The questions still are looming on this Texans team, can they continue to climb the ladder after last weeks win? Can they find a consistency to reach their goals? A tough test against a Denver team awaits, who’ve been unlucky themselves not to hold a stronger record. Houston are of course reliant on an unlikely 50% record from New England but the focus must be to reach 12 wins to eclipse last seasons record.
The 15-yard penalty on (sighs) JD Clowney when he drove Nick Foles into the turf, as the Eagles backed up in the end-zone, then allowed Philadelphia to march down the field and score a game winning field goal by Jake Elliott. That was the chance of a post season bye gone. That game signified the limitations of last year’s team. Their inability to run the ball and mounting injuries left the offence running on empty by the time the Colts play-off game rolled around and we all know how that ended.
That 11-win season was the second best in the Texans history but despite not playing to their full potential, this last minute assembly of offence has shown it deserves a seat at the league’s top table. So the goal of 12 wins must be the focus, that would require to win all 4 of their final games, for a team that have yet to win 3-in-row. The visit of Denver to NRG stadium will allow the Texans another chance at three wins on the spin against a rookie QB in in second NFL start.
Drew Lock two touchdown performance buoyed the Broncos in their 4th win of the season after with a last minute field-goal, against the Chargers. Romeo Crennel’s defence despite its place in the standings has shown shoots of recovery and its transformed DB room has been at the heart of it. Crennel is 11-1 against rookie quarterback and has shown his experience when pitted against passers who are not so. Denvers offence sits 28th and has been subject to personnel changes, Joe Flacco injured and now they turn to their 2nd round pick. A clean and efficient game by the Texans defence will be needed to not had any unnecessary advantage in what could be a game easily overlooked, by many of the fanbase.
It will be intriguing if Conley and Roby are active after nursing injuries. It will also give a sense of how the Texans feel about the match up against Denver’s rising star Courtland Sutton at wide-receiver. The Texans, based on their previously two showing should have enough disguises to pressure Lock into mistakes. The Denver coaching staff will have the games against Gardner Minshew as a reference point. But the Texans appear to have a clear shot at a win, if they can hand the ball back to their offence and let them work.
It will be hard to hold out Bradly Roby out of this one, he has a chance to prove Denver were wrong in letting him walk in free agency. Similarly on the other side of the ball, former Texans corner-turned-safety, Kareem Jackson, has point to make. The former first round pick out of Alabama, played nine years in Houston and wasn’t happy with the way it ended. Former GM Brian Gaine was reported to have not even called Jackson, post his contract expiring. Communication issues were a big part of Gaine’s departure and the Texans loss was certainly John Elway and the Bronco’s gain. Jackson showed that he is perfectly suited to safety and provides an elite tackler in the box, despite struggling in his earlier career in pass coverage.
Coupled with Jackson is safety, Justin Simmons, who’s having a stellar year so the Texans will need to rely on the intermediate passing game and running the ball against this Denver Defence who rank 9th and only giving up 19.3 yards per game. The Texans have not run the ball well, since coming out of the bye so it will be vital Carlos and Duke can move the ball agains the 19th placed run defence, to keep their rushers on their heels. Von Miller looks to be returning to the edge today for Denver, his presence was lost last week and he will likely line up against the right tackle or right-tackle rotation, that the coaching staff have opted with since Tytus Howard was placed on IR
Starting fast is of the upmost importance when the Texans can’t rely upon its defence to pull out enough stops. Denver are 31st in passing TD’s and 28th in total yards on offence. So the defence will need to show they are capable of dominating an inexperienced QB, which would be barometer of their mid-season growth, that’s not been felt necessarily in the stats. Building on the 1st quarter touchdown from last week, will be another point on emphasis for the team who will need to keep themselves on the field. The Bronco’s will rely on the run and find match-ups to Sutton and Tight-Ends, Noah Fant & Jeff Heuerman. Whilst Phillip Lindsay is a constant threat in the back-filed at half-back and limited the run game will help the Texans force Lock to throw more than the game plan would account for.
If Watson can see the field and release the ball quickly, the game is his to take, just is every game he plays. There are expectations on the Texans to exploit match-up at Tight End – as the trio of Fells, Atkins and Thomas should expect to see plenty of action. Will Fuller isn’t available to stretch the field, as the team’s medicals staff are being overly cautious with his hamstring. Fuller’s absence may also provide a chance for slot WR Keke Coutee to revive is Texans career. It will at least give an indication of how far he’s fallen down the depth chart. Coutee’s talent isn’t in question, but he needs a big performance to work his way back into the teams rotation at the position.
The Texans have a real chance to put pressure on New England, who play Kansas City in the later kick-off. The team are still relenting the early season slips, but their goals are still very much in front of them, where they can’t afford to see past Denver, on Battle Red Sunday.
Denver @ Houston: Dec. 8 at 12:00 p.m. CT CBS (Kevin Harlan & Rich Gannon) Referee: Adrian Hill 8.5 points Favourite – Texans.
It was the manner that the Texans took the game to the reigning Superbowl winners that would have instilled the most belief in this team, after a 28-22 win. The confidence levels had somewhat dissipated with some recent falters and left the Texans looking over their shoulder. Deshaun Watson lead the offence took the game to New England in an explosion of creative offence which controlled a more one-sided game than the final score suggested. The Texans will need to rely on Patriots to lose two of their final four games, if they are to steal the number two seed. An unlikely prospect, as they would likely require a New England loss to the resurgent Bill’s, who would then likely lead the Texans, should that scenario unfolded.
None the less, this was one to savor for a fan base. The team are two wins into a triple-header of home games with the finale of that stretch this Sunday will see the visit of the Denver Broncos. The Texans looked to build an unassailable lead after a trick play which meant Deshaun was the first players since 1985 to throw for three and receive a touchdown in a single game. There will be some concern how the defence faded and let the Patriots close the gap in the 4th quarter which nearly ended in the Patriots recovering a on-side kick. If Branden Bolden had to been able to control the bouncing ball – it possibly could have been a raging injustice, but it was the Texans Night – after a long wait.
The much welcomed return of cornerback Brady Roby, injured since week 6, saw the former Buckeye contribute the first game changing play with an interception, setting up a short field. Roby could have easily had a second but was ruled to have committed defensive pass interference. The rise of the play from the Texans secondary, late game errors aside, has been a startling positive for the Houston defence. This improved coverage ability has benefited them up front and Jacob Martin was able to get to Brady twice. They were able to trouble the Patriots Offensive-Line all evening, delivering 12 quarterback hits. DJ Reader, must now to be in the conversation for the leagues best Nose Guard with 4 QB hits and 7 tackles. This perhaps wasn’t expected to be the Texans route to obtaining a foothold, via the defence, in the game but this limited Brandy to only completing 7 of 19, first-half passes. The Texans ability to frustrate Brady will give the unit much needed confidence in their final 4 game stretch, its now a case of repeating that level of play consistently.
The sequence that emphasised the Texans momentum was their third touchdowns, after the Texans stopped the Patriots on a 4th down attempt and turned the ball over on downs. A long ball to Will Fuller was adjudged to be an incomplete pass – which seemed like a call that could have easily stood. Facing into that adversity, on the very next play, Watson rolls left and finds Kenny Stills for a 35-yard touchdown. Stills seems to be a continued source of explosive plays for the offence and has been a immensely positive addition to the team. That moment felt like Sunday was going to be different and Watson and co. were on their game and were not to be denied.
The Houston offence was unable to run the ball, with only 52 rushing yards to be shown for their efforts. The passing game was productive, Deandre Hopkins had a sterling 5-catch performance considering he was double covered for the entirety of the game. Watson was reading the field and his line largely kept the pocket clean for him to step into throws and spread the ball around his targets, with seven separate players recording catches. The confidence that Watson played with and the trust built with a variation of weapons, has made the Houston offence more dynamic, the play-book appears to be more extensive and a number of wrinkles were added to their formations. New additions Duke Johnson and Darren Fells, both go their 4th & 7th touchdowns on the year and O’Brien has formulated the best offensive talent he’s had as his disposal. Sunday’s showing, just as week 1 vrs the Saints showed they can put up points with the best.
The Texans despite letting the game get close in the fourth, feasibly nullified an accurate reflection of their effort in the record books. Regardless, this provided a huge moment for O’Brien who finally has beaten his former employer. Coach Beilchick looked less than willing to shake hands at the customer meeting of the coaches as time elapsed. it was one that he will relish. Watson haded his metor and play caller a game ball in the locker room. The connection and the price at the result was clear to see.
Unfortunately, due to some earlier season lapses this result doesn’t count for more, in the run-in. Regardless this win had a huge emotional significance to the entire franchise and a proud moment, after a long wait.
Deshaun Watson has delivered some of his best performances when on the National stage, in both college and in the pro’s. If the Texans are to win Sunday, he and his teammates will need to summon a level of consistency that has proven elusive, so far in the 2019 season. The task of Tom Brady and the Patriots await a home crowd, still unsure of it’s teams credentials. The Texans will have to find a way to win and hope for an uncharacteristic Patriots late season falter, if the quest for a top-2 play-off seeding is to be realised.
Colour Rush & Familiar Foes
The Texans are yet to lose when dawning their alternative uniform. From Watson’s first start in ’16, on the road to Cincinnati, to the ‘17’s visits of Miami, Tennessee and Cleveland, have all provided victories in the darker tones of deep steel blue. This New England team will provide a much sterner test than those previously faced and they will require a certain focus that’s been lacking this year.
The two franchises have had connecting lineage since O’Brien’s hiring in 2014, former coaches and players have crossed the divide. But most of it pails into significance with the finest quarterback and head coach combination to play the game, in tow. O’Brien has guided the Texans to zero wins, in that span. A record he will be dying to address.
AFC Seeding or Revision of Previous Screenings
The Texans have found many ways to lose against the Pats, albeit, by less of a margin since Watson has taken over at the helm of Houston’s hopes.
The closest encounter came in Deshaun’s rookie year, when Ka’imi Fairburn kicked a late fourth quarter field goal to lead by 5 points, with limited time on the clock, it then seemed like a win was within reach. Everyone connected with Houston, when the camera panned to Bob McNair, shared a similar facial expression, at that moment – this was our time. That moment felt like the answer to all the questions was now in the building. Houston then opt to not go for a 4th and 1 call, punted, Brady marches down the field and game over. Another loss, in a long line of many. That win would have meant more to McNair than most, but it wasn’t to be.
That was the closest the Texans have come, since 2011. Following an uneven outing in week 1 of the 2018 season, another defeat, has seen both sides come under subsequent roster change. The Texans defence has eroded its rushing talent, but the offence has become stronger, the latter has failed to be dependable of account for the former.
The Patriots have been unable to respond to the loss of talent on offence but its defence and special teams, that sets the league’s standard. Yet, it’s easily forgettable they hold a six-time champion quarterback who is still able to produce when the team needs to find a way. Coupled with their innate ability to find form in the late winter months, when it really matters, the Foxborough formula remains.
Father Time and Flimsy Schedules
Every season, Brady and the Patriots are beckoned by media and fans alike on the premise that their time as the perennial football powerhouse, is up. Borne out of much frustration at their unrivalled success and continual Superbowl visits or wins. For anyone watching the last 20 years, will know nothing else. Brady has been throwing passes longer than the Texans have been established as a franchise.
Not many Championship teams have enjoyed this ease of schedule to this point, 11-1 prior to week 13. This has meant proceedings have been straightforward. The Pat’s have the luxury of playing in the AFC East where they annually dominate their three closest opponents to 5 or 6 wins, with limited exceptions. This is game two, of a three game stretch, that was supposed to be the tough section of their run: Dallas, Houston & Kansas City, which is then followed by an in-form and resurgent Bills teams.
The Patriots offence has felt the loss of: centre Mark Andrews, Fullback James Deviln, Tackle Isiah Wynn and include the best tight-end in a decade retiring, it’s clearly impacted their ability to run the ball. This has put pressure on their passing offence and the lack of experience, in the league or the system has visibly frustrated Brady this season.
Brady has shown limited signs of slowing in some area’s, but it would be un-just comment on his supposed decline talents, as any quarterback would struggle due to the incurred changes. Brady is the most cerebral and decorated player in the game’s history. But if any time would provide a chance for a young pretender to strike. It would seem, it might be now.
Health and Points to Prove
The Patriots have had to struggle in this week’s preparations, marred by a spate of illness which struck down more than seven starting players across their depth chart. The Texans have found themselves being out coached in many of the previous outings, so they will hopefully be able to find solace in the fact, that external factors could help level this game day variable.
Watson, Hopkins and the Texans offence has arguably a greater level of all-round talent, perhaps the first time they could make this claim in the O’Brien era. His franchise passer will need to show that the Baltimore game was an outlier and he has the ability to go up against the finest. Nuke Hopkins, Will Fuller, Darren Fells and Duke Johnson have provided reasons for winning games this year and can all be difference makers. When Watson can read the defence, find the right match-up to exploit and release the ball on-time, this offence clicks. The third year, former Clemson star, has shown a varied level of improvement on the mental processing at the line, this Bill Beilchick scheme will provide the most complex unit he’s faced this season.
The Texans were forced to place 1st rounder, Tytus Howard on the IR with a season ending injury and the stand-in Rod Johnson has a huge opportunity to earn his way in the league with this and a further four games remaining.
Passing to Rush or Rushing to Pass
The play calling will need to find balance. Will Fuller’s return to health as a deep ball outlet will allow the Texans to keep the New England secondary honest. The running game is central to Houston and setting up the play action, where Watson is lethal when executed. Expect running back, Carlos Hyde to have a heavy workload to allow a variation of passing in different formations. The return of Jordon Thomas, will enable the Texans to use additional tight-ends sets and set up intermediate passes to get Watson’s rhythm beating early. The Texans cannot afford another slow start and then be force to relinquish their balance. As forcing the ball against this New England defence will only add to their 20 interceptions on the season. Stephon Gilmore leads a commanding secondary that will have to be strained in their assignments, if are to give up yards through the air.
Similarly, on the defensive side of the ball the front seven will be required to get back to stopping the run and not allow New England to seize momentum in the game. The secondary is a work in progress but have shown signs of improvement with the collection of former 1st round picks to help Romeo Crennel adjust their tendencies.
The pressure up the middle with stunts and twists have been impactful against New England’s line and they will need to be creative up front and solid in coverage, to shackle the dink and dunk offence Brady has mastered. Receiving option Julian Edelman will be aided by the return of Dorrsett and Sanu.
Blunders on Special Teams and Ball Protection
As long as the Texans don’t put themselves on the back foot through errors, they won’t leave the offence the task of forcing the issue. But if found naively doing so, then the Patriots are ruthless in capitalising on short fields. It’s been a hallmark of their success as their player’s focus on avoiding mental errors is un-paralleled. Just as their propensity to conjure up a trick play when games are at a stalemate.
The Texans having their most efficient day of the year on special teams and avoiding, penalties and turnovers will be monumental. Giving an impetus to an adversary which has bested your city for its entirety, is not a recipe for success.
All things being equal, offence versus offence, at home, if they Texans build a lead early, then theres a real chance. Watson has an ability, like very few, to flip the switch when big plays are needed, and is more than capable of claiming a much overdue win.
The key will be: can the Texans not beat themselves and let the hunted become the hunter on Sunday Night Football?
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.
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.
“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?
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)
The Texans came up substantially short yesterday as they failed to forward an accurate account of their talent. Another inherently slow start was compounded by a team that appeared to crumble post an egregious pass interference, non-call. The Texans seemed to fail in mentally recovering from the injustice and it was undoubtedly a factor in deciding the outcome. Although this was substantially outweighed by poor preparation, for a team coming off their bye week.
Fault could be equally passed around the office this morning, where questions will be asked and answers will need to be given, quickly as they prepare for Thursday. It was spectacular crash, resulting in a 41-7 roasting on road to a Baltimore team who will be many people’s favourites to win it all, come February.
Perhaps the only solitary modicum of positivity that could be drawn from this harrowingly inept performance, is the fact that there is zero time to reflect. The Texans have the visit of their AFC South rivals on Thursday Night Football, so self pity and wallowing just simply, isn’t an option. No one this week can do anything but look at the tape, consider the bad and how that pertains to the Colts. Indianapolis now lead the division after disposing of Jags in convincing fashion yesterday. There was limited, if not zero positives to be taken from this game, so a chance of reprisal can’t come quick enough for players and coaches with first place up for grabs Thursday.
PI in the sky – Officiating that hinders the League
This melee of confusion originated from the New Orleans NFC Championship game and with the benefit of hindsight the NFL’s competition committee, will have wished they hadn’t opened this door. This mess continues to be a talking point, week after week.
There could be an intriguing argument made that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company actually enjoys the bi-product of terrible officiating. As in reality, it its adds to the circus of media clamber, a rotating news cycle that evokes engagement and reaction across the globe. On the face of it, it may seems an ill-logical hypothesis but the more its considered, perhaps its the case. Why would you agree a new contract, just this season, for further seasons of part-time officials? Why would you pay them so poorly? As the best talent have taken up cushy numbers at television networks. So all things considered, perhaps this is by design rather than gross oversight. Whichever way, it’s a chronic situation which continues to detract from anyone’s enjoyment watching every team, every Sunday.
Yes, it was a clear pass interference on Hopkins. Humphrey clearly, pulls at his jersey, wraps his arms around him then pushes Nuke’s right arm away, inhibiting his forward movement and ability to catch the ball. Even if we push aside that fact the Ravens cornerback didn’t look back at the ball or make any attempt to play it. A typical indicator for ref’s when making such calls. The question has to be raised: How can qualified referee’s watch that play back, on an HD monitor, across multiple angles and not over turn it?
What will stick in the throats of football purists, never mind Texans fans, if there was a change in the rule to allow coaches to challenge why have the officiating crews dismissed all but a few challenges? It has to be assumed that this was a head office lead direction. But if the whole origin of the rule amendment was to correct errors in judgements, then why not use it? A failing was recognised or was seen to be recognised but the remedy offered is not utilised by the referees. This perhaps feeds into the designed anarchy train of thought and would seem more apparent, the longer its considered.
Often used as a possible correction to the current crisis, is the addition of a sky judge. The judge would form part of the game day officiating crewe, sit in the stand and be used as the video referee, which has been successful in rugby. It would make sense, and could be done with limited changes, bar hiring additional person per crewe to take up the role. Could this be done mid-season? Or could they refer back to the New York Office, which previously acted at the means of correction for the zebras?
The Texans should have had the ball on the 1-yard line with a chance to pound it in, with the score at 0-0. These games are decided by momentum swings and it clearly handed that to Baltimore when the Texans needed all the breaks they could get. It didn’t definitively seal a result as clearly as the call that benefited the Rams, in handing them a Superbowl ticket they just merely needed to stamp it. But certainly put a game early on a path that moved the Texans already limited chance of victory, further away from them.
Concerns of yesterday
Watson’s regression to (h)old habits
It was a genuine discussion that was held last week, would the media noise impact the way Deshaun came out and started this game. As his generation of player seem to be overly in-tune with the latest media rhetoric. It’s plausible that Watson would have felt this was his stage to correct the Jackson lead narrative. As being the apple of the media’s eye, is a status he’s never quite achieved.
The concerns were warranted as he was trying to go to out with the system to achieve highlight reel plays and regressed from his great improvements this season of taking what the defence presents. The attempted long ball on the 4&2 play that lead to the PI challenge in the end zone was just one example of that, as was the sack fumble on the teams first possession. Watson held on to the ball for over ten seconds and then coughed it up when he went to the ground.
Deshaun looked like he’d taken us back to last season, where his habits were hurting this team in a bad way. Two turnovers aside, as these will happen, holding the ball, not throwing it away, losing yards and taking unnecessary hits has been Watsons biggest flaws in his fledging career.
After multiple games of keeping their quarterback clean in the recent stretch of games, the continued holding the of the ball, removing any rhythm, abandoning the run after falling behind, not setting the protections, removing quick passes, lead to the Texans giving up seven sacks. Watson looked to avoid an injury scare on the Jaylen Ferguson sack in the third quarter , which was a constant worry all afternoon in that regard.
Hopefully, now Watson can take the challenge of a short week and get back to the improved fundamentals and game management that he had shown in much of this seasons games, prior to yesterday.
Coaching, Play Calling, Blame Deflecting
O’Brien gave his common regurgitation of “need to watch the tap”, ” we need to do a better job of coaching” in his post defeat pre-conference that is all to familiar to fans, when looking for answers. This week 11 clash was perhaps infuriating for many, as the team just didn’t look like they’d ever get going on offence and without that impetus, this defence simply doesn’t have the talent to bail them out. But this isn’t new news to anyone inside the organisation. This was a known commodity going into this game and showing a distinct lack of ideas and adjustment in the game was alarming. After having a bye week to self-scout and then to come into this game, start slow and look under-prepared in a season defining game is borderline indefensible.
The lack of options in the passing game, O’Brien turning his back on the run game, too early and then going to empty sets, inviting pressure and the Texans had limited answers to that pressure. Matt Judon & co. were freely able to fill a highlight reel of Ravens bringing Watson to the floor and causing untimely incompletions all afternoon. This wasn’t anything surprising, that Ravens D.C. Martindale, calls a high proportion of blitzes and secondary pressures. But it appeared that way to the Texans. Watson didn’t play with the level of comfortability he has in previous weeks, looking lost at times and devoid of idea’s. The entire unit was unable to rally against what was being thrown at them. The supposed strength of this team looked strangled of all signs of life.
There have been many detractors of this coaching staff across the it’s now year-six reign and these questions will continue to arise and rightly so. This was yet another game of it’s era in Houston that will be filed under the: “Not Quite Good Enough – Squad Improvements Needed”. In many ways we’ve jumped on a carousel and expected to move forward with this team, exemplified by this result. This sorry Texans team were dismantled by a superior club in all aspects yesterday. A depressing reality that perhaps shouldn’t be too much of a shock. Coaching will be key to find a way and in the past they have shown us they can re-bound to win when the pressure is on. We will know by Thursday if these previous feats can be repeated, once more.
Toothless Defence on all three levels
Whatever the Romeo Crennel defence plan was on Sunday, it wasn’t where it needed to be. The Ravens are playing at an optimum level, executing well and playing to their strengths. That will be the case until someone cracks the formula to limit their system. They were always going to put up points yesterday, it was the fashion in how they did was disappointing. At the outset Jackson was held to 1-7 throwing and only a handful of yards but with the Texans offence stalling drives the defence were forced to return to the field quickly and often.
The pass rush was meek at best, and if continued to fade as the game went on, a Brennan Scarlett sack the only achievement on the day. Missed tackles, missed assignments and poor overall team defence from a unit that has lost or given away its best rushers, was only heading to once place. A clean pocket lead to a quarterback, who’s biggest weakness is making difficult throws, look rather accomplished through the air.
The absence of any plays for Whitney and DJ Reader, leaves the Texans incredibly short of reinforcements when these guys aren’t central to plays. The lack of game-defining talent is one thing, but the Texans just dwindled over the course of the game and the Baltimore offence ran right over then, giving up their first 100-yard rusher, in Gus Edwards, on the season and a total 263 yards on the ground.
The secondary continued to look out of sorts and the Texans has zero answer for the myriad of running concepts on show and then looked caught out when Jackson went to the air, completing a stretch of passes that effectively ended the game in the third quarter.
Longer Term Ramifications
Performances like that on Sunday are ones that shake the entire franchise to its foundations. This one would have been felt right through to ownership due to the manner which the Texans fell. They appeared like a team looking for a high draft pick, rather than one of genuine aspirations for success.
Coach/GM/Grand-Leader OB should be sweating it out in his office this week as he’s placed a lot of the teams future on this and next season. If this is the return that he’s providing to ownership and fans alike, it’s difficult to defend his position.
Cal McNair was reported to have told him AFC Championship was the barometer or it would lead to consequences. The validity of that report will be tested in the coming months. However, its clear that this team under OB his teams are prone to turning in performances like this. The K.C. play-off 30-0 drubbing, the painful memories of Atlanta and Miami away in 2015 still linger, in recent memory. This is not forgetting the terrible showings in last years wild card round.
Often OB has disregarded those around him, players and coaches alike, when the blame-game initiates after a terrible loss. It will be interesting to see who is the latest sacrifice, if there are any. Perhaps the best right guard in football, Brandon Brooks was ailienatetd in previous aftermaths. Health and maturity were issues with Brooks but he’s found a way to be an elite talent post leaving this team and a one point was supposedly a source of our problems, according to the man who holds all the power in his hands.
Turning the Page?
The Texans have no choice to get ready for the Colts game this coming Thursday. The need to win this week cannot be understated, anything but a victory would be unthinkable for the team. A win and then a season saving performance against England needs to be the focus with the luxury of having three extra days to prepare. However, after yesterdays debacle it’s difficult to have faith in the O’Brien dream that he’s sold the McNair’s for 6 years as the results are eerily similar, they just have taken of various guises of failure.
The year in which the Raven’s won the 2012 Superbowl, the last time any team did so without being a top two seed in their conference, the Texans did blow them out in a week 7, 43-17 win. History does have an un-earthly ability to repeat itself. Could it do so in reverse? After watching yesterday, it would require a grand optimist to believe that it may even be plausible. But this league changes in hurry and now the Texans have three home games in a row and a double header with the Titans, separated by a Saturday trip to Tampa, to make amends.
It will start onThursday night, in front of the home crowd for the first time since October 6th. A road to redemption is possible but would seem unlikely as we currently sit through 10 games of this 2019 season.
Sunday will provide the the biggest and perhaps truest test of the 2019 Houston Texans. Lying in wait, a 7-2 Baltimore side, who’s unique explosion of run offence has got many talking up their chances as legitimate contenders. The game has been billed as a clash of the emerging new guard of the NFL and the winner will take the lead in their quest for a top-two seed in the AFC play-off running.
Lamar Jackson running the…..?
After watching the Lamar Jackson, wish-bone, triple Heiseman option, run heavy, RPO, pistol formation, jet motion, spread concept with QB designed runs aplenty, whatever you want to call this offence, as we stand today – it works. The Ravens made child’s play of a Bengals team last week, just as many have done so this season, but they looked ruthless when they went to the air and were explosive in running attack. Their ground game spreads across the the depth chart as every skill position will run the ball and be in pre-snap motions, on every drive creating misdirection to put opponents on their heels, to great effect.
The Texans will look to the Patriot’s tape from the week prior, where the Ravens put up 37 points against the heralded Coach Belichick’s unit. The master of modern defence is often clinical when he puts his mind to a game plan. The mark left on Sean McVey and Jared Geoff of the 4-man rush and quarters coverage is still present from Super Bowl LIII right through until today, a team that have never quite recovered.
Partly, it was the first offence of any measure New England had played all season but also perhaps it would be logical to consider ‘the hoodie’ was willing to take a loss with the long game of getting all their best work on tape, so a repeat fixture would have a different outcome. Possibly not such a far-fetched notion, but time will tell.
Jackson is the teams leading rusher with 702 yards through nine games and for good reason, he is the most athletic quarterback in the League since Michael Vick. The similarities that Greg Roman, the Ravens O.C., has built into this system to put Jackson in a position to succeed is stark, but effective. A similar system, ironically run under the supervision of the other Harbaugh brother, Jim, and Greg Roman lead the 49ers to a Super bowl in 2013 by the maligned Colin Kapernick at quarterback. A season which ended in defeat to his sibling and long standing Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh. So the foundations for this offence were laid some time ago, but it all starts with Jackson on the ground on his RRO, run, run option with selectively passing where route combinations and favourable match-up’s can be exploited.
After scouring the tape, it was the number of options that the Ravens utilise to keep constant misdirection and disguises that stood out. Exemplified by opening drive against the Patriots in the 37-20 week 9 win. Each play shows the variance of looks and motions used by the offence, which results in a six, although a drive abetted by a field goal penalty.
Opening drive: – Pitch Option to Running Back – End Around to wide receiver – Designed Quarterback Run – TE Move and TE designed Roll Out – Run stuff on Option, WR in Motion – Touchdown – QB Option, OLB bites and Lamar Walks it in.
The one carry over from the Ravens 23-17 Wildcard round loss at the hands of the Chargers, is now Texans saftey, Jaleel Addae who exclusively played an off-the-ball-linebacker-come-safety in that game. Any insight into the unconventional, but successful, seven defensive back look that can be given would be much needed intel. But after watching their tape on both sides of the ball it’s clear this team is far superior than the one that fell short at the first hurdle last season.
Keys to the Game:
The number of options and motion’s the Baltimore offence presents at the line of scrimmage is the origin of their big play ability. The Texans will need to show the utmost discipline across the front seven, to limit Jackson, Ingram or any skill player to avoid breaking contain. The Ravens just like the Texans due to their quarterback’s playing style, will have the off-script, chain movers to sustain drives. But the limitation of such plays and a more refined strategy that showed up versus Jacksonville, at Wembley, will be just the basic outline of what will be required.
The Texans appeared to find a modicum of pass rush in London, the first outing without JJ Watt. This was a positive as it was done so whilst being disciplined in the rush lanes. The key will be to create pressure on Jackson whilst not at the expense of getting caught out their assigned gaps. As losing integrity will only end up in a scramble for cheap yards. Texans will be looking for a big performance from Whitney Mercilus, on the road to lead this unit along with DJ Reader and his Lunch Pail Crew at the heart of the line. A top three run defence against a first ranked run offence will have the ability to flip the result for whichever unit makes its presence felt the most at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday.
Setting the edge against a unit that want to run outside and keeping Jackson in the pocket and making him throw is essential. Most of the his throws are based on timing routes rather than waiting on or throwing receivers open. So bating Jackson into mistake’s when he opt’s to throw will be key. When Jackson does throw, unrivalled running ability aside, his throws certainly don’t carry the velocity and tight spirals that you’d expect from a top-end signal caller. There’s a reason why this offence ranks 31st in both completions and passing attempts.
Pass Coverage & Tight on Tight Ends
Of the 177 completed passes this season, 47% of the completions have been to their three leading tight ends, Andrews, Boyle & Hurst. Andrews, carrying the bulk of the threat, has been a later round surprise and developed into Jacksons favourite target, leading the team with 5TD’s.
The trio will need to be accounted for in the short to intermediate passing game, but equally in the red-zone. The Texans will need a package that can cope with 2 & 3 TE personnel groupings that they will likely see.
The health of the Texans closest player they have to an authoritarian on the back end would be Lonnie Johnson. After his physical work against Travis Kelce, Johnson will be expected to line up against one of these threats. Teshaun Gipson made a name for himself with his performances against Gronk so having both on the field, will be a plus factor for the Texans. If they can force Jackson to go through mutiple progressions, will lead to incompletions and turnovers if the ball breaks their way.
If the Texans can set the edge and follow their assignments then it leaves the question of their coverage approach. There may be an acceptance that they opt for predominately zone coverage. Which was the key against the Jag’s to help avoid a mobile QB’s scrambles and offers more flexibility in the formation to react and helps to blur the quarterback’s vision of clear reads.
It will be a chess match between Crennel and Roman all afternoon. Stopping the tight end’s from sitting down in zone gaps may require man looks on key third downs, on short/medium distance. But giving up those play’s may be the trade-off when avoiding game breaking deep threats. Bend, don’t break is often RAC’s mantra.
Deep-Threat Passing Game
The deep threat of former Oklahoma wide-out ‘Hollywood’ Brown will be something to monitor. Jackson’s volume of throw’s will likely be limited but when they look downfield, they aim to exploit favourable match-ups. The Texans will hope that Bradley Roby’s hamstring has healed to maintain pace with Brown on the perimeter. His touches are limited but when found, they are for big gains and 4 TD’s in his rookie season to date.
Similarly Willy Snead, Miles Boykin have both caught passes for 50 yards each and combined for 4 TD’s. So, communication and assignment clarity will be key on the back end, to avoid undoing their good work in an instant.
The Texans will need a stand-up-and-be-counted type performance from the secondary in run support but also the pass coverage. An uncommon challenge for Conley, Joseph & Justin Reid, who will need the return of a healthy position group, who all have missed time prior to the bye.
Clean and Efficient Offence
The Texans offence has tormented Bill O’Brien with the pre-snap penalties, illegal formation and false starts being the crux of their issue. Many games points totals have been inhibited by stalled drives and not accurately reflecting their time of possession and yards gained. The bye was hopefully a time where the staff and offensive players have reflected on and have found a fix. As Sunday game won’t leave much space for error and points will be at a premium, just as will quick starts, as playing from behind won’t suit either offence.
The passing game will be a point of emphasis against a Ravens, who’s strength of their team is the attack minded secondary lead by Marlon Humphrey, who leads the team with 9 passes defended. The opportunistic corner Marcus Peters, who has 4 pick six’s on the season, will provide a tough challenge for the Texans receiving corps. Either corner will be asked to match up with Deandre Hopkins so expect the Texans to move Hopkins around the formation to get free and impact on the game. The key for Watson will be finding the third or fourth cover player match up’s and continue the work he’s shown this season in spreading the ball around his weapon’s to keep defences honest.
Winning at the Line or Hyde-ing to Nothing?
The level of defence is likely be a top three unit the team have faced this year. Williams and Pierce are the space eaters at the point of attack so the Houston interior O-line will need to be ready for a brawl. Pierce will likely miss this game, and his omission may assist in the Texans attempt to command the trenches. A huge task but if able, the offence can then leverage the ability in opening up the passing game, where Watson can take control of the show.
Contending with rusher Matt Judon who has racked up 19QB hits and combined with the ageless Pernell Mcfee for 15 TFL’s will be high on the agenda. The line is expected to have both its bookends in Tunsil and Howards ready. The first time the first choice line will be in place since week 6 and will be an acid test of their growth as a group.
The balance achieved through the run game has been central to the Texans offence this season and Sunday will be no different. As the Raven will want to control the time of possession but just as the Texans showed on the road in KC, taking over in this department will be a big factor in deciding games. Using Carlos through the middle will be key but I’d expect the growth of Duke Johnson to be a central point for hard yards to be gained and provide the Texans own dual-threat weapon.
Bye Week Creations
What packages and off-shoots to their current tendencies will OB & Kelly incorporate into the playbook? This could be crucial in a game that is expected be a ‘shoot-out’ and a few un-prepared looks from the Texans offence may be enough to edge it. The return of Fuller, would be a huge boost to the passing game, which looks a far a more dangerous proposition when he’s on the field. The big play ability to stretch a defence, particularly against a defence that likes to bring its DB’s up to the line for additional pressures. If the Raven’s have to deal with some deep attempts early to Fuller and Stills, that may lead to Don Martindale calling less single high looks, which they have seemed confident to do with the addition of former Seattle Star, Earl Thomas.
Watson out to show he’s top Dog over Jackson
Very few could protest at the notion, that at this stage of his career, Deshaun is the more complete player. Subtle are the nuances, but Watson presents as much more refined player, running a more complex and layered offence, with full control at the line. The Texans aren’t coming into the game with a shower of praise from national media outlets and Jackson appears to be the newly found media darling. That will likely irk Watson, who was famously ranked below Baker Mayfield in last seasons top 100 players poll. So if there was ever any incentive to put a stake in the ground, it’s Sunday, not only for himself, but his team and the franchise to take a monumental step towards their goals.
TEXANS @ RAVENS, SUNDAY NOV. 17; 12 CT KO; M&T BANK STADIUM CBS (Ian Eagle & Dan Fouts) SKY SPORTS Action (6pm BST)
Whilst the Texans take a step towards health on the bye, a few favourable results swing their waybut fortune must favour the brave this coming week for it to mean anything for this season’s success.
Swings of good fortune went in favour of the Texans last Sunday, as many of its AFC rivals failed to make up any ground whilst the team has a well earned break in week 10. Although no one in the building will admit, they would have relatively pleased with how Sundays result went.
The Colts were upset by the Dolphins as a former Houston favourite put on some of that ‘Fitzmagic’ to grind out a road victory in Lucas Oil stadium. The six win Bills made heavy weather of their trip to Cleveland and came away with a defeat to a struggling Browns team. The Titians game was bittersweet, as ultimately a divisional foe improved their record and are now only one game behind Houston. But their late win over the Chiefs brings the pack closer together and in the AFC.
The return to the field as an NFL starter for Brian Hoyer was perhaps the biggest factor playing into the Texans hands, this past Sunday. Although overall the former Michigan Spartan can’t be too overly critical of his performance, the three interceptions thrown were back breakers. Miami ground out a road victory and have now won two straight – so much for ‘Tank for Tua’ or ‘Bin it for Burrow’ talk, as they look resolute in their performance, despite talent deficiencies and came up trumps for the Houston cause. The loss to any team of their starting quarterback is tough to manage and Colts perhaps felt they would have faired better when choosing to hold Jacoby. it would seem a certainly he’ll be back in the lineup for the visit of the Jag’s this weekend as they begin the Nick Foles era 2.0. A game really the Texans would prefer a Jacksonville road win this coming week to keep the division tight as possible between its three adversaries.
The biggest outcome of this game for the Texans is not that the 2020 4th rounder received from Miami looks slightly further down the draft order. But when the Colts visit on Thursday Night Football, the winner will take first place in the AFC south regardless of the either teams results in week 11.
The other noteworthy tape from the division was the clear spark that Ryan Tannehill has given the Tennessee Titians. The strength of their team is perhaps on par in most area’s with much of the AFC, but they had lacked at the sports most vital position. Coach Vrabel will get them ready to play and showed last year they were capable of taking big scalps at the Nissan Stadium. So it many ways, this result shouldn’t be a shock but it was more the high scoring and continuous level of offence they were able to produce, that should be a note for the Texans. Particularly, battering-ram Derrick Henry in the running game was a bad match-up against the porous KC’s run defence but the Titans went after it and look to be much improved in the passing game versus the Mariota era. Their defensive quality has only improved with the addition of Jeffery Simmons who looks a serious threat to content with for years to come. The Titians are now 5-5, but 0-2 in the division, have the bye week to reflect prior to the visit of Jacksonville week 12.
The result perhaps puts the Texans road win at Arrowhead in a different light but the Chiefs made a number of errors across all three phases that even Mahommes wasn’t able to account for. On another day, the Chiefs have got to be confident they could win games such as this and will still be a force down the stretch on the strength of their offence alone. But that unit will need to be going at full speed to overshadow their defensive frailties. A further point to consider, if Tennessee are able to run the ball consistently and Tannehill doesn’t put them harms way with the ball security and inaccuracy that has haunted his career, then the Titans have a realistic run at making a playoff bid. I wouldn’t want to be in a position to rely on the former Texas A&M product as there’s a sizeable enough sample to date, on what he can contribute at that position. However, it would seem the late season games against the history thieves is showing a very different complexion than from just a few weeks ago.
From the release of the injury report on Wednesday, it would seem that health is returning to a team that limped into the bye without a number of starters. Mancz and Lonnie appear to be out of the concussion protocol and there were zero DNP designations, a first since week two. The return of the behemoth at left tackle will be essential for this game, Tunsil has transformed this team and hopefully a few weeks out has let him reflect on his on the false start penalties. The biggest questions, are Fuller and Roby as hamstrings are temperamental injuries and being a road game perhaps casts them into doubt. But both players give the Texans new dimensions when they are on the field, so there will be an anxious wait on their game status, for all concerned. The unknown is Teshaun Gipson, the medical staff will be doing everything they can do to get Gippy in a position to play as covering of TE’s is his speciality and will be key in Sundays game. Similarly, the team will hope they can call upon the athleticism at linebacker from Dylan Cole, the coaching staff will be keen he can shake off his knee complaint.
Sundays aren’t the same without Texans football and this week’s is perhaps their toughest test to date. Exam one of three will kick off 12 CT Sunday, the result will determine if the Texans are in the conversation for a top seed in the AFC.
A season for change, coming of age and renewed hope for an offence lead by a special talent who will need to be at his best on this three game run, if the Texans want to stamp their ticket to the play-off’s.
The Texans regained their position at the summit of the AFC South with a commanding win against Jacksonville, in London. The mastery of the elusive Deshaun Watson and the revengeful running of Carlos Hyde put on a show in the final game of the NFL International series of the 2019 season, as both teams ardently head into their bye week but for very difference reasons.
Results will inevitably come with the level that this Houston offence is currently on, it’s more a question of how often. Consistency and health often defines a successful football team. But without a top-tier signal caller, your chances are greatly diminished. Luckily, Rick Smith left Houston with a bigger parting gift that anyone perhaps at the time realised. On Sunday, once again the mercurial Watson, exhibited to a Wembley crowd largely of neutrals, that he’s hard not to root for. Despite yet another reasonably slow first half, crippled by needless penalties and procedural errors. The disparity of talent levels between the two teams, as they game progressed, continued to show. The Texans tightened their grip on a game that at no point, did they ever look like losing, running out 26-3 winners and in all likelihood that margin flattered the hosts.
The Texans defence were given the bulk of the credit for holding a Jag’s defence to just a mere field goal last Sunday, which was a huge positive considering the loss of their star DE JJ Watt, the week prior. That was the biggest question coming into this game. How would the defensive front cope? How can you replace a three time defensive MVP with even a number of players? The answer was simple. Play tough, smart and disciplined football. The gap discipline was clinical for the Texans D, who kept a mobile quarterback in the pocket and forced him to throw against mostly zone coverage, which resulted in a stifled Jags offence.
A similar adage rings around the league when a certain football powerhouse continues to maintain is nauseating level of success year after year: ‘Do your job’. This needs to be the mantra for this unit moving forward. Perhaps it would refreshing to see a newly coined phrase, but the message remains the same. Now bereft of stars on that side of the ball, the unit must be greater than the sum of its parts, a step-change from previous era’s of Houston Defence, but one that is needed if 2019 is to yield any results.
The Texans front will be asking a lot of young and inexperienced players. Chuck Omenihu has shown he can make plays, but finding consistency in using his long and powerful frame will be key for the former Big10 defensive player of the year. Jacob Martin is a pure speed rusher with a high level motor and Carlos Watkins a former 4th round pick on a contract year will need to dig deep in the trenches to created QB pressures. Whitney Mercilus looked to be on an unstoppable track at the seasons outset, however he has regressed in top line production but will be the teams main threat as an edge bender. The trusted aids, who form the self proclaimed “Lunch Pail Crew” lead by growing star in DJ Reader (also in contract year and would seem in line for a serious offer from someone, if not the Texans) ably assisted by DJ Dunny and Angelo Blackston will need to be dependable as ever to out allow the middle Linebackers to work freely.
B-Mac & Zack as a pairing has a ring to it on paper just as much as they do on the field. The level which the two continue to play the run and the improvements in pass coverage, means that this is no longer a weakness that opposing offences attack. This tandem is up there in the top 4 of pairings at that position and are vital to this team’s success. Dylan Cole perhaps hasn’t reached the level of play some might have hoped and Texans have continued to mix the third safety into packages, this is something that will need to be answered during the bye.
J-Reid continues to be a player that opposing teams avoid in the passing game. The Stanford engineering grad. shows equal nouse of the football field and is the leader of this secondary. The surprising addition of Gareon Conley, who lead with eight tackles last Sunday, appears to be in a position to succeed in this defence. The Texans will need growth from this group, under the stewardship of Anthony Midget and Conley’s fellow Ohio State product Bradley Roby, will be a much needed return from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him since week 6. Lonnie-J. Jr will hope he can brush off his concussion to return to round out a starting group that will need the experience of Jonathan Jospeh and safety Teshaun Gipson to solidify this DB unit in tough moments. The invaluable experience that the duo of Armstrong and Crossen will have gained in the starters absence will only be good for a position grouping that appeared to be the achilles heel of this team. But a scenario now presents itself where this group are in a situation to change that mentality down the stretch, it’s a case of piecing it together, week by week.
A team with Watson in it, is one that will likely be within touching distance regardless of whoever they face. In his 32 starts, the Texans have never lost by more than a single score. Now sitting at 6-3, the Texans will be largely content with their start to the season. The week four Carolina game aside, this 2019 Houston football team has been largely impressive. The engine of the team is their third-year quarterback who’s growth and maturation has been evident. The coaching staff have progressed the playbook to assist in heightening Watson’s strengths, but the mental aspect of the game is where ‘D4’ is not only elevating his own performances but all of those around him. Going into this bye week, Houston leads the league in total offence with 3,570 yards and Watson has contributed more total touchdowns that any other player with 25, through nine games. Whilst Watson continues to complete over 70% of his passes and adding over 30yards for rushing, he threat is ever-present, regardless of the score or situation. The offence has become dynamic, but in so many different ways.
But the emergence of a supporting cast from unlikely sources has been an underrated narrative. Tight end, Darren Fells, discarded by the imploding Browns was a veteran free agent pick up. Fells, a former pro basketball player, leads his position in touchdowns with six. The Browns, albeit for an above market value rate, bolstered the Texans once more in the trade for Duke Johnson. Duke not only notched his first rushing TD on Sunday, but also lead the team in receiving yards. His unique skill set has changed the way defences match up their coverages and has added a completely new dimension to keep opposing co-ordinators guessing. The Texans have transformed their half-back position group, lead by coach Danny Barrett and perhaps by chance. Carlos Hyde, by all accounts was offered to the Texans by Kansas City as a first option prior to hitting the waiver wire. He has been a missing piece of the offence of O’Briens tenure since the loss of Arian Foster in the 2014 pre-season. A true bell-cow back who lowers the pads, welcomes contact has added an element off balance to the offence. After a 160 yard performance last Sunday and 704 yards for the year, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, it’s difficult not be equally surprised and delighted with the “Elguapo” addition.
The aforementioned trio have been strong additions to an offence growing in stature but be careful not to overlook the secondary asset gained in this seasons bombshell trade, wide receiver Kenny Stills. The former Oklahoma stand-out has been an under the radar extension of this offence. His season has been defined by clutch catches when the team needs a play he is often the second read, when in receiver heavy sets. Stills announced his arrival in week-one with an introductory catch to the fan base, taking a late lead against arguably the NFL’s best team, in Louisiana. If this had of been a game winner perhaps it would have etched into Houston folklore more than current levels of praise have attained. However, it is clear he’s a trusted aid in passing game and it’s reasonable to expect that Stills will make an sizeable impact on this season’s story.
The primary addition of the seismic trade with Miami brought over left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The front office on Kirby Drive have been looking for answers at that position since the acrimonious split with former pro-bowler Duane Brown. Addressing the most vital position of the O-line has had wide reaching and positive consequences for the offence. Tunsil’s play has shored up the unit and often with O-Line play, a game changer can elevate the other four performances across the line and that’s been the case with both Rookie’s Sharping at left guard and Tytus Howard at right tackle. The missed time by Tytus was a stark reminder to all what phenomenal additional he’s been to this team despite being panned by draft nicks, he’s proven he was worth the selection and some. Even the sometimes questionable Nick Martin at centre appears to have found a groove and perhaps a string of good health and is playing at a solid level as the anchor in front of Deshaun.
The biggest issues for the last three weeks for the Texans has been health. Sunday saw yet another missed game by speedster Will Fuller. The fourth year player out of Notre Dame, is a pro-bowler when healthy but the ability to stay on the field has eluded him and robbed the Texans of one of the games best deep threats. If, Fuller can stay healthy, his speed opens up sections of the play book and gives this team big-play ability that they lack, in his absence. His return and sustained returned in the back half of the 2019 slate will be critical.
The proverbial sky is the limit for this team, providing team defence can rule the day and missed special team assignments are kept to a minimum. As we sit watching the remainder of the league playing out their ties this weekend, the Texans have three-game stretch upcoming that will delineate their 2019 fortunes. To this point they have exceeded expectations, propelled by Coach OB’s wheeling and dealing. It would seem now that theres an inclination to logically envisage more. Standing in their way of a play off run: at Baltimore, hosting both Thursday Night Football against the Colts and Sunday Night Football against New England. This of course followed by a 4 game-run that looks winnable but such games could easily become no-contests, if the Texans can’t handle the three preliminary ties.
In this three game span, there there will be no hiding places, the margin for error reduced and a need for at 53 men to step forward and be counted. If this can happen and the Texans can come out the tallest of tasks with two wins, then we can afford ourself to perhaps dream but only a for a short while. The Indy game is on a short week after a trip East will be the toughest test of all. Mainly, as under no circumstances can the Texans drop that game in the division. Most Texans fans would put up with a loss to both Baltimore and from the visit from the Tom Brady, if it lead to a win against the Colts. Every game in the NFL is must win, but the winner of that TNF clash will likely go on to win the AFC South and gain the resulting home play-off tie in the division round.
It would appear the odds and momentum could likely be stacked against this team going into these games. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens unique run-heavy offence will in all probability be 7-2 going into the clash as they face the 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals this weekend with Andy Dalton watching on from the sidelines. Similarly the Colts, the health of Jacobs Brissett’s MCL aside, host two games in their own building against a 1-7 Miami side – albeit coming of their first win this season – followed by a visit from the Jags. A Nick Foles revival in Duval county will need to be in the hopes and prayers across Houston.
The Texans in their entire history have been in the shadow of the team that everyone loves to hate, the New England Patriots in the race in the AFC. The Pats scheduled to the point, sitting 8-1, has been favourable by any stretch of the imagination. Losing their first game of the season in Baltimore last week is one point of consideration but so is their impending trip to Philadelphia and hosting the Cowboys, prior to the Texans on national television. Facing two teams who have limited room for error in the NFC East race, will likely bring the best out of a new England unit who have a remarkable ability to rise to the occasion. But they certainly have the tougher prelude prior to facing the Texans. This should give reason for some modest optimism and its worth noting they face the Chiefs the following week, in Foxborough. It appears the AFC’s elite will have traded blows substantially by the close of week 14, to give a clear idea of the run-in required for each city to reach it’s goals.
It’s currently all to play for, the view of this years Texans squad will be a more accurate picture come the end of the New England game. There’s far too much football to be played for comparing of schedule run-in’s and lots of variable will swing and questions will be answered in the next month.
But one is thing for sure, there’s very few other leaders on this planet your’d rather have than H-Town’s no. 4 to take on the AFC’s elite. The closer, each week they can get to health and playing a full 60mins with cleaner execution, it would be remiss not to say that this team has got a real chance.
Deshaun Waston once again puts his beleaguered teammates on his back and hooks up with TE Darren Fells late on a number of crucial and mesmerising plays to edge past Oakland after trailing for 50 plus minutes. But further injuries threaten this team’s season on defence, leaving many questions on that side of the ball. How they will be answered in the final 8 games, remains to be a challenge for the coaching staff.
Another afternoon, another slow start. This team continues to be hindered by its inability to start games fast. When Deshaun and the offence get into gear, we’ve seen how rapidly points appear on the board. This 2019’s team quest for consistency is one that confines its ceiling to a level of underachievement based on its offensive talent. Now leading the league in pre-snap penalties, it appears early in games the Texans can’t get out from under their own feet and are creating a habit of trailing early. A touchdown to the pass catching tail back, Duke Johnson was the only highlight of a 1st half to forget. This was to be overcome by Deshaun and the offence late-on but against the AFC’s elite this may not be quite as easy as flicking the switch when needed.
The biggest story bar the result on Sunday was the loss of the unofficial mayor of Houston, Justin James Watt. The star D-End’s season has once again been prematurely ended and leaving a gaping hole in Romeo Crennel’s unit. It’s clear at this stage of JJ’s career the team can no longer rely on him to be healthy, the run of injuries has now seen him miss more than 30 games overs last 4 seasons. His loss to an already muted pass rush is colossal. JJ’s year to date, was one that saw him lead the league in QB hits, despite only notching four sacks he was playing at a high level. It remains to be seen how such a void can be filled and what impact will this have on the team. Will this just further expose an already porous pass defence? The answers will be stark in the coming weeks but after an innocuous tackle for loss, Watt on the next play knew something wasn’t quite right and headed up the tunnel.
This team was already constrained by injuries particularly in the secondary. Starting Safety Teshaun Gipson, and long serving Cornerback Johnathan Jospeh were both respectively held out of this game. This was already against a back drop of free agent signing, Bradly Roby out with a hamstring injury & rookie second round-pick, Lonnie Johnson Jr, left the field with a suspected concussion in the second quarter. This would have appeared to open the door for an Oakland passing attack which lead 21-13 in the third quarter. A Raiders unit lead by the Quarterback in question by his own fanbase: Derek Carr. A familiar name in Houston sports folklore as his older brother, Derek, infamously dawned the Texans uniform as its first ever quarterback as an expansion franchise in 2002. An arrangement for a variety of reasons that didn’t work out and remains to this day an example of not putting the talent around a passer that a franchise has greatly invested in.
This would have been the criticism of your current Houston Texans prior to last season. The influx of talent, after parting with significant draft capital, had created offensive line that looked to be a strong and gelling unit. However, injuries once again impacted Deshaun’s first line of protection. Tytus Howard, this years 1st round pick, missed his second consecutive game with a strained MCL. Late in the 4th quarter, Laremy Tunsil left with a shoulder ailment that was later described as minor.
Having Watson’s two cornerstone’s on either side of the line missing, is what makes the final two drives all the more special. Street free agent Chris Clarke and recently signed from New England Practice squad, Dan Skipper, were the protection on the edges. The go-ahead TD isn’t something we haven’t seen from Waston before. But the ability to escape pressure in the pocket and to spin away from the clutches of a would be sack-artist is unique. To evade two defensive lineman, be kicked in the eye with a trailing leg, adjust his helmet, throw a 12-yard pass to his tight end with only sight in one eye was a sequence that defines Watson and who he is as a QB.
The defence then made a stand on Oakland final two drives of the ball game, a sure-fire pick-six was dropped by linebacker Dylan Cole but that lead to the introduction of the Raiders field-goal unit for the first time in the game. The following Oakland possession was then blown up by D-Tackle come D-End, DJ Reader who continues to flourish in the pass rush as he drew a hold from the Raiders stand-in centre. A ten yard holding penalty was issued by the officiating crew. Then after giving up a first down pass on the final drives first play, newly acquired Gareon Conley rose when needed. Acquired for a third round pick from Oakland earlier in the week, facing his old teammates, broke up a pass intended for Tyrell Williams and forced the punt.
The offence were able then to kneel this one out after the two-minute warning. Again Darren Fells, an ever reliable target for Waston, grabbed a one-handed snag and to get the first down. This ones in the books the Texans who walked out 27-24 winners after not reaching their potential for much of the afternoon and the injuries continue to pile up.
The transatlantic trip against the Jags in an early kick (8.30am Central) at the home of English soccer, Wembley Stadium, awaits in a must win game prior to the much needed bye week.