We’re in a weird era of Houston Texans football.
Going into Sunday, the Texans were 2-8 against playoff teams in the Bill O’Brien era. And they’ve had particularly bad luck against the Kansas City Chiefs of late. So when Houston took down KC 19-12 at NRG Stadium yesterday, I assumed I’d see a lot of happy thoughts!
Yet here I was – with the Texans at 2-0 – seeing a whole lot of whining on the internet. “The offense stunk.” “These special teams are a train wreck”. “Why didn’t Case Keenum get a fair shot here?”
I’m typically glass half empty guy. But I can’t feel that way after Sunday, no matter how ugly the win was. The Texans didn’t play their best football, yet still beat a playoff team that gave them hell last year. Baby steps like that are necessary if they want to climb the ladder into Eliteland. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Winning ugly is still winning. And the next two games – against a Patriots team down to a rookie third string quarterback and the “Exotic Smashmouth” Titans – are certainly winnable. 4-0 is quite possible.
But before that, let’s look back at Sunday.
Bravo to the Texans defense. Seriously. Bravo. For all his clock management issues, Andy Reid remains one of the best offensive coaches in the game. He throws you off balance by remaining balanced. Yet his offense just couldn’t do anything Sunday.
It all started with containing tight end Travis Kelce. The Texans threw A.J. Bouye – one of the pleasant surprises of the season thus far – and others at poor man’s Gronk. And it worked! Kelce – who had 14 catches for 234 yards and 2 TDs against the Texans last year – managed just 5 catches for 34 yards.
Then look at the pass rush. They sacked the elusive Alex Smith 4 times and hit him 9 more. And it wasn’t just the usual suspects. J.J. Watt – who had his first 1.5 sacks of the year – Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney were disruptive all over the field. But Benardrick McKinney (1 sack) and John Simon (1.5) also got in on the action.
If you look at the Chiefs running game, you’d see that they averaged 6.3 yards a carry. That’s quite misleading. Aside from a 25 yard run by Spencer Ware in the second quarter, Kansas City couldn’t make any plays on the ground. And yes, I’m discounting Charcandrick West’s 28 yard run from his own 16 in the final minute of the second quarter, along with a 21 yard carry by West with 2:46 to play. Long running plays like that aren’t really helpful in those kind of situations.
What I enjoyed the most? The Texans ACTIVELY trying to take away the ball from the Chiefs, which isn’t easy to do given how Alex Smith usually takes care of the ball. The Texans forced and recovered 3 fumbles (including 1 that happened after a bad shotgun snap) and had another takeaway called back thanks to a shaky interpretation of the catch rule.
Cool story, Dean. Let’s forget about the call and laud the Texans for using Charles Tillman tactics to force the ball on the ground.
“WHO CAN MAKE A PLAY? Probably us! We’re just quiet and stuff.”
DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller – AKA the Silent Secondary Assassins (C- nickname but screw it I’m applying for a trademark) – were money Sunday. DeAndre Hopkins matching up with Marcus Peters was a treat to watch. Hopkins made many plays, 7 catches for 113 yards, a TD, and another score that got called back (more on that later). So did Peters, who had 2 interceptions. Still, Hopkins won the day.
Across from Hopkins, the Will Fuller experience was another thriller. There were no drops, though his bobble of that 53 yard reception in the first quarter may have caused a few heart palpitations. He had 4 for 104 on the day, and continues to be a great complement to DeAndre Hopkins.
Yeah I couldn’t think of anything cute here. These things happen when you realize your “In A Nutshell” post is approaching 1600 words…
If you look at the stat sheet, you’d see that Osweiler threw 1 TD pass and 2 INTs. Combine that with 9 red zone points on 4 trips, and I’d typically say something snooty. Like a wine connoisseur hating on $9.00 wine from a grocery store. Sorry. Can’t help it. I’m a quarterback snob.
Osweiler could have been much better Sunday – the goalline interception was indefensible, and that stretch of 3 straight 3 and outs in the second quarter could have cost them against a better offense – but, I can’t say it was a bad day. He has great touch on throws ~20 yards down the field, puts the ball in great spots for his receivers, AND had 2 TDs nullified by a bad call and a Jaelen Strong drop. Headlines like this salty butt hurt bullsh*t from Denver are inaccurate. It’s been far from perfect, but in 2 starts for Bill O’Brien Osweiler has shown promise.
I thought this would be a sloppy affair all week. And that thought was confirmed before the kickoff when
Enrico Palazzo that poor sap screwed up the national anthem.
Not only did the “Twilight’s last gleaming” gleam again, but he didn’t even sing the best part of the song: “Gallantly streaming”. Which is my last name. Not to mention the perfect catch phrase for me to land me an endorsement for prostate medication. [Write that down, sales staff].
By the way, if you screw up in the middle of the national anthem, I’ve got no beef with you. We all mess up. But when you ham up the National Anthem? Drag out syllables? Do your own interpretation of how it’s supposed to sound? That’s where you lose me. Sorry bro, but you’re probably not Whitney Houston.
RED ZONE? More like DEAD Zone
The Texans red zone offense is a serious problem. They were unable to score a touchdown today – DeAndre Hopkins’ TD catch was from 27 yards away – managing just 3 field goals and a goal-line interception. They’ve scored just 1 touchdown in 7 red opportunities this year.
Obvious statement: When you get down there, you’ve got to punch it into the end zone. Because it adds up. The Texans have scored 22 points out of a possible 49 in that area thus far. Having a great defense makes this hurt a lot less, but at some point it’s going to cost them.
So what’s the problem? And what’s the solution?
Osweiler obviously can’t throw an interception down there. And Jaelen Strong has to catch the football when it’s right in his hands (those 2 mistakes cost the Texans 11 points). After that? I don’t have the answer.
I asked Bill O’Brien what he thought the root of the problem might be, and he said penalties. They’ve definitely been a factor and cost the Texans twice against the Bears. It didn’t cost the Texans on their first red zone drive. That honor belongs to the NFL’s ever non-sensical catch rule.
Yeah, that was clearly a touchdown.
Preach Bill. By the way, that was in response to a question about a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PLAY. That was in reference to the afore-mentioned 4th fumble. Does anyone know what a catch is anymore?
Back to the penalties. They weren’t a problem on the Texans 2nd red zone drive. That one is all on Strong’s hands. And they weren’t a problem on the Texans 3rd red zone drive either. Chris Clark was called for a hold during a 3rd and 5 play from the Chiefs 13, but the Texans were unable to convert the third down anyway. Basically, they weren’t a part of the problem this week.
Things get tight in the red zone. There’s less field for receivers like Will Fuller to get open. And jump balls to guys like DeAndre Hopkins are 50/50 propositions (well, maybe 60/40). So what can you do?
- Hit up one of the tight ends, who are at the very least better than they were last year.
- Give it to your running back. But this has also been a problem. The offensive line is taking steps in the right direction, but slowly. Their short yardage back Alfred Blue is . . . replaceable. And Lamar Miller’s strength is running with the ball in open space. He’s been showing a lot of patience with the workload he’s gotten thus far. But he’s missed some chances to break it to the outside for a big play.
Brock Osweiler took the blame for the Texans red zone struggles Monday. And while the interception was on him – and Marcus Peters making a great play – I think it was more of a team effort. Still, they won’t be able to win against the Patriots with 9 points in 4 red zone trips Thursday. Yes, even with rookie Jacoby Brissett starting for New England.
I was hoping that Special Teams Coordinator Larry Izzo would turn the Texans special teams unit around. But outside of kicker Nick Novak (I was surprised by how close that 57 yard attempt was) and punter Shane Lechler, Sunday was a step back:
- Kansas City punt returner Tyreek Hill is really fast. Just ask Charles James. And based off what I saw yesterday, he could very well be the best returner the Texans face in 2016. But come on coverage units, you’ve got to be better. Hill averaged 16 yards a return, AND had a kick return touchdown that was called back.
- I’m not sure what tomfoolery the Texans were up to with their fake trick play return to open the game. But it didn’t help Tyler Ervin at all.
- Ervin didn’t do too well on the punt return side of things either. He caught a punt inside the 10 yard line – a serious no no – and was tackled immediately after. The rookie needs more reps.
- Still, it would help if the return team would – I don’t know – block for the guy. Corey Moore had a rough time trying to ward off gunners. That’s one of the few ways you’re going to get playing time Corey. Gotta fix that.
Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – Tuesdays 9-11 PM, Wednesdays 8-11 PM, and Fridays 8-11 PM on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57 and the Spoiler Alert Podcast – available weekly on iTunes and SportsRadio610.com. Get in touch with Paul via email or his facebook page.