BALTIMORE -- The Houston Texans went all-in in the offseason, making dramatic moves to boost their near-term chances at the expense of future draft picks. They made trades and signings to win this season because they believed their roster had enough talent and quarterback Deshaun Watson gives them a chance to beat any opponent.
The Texans traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder to protect Watson's blind side with Laremy Tunsil, and they added wide receiver Kenny Stills. The Texans traded a third-round pick for running back Duke Johnson and traded away Jadeveon Clowney for a third-round pick and two players. Houston then traded that third-round pick to the Raiders for cornerback Gareon Conley.
Although still favored to make the playoffs, the Texans aren’t showing signs that they would be much of a threat, once there, to the teams that are pulling away from the pack in the AFC: the Patriots (9-1) and the Ravens (8-2).
Coming into the season, the Texans’ weaknesses were on the offensive line and in the secondary.
The secondary started Sunday ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 277.3 passing yards per game. On Sunday, the Texans allowed quarterback Lamar Jackson to throw for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
The line showed improvement in the middle of the season -- entering Sunday, Watson had been sacked seven times in five games -- despite having to play with moving pieces due to injuries. But on Sunday, Watson and the Texans reverted to the poor play they showed early in the season in a loss to the Panthers and a close win over the Jaguars.
Against the Ravens, who entered the game with 23 sacks this season (tied for 23rd in the NFL), Watson was sacked seven times and took 10 hits. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 169 yards and an interception, and Houston finished with 232 net yards of offense.
The Texans’ defense, which allowed 41 points on Sunday and was carved up by the Colts earlier this season, is chock-full of players on one-year deals or expiring contracts. Cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Johnathan Joseph will be free agents after the season. Nose tackle D.J. Reader is in the last year of his rookie deal. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the only proven pass-rusher the Texans have since J.J. Watt tore his pectoral muscle in Week 8, will be a free agent after this season.
The Texans will likely give Watson and Tunsil big contract extensions this offseason, and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins is under contract through 2022, so nobody is suggesting that this is the end of the window in Houston. But the Texans clearly have a lot of work to do to make this big bet pay off, and with fewer draft picks next spring, it will be tougher for the team to replenish talent.
Even if the Texans play better than they did against the Ravens on Sunday, they have a tough stretch coming up. Houston hosts Indianapolis on Thursday, then New England in Week 13. The Texans and Colts both enter the game at 6-4, but Indianapolis holds the tiebreaker after winning the teams’ first meeting of the season.
“It’s a must-win Thursday,” Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “Everybody knows that. We have to move forward. What we want is still ahead of us.”
That is absolutely the case: The Texans could look back at the end of their season and point to the Ravens loss as the turning point before they went on a run. But for a franchise that has never been to an AFC Championship Game, Sunday’s blowout loss showed just how far behind the Texans remain in comparison to the best teams in the AFC.