Texans – Patriots: In A Nutshell

By Paul Gallant, SportsRadio 610

Is it possible to be satisfied with a 1-2 football team? I guess it is.

Wait, is it?

It’s hard to have a dominant feeling after the Texans 36 – 33 loss to the Patriots. It was quite the mixed bag.

You should be feeling great about Deshaun Watson, who took a massive step forward after his first career start.

You had the obvious “WOW!” moments courtesy of his legs. Like escaping 4-5 defenders and finding D’Onta Foreman for a huge play. Or breaking a guy’s ankles with a pump fake. Or somehow completing a pass while getting sacked. More importantly? He knew when to drop to the ground to avoid big hits.

As a passer? He was selling play fakes and looking off safeties like a 10 year veteran, especially down the seam. His passes downfield were more on target than they’d been (though he still overthrew a couple of open receivers). There were a couple of risky throws, a pass where he ran out of bounds for a sack instead of throwing it away, and a bone headed interception. But there’s no debating it, the kid has a lot of potential.

You should even be feeling better about Bill O’Brien’s offense after this one. He tailored an offense – one that I thought he’d stubbornly keep the same as it had been with non-mobile QBs – to Watson’s strengths. Bootlegs, read options, and designed quarterback draws were a staple for the Texans Sunday, and for the most part they worked really well. The Texans had 417 yards of offense and 33 points on the game. They only had 400 + yards and 20 + points ONCE last season: October 16th during a 26 – 23 overtime win over the Colts (414 yards).

But you should still be feeling frustrated. Because once again, the Texans LITERALLY let a win against the Patriots slip through their fingers. Earlier this year in their season ending playoff loss, it was C.J. Fiedorowicz and Will Fuller who were guilty. Corey Moore was the unfortunate dropper Sunday, as he was unable to catch what would have been a game clinching interception.

This was far from the Texans only missed opportunity. And when all of these things happen in a game against the Patriots . . .

  • Forgetting to cover Chris Hogan on a 47 yard touchdown (immediately after the Texans had called a timeout)
  • Allowing multiple conversions of 3rd and 10 + (3rd and 12, 3rd and 18 . . . also immediately after a Texans timeout) on the Patriots game winning drive
  • Failures recovering fumbles on 2 of the 3 strip sacks of Tom Brady
  • Or continuing to give the ball to Lamar Miller on third and short (did it twice, didn’t work either time)

. . . you’re probably going to lose. I had a feeling that the Texans would be able to keep things close on Sunday. For that prognostication to come true exactly, complete with couple of mistakes like that deciding the outcome . . . it’s super frustrating.

People are angry about 3 Bill O’Brien decisions Sunday. I don’t think either the first 2 are as big of a deal as people are making them to be, but let’s take a further look.

  • Challenging that Brady was down on the flip pass to Gronk, which cost a timeout:
    • First off, he was down. The call should have been overturned
    • Second, that difference of 15 yards (from where Brady was sacked to where Gronk ran) COULD have given the Patriots a chance to kick a field goal. It would have been a 55 yard attempt. Gostkowski’s career long is 57. That’s makeable. Why New England chose to punt instead? I’m not sure.
  • Not going for it on 4th and 1 on the final field goal drive:
    • Do you trust the Texans to convert that 4th and short? Sorry, I don’t. And if you miss on that play, and all Brady has to do is kick a field goal? We’re torching O’Brien for deciding to go for it.
    • You SHOULD trust the Texans defense – yes, even against Tom Brady – that had forced 3 straight Patriots punts and 2 straight 3 and outs.
    • What I am second guessing? Why the Texans handed the ball off to Lamar Miller instead of D’Onta Foreman on the 3rd and 1 the play before.
  • Not calling a timeout when Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins had a brain fart on the last drive of the game:
    • Inexcusable. Yes, Watson is a rookie. So O’Brien has to be there to bail him out there and call the timeout. That did not happen.
    • Also, what was Hopkins doing there? He’s a veteran player. He should have known to call a timeout.
    • Seriously. Not to humble brag (this is a total humble brag), but in high school I had a carry in the last two minutes of a first half. I IMMEDIATELY called our second timeout with about 20 seconds left. I scored right before the half on this drive. The point here? It doesn’t have to be the head coach or QB calling a timeout. Also, I scored multiple touchdowns. Sup.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about the situations above. But after a few weeks where getting mad about Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense was totally warranted, I don’t feel the same way this week.

Maybe I should be. Again, the Texans are 1-2. And a loss Sunday against the possibly not over-hyped Titans could see Houston in third place. Yeah, behind both Tennessee AND Jacksonville. But I’m happy about the direction of this team. They finally have a quarterback. And they might even have a competent offense!

Other Assorted Thoughts:

  • I’m so tired of the Texans screwing up on special teams. This week’s terrible moment came courtesy of gunner Jordan Todman, who decided to run inside of Danny Amendola instead of squaring up on him in punt coverage. Amendola merely ran where Todman wasn’t, and with a wall of blockers on the short side of the field cruised for a 33 yard return. It set the Patriots up in great field position (Houston’s 49) for their first touchdown.
  • J.J. Watt was a man possessed at the beginning of the game, opening with back to back tackles for a loss AND a tackle for no gain on the first Patriots possession. But as the game wore on? I didn’t notice him much. Part of that was because he was getting double teamed so much. Still, it was a little alarming seeing him gassed in the fourth quarter on the Patriots eventual game winning drive.
  • The Texans pass rush was in Tom Brady’s face all day, and should be proud of the effort. Obviously the Whitney Mercilus strip sack, Clowney return for a touchdown was the biggest highlight. But sacking Brady 5 times and hitting him 9 times is just as impressive. Clowney (2 sacks), safety Marcus Gilchrist, and defensive end Christian Covington were all a part of the party.
  • I really like linebacker Zach Cunningham. He held his own in coverage (he actually stuck with Rob Gronkowski all the way on an eventual Gronk reception), and used his speed to prevent a couple of plays from escalating. He had an active day.
  • It was a rough day for the Texans secondary though. I get it. It isn’t easy to cover guys like Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, especially if they’re getting away with offensive pass interference calls that Ryan Griffin gets flagged for (expect a post on that later this week). But you can’t allow 3 passing plays of 40 yards plus in a game. You can’t allow conversions on third and long with that pass rush supporting you. Yet the Patriots converted a 3rd & 13, a 3rd & 10, a 3rd & 12, and a 3rd & 18 Sunday. They were 4-7 in 3 & 10 +  (and ran give up draws in 2 of those situations).
  • Speaking of Ryan Griffin, he and Bruce Ellington were MUCH NEEDED reinforcements for the Texans offense. My frustration with Braxton Miller continues to grow, but these two combined for 9 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s fair to say their absence was a PART of the Houston’s early offensive struggles.
  • C.J. Fiedorowicz is definitely still missed. The man can catch AND block. The other Texans tight ends – Griffin and Stephen Anderson – aren’t great blockers, and whiffs by them led directly to Deshaun Watson’s first interception (Griffin) and a failed 3rd and 1 conversion (Anderson).
  • Houston found themselves in a lot of manageable third down situations, something that hasn’t often been the case for Bill O’Brien offenses. They struggled in situations of 3rd and 5 + (1-6, with the only conversion coming on second effort extending the ball by Bruce Ellington), but when they were in manageable situations, they thrived. The Texans were 5-8 on 3rd and < 5 (with 2 of the failures being Lamar Miller runs on 3rd and 1), and were particularly successful in those situations running quarterback draws out of the shotgun (2-2). Getting things to third and short might not be easy against defenses better than the Patriots, but this was a nice development.
  • The Texans offensive line improved for the second straight week. But I’m not sure what to make of it. I think the Patriots front 7 isn’t very good. It might even be bad. Another effort like this against the Titans could change my mind.
  • D’Onta Foreman needs more snaps. Both in short yardage AND passing situations. He had 10 touches on the game for 90 yards. I’d love to see more of that shotgun formation featuring BOTH Lamar Miller and Foreman on the field.

Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – Tuesday 9-11 PM CT, Wednesdays and Fridays 8-11 PM CT – on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or his facebook page.

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