Texans turn to TEs and even QB Joe Webb with slot WRs depleted

HOUSTON -- Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked on Tuesday whether he had ever thrown a pass to a quarterback in a game before.

He chuckled then thought to himself before saying, "Not that I know of -- that was the first time, I think."

The Texans were so depleted and desperate at slot receiver in Sunday's home loss to the Indianapolis Colts that they were forced to throw third-string quarterback Joe Webb III into the wideout mix.

"We just kind of had to learn on the fly," Watson said. "That's part of the game, that's part of this league, that's part of the way things go sometimes. So, we try to adjust as much as we can and try to execute as best we can."

With Keke Coutee dealing with a hamstring injury and backup DeAndre Carter knocked out of the game early with a concussion, Webb -- a journeyman jack-of-all-trades -- made his first reception since 2016, when he was with the Carolina Panthers. He caught two passes on Sunday for 13 yards, boosting his career total to 10 receptions for 74 yards in his nine NFL seasons.

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien praised Webb's versatility, saying, "Every roster needs a guy like Joe Webb because he can do a lot of different things."

So, will Webb be the starting slot receiver when the Texans visit the New York Jets on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL)?

"We always have plans in place," O'Brien said. "Maybe it will be the same as what we did last week; maybe it'll be different. I think that's what we're all trying to work out right now."

O'Brien added that Coutee is "trending toward" being able to play on Saturday. Carter has practiced this week.

Coutee hasn't played since Nov. 26 in the 34-17 win against the Tennessee Titans and has missed seven games of his rookie season with reoccurring hamstring injuries. When he has played, he has been peppered by Watson with targets and has averaged 4.7 catches for 47.8 yards per game.

If Coutee misses Saturday's game, the other alternative could be to go heavy on two-tight end sets again, as the Texans did against the Colts.

Between Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas, Texans tight ends totaled 11 receptions for 151 yards against the Colts, the most combined receiving yards from the position since O'Brien became head coach in 2014 and the third most in franchise history.

"They do a good job of doing what their responsibilities are, being able to find open holes in zones in the defense, and they're big targets," Watson said of the tight ends. "You give them a chance to make a play and those guys can make plays. They've been doing a great job and improving each and every week."

The Jets' pass defense has been particularly good against tight ends, especially in recent games. In the past eight weeks, the Jets have allowed just one tight end to top 50 yards receiving (Rob Gronkowski registered 56 yards in Week 12).

Slot receivers, on the other hand, have been much more active against the Jets' defense, most recently with Buffalo Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie putting up a season-high four catches for 47 yards on seven targets.

Another possibility could be seeing more of Demaryius Thomas lining up in the slot. O'Brien said Tuesday that Thomas has an increasingly good grasp of the offense and has shown a versatility in his route running. In five games since joining Houston via trade with the Denver Broncos in Week 9, Thomas has had 14 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

Watson also mentioned an urge to complete more big passes downfield. He ranks sixth among quarterbacks, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt, but he is hoping to boost that average against the Jets. On 10 passes to DeAndre Hopkins last week, the two connected for just four receptions and a season-low 36 yards for Hopkins.

"I think the biggest thing is really the deep shots down the field, capitalizing on those more," Watson said. "Then also not taking too many sacks and really just taking what the defense is giving me. Really the biggest thing is whenever we throw the ball downfield, whenever those opportunities come, just capitalize on those."