Behind Enemy Lines

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Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Texans



NASHVILLE, Tenn. –The Titans face the Texans on Sunday in Houston.  **

The Titans are coming off a 33-27 victory over the Seahawks, a win that improved the team's record to 2-1.

The Texans are 1-2, and coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Patriots.

This week, I caught up with John McClain, who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. You can follow John on Twitter @McClainonNFL, and join over 135,000 others.

Here's how our conversation went…

Wyatt: Hey John. Great to talk to you again, and I appreciate you doing this. First off, I want to ask: How are things in the city a month after Hurricane Harvey?

McClain: Well, there's no more flooding. At the time, a lot of roads were flooded, and what was taking like 20 minutes to get to work was taking two hours for some people because main arteries were shut down, and people had to find other ways. Like for me to go to the stadium, it usually takes me 20 minutes if I leave after rush hour like I do, and it was taking 1 ½ to 2 hours. So people were going on and on about how bad the traffic was, but it's gotten better. In the suburbs, I know there are some areas – and they are kind of close to the stadium – where really nice neighborhoods in which you drive down the street and there is debris still stacked up by the curb where it looks like a war zone. It doesn't matter if it's multi-million dollar homes or one-story homes from the 1950s. And there was a controversy because some people were parking and going around and going through all this debris from inside houses to see if there was anything they wanted to salvage. People didn't like it because a lot of their keepsakes were ruined. I think I heard it would take over $100 million to clean up the whole Houston area from all the flooding. As far as getting around, it is business as usual. There's things still shut down, but not the road ways.

Wyatt: Of course I want to ask you about the Texans. After three games, what has stood out good and bad?

McClain: In the first game against Jacksonville they gave up 10 sacks, so that was terrible. The offensive line could not have been worse. And that's how Deshaun Watson got to play in the second half, because Tom Savage is a statue and he was getting killed. Watson got sacked four times, but in the next game against the Bengals he didn't have a turnover -- what should have been a pick-6 was dropped – but he played better. Against the Patriots he played really well. He's started two games on the road and now they have three in a row at home plus the bye week before they go to Seattle, so they are looking at this as an opportunity to bounce back and having a winning record. Everybody is going, "Oh my gosh, they are not going to beat the Titans and the Chiefs." I say, well, they beat them here last year with Brock Osweiler as quarterback. So if they beat them last year they could beat them this year, although the Titans are better. Bill O'Brien is getting murdered for three decisions he made against the Patriots at the end of the game, but if they lose by 20 there would be no controversy. The offensive line has been better, but they have two tackles who probably shouldn't be starting. They have been better, but they don't even come close to comparing to the Titans on the o-line. The front seven on defense has played well. J.J. Watt is the highest graded player by Pro Football Focus the last two weeks, even though he doesn't have a sack. He's played great against the Titans, though. He'll need to have a big game if they want to win. Jadeveon Clowney has the stats, and everybody is talking about him, but Clowney is not getting doubled like Watt. The front seven got after Tom Brady with five sacks and they forced him to fumble four times, and Clowney returned one for a touchdown. But the secondary was awful – it was as bad as I've ever seen it. Brady just killed them – he threw for 378. Their goal against the Titans will be to try and stop the run and see if they can get after Marcus Mariota. The front seven has been mostly good against the run – Leonard Fournette went for over 100 yards, but it took him a lot of credit to get it. But they've improved in each of the last two games against the run.

Wyatt: How has rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson performed, and how do fans like him there?

McClain: *People here are so pumped it is amazing, because he is hope at quarterback. After all those quarterbacks, they are saying now they finally have their quarterback. It is all anybody is talking about, Deshaun Watson. And they are killing Bill O'Brien because they didn't have him as No.1 from the get-go. … He has gotten better, but clearly Savage was better in preseason and training camp. Once Watson got his chance in the first game, they stuck with him. He has gotten better every game. Now I figure Dick LeBeau is going to try and confuse him like crazy, but his escapability is pretty amazing, and he has a much better arm than people thought. I went back and looked at all the scouting reports by the so-called experts, and the only one that I've seen that looks to be accurate is Mike Mayock. I'll say this: When he comes out for the first time – and I don't know if they'll introduce offense or defense – the fans are going to go crazy. Because Houston has what Nashville got three seasons ago: Hope at quarterback.   *

Wyatt: I want to ask you about Amy Adams Strunk, someone you've known a long time dating back to the days of covering the Oilers. What did you think about her $1 million donation to J.J. Watt's fundraising effort following the hurricane?

McClain: Well first of all, and I have told people this, I think Amy has done an incredible job. People were skeptical when she took over, and she has been great. I don't know her well, but every time I see her she is laughing and cutting up. She looks like she'd be a whole lot of fun to have a beer with, although now she probably drinks wine. No, she probably still drinks beer. But whether she drinks beer or not, Amy Adams Strunk strikes me as the kind of woman who would be fun to have a beer with. When I see her, she seems to be really happy. When she gave that $1 million, it was such an incredible thing. She was the first owner to give money to Watt, and when she gave $1 million to J.J. Watt's Hurricane relief fund I think it caused (the fundraising efforts) to really take off. Her being an owner and stepping up to the plate like that, for her hometown, I think that got even more recognition than anybody else would because she was an owner. I think she has surprised a lot of people with how well she has done. She's done a great job.

Wyatt: The Titans have a chance to win three straight on Sunday, and drop the Texans to 1-3. How big of game is this in your mind for the Texans?

McClain: If the Texans don't win it, they'll be 0-2 in the AFC South with two losses at home. So they have to win. If they win they'll be tied with the Titans. Jacksonville may win (against the Jets) and stay on top, but I don't really see them as winning this division. The Texans are trying to win it for the fifth time in seven years, and three in a row, and most everybody picked the Titans to end that stranglehold on them, including me. So it would be huge for the Titans because they could start 2-0 in the division with two road wins. It is huge for them. It would be a serious advantage in the AFC South if they win. It is huge for both teams for different reasons.

Wyatt: OK, last thing here. I must say, I've noticed I have a lot of Twitter followers from Houston, and they're Titans fans. And I regularly get messages from Titans fan clubs in Texas. Every time the Titans play down there, I see a good number of Titans fans. How big is the pocket of Titans fans in Houston? And how much do the Texans fans hate the Titans?

McClain: The Titans have fans here, and the funny thing is, I don't know anybody that hates the Titans. I am doing a Sunday story on why these two teams don't hate each other. It seems like it should have been a natural rivalry, but everyone hates the Cowboys. I have never hear anyone say: I hate the Titans. Texans fans hated Cortland Finnegan. But there's been three times when I thought this rivalry might take off. The first was after Vince Young's touchdown run here. And there was a game in Nashville the Texans won and players were ejected for fighting. There was controversy, but things didn't take off. And then there was the Finnegan game. But it still hasn't been a really heated rivalry. I think the main reason is they haven't both been good at the same time where there's been a lot of mouthing off. I remember Eric Winston ripping (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, and of course Andre Johnson would rip Finnegan, but he was so quiet when he did it, it didn't get big headlines. I have a bunch of friends that like the Texans as their team, but the Titans are 1A because they were Oilers fans. And I know several people here who are Titans fans because they were the Oilers, but they don't hate the Texans. I just don't see any hate. I just don't know the rivalry is what it should be.  I feel like the Texans, and this is just something I feel and nobody has said, but I feel like the Texans dislike the Jaguars for some reason, but they don't dislike the Titans beyond just being a division rival. looks back at the all-time series against the Houston Texans. (AP Photos, Donn Jones)

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