Texans coach Gary Kubiak offered no excuses for his team’s total collapse during Sunday’s 40-33 loss at the New Orleans Saints.
But then again, there weren’t any to make.
The Texans showed a familiar trait of completely coming unglued when it mattered most Sunday. The ineptness in the fourth was probably the difference in a 10-6 season and the 6-10 campaign the Texans ultimately put together last year.
The Texans figured to have corrected the problem this season because they were a year older on offense and they brought in much-needed reinforcements in the secondary, safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, to take away the big pass. But it was more of the same Sunday when the Texans faced their first real challenge of the season and allowed 23 points – three touchdowns and two 2-point conversion passes – to be scored in the fourth quarter to open the door for the Saints rally.
“We gave up too many points in the fourth quarter defensively,” Kubiak said during Monday’s press conference. “Regardless of how you look at it, we had a lead with four minutes left in the game, so we got to close the game.”
But Kubiak made it clear he believes his team is on the right path to improving their ability to not only hold onto to leads in the fourth quarter but to build on them. It just didn’t happen Sunday.
“Yesterday, we were playing a good football team and you’re right, we did not close the game,” said Kubiak, whose 2-1 team hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. “We take full responsibility for that. We take whatever you want to give us from that standpoint. But we got a lot of confidence in what we’re doing and we get our chin back up today and correct our mistakes.”
But there seems to be plenty to clean up before the Texans encounter another explosive team Sunday. Chief among them will be getting second-year cornerback Kareem Jackson back on track after he gave up some big plays, including a key touchdown against the Saints. Jackson had seemed vastly improved from his rookie season in the first two games of this year.
Sunday, however, looked like a big step back.
Kubiak avoided placing all of the blame on Jackson but acknowledged he has to improve.
“Can Kareem play better than he played yesterday? Yeah, he can play better, but he had been playing pretty good football for us,” Kubiak said. “He had a good week last week, good week of practice. Any time you get beat, that’s not good enough as a team. That’s not just about Kareem. He’s got to get better, but so does everybody within the group.”
That was certainly apparent on the offensive side of the football as well where the Texans didn’t take good advantage of their opportunities. They went into the fourth quarter with a lead and couldn’t manage to build on it enough once the Saints turned up their intensity.
The failure that will continue to stick out came in the blown red zone opportunities. The Texans converted 1 of 5 trips into the red zone into a touchdown. They had to settle for field goals the other four times.
Kubiak said a variety of reasons played a part in the breakdowns in the red zone. The absence of running back Arian Foster, due to a continued hamstring problem, might have been one of them. Second-year back Ben Tate is good but there were some obvious miscues Sunday.
Against the Saints, the Texans ran the football 26 times in the red zone and 11 of the carries went for a yard or less.
“We’ve got to be more positive down there when we’re doing that,” Kubiak said. “Then I think out of 10 third downs we’ve had in the red zone this year, seven of them have been over eight yards. You’re putting yourself in poor position.
“I’ve got to look at myself, what I’m asking the guys to do. That’s where I start. That’s where I always start. Our coaches have got to do a better job in their preparation with their groups and players got to make plays when it’s time to make plays. We have a nice problem, going down there a lot. Obviously what we’re doing is not good enough and we’ve got to figure out a way to fix it, so big emphasis on that. We’ve got to get better.”
Part of that will depend on Foster getting healthy. Kubiak said they gave him the extra week of rest in hopes of letting his hamstring completely heal. Foster has missed two of the first three games and only ran the ball 10 times in the first half against Miami two weeks ago.
“Down there, the field gets very small,” Kubiak said. Every yard is huge. Positive yardage is huge. When you’re running the ball well, then you’re keeping yourself from 3rd and 8 at the eight. It’s just tough.”
Kubiak said both outside linebacker Mario Williams and Jackson got their knees banged up Sunday and are listed day-to-day but he expects both to play Sunday against the Steelers. Kubiak also seems hopeful Foster will be back in the starting lineup Sunday, as well.