Baltimore in the rear mirror and no holding back
Bill O’Brien’s tenure of the Texans has been under scrutiny many times in his six year span as the head coach. The recent heightened responsibility given by ownership to make roster moves is in part, what is fuelling the current heat. There is no doubt that that last weeks score will have hurt many and there is a need to have a short memory, as defeat to the Colts tonight would be nothing short of disastrous. Unthinkable even. Sunday’s short comings were obvious to see and in many cases, foreboded but tonight is a chance to not let it define the season.
The frustration is born out of a realisation that the 2019 Texans, just as many of its previous vintages, have a glass ceiling confining them. The question which is often inferred by the fan-base as the main point of contention with OB – is it the head coach that is the reason for that ceiling? In reality, the answer is multi-faceted but the buck now only stops with Billy’O. when it comes to the franchise’s success or lack of it.
It beg’s the question, would an alternative man at the helm achieve a far more positive outcome from this current roster? Perhaps not and definitively not if your quarterback plays as Deshaun Watson did last Sunday. Tonight is the first and most importance step on the road back to at least install a belief. A belief that these next seven games are for something and this team won’t go down without a fight. Similarly, a cause for optimism can be sought from O’Brien’s track record of pulling out results when they have been needed the most. A skill that’s kept him in a job, but the ability to take a team to certified contenders remains in serious doubt.
Tonight, marks a run of six games, beginning with three in a row at home games and 4 in total. Only road trips to Nashville and a Week 17 jaunt to Tampa Bay will serve at the only remaining tests for club’s the operations staff. But one game at a time, is often a mentality thats required in sport and no more so for O’Brien and the Texans.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Short, sharp and Often: The passing game must find a rhythm and do so early. The Texans passing game is successful when the ball is coming out quick and not over-burdening the line with blocking for more than 4-5 seconds. Stills, Hopkins and Keke are all strong in the underneath game – all three will be asked to provide a quick outlet to keep the chains moving. Holding the ball, is Deshaun’s worst trait and will only invite Justin Houston, Autry and Sheard who are tough to block but this task is easier if the ball is coming out, on time and keeping them on their heels. The Colts DC has shown an ability to get into Watson’s head with blended coverages, so the quicker the release, the less time they have to settle into their concepts and the offence can dictate the calls to them rather than the inverse.
Run, Run and Run Some More: O’Brien can’t lose faith in the running game. The 1-2 punch and complimentary skill sets of Duke and Hyde are a good match. Mixing up the run attack and keeping the defence honest, to force the Colts in bringing extra bodies into the box, will allow the passing game to not be predicable when called. The quick, dump-off passes are an extension of the run game, there few better than no. 25 & Fells to help with higher percentage plays and adds a tertiary element for the defence to consider. The greater prevalence of this on the the call sheet and limiting drop-backs will be key to avoiding a repeat of the unnecessary pressures that saw Watson get hit 10 times with 7 sacks for good measure.
Time of Possession and Extending Drives: there are times to hit the deep shot and let’s hope that the reports of Will Fuller’s return are accurate. Fuller is a game changer and effective beyond many of the league’s offensive weapons, when he’s on the field. But that being said, the Texans best chance of victory is keeping their own defence off the field. Extending drives has been Hopkins MO this season and leads all receivers in first downs. By balancing the offence, not having to force the issue after a slow start or chasing a points deficit will be imperative for Texans to influence their share of the play.
Overmatched in the Trenches: The playmakers who the team can count on across the front line aren’t easy to see, as the rush hasn’t been there. The Colts offensive line is a top-three unit in the league and its tough to see tonight as a bounce back game. The front seven can influence the game by playing disciplined football and stopping the run. The Texans dropped down the ranking’s in run defence after last week’s disastrous outing, but again, this is motivation to respond.
The Colts offence is predicated around being able to run the ball. The loss of Mack to a broken hand will hurt them and likely mean a committee approach with Wilkins and Williams, the later coming of a 116-yard introductory game last week. Limiting the run and forcing more passing downs than Frank Reich would ideally like, will only help the Texans pull them away from their desired offensive formula. There aren’t any more daunting task that going into to battle with superstar guard Quinen Nelson, but can be a barometer of just how far DJ Reader has come this season.
Health & Safety of the Secondary: Who will play at safety? Gipson hasn’t look fully fit despite returning, Reid and Adams are both ruled out. Tonight, will require a big performance from the entire unit to inhibit Brissett from having a repeat of the week seven defeat. Injuries saw some of the team get its first action that week and the lack of communication and knowledge of assignments was obvious and Jacoby had his best game of the year with a 300-yard plus performance. That will need to be rectified, with Lonnie J. Jr ruled out, it’s expected that, newly acquired Vernon Hargreaves will come in on Nickle and Dime packages with hopefully a healthy Bradly Roby and J. Joseph manning the flanks.
Solid, not Spectacular required: In tight divisional games can often come down to 4th-down-teams, just as the Colts can testify, as their three game prior to last week all came down to this very fact. Fairburn, when called upon will needs to be clutch, the poor holding from Brian Anger will need to be a point of focus. The return game hasn’t given any spark to drives to note this season, so tonight would provide a great time to awaken.
Health of Both Teams
It would appear both side’s secondaries are littered with injuries. Peirre Desir – the Colt’s best cover corner hasn’t played in a number of weeks so will return to cover Hopkins. Hopefully, Nuke can use Desir’s time away against him and be the sharper of the line. Rock Ya-Sin, TY Hilton & Eric Ebron are all questionable and are influential to the Colts and what they do. TY’s history in Houston speaks for himself, similar to Desir, it will be interesting to see how close to full fitness he his and how much the Texans can limit his traditional wrecking of their game plan, regardless who’s covering him.
No looking back
Cutting it loose, playing free. Whatever Watson wants to call it. That’s whats required tonight. The offence, is this team. D4, more than most, needs to return to a performance he’d be willing to put his name against. Win and save the season. As mediocrity isn’t something that the people of Houston will stomach easily. However, the offence has shown they can hang with the Leagues best when it’s firing on all cylinders. Getting back to that tonight, is a chance in many ways, to start again and put a run together. If that can be the be the case, could the Texans do something they’ve never managed and exceed expectations?
COLTS @ TEXANS; NRG STADIUM, 8:20 PM CT
THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL – FOX
SKY SPORTS ACTION (1.20am BST)