Although the Texans’ roster has been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic with wide receiver Brandin Cooks and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn the latest key players to test positive during a major outbreak on the AFC South franchise, the NFL isn’t making plans to postpone Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email that “No discussions” have been held about changing the date of kickoff, which is set for Sunday at noon at NRG Stadium. The NFL postponed three games last week and held them Monday and Tuesday night amidst a major increase of positive cases around the league.
The NFL, in conjunction with chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, and the NFL Players Association staff make these determinations based on health and safety, competitive reasons and local health situations.
The Texans have 18 players on the reserve-COVID-19 list, including Cooks, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, linebacker Eric Wilson, the Texans’ only unvaccinated player, per coach David Culley, defensive linemen Jaleel Johnson, Jon Greenard, Jacob Martin, Derek Rivers and Maliek Collins, linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill, Christian Kirksey and Tae Davis, offensive guards Lane Taylor and Justin McCray, safeties A.J. Moore and Terrence Brooks, cornerback Terrance Mitchell along with practice squad running back Jaylen Samuels and cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker, still on injured reserve with a hamstring strain, has been activated from the COVID-19 reserve list.
The Chargers are playing without defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Austin Ekeler after they tested positive.
The majority of the Texans’ players have mild or no symptoms, including Cooks, according to league sources. Several players self-reported symptoms, per sources.
“That’s a good question,” Texans center Justin Britt said when asked what he thinks about postponing games due to a COVID outbreak. My answer would be that as players, we need the league to be consistent with what they want. Not to say one thing and for another week, because this is a different team, to switch it up for whatever reason they have. You ask us to be consistent, we ask you to be equally consistent.”
The latest loss of Cooks is particularly crippling to an offense that relies heavily on his explosive presence: w
Cooks leads the Texans with 945 receiving yards and caught two touchdowns in a 30-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Texans have some depth behind Cooks, but don’t have a kicker on the active roster with Fairbairn sidelined. They worked out kicker Dominik Eberle last week and he could be added to the roster. Safety Justin Reid is the Texans’ emergency kicker
Fairbairn hit 52-yard and 51-yard field goals against the Jaguars and a franchise-record 61-yard kick against the Seattle Seahawks. Fairbairn has hit 14 of 17 field goals and 10 of 13 extra points for the NFL’s second-lowest scoring offense.
Texans coach David Culley said, if he was to test positive, associate head coach and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith would fill in for his duties as head coach.
“We don’t change the game plan so much as we go ahead and say, ‘This is what we want to do,’” Culley said. “We’re game planning them as if the guys that are going to play are going to be there. If a guy tests positive for COVID and happens to be one of the guys we’ve got plays for, it’s the next man up. For the most part, we went through all of this last year.
“This year it’s been, probably in the last two or three weeks, kind of rampant from the standpoint of guys coming up the day before the game or two or three days before the game and you’re not sure they are going to get their two negative tests to be able to go, the guys that are vaccinated. Basically, we try to not let it be a distraction and disruption and we just go with the next guy up.”
Losing Cooks is significant on and off the field. He leads the Texans with 968 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.
Cooks is on the Texans’ player leadership council.
“He’s a voice that holds weight, holds volume,” Britt said. “He’s gone about it the right way. He’s someone who shows up consistently working day in and day out as professional as they come, and someone that you want to have on your team to help feed the energy and that work ethic. It’s up there at the top.”
On Tuesday, Johnson tested positive for the Texans and was placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list, joining starting ends Jon Greenard and Martin and Derek Rivers along with starting defensive tackle Collins.
The Texans signed defensive linemen Xavier Williams (6-foot-3, 309 pounds) and Ron'Dell Carter (6-foot-3, 269 pounds) to the active roster. Williams worked out for the Texans previously. He had 22 tackles and one sack last season for the Cincinnati Bengals. Carter is a former Dallas Cowboys undrafted free agent from James Madison University.
Culley said the Texans plan to start defensive tackles Ross Blacklock and Roy Lopez Jr. They’re expected to start defensive ends Jordan Jenkins and Chris Smith, who would be elevated from the practice squad. Smith had a sack against the Jaguars.
Greenard tested positive on Saturday and missed the Texans' 30-16 road win at Jacksonville.
“We’ve been playing eight guys there for the most part all year,” Culley said. “They’ve been kind of splitting time. We’re adding some guys to that list that have been on our practice squad with us, adding those guys up.
“But some of those guys that have been playing maybe 20 plays will end up playing 30 plays now. Instead of having to split the time, they’ll probably going to play even more because of the experience.”
It’s a difficult situation for the Texans, who were extremely shorthanded at practice Wednesday as they held a modified walkthrough.
“I feel like you do the best you can to avoid getting COVID, but it’s kind of one of those things that might be out of your control,” Britt said. “But wash your hands, wear your mask, social distance and just kind of tune in to the protocols and what they ask of you. If you feel like you need to go test, do so, because we’ve got to protect our families and our loved ones first and foremost.”
Toward the end of the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL is doing all it can to get games played and maintain the health of the players. It’s a balancing act between health and safety and trying to keep the business of football running.
“Whatever the NFL has you to do from the COVID standpoint, you do it,” Culley said when asked about his experience with the Baltimore Ravens last year in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. “I thought they did a great job up there of doing that. We basically just went business as usual. I know I keep saying this over and over about next man up mentality, but the football team actually understands that. It’s no different than if injuries were happening. Unfortunately, with COVID it’s been a bunch of guys that it’s been affecting. Basically, you just go business as usual and just kind of stay the course and not let it become a disruption or a distraction with your team.”