Watson's issues doomed Houston Texans before season's start
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans' troubles this season began months before they played their first game.
Star quarterback Deshaun Watson requested a trade last January before 22 women filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or assault. The issues kept Watson out all season and precipitated a rebuild that led to a second straight terrible season for the Texans.
The Texans lost 28-25 to the Titans on Sunday to end the season 4-13 after finishing 4-12 a year before.
The tough season has led to questions about coach David Culley's future with the team after just one season. Culley was hired last January to replace Bill O'Brien after spending 43 years as an NFL and college assistant.
General manager Nick Caserio hasn't addressed Culley's status since season's end, but Culley said Monday after meeting with the team that he expects to return.
"As far as I know, I'm the head coach of the Texas moving forward," Culley said.
But the 66-year-old Culley knows that his first year as a head coach wasn't good enough.
"You're judged every year and basically you're judged on wins and losses," he said. "And if you judge it on wins and losses, I'm not happy with four wins at all. I expected to get more than four wins."
With Watson out, the Texans opened the season with veteran Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. He looked good in the opener and Houston beat the Jaguars 37-21. But he was injured in Week 2, throwing rookie Davis Mills into action.
Mills struggled to adjust to the NFL and the Texans lost the game when Taylor was injured before also dropping the next six with the rookie under center. Taylor returned in November, but he couldn't get Houston on track and lost three of the next four starts before being benched after a 31-0 loss to Indianapolis.
Mills played much better after Taylor was benched and he returned to the starting role. He had trouble with turnovers in his first few starts but limited those mistakes in his last five games when he had nine TD passes with just two interceptions.
His improvement helped the Texans be much more competitive late in the schedule. Two of their four wins came in the last month, highlighted by a 41-29 victory over a Los Angeles Chargers team that was still in playoff contention.
The performance of Mills late in the season gave Culley confidence that he can lead this team in the future. But it's unclear if Caserio sees Mills as the team's long-term solution at the position or if he'll try to upgrade through the draft or free agency.
Mills, a third-round pick, discussed the lessons he learned throughout the season and believes getting so much experience early in his career helped his development.
"The biggest thing is probably just that I know I'm able to compete at a really high level in the NFL," he said. "It took a couple of games at the start of the season for me to really get a good grasp of the game at this level. But I think since I came back into the starting role of the second half of the season, the game started to slow down a little bit for me."
The Texans finished tied for 10th in the league with 25 takeaways in the first season under defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. Houston had 17 interceptions to rank tied for eighth.
It was a huge improvement from the 2020 performance when the Texans ranked last in the league with nine takeaways and managed just three interceptions, also 32nd in the NFL.
Receiver Brandin Cooks had another good season despite the struggles of the offense. The 28-year-old led Houston with 1,037 yards receiving.
He joined Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins as the only players in franchise history to have consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons after finishing with 1,150 yards receiving in 2020.
Cooks has one year remaining on his contract and should be an important piece of the offense next season as the Texans try to turn things around.
The Texans face an important offseason when they'll look to finally trade Watson and will have the third overall pick in the draft after not having a first-round selection in the last two drafts.
Many of the team's starters are becoming free agents after joining the Texans on one-year contracts last offseason.
If the Texans can trade Watson, they should get some high draft picks in return, which would help add much-needed talent to a team that has traded or released all of its star players in recent years.
The No. 3 pick will be their highest selection since drafting Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall spot in 2014. The Texans have had the third pick just once before and used it to draft one of the best players in franchise history when they picked Johnson in 2003. Johnson, who spent 12 seasons in Houston, is the franchise's all-time leader in yards receiving with 13,597 and was recently voted a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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Updated January 10, 2022