With playoff hopes dashed, Texans' focus has to turn to 2018

HOUSTON -- After the Houston Texans' 26-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the team fell to 4-9, guaranteeing a losing season for the first time under head coach Bill O’Brien.

With the Texans essentially eliminated from the playoffs, Houston's focus has to turn to next season. The team already has filled its biggest hole after the exceptional performance of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson before he tore his ACL, but there are several questions the team can try to answer between now and the end of the season.

Which offensive linemen can the Texans keep long-term? Thanks to an injury to Chris Clark and the absence of Duane Brown, the Texans have played with several different lineups on the offensive line. The Texans have started five different left tackles this season -- Kendall Lamm, Clark, Brown, Julién Davenport and Jeff Allen -- and the group has struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage. Houston drafted Davenport in the fourth round in 2017 but said he would need to be developed this season. The rookie had showed promise but has missed the past four games with a shoulder injury. The Texans have three players on the offensive line with expiring contracts after this season -- Clark, right tackle Breno Giacomini and left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo -- and the team needs to decide whom to bring back and whether Davenport is ready to start next season.

Can cornerback Kevin Johnson be trusted? The Texans let cornerback A.J. Bouye walk during free agency, in part because they were hopeful that Johnson, the team’s 2015 first-round pick, could take his place alongside veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Johnson missed the majority of the season with a foot injury in 2016 but returned to the field for the team’s offseason program. The cornerback missed four games after he sprained his MCL in Week 2 and has struggled when he’s been healthy. The Texans also have a decision to make with Joseph, and coaching staff needs to know whether Johnson is a capable replacement.

Is Stephen Anderson a starting tight end? The Texans are without tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin due to concussions, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Fiedorowicz could be forced to retire after sustaining three concussions since training camp. If Fiedorowicz’s career is over, the Texans could replace him with Anderson. The former undrafted free agent played the best game of his career in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans, catching five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, Anderson caught just two of his six targets and dropped two passes. He also was called for an offensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter of a seven-point game.