1. Looking back at that 2014 draft, it would appear the Raiders first four picks of Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, Gabe Jackson, and Justin Ellis was the draft the Texans should have had. Do you think there's some buyer's remorse about the Texans going with Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su'a-Filo, CJ Fiedorowicz, Louis Nix, and Tom Savage instead?
With Clowney? Definitely not. He has been an absolute monster this season after losing virtually all of his first two years of development to constant injuries. It is great to see him finally living up to his immense potential, and considering that he is the same age now as Khalil Mack was in his rookie year, I suppose it's almost like we are basically getting the same thing that Oakland got in a rookie Mack (just on a slight delay). As for the rest of the group...yeah, Houston definitely whiffed on those. Tom Savage has shown flashes of being something in the past, but I think it is telling that the front office opted to go throw a bunch of money at Brock Osweiler last offseason instead of giving the Macho Man a real shot at earning the job. Xavier Su'a-Filo is maddeningly inconsistent in pass protection, and C.J. Fiedorowicz fluctuates between competent and dreadful as a receiving target almost on a weekly basis. Louis Nix, by the way, did not even make it through two seasons on the Texans roster (how's that for a return on investment, eh?).
On the topic of Carr, it's fairly well-known that he did not even want to play in Houston anyway because of how the city treated his older brother back in the day (you know how football fans can be when their team sucks, after all). This team was never, ever going to draft him simply because he didn't want to be here in the first place. If there is one major quarterback-related mistake that the Texans did make in that draft, however, it was probably not using some draft capital to move back up into the first round to grab Teddy Bridgewater. I think this would be a completely different team right now with him at the helm, to be honest (assuming he was healthy, of course).
2. There was some buzz before the season that Jadeveon Clowney would finally be ready to live up to his potential. How is he looking this season?
Phenomenal. He is downright dominant against the run, is starting to really come on as a pass rusher (at least from a pressure standpoint), and his positional flexibility has allowed Romeo Crennel to move him all over the front as a mobile chess piece. Obviously we wish there was a bit more tangible production in the form of sacks and tackles for loss, but he draws so much attention from opposing offensive lines that his mere presence alone has helped to open things up for everyone else. That'll do for now, in my opinion.
3. Even without JJ Watt, the Texans are statistically a top five defense. How are they doing it and who replaced Watt?
Jadeveon Clowney, hands down. I mentioned in the previous question that Crennel has been moving him around a lot, and that is because Clowney is now playing the pseudo-"flex" role that Watt used to play. He lines up as a 5-technique defense end, 3-technique defensive tackle, outside linebacker, 4-3 end, and even as a stand-up interior blitzer on some snaps simply because he can do all of those things if asked. He's not relegated to one particular spot in the front, so when he moves around it really screws with protection schemes and allows the defense to dictate what happens on the field. Now, I'm not about to predict that he is going to go out there and start dominating the likes of Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson, but his flexibility virtually guarantees that he will get lots of face time with virtually every member of that offense line. If one of them is having a bad day for some reason, expect Clowney to be trying to make him pay for it.
As for how the defense is playing so well around Clowney's new role, look no further than Benardrick McKinney. He has been racking up tackles this season at an alarming rate because of the freedom that Clowney's presence provides, and when he gets one on one matchups in pass protection he has been very effective as a blitzer. He's also extremely physical at the point of attack, and his surprising speed (for his size) has really made a difference when teams try to outflank this team with screens, sweeps, and tosses. Brian Cushing is still the heart, soul, and brain of the front seven, but McKinney is quickly establishing himself as the muscle. Look for him to make a few splashes on Monday night.
4. The Texans are strange. They have a negative 27 point differential. The rush offense looks formidable but the pass offense is terrible. And yet they are 6-3. Please explain this to me.
Your guess is as good as mine. They can't pass the ball, special teams has been truly "special", and road games against even semi-competent teams (let alone good ones) have been an unmitigated disaster so far this year. Were it not for the stellar performance of the defense, I'm not so sure that this club would have more than two wins right now - that is how bad this offense has been playing. Hell, Brock Osweiler threw for less than 100 yards on 27 ATTEMPTS last week. I didn't even know that was possible, and yet it happened. If the defense comes out again and rescues Osweiler on national television this week, maybe the Texans win this game in a squeaker...maybe. I won't be holding my breath for that, however.
5. Give me one lesser known Texans player on each side of the ball who you expect will have an impact in this game.
I already mentioned McKinney, so instead I will go with Whitney Mercilus. He is not exactly and unknown player, but he certainly is not a super star linebacker either like Khalil Mack or Von Miller. Even without the name recognition, however, he is a great edge rusher in his own right and a terrific run defender. He could give Donald Penn a lot of problems considering his tendency to give up pressures to dip-and-rips on obvious passing downs - that's a specialty of Mercilus.
On offense, Stephen Anderson is a rookie to watch moving forward. He is the least-used of the Texans trio of tight ends as of now, but he is also easily the most athletic of the bunch. Considering Oakland's deficiencies in coverage with their linebackers the last few years, I could see Bill O'Brien trying to get Anderson into favorable matchups against that group throughout the game.