The Houston Texans open 2020 NFL training camp on July 25 at the Houston Methodist Center. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
What will the Texans’ offense look like without DeAndre Hopkins?
Perhaps more balanced. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate. Regardless of whom the Texans signed this offseason, it’s hard to say this offense could be better without Hopkins, a first-team All-Pro for the past three seasons who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in March. But there is certainly more depth at wide receiver with the additions of Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, who will primarily play in the slot.
Last season, Deshaun Watson led all quarterbacks with 33 completions of 30 or more yards, and according to Pro Football Focus, was the second-highest graded quarterback on throws 20 or more yards down the field. Now he has the speedy Cooks to go along with Will Fuller and Kenny Stills. If this group can stay healthy -- and that has become a big if with Fuller in his NFL career -- it could be a deep, well rounded unit.
The other question mark is what the Texans will get at running back. Houston opted not to sign Carlos Hyde, who had the first 1,000-yard season of his career in 2019, and instead traded for David Johnson as part of the deal that sent Hopkins to Arizona. For this offense to take a step forward in 2020, the Texans will need to get as much or more production from David Johnson and Duke Johnson as they did from Hyde and Duke Johnson last season.
There were times last season when Watson looked like an MVP quarterback. Can he sustain that success for a whole season? It might depend on whether his supporting cast can replace Hopkins’ prolific production.
Is this a make-or-break season for head coach and now general manager Bill O’Brien?
Of course there’s pressure on O’Brien after the moves he’s made, but the head coach and general manager is also under contract through 2022, and barring a disastrous season, it’s hard to see him not returning in 2021. And barring major injuries, the Texans are going to be competitive in nearly every game with Watson at quarterback.
Those trades O'Brien has made -- going back to sending Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle and trading two first-round picks and a second-round pick for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Stills -- are part of the reason that he’s likely to be around past the 2020 season. The McNair family clearly trusts O’Brien’s vision and trust he is the coach to lead their franchise. And given that this season will have obstacles no coach should be expected to overcome with the coronavirus pandemic, there could be mitigating factors if the Texans don't live up to expectations.
In his six seasons with the Texans, O’Brien has won five AFC South titles and two playoff games. He has acknowledged the need to take a step forward and make a deeper playoff run, but for now, O’Brien appears safe in Houston.
In the event J.J. Watt misses time due to injury, are the Texans better equipped to get to the quarterback than they have been in the past?
The Texans will have more depth to rely on if they did have to play without Watt again, but they don’t have another player on his roster who can match his production. To be fair, most teams don't.
Watt missed half of the 2019 season with a torn pectoral muscle, but came back for the Texans’ two playoff games. Houston struggled to get to the quarterback without him. The Texans pass-rush win rate with Watt on the field was 44.9%, which would've ranked 12th last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without him, that number fell to 26.8%, which would've ranked 31st. The league average last year was 41.9%.
Among players with at least 120 pass-rush plays with a win or loss as an edge defender, Watt was double-teamed more often than anyone last season (29.7%).
The Texans could see improvement from Jacob Martin, who impressed in limited snaps last season. Martin, who played 20.5 percent of Houston’s defensive snaps, should see increased playing time, although he isn’t likely to start unless there is an injury. Houston could also rely on Charles Omenihu, who played 41 percent of the defensive snaps and was one of four rookies with at least three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2019.