The Texans 2018 performance earned a lot of praise from around the NFL, including from some highly-respected division opponents. During last week's Pro Bowl practices, some of the best players in the AFC South weighed in on their rival Texans and the future of the division.
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey caught Deshaun Watson's touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the 2019 NFL Pro Bowl. For the last three years, he has lined up opposite two-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins in the Texans-Jaguars divisional matchups. The first-team All-Pro cornerback had just one word to describe the Texans wide receiver.
"Incredible," Ramsey said. "I think he's the best receiver - I've said it multiple times – in the NFL. He always gives me a tough challenge. It's a tough matchup but I love that. I love the competitiveness of his game. Him and Deshaun (Watson) have a great connection. Yeah, I look forward to those battles."
Ramsey and Hopkins talk trash and battle on the field, but the often-outspoken Ramsey says the two have nothing but respect for one another's game.
"There's a lot of mutual respect." Ramsey said. "That's the part that people don't really get to see. People see our trash talking and our fierce competiveness but that's what the game needs but outside of that, there's a lot of respect for everybody."
The Texans defense finished the year with two first-team All-Pro selections in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Both were also selected to the Pro Bowl, along with inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Titans starting left tackle Taylor Lewan has had the tough task of protecting Marcus Mariota against a Texans front seven that allowed a league-low 3.44 yards per carry and allowed the fewest rushing yards in a season in franchise history (1,323).
"They are extremely talented individuals," Lewan said. "I've been going against Jadeveon since college in the Outback Bowl so obviously fun if you want to be one of the best players in the league, you need to play against the best. Those guys give me that opportunity two times a year and it's always a good matchup."
Tight end Eric Ebron, who faced the Texans for the first time as an Indianapolis Colt, agreed. Romeo Crennel's defense created havoc for opposing offenses, especially because of their ability to cause turnovers. In 2018, Houston had a turnover differential of plus-13, which set a new single-season franchise record, led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL. They also led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL in points off turnovers with 111 total points scored off their 29 takeaways.
"They get to the quarterback and they cause a lot of fumbles," Ebron said. "You just have to account for them. If you don't account for them, they can wreck games."
Deshaun Watson, coming off a season-ending ACL injury during his rookie campaign, started all 16 games and earned his first Pro Bowl nod. Watson passed for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a franchise-record 103.1 passer rating. He also rushed 99 times for 551 yards (5.6 avg.) and five touchdowns.
"Just an extremely talented player and he's going to make it extremely hard for us to go in and try and win an AFC South title," Lewan said. "He's an unbelievable guy and he's an unbelievable talent as well so really happy for him to make it out here and have a little fun with him so it's awesome. The Texans are in really good hands with him."
"If you don't love Deshaun, there's something wrong," Ebron said. "You've got to respect his game, you've got to respect how he plays it and you've got to respect the fact that he's a competitor. You get his best whenever he's out on the field and being in the Pro Bowl, it's all fun and games but we'll see on Sunday."