Deshaun Watson loses key protector, first-round pick Tytus Howard to IR

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·Yahoo Sports Contributor
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The Houston Texans’ playoff chances this season took a major hit on Saturday when the team placed one of Deshaun Watson’s top pass protectors on the injured reserve.

Starting right tackle Tytus Howard, the 23rd overall pick and third tackle selected in the 2019 draft, will be done for the season due to a torn meniscus. Howard had missed three games earlier in the season with a sprained MCL, but this reveals that his injury was far worse than initially hoped.

In his limited playing time, Howard had a big impact, especially for a rookie. He only gave up two sacks while being called for five penalties for a total of 32 yards. Howard’s presence was also appreciated because of who he replaced.

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Along with the addition of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Howard has helped transform the Texans’ offensive line. It’s still not a dominant group but a major improvement over the Swiss cheese unit from years past.

The Texans’ 62 sacks allowed last season were by far the most allowed. The difference between them (62) and the second-place Dallas Cowboys (56) was larger than the difference between the Cowboys and 24th-ranked San Francisco 49ers. Now Houston is tied for 19th in sacks allowed, on pace to surrender just 48.

In Howard’s place, the Texans could start Chris Clark or Roderick Johnson, both of whom have filled in to start a pair of games this season. They could also add another offensive lineman via free agency or promote one of their three tackles from the practice squad but opted to call up defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes instead on Saturday.

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Houston Texans offensive tackle Tytus Howard (71) looks to block during the game between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texas on November 21, 2019 at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX.  (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Texans placed right tackle Tytus Howard on the IR with a torn meniscus. (Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

How does this affect the Texans’ playoff chances?

The Texans hold a one-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans in the AFC South, but that lead may not be too safe with a pair of games left against the Titans.

Keeping Watson upright has long been the most important goal for the Texans offense, which was the impetus for adding Tunsil and Howard this offseason. The added protection has helped him complete for a career-best 69.0 percent of his passes, and losing Howard is a crushing blow.

The good news is that the New England Patriots are their only remaining opponent with a strong pass rush, so teams won’t be able to press their biggest weakness that hard. The Texans would also still be in the running for a wild card if they can't win the South, but there are four non-division leaders at 6-5 to compete with.

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