After starting out 0-3, the Texans focused on just one game at a time. Six consecutive wins later, it’s easier to look back at the first half of the season and evaluate how the team turned a losing start into a hot win streak.
1. Getting Healthy
The first part of 2018 involved a lot of players returning from season-ending injuries. And not just any players, key starters like Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus to name a few. Watson worked his way back from an ACL tear but suffered a chest injury in Week 5 against Dallas. Mercilus was cleared for football in OTAs but his stat line did not reflect his pre-injured self until Week 7 at Jacksonville where he finished with four solo tackles, 1.0 sack, two forced fumbles, one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss.
J.J. Watt, who now is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.0, was returning after back-to-back seasons cut short by injury. Following last year’s devastating lower leg injury, Watt struggled to walk. His return to form this year is all because of the hard work he put in during the offseason.
“Very impressed,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “If you start with J.J. Watt, I know he probably doesn’t want to talk about it too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it. To come back from what he’s been able to come back from, some really serious injuries, and to be able to play at the level that he’s playing at, it just says all you need to know about him and how much he cares about the team and how much he wants to help this organization win.”
2. The Growth of Deshaun Watson
The Texans starting quarterback has now seen action in 16 games, the equivalent of one complete regular season. Watson’s knowledge of the offense, chemistry with receivers and instincts for the game have all flourished over the course of the last 14 months. He made his share of mistakes early on – nine touchdowns and seven interceptions through the first six games. However, in the last three weeks, Watson has climbed the learning curve with relative ease, throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions over the last three games.
“I think he’s grown a lot," O'Brien said. "He’s just an awesome guy to work with. He cares about studying, he cares about putting time in to prepare for each game. I think he’s learned a lot about NFL defenses. He’s had a lot thrown at him defensively this year, whether it’s third-down defenses, red area defenses. He’s improved every week.”
3. Making Adjustments Week-To-Week
The Texans lost each of their first three games by one score. But in a game of inches, O’Brien credits the coaching staff for making adjustments early and players for executing those changes to get the team back on track.
“I think there were things that we were doing earlier in the year that we either needed to change or we needed to stop doing, whether it was ball security on offense or getting more takeaways on defense or maybe using a player in a different way or changing a scheme, or really thinking about our formula for how we want to try to win these games,” O’Brien said. “Give the coaching staff a lot of credit, and then obviously, give the players the most credit because they’ve really tried to do what we’ve asked them to do.”
With a 6-3 record heading into the bye week, players will get much-needed recovery time before traveling to Washington in Week 11. However, despite the winning, no one is forgetting the lessons learned in the losses from Weeks 1 through 3.
“I think it’s just important to note that we haven’t been blowing anybody out,” Tyrann Mathieu said. “I don’t think we are a complacent group of guys. We’ve been in some fist fights, some real close ball games, so it’s not like everything is cookie-cutter and everything is going all good for us. We still have things we can improve on and work on, so I think that’s what’s going to keep us pushing forward.”
The Houston Texans defeated the Denver Broncos for their sixth straight win going into the Bye Week.