TEXANS ARE STILL ALIVE AFTER THURSDAY NIGHT

The Texans show their offensive strength in a bruising counter against the Colts, Thursday night, winning 20-17. Deshaun & Hopkins combine to deliver two scores and keep control of their own 2019 destiny. The win sees Houston take the lead in the AFC South and are set for a five game run-in. The win perhaps forged more relief than accomplishment but nonetheless it was a vital victory at a time where no other result would suffice.

Thursday Night Football, felt distinctly flat as many battled their way to the stadium amidst the Houston rush hour traffic. The colour rush jersey is a darker shade of blue, but there were many empty seats as the game kicked-off. Of course, this could not be attributed to the slow start that the Texans once again showed in this game, as they now trail the league in opening drive points. However, as they had done so in their six previous wins, they were able to battle back from a deficit and clinch their seventh win of the season.

This was more than a win, as a loss would have meant that they would have trailed the Colts by effectively a two game margin. The Texans would have been reliant on an unblemished record and Colts losses to clinch a home field tie in the wildcard. As the first and second seed would appear out of reach, barring a Baltimore or New England late season collapse.

Health Played a Factor

Much of the talk leading up to game was on who would be active on the short week. The Texans appeared to be hampered in the secondary but found a way to cover this, Vernon Hargreaves played a pivotal role, considering his time with the team.

The most welcomed sight was the return of Will Fuller to the offence, who is perhaps the second most integral part of the Texans play book after Watson, in terms of pure effectiveness. His performance, was a major factor in the moving the ball down the field when the running game wasn’t able to pay dividends. Now averaging 73.8 yards per game this season, his long ball ability and all round production is a force the Texans can ill afford to have out injured.

Nov 21, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts cornerback Pierre Desir (35) tackles Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (15) during the first half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

TY Hilton was active for Indy but was unable to impact the game in his typical treacherous way. The lack of deep ball impacted the Colts passing attack, limiting their offence. Hilton was seen to be losing his cool as the second half progressed and was frustrated by a number of near catches that typically you’d expect him to make. Unaided by Eric Ebron’s health, who has similarly been impactful game against the Texans in recent memory, also failed to make any substantial impact on proceedings. Ebron has subsequently placed on the season ending, IR list, perhaps an insight into the health versus asks from the Colts in this game.

The Texans were the healthier team and it made a clear impact on the game, where Indy lacked a spark, the Texans combatted their run attack with big plays in the passing game, that proved just enough to edge the clash and Watson had his fourth highest total offensive yards of the season.

Finding the Passing game

The return of both Will Fuller and Jordan Thomas was welcomed news for the offence and both will add elements that haven’t been available to Watson in previous weeks. But it’s the former, that changes the way this offence looks and the approach that defences take. It was clear from the way in which both touchdowns occurred – incidentally Hopkins had his first multi-score game since week 1 – the safeties were clear in their priorities to help the corners cover number 15. Malik Hooker had a night to forget on the back end and rookie Khari Willis was out, but without the help of safeties and their focus elsewhere, Hopkins went to work on Piere Desir. Two touchdowns on the night, two game balls for his mother in the end-zone and dramatically different passing attack with Fuller who hauled in passes of 44 & 51 yards, en route to a 160-yard performance.

Work to be Done on The Run

The pass protection was solid and provided a basis for the 298 yards & 9.9 yards per attempt. The interception and there quite possibly should have been more, were down to Watson’s reading of the field. Kenny Stills appears to have fallen down the pecking order when Watson is looking for targets and missed him, wide open, on the failed 4th down attempt. This is something Watson will need to all but irradiate if this team wants to ride its offence to victory, beyond the regular season.

The biggest concern for the offence would have been the lack of run production. Going into the fourth quarter, the Texans were under 40 running yards. When they needed it the most they found a way, no more exemplified by the audible Watson called at the line to spring Hyde free for 33 yards and helping set up the second touchdown later in the drive.

Bruising hits and Bleeding the Clock

The Colts simply set out to dominate the Texans physically and run the ball down their throats. Their game plan was to control the time of possession and limit the Texans offensive snaps. For the large part they succeeded. Initially the Texans forced Brissett off the field and their first TD of the game was a result of a short-field, post the interception. As the second half continued and the Texans defence’s run downs continued to mount, the Colts looked like they were in the ascendancy. The unit had to withstand a serious physical endurance however, they seemed to find a way to make enough plays and limit the Colts to only one self made touchdown.

The linebackers are the strength of this unit and the 4th down stop by Brennan Scarlett was key to allow the offence to see the game out. The combination of Mckinney and Cunningham in the middle combined for twenty-seven tackles. Twenty-Seven. So the whole defence will be glad they had the long weekend to recover after having a season high 70 tackles in the game.

The Secondary Surprise

The addition of Jaleel Addae cannot be underestimated. He was the only player to play in both Colts ties this year and provides great run support and a veteran nous to a young unit. Quite where the secondary be without him through all the various injuries isn’t worth considering, but he’s proven to be a shrewd acquisition. Gareon Conley, was on the for all 62 defensive snaps and was avoided by the Colts when they went to the air. Conley and this re-booted secondary appeared on the evidence of Thursday, to be coming together and still has the return of Reid, Johnson and Roby to further bolster their ranks. The immediate introduction of Vernon Hargreaves, due to the injuries, seemed to be a further cause for positivity. He was on the filed for 82% on snaps, registering a sold pass-breakup and a great tackle in run support, for five tackles on the night. If they can provide solid play here on out, it would be unmeasurable boost to the entire defensive unit.

Limited Rush, Dealing with the Run

The first drive of the Colts, registered a sack for the Texans and Jacob Martin’s first on the year. His pace of the edge is not in questions and it was a great move to get under the clutches of right tackle Braden Smith, to provide a solid tone setter for the game. But he and others will have to produce more regularly. As beyond that play, the Texans partly down to the run heavy attack – rushing 39 times with only 25 passing attempts – didn’t cause enough concern when Brissett dropped back to pass, 4 QB hits was the total output for the group. The defence as a whole is going to need to be creative to find pressures, but through 12 weeks, this is now seems the teams biggest weakness. RAC will hopefully have a few plays to unveil in the upcoming weeks to allow more disruption in the backfield.

HOUSTON, TX – NOVEMBER 21: Nick Martin #66 of the Houston Texans lifts Deshaun Watson #4 in celebration after a fourth quarter touchdown pass against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on November 21, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

“Every win is tough in the National Football League”

The win was the only thing that mattered. It was the first against Frank Reich. The first against Jacoby Brissett.

Coach OB continues to produce results when they are needed the most. The next test comes this Sunday against his old master. But how consistent they can be on the run-in to avoid the unthinkable? The team showed last season they were capable of mentally compiling a winning steak. There’s a very different composition of roster strengths relative to their opponents, at the disposal of the play callers this year. But a similar level of form is required to see out 2019 and build momentum for a team hasn’t generated it adequately enough for anyone to truly take them seriously, to date.

Theres a lot of football to be played but after Thursday the Texans fans should be in line for more play off football. Perhaps the question is now: how much, rather than, if at all?

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