Everything is seemingly good in Houston. The Texans are riding high in the AFC with a 10-4 record and playoff status should be confirmed this weekend. J.J. Watt is back at his thundering best, Jadeveon Clowney is wrecking offensive linemen, and the offense is altogether serviceable. All is calm and positive in H-town.
Underneath the positivity though, there is a festering problem that has been exploited repeatedly this season. The Houston secondary is abysmal at covering a pass in any guise. The run defense may be elite, but games will be won in the air and Houston can’t contain or cover. That’s not to say all of the secondary
Parts of the secondary are having seriously good years. Justin Reid, before his burning at the hands of T. Y. Hilton was firmly in the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is still criminally underrated in the face of Jessie Bates or Derwin James.
Elsewhere in the secondary, Andre Hal is having a good comeback year after his cancer treatment. As as a story alone, there is no greater success story across the NFL. Lastly, the cornerbacks, aside from the disastrous Shareece Wright, are on the whole, adequate with Kareem Jackson having a career year. The fundamental problem though is Tyrann Mathieu and what he hasn’t done since coming to Houston.
Expectations to Meet
In the wake of Hal’s sidelining during his treatment in the spring, the Texans signed the released Mathieu from the Cardinals on a $7 million a year ‘prove it’ contract. The expectations were huge. Texans fans saw this as the return of the secondary playmaker that had been lacking since A.J. Bouye‘s move out to Jacksonville. At such a low price, many saw Mathieu as a bargain for a team wanting to address a disastrous 2017. With his opening game interception of Tom Brady, this desire seemed to have fulfilled
Yet, this interception, like much of the other stats from Mathieu’s season with the Texans is different under analysis. Mathieu this season has two interceptions, both were tipped before reaching him. Furthermore, while his sacks total is impressive for a defensive back, they were the result of being unblocked. Sacks would also be an unwise measurement to quantify a safety’s success given their primary role is to cover the football, not to hit the quarterback.
Finally, a Pro Football Focus coverage grade of 69.7 does highlight that Mathieu is an above-average safety. He is nowhere near elite level, or even at the same level as rookie Justin Reid who is outperforming him in nearly every coverage related stat.
This analysis, however, does detract away from Mathieu’s other role and success within the team. He is a defensive captain and his influence at crucial points, especially during early season was admirable. His unyielding passion also highlights a desire that has been lacking for some time in the Houston defense after Watt’s recent injury troubles.
The crux of this matter is though, is that Mathieu is not being paid to be some kind of playing cheerleader. He’s being paid to play football and perform a role in the Houston defense. At present, he is failing at this. T
Before discussing Mathieu, the external factors in the decision are very significant. According to
It is clear that Clowney here is the priority. Clowney should be re-signed with no thought to the impact of the cost, he is the most talented player on the roster, and when Watt eventually hangs up his cleats and heads to Canton, Clowney will be needed to anchor the defense. That leaves a toss-up between Mathieu and Jackson. Mathieu has age on his side, and he has more talent than Jackson.
On the other hand, Jackson can play multiple positions and would be a cheaper acquisition. Doubts have to be raised though. G
Away from the Texans roster, the other alternative for Brian Gaine as general manager is to recruit from either free agency or the draft. Free agency, in this case, seems to be the preferred option with Lamarcus Joyner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins all hitting the open market. With these top-tier players, the money demanded would be similar to Mathieu but their talent could be higher.
In the case of Clinton-Dix, his recent production is far higher than that of Mathieu. In contrast, the draft in 2019 appears to be a non-starter with nowhere near the depth of 2018 in the class, so the Texans should entirely look to free agency if they do decide to move away from Mathieu.
The 2018 season for the Texans should be seen as a success regardless of where they end up in the playoffs. Starting 0-3 and reaching ten wins with two games to go is an incredible achievement. Worryingly though for the Texans is that this achievement has papered over several cracks in the roster, specifically the lack of success of Tyrann Mathieu in Houston. Mathieu has not been bad, and his impact is certainly noticeable on the team.
Crucially though is that if this Texans team wants to go on after 2018 and enter a Super Bowl window, is Tyrann Mathieu the right person to pay in 2019 to be a part of this attempt or are there better options elsewhere in the league? At current form, it seems that moving on from Mathieu is the best thing for this young Texans team regardless of any further triumph in the 2018 season.