In only a week, the Texans have gone from what seemed a promising start to the season, entering half-time in Cleveland, to now facing a very different set challenges. Team expectations were initially raised against the odds but the realities of the NFL have brought Houston much closer to their 2021 season predictions.
Tyrod’s Lack Of Luck
Taylor’s start to his Texans career was beyond most people’s expectations. His poise, command of the offence, recognition of defences & overall leadership, had this team poised to be at least, competitive. After a first-half of going toe-to-toe with last years play-off bound Browns, this ’21 Texans team seemed to be rounding into an admirable side. After Tyrod failed to emerge from the locker room for the second half, the momentum drain was visible, as the Cleveland run game took control the Texans slowly faded, in the face of a reduced offensive output. But they still ran Cleveland closer that many had predicted.
The injuries to both Danny Amendola & Nico Collins added to the loss of your starting quarterback, both perpetuated a lethargic performance from the offense against Carolina. The receiver depth beyond Brandon Cooks appears to be an issue and the run game became a non-factor. Despite the Panthers best attempts to keep Houston in the game, the Texans are now 2-1 with a testy looking three game stretch ahead of the team.
After Tyrod was placed on the minimum three-week IR list, enter the Stanford Rookie, Davis Mills’ who’s been immediately called into action. In the short term, he will give this team a reduced chance to win and a likely a more disappointing outcome than what Tyrod had initially promised. But with most aspects of this years Texans, can he lay ground work for future years?
What to Make of Mills?
Davis being thrown into the second half in week 2, then handling a red-hot defence, on a short week, in-front of a national televised audience was nor ideal, or fair conditions. He performed admirably for a guy with only eleven starts in college, he wasn’t going to be the anchor man of cohesive offensive football, just yet. Although, the question begs; are there enough signs of growth to build some encouragement, that Mills might be worth persevering with?
His performance on Thursday night was hemmed in by the coaching staff. For all the credit Tim Kelly had been given after the first six quarters for football. Kelly’s struggled to get Mills into a flow and his conservative approach palpably fed onto the field, putting the team in a downward cycle of failed play-execution. Bar the two-minute, up-tempo drive at the end of the half, there was only a single field goal drive to show for their efforts.
To make any material judgements on Davis this week, would be unfair. There are plausible conclusions to make about his raw, play-making ability. He is limited in that sense. But Davis is in the early stages of his mental atonement to the pro-level, in order to operate an NFL offence, that journey has only just begun. As it would seem there are the foundations there to at least, one day be be deemed worthy of the dreaded tag: “game manager”.
Culley’s Game Management Caught Out Twice
David Culley admitted they over-protected Mills, by means of a limited game plan, in his media availability last week. How much influence Culley has in material decision making, considering much of the circumstances, remains to be seen. But after three games, there have been many legitimate questions raised about his in-game calls.
After admirably admitting that he had made an error by not accepting a penalty in Cleveland the issue immediately rose its head again on Thursday. The Texans on their first drive of the second half, at the Carolina 39-yard line, chose to punt on a 4th & 4. His explanation was less than convincing and his tendency not to be aggressive is perplexing. There is a reason he continually harps back to the importance of turnovers. That’s an inadvertent omission that his team lacks talent and they are in need of a leg up to win.
Little landed in their lap this week or last, so they sit 1-2. About where many expected but his coaching staff will also need to come out as the victor in the game plan stakes for this team to win. They did not in weeks 2 & 3, the result then becomes superfluous.
Running Out Of Excuses
The Texans run game continues to underwhelm in a big way. They are a self-proclaimed “run-first type of team” but Phillip Lindsay, terrible start to this Houston career, aligns with his offensive-line’s inability to block at the second level. The Carolina & Cleveland front offer sterner tests than most, but the flat life-line of this offensive formula, being crushed in such a convincing manner, raises a multitude of questions.
The line’s re-configuration of personnel hasn’t helped. Tytus Howard’s switch to left guard has reduced a promising player to an ineffective one. The lack of core principles, imagination, and execution continue to snowball, despite the full effort of Mark Ingram’s 31-legs churning hard-fought yards, after contact.
Holes, Upon Zone Holes
The Lovie Smith approach on this defence also came firmly into question this week. As the continual issues of linebackers and secondary’s depth in their cover-two, zone coverages, consistently gives easy yards to opposing offences. It seems like this problem could be coached-up, despite the lack of talent, to at least make passing yards hard fought. As DJ Moore’s 100 yards in the first quarter was a clear sign of this scheme has sprung multiple leaks but had limited answers to plug any of them.
The use of a healthy Johnathan Greenard & Jacob Martin as the primary starters were justified changes and the athleticism up front nearly made a number of game-changing plays. Ross Blacklock flashed, in what was a reasonable night from the defensive front, but getting consistent pressure, bringing more blitzes and lining up in man-coverage wouldn’t harm this defences ability to influence games.
The Texans will need to refine their basics in this mini-bye week prior to the trip to Buffalo. Subsequently, they host New England & make the trip to Indianapolis, whilst considering the recent pace of change, those games will likely completely alter our view of the Texans once more. The job of the coaching staff will be to refine these clear structural weakness of this squad, how sufficiently they can cover them up & for how long, will be a question only answerable each Sunday.