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Texans Talk: John McClain, Houston Chronicle

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson runs up field during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson runs up field during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

JACKSONVILLE – 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 NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Question: The Texans fired Head Coach Bill O'Brien Monday and replaced him with Interim Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Were you surprised and why now?

I wasn't surprised. Going back to last regular season, seven games in a row they have trailed by double figures in every game – and they're 1-6 [in those games]. The only victory was over Buffalo in the playoffs; they were always playing from behind. They had not looked good this year on either side of the ball and they're 0-4 for the first time since 2008. They're the only team [in the NFL this season] not to force a turnover in four games, tying a team record. They're last in rushing and they're last in stopping the run; that's a trend in stopping the run that goes back to the 10th game of last season. They haven't had one good offensive or defensive game this season. They've just been getting dominated. They have too many three-and-outs on offense and they can't get off the field on defense. They fired Bill because they were going in the wrong direction. This goes back to last season. The offense has not scored 30 points in [the last] 16 games. They scored 31 against Kansas City in the playoffs, but special teams scored. The offense hasn't scored 30 in 16 games with Deshaun Watson at quarterback – and that included last season with [wide receiver] DeAndre Hopkins. They just determined this team was going in the wrong direction. [Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Cal] McNair said they haven't given up on winning. They want to win, and they think their best chance to win was to make this change.

Q: You know this team as well as anyone. Can this change work? Can this get them turned around?

A: Oh, I don't think so. I don't think you can play this bad on defense and all of a sudden you're going to make a change and the players are going to start playing better. They may be smarter, because they haven't played smart. They haven't played well. They've missed tackles. They're not in their gaps. They overrun plays. Every game has looked like a preseason game to me.

Q: And offensively?

A: I have much greater hopes for the offense. They scored three touchdowns in the first half against Pittsburgh and were up 21-17. The Steelers made an adjustment and totally outcoached and outplayed them and the Texans didn't score another point [in a 28-21 Week 3 Steeles victory]. They were down at halftime against Minnesota [in a 31-23 Week 4 Vikings victory] and came out in the second half and scored two touchdowns on passes by Watson, so the offense has a much better chance of turning it around.

Q: How much does Watson miss Hopkins, an All-Pro wide receiver who was traded in the offseason to the Arizona Cardinals?

A: People act like they would have won games if Hopkins had been here. Maybe they wouldn't have gotten beat as bad, but Hopkins was here when they got beat 51-31 [by Kansas City] in the playoffs. He was here when they got beat 41-7 at Baltimore [last season]. He was here when they got beat at home by Carolina and Denver [last season] when they should have beaten both of those teams. There was a comfort zone on third down and down on the goal line that they could have used Hopkins. But [wide receiver] Will Fuller has emerged and stayed healthy so far – and he has been good. [Wide receiver] Randall Cobb has been good. Watson has been sacked 16 times and I would guess at least seven or eight are his fault – holding the ball too long, refusing to throw it away. He never has gotten rid of it quick. He likes to run around and get somebody open down the field.

Q: How does this team need to play to be better? Is there a formula they can use?

A: They need to run the ball and stop the run. They did that last season and were ninth [in the NFL] in rushing. They ended up because they were so bad over the last seven games being about middle of the pack against the run. They need to play smarter on defense. They need to run the ball and get some first downs. They were third in the league in red-zone offense until they played the Vikings and against the Vikings – three trips in the red zone, no touchdowns.

Q: What's the outlook long-term? Will this be a difficult situation moving forward?

A: It shouldn't be. They've got Watson at quarterback. They have talent on both sides of the ball. They don't have their first- or second-round selections [in the 2021 NFL Draft], but they have eight other draft choices. They're going to be up against it on the [salary] cap, but they'll let some people go; that's not going to stop them from signing free agents. They're going to miss their first- and second-round pick, but they thought like this year it would be a late-round pick. Now, they look like they're going to be one of the worst teams in the league.

Q:There are 12 games left. What is success for the Texans now?

A: In 2008, Gary Kubiak's third season as head coach, they started the season 0-4 and finished 8-8. They didn't make a coaching change. Kubiak was the coach and they bounced back. If they can get to 8-8, they should be popping champagne corks here, but I don't see it happening. I think right now at 0-4 they'll be lucky to win five games. If a lot of it mental and attitude, then we'll find out against the Jaguars. We'll see if this is a different team.

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