Before tearing his ACL in practice last week, Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was the NFL’s top story. The first-round pick from Clemson was in the midst of a Rookie of the Year campaign and was poised to lead the Texans to back-to-back AFC South titles. But as reigning Grammy Country Album of the Year winner Sturgill Simpson sings, “life ain’t fair and the world is mean.”
So is the NFL.
Not only are the Texans (3-5) without Watson for the rest of the season, but Captain America himself, J.J. Watt, and All-Pro linebacker Whitney Mercilus. So what was once a promising season deep in the heart of Texas has turned into a nightmare with perennial backup Tom Savage under center the rest of the way.
Los Angeles may never be an NFL town — but don’t tell the 2017 Rams and first-year head coach Sean McVay. Last year the Rams were a measly 4-12 in their re-inaugural season in LA. But 2017 has seen the NFC West’s doormat in recent years become world beaters, sitting at 6-2 and in first place in division, thanks in part to the growth of second-year quarterback Jared Goff.
When the Dodgers made the jump from the streets of Brooklyn and Ebbets Field to the sands of California and the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1957, they made Angelenos wait a whole two years to win a World Series after only winning one title in the New York. Could the Rams follow their baseball forefathers and win it all in just their second season? That remains to be seen, but perhaps the Lombardi Trophy would be the best way to make Los Angeles finally embrace pro football — for good this time.
Houston at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 12 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Rams -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Tom Savage... do anything?
First of all, it’s not all completely Savage’s fault. He was thrust into a no-win situation — twice. He never should have been the starter going into Week 1 and everyone knew it, except for apparently head coach Bill O’Brien. After being replaced at halftime of the first game, the Texans found their groove with Deshaun Watson running the offense. But after Watson’s freak ACL tear at practice, Savage is thrust back under center (do quarterbacks even go under center anymore?) and trying to dig the Texans out of a two-game slide and back into a remote shot of playoff contention.
If last week’s performance against the Colts’ defense (the worst in the league) is any indication how the rest of the season is going to go for Savage (19-for-44, 219 yards, TD, 15.3 QBR), the Texans might just want to fast-forward to next spring’s draft and on to 2018. This Rams’ defense, led by the NFL’s best player, Aaron Donald, is known for their aggressive blitz packages, forcing quarterbacks into tough throws and interceptions. Look for Savage to target two of the NFL’s best playmakers in DeAndre Hopkins (above, right) and Will Fuller at least a dozen times. It may be Houston’s only hope.
2. Development of Jared Goff
It’s hard to imagine that the quarterback we’ve been watching this season is even in the same family tree as the Goff from a season ago — the one who threw more picks than touchdowns in seven straight winless starts. To be fair, when Goff was taken No. 1 overall in the 2016 draft it was with the expectation that he was a project, not ready to play right away or have a significant impact for several years. But the former Cal Bear has turned the corner faster than anyone has projected, averaging 8.3 yards per completed pass, and throwing 13 TDs to just four interceptions.
Perhaps the best thing for Goff was the replacement of former head coach Jeff Fisher with Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history (he was 30 when he was hired in January). Now, instead of an offense that looked more like the Washington Generals in 2016, the Rams are the league’s top-scoring unit, averaging 32.9 points per game. Look for this offense to continue its hot streak against a Houston defense that has been ravaged by injuries and ranks 20th in yards (339.1) and 30th in points (26.0) allowed per game.
With youth on their side, the combination of Goff and McVay could become a staple for Rams fans to rally around for the next decade.
3. DeAndre the Giant
DeAndre Hopkins has silently been one of the NFL’s most elite offensive weapons since his rookie season in 2013. The problem is, Hopkins has never had a reliable quarterback throwing to him that is until Watson showed up. With Watson gone, it’s more imperative than ever for Savage to find the NFL’s leader in touchdown catches (eight).
In last week’s loss to Indianapolis, Savage and Hopkins were able to connect six times, once for a score, extending the receiver’s TD streak to five games and keeping the Texans within striking distance of the Colts on the scoreboard. Despite the touchdown, Savage struggled to find any sort of rhythm, especially going downfield — of which he is only 4-of-17 on pass attempts of 15 yards or more this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Despite the quarterback change to Savage, Hopkins is still on pace to break his own franchise record of touchdown catches in a season, which he set in 2015. The silver lining for Houston’s offense — if one exists — is the emergence of fellow wideout Fuller, which takes some of the defensive attention paid to Hopkins and leaves with him more one-on-one matchups against cornerbacks.
Hopefully, Savage and Hopkins can find their rhythm so as not to let Hopkins’ strong start to this season go by the wayside. And if that continued success means the Texans are more competitive, well, that’s just a bonus.
It’s weird to type this, but the Rams are one of the NFL’s most complete teams. They have the best, most well-rounded offense in the game and a defense that is aggressive and very good at forcing turnovers. With star power on both sides of the ball like defensive tackle Aaron Donald and running back Todd Gurley, the NFC West seems to be the Rams’ oyster in 2017. Weird, but true.
Unless the Texans’ offense can somehow trick the Rams into not showing up on Sunday afternoon don’t look for Houston to do much of anything out in Los Angeles.
Prediction: Rams 27, Texans 14
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.