AFC South reporter
Let’s be very clear: no one expected the Houston Texans to be competitive this season.
They came into 2022 with a rebuilding roster, a lack of top-tier talent. There was uncertainty as to whether Davis Mills could be a long-term starting quarterback, and Houston moved forward with that limbo. But under Lovie Smith, the Texans, 1-9-1 entering Sunday’s game against their former franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson, and the Browns, in many ways have been even worse than they ‘I expected.
It might make firing Smith after one season at least a thought.
The offense has taken a step back. Of course, Smith is not the unit player. But their offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, leads an offense that ranks 31st in scoring (15.8 PPG), worse than last year (30th). Mills, who showed early potential as a third-round draft pick last year, has regressed and been benched. His replacement, Kyle Allen, didn’t fare much better in his first week as a starter in Sunday’s 30-15 loss to the Dolphins. Promising rookie running back Dameon Pierce, the engine of the offense, has a combined 16 rushing yards in the last two games.
Veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks told reporters after the loss to the Dolphins that the Texans’ offense let the game slip away “the moment we came out,” an indictment of the coaching staff.
“If a guy like Brandin says that, one of our leaders on our football team, we weren’t [ready]” Smith said Monday. “This was definitely not planned. Hopefully we’ll be better prepared this week, ready to play against a good Cleveland team.”
The defense, the unit Smith still calls plays for (he was the defensive coordinator last season), is reeling from being historically bad against the run.
Yes, the defensive front showed promise against Miami — the Dolphins had just 66 rushing yards on 2.5 carries — and Houston had five sacks — but so far, we’ve seen zero consistency on a weekly basis. Houston allows an average of 168.6 rushing yards per game, on pace to be the NFL’s worst defense in 12 years (the 2010 Bills allowed 169.6 rushing yards per game), according to Pro Football Reference.
Where the Texans have been remarkably consistent is in not finishing games. They compete, but not when it matters most. Houston is tied for 10th with 55 points scored in the third quarter this season, while ranking 30th with 46 points in the fourth quarter, according to TrueMedia.
Nobody starts slower than the Texans, either. His 17 points and minus-43 first quarter margin this season is the worst in the NFL, according to TrueMedia. Houston is second-worst in scoring and point margin in the first half overall.
Slow starts and poor finishes come down to training.
“What do we do? You just come back, look what happened,” Smith said of the slow starts. “You keep working at it and you can’t wait for the next game.”
Smith’s jeans don’t help themselves in the turnover battle, usually a good indicator of who wins and who loses. Through 11 games, Houston is tied for 26th in turnover ratio (minus-4), on pace for its worst ranking since 2020 (27th).
Smith has a couple of things working to his advantage, though.
number 1? The Texans knew they would be rebuilding this year with a young roster and have two premium picks in the 2023 draft.
As of now, Houston has two picks in the top 10: No. 1 overall (their original first-round pick) and No. 10 (acquired from the Browns in the Watson trade). Smith could change his fortunes, and the franchise’s, by nailing the upcoming draft. Houston could find their franchise quarterback in, say, Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, and get some major help for that player as well.
The optics of the Texans firing Smith after one season would also be very bad.
In a league that already has a terrible record of hiring and retaining black coaches, Smith, if he can be retained, would be the second black coach in a row fired by the Texans after one season with a rebuilding roster. He would join David Culley, who is firing after a 4-13 season in 2021 drew criticism. Texans general manager Nick Caserio cited “philosophical differences” in firing Culley.
Emmanuel Acho reacts to the Texans by firing David Culley
In January, Emmanuel Acho reacted to the news that the Texans fired head coach David Culley after one season with the team. Houston finished 4-13 without quarterback Deshaun Watson for the entire season.
Remember, optics have fueled Houston’s coaching decisions in the recent past. The Texans reportedly wanted to hire former NFL quarterback Josh McCown as their head coach after firing Culley, only to back off due to the backlash that would come given his lack of experience McCown’s professional and college coach. A counterpoint is that the Colts’ decision this season to bring in Jeff Saturday as an interim coach, despite having no prior college or professional coaching experience, could mitigate any potential hesitancy moving forward.
But these jeans are really bad. Even in a season of low expectations, one based on hopes of future high draft picks, it can be argued that Houston has underwhelmed.
“The same thing I tell the team and everybody else: the story behind it, we can’t go there,” Smith said when asked what he would tell fans who can’t watch the rebuilding process week by week . “We understand that the fans have been around for a long time. For us, we’re trying to build. It’s a process that you can’t skip a step, and we’re not there yet. That’s what we’re saying. them, but we’re going to get We work very hard every day to try to make this happen.
“I just don’t think it does much good to talk about some of the good things we’re doing,” Smith added. “He knows what the record is. We’ve got one win and we’ve got to improve in every area, and I tell the fans that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Will Smith be given a chance to build in 2023?
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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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