [in Week 6] and could have won that game. All the defense had to do was stop one of the last two drives and they couldn't do it. Aaron Rodgers just came in here [in Week 7] and carved them up. The teams that have beaten them are 28-9 coming into last weekend; if you take Minnesota out of it, the teams that have beaten them are 27-4. That schedule has been brutal. The rest of the teams are 26-25-1, so it shouldn't be nearly as difficult as it was. That doesn't mean they're going to win any more games, but it means they should have a chance. They have played better run defense lately if you take away the Titans game, but the Titans just killed them. That included a 94-yard run by [Titans running back] Derrick Henry, but even the Titans' backup – Jeremy McNichols – averaged 10.7 yards a carry. The Texans have lost inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney for the season. [Cornerback] Bradley Roby went out on the first series against Green Bay. Their secondary, especially corner, is really hurting – but their defense hasn't been good all season.

Q: You mentioned Watson is playing well at quarterback. What's he doing well?

A: He's not turning it over. Three of the last four games, he has no turnovers. He has had four games in a row with at least 300 yards for the first time in his career and he leads the league in average per attempt. He ran seven times for 35 yards against Green Bay, but he's still not running through seven games anywhere near as much as he has in his first three seasons; he's trying to stay in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open down the field. That's happening. But they were ninth and eight in [the NFL in] rushing the last two seasons, and one of the reasons was because of him. The Jaguars won't have to worry about that as much unless he's running for his life, which is what he does most of the time when he takes off. He has been protected better recently. They can't run up the middle at all, so they're throwing a lot – and Watson's playing really well. He's pretty much the offense – and Fuller and Cooks. Watson and the receivers … that's all they've got. They're just not run-blocking, especially up the middle.

Q: You mentioned that the defense is really struggling. Is that a surprise?

A: That it's so bad, yes. Absolutely. I didn't think it was going to be anything special. Even though they won the division at 10-6 and won a playoff game, there were times last season when the defense didn't play well. [Defensive end J.J.] Watt has been their best and most consistent player. Guys like [linebacker] Zach Cunningham and [safety/linebacker] Justin Reid, who have played well in the past, have struggled and been mediocre at best this season. They're not making big plays. They're giving up big plays. It's inexplicable. Nobody knows why.

Q: The head coach has been fired and the postseason is realistically out of reach. What's the rest of this season about for the Texans?

A: They're trying to win as many games as they can. The players and coaches have to get stuff on tape for their next job, whether it's here or a new job. They're not interested in a fire sale. They're not trying to say they're winning the division. They're just trying to win as many as possible. After the Jaguars, they play Cleveland, New England, Indianapolis twice, Cincinnati, Tennessee. I've said they could end up winning five games. And as I keep saying, "That cheering you're hearing is coming from South Florida." Miami wants them to lose every game since the Dolphins have the Texans' first two picks [in the 2021 NFL Draft]. The Texans want guys to get something on their resume for the new coach and general manager when those guys will have a lot of tough decisions to make.

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