Brains are mush, eyes feel like they're gonna bleed, hands are trembling, and somehow the Texans managed to survive again and start the season 2-0. These last two weeks have brought up emotions I have not felt since I was a hormonal 17 year old, back when the energy of a girl's hand a few inches from mine would make my body sputter and stomach tingle like a storm of fire ants. There hasn't been a two game period like these last two weeks in the history of Texans football since well, last season. We all feel like at some point during yesterday's game we went to the fridge to get a glass of water then--WHOOOOSHH!--sucked into a time warp back to November 18, 2012.
I was driving back to San Marcos from my girlfriend's parents place in Boerne (my girlfriend will only read anything about football if she's mentioned). For some apocalyptic reason that seems to escape me now, we left late and I was forced to listen to Mark Vandermeer's deafening bellows on the radio as we scurried down Highway 46 back to San Marcos. The game started out like it was supposed to when Houston capped of a drive with a TD pass to Keshawn Martin against the horrifically abysmal Jaguars. Then everything changed.
Chad Henne came in for an injured Blaine Gabbert. An easy win against a 1-9 team turned into an epic slugfest. Both teams battled back and forth until an Andre Johnson screen pass won the game in OT. Four days later, with my eyes rolled back into my head from the exhaustion of gorging on turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, and corn, it happened again. Houston turned what was supposed to be a fairly easy win against a talented 4-7 Lions team into an overtime mess. They would win after a Justin Forsett TD run (thanks to a Jim Schwartz challenge) and a Shayne Graham game winning field goal in overtime. Houston soon turned from the team that "just wins" to the team that couldn't seal the deal. The Texans would finish the season 2-3 in their last five games, watching as home field advantage and the #1 seed in the AFC crumpled in flames like the town of Pompeii.
These last two weeks, we have witnessed something eerily similar as Houston dramatically beat two mediocre to possible playoff contending teams. Both games should've been losses, but the Texans were able to come back from the dead. The narrative this week will be "this team just finds a way to win games, and this ability will pay off in the future." In reality, Houston was extremely lucky and could just as easily be 0-2 entering the toughest stretch of their schedule this season. Great teams beat up on bad ones. Great teams win close games against other great teams; they do not dig themselves into a hole they narrowly escape from.
Today, we really have no clue if Houston is any better than they were last year. To me, it seems like their fate is another second round playoff loss to Denver or New England. Nevertheless, Houston did win yesterday and is 2-0. We'll examine the game by looking at what happened in the second half, DeAndre Hopkins' masterpiece. and J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing's performances.
Houston entered the third quarter down 10-7 after both sides played one of the sloppiest first halves in recent memory. Tenesseee received the opening kickoff, had a 3 and out, and punted from their own 28. Houston then followed with a three and out of their own. However, Houston's drive changed the field position in Houston's favor; that would be the key of the second half. After Shane Lechler boomed his punt out of bounds (I severely underestimated his impact this summer and I owe him an apology) at the Tennessee 7 yard line, the Titans' next drives went as follows:
*I kept their 1st drive in the half as a comparison.*
Houston's defense had a Monday Night encore on Sunday and shut down the Titans' middle school offense. They held Tennessee to 14 plays in the third quarter until Jake Locker somehow drove the ball 99 yards down the field as Kareem Jackson turned back into his 2010 rookie self. Houston suffocated the run game, put Locker in third and longs, and Tennessee was unable to get anything going on offense, except for their two TD drives. Because of their defense, Houston's offense was handed prime field position; instead of putting the Titans away during this stretch, the Texans almost squandered the game with their ineptitude. A game that should've been 21-10 entering the 4th quarter, demanding the Titans throw the ball on almost every play, turned into a 24-16 game where another comeback was needed. During this same stretch, Houston's offensive drives were:
|4||6:37||21||3||-11||INT for TD|
On Monday night when the defense shut down the Chargers, the Texans' offense started their comeback and obliterated a 28-7 deficit. On Sunday, the opposite occurred. During this stretch, Houston's drives started on average at their own 31.8, and they had three drives start around their own 40. The blood was in the water and if they turned one of those punts into a TD, they would have forced Tennessee to come back from a 13 point deficit. Instead, the offense turned into some weird being that couldn't move the ball and failed to capitalize on their prime field position. The problems arose for Houston's offense when they didn't pick up yards on first down and were forced into long 3rd downs, which allowed Gregg Williams to send the house and put pressure on Matt Schaub. On drives where Houston punted in the second half, their 1st and 3rd down numbers tell the story.
|Run -3 Yds||3rd 7-INC|
|INC||3rd 6-12 YD TD|
1st 20-4 YD Pass
|1 Yd Run||3rd 9- 5 YD Pass|
|0 Yd Run||3rd 10-5 YD Pass|
|-4 Yd Run||3rd 21-INT|
|INC||3rd 16- -11 YD Sack|
During this time period, Houston had an average third down of 10 yards ,which was a direct result of their inability to do anything on 1st down. The Texans had negative total yards on first down during this stretch of 1 TD, 5 punts, and 1 INT, where they had an average field position of 32 yards. It's a type of impotence rarely seen anywhere other than a golf course.
Sometimes you can just feel when the offense is going through a downturn and can guarantee a punt when they fail to succeed on first down. The Titans' defense deserves just as much credit as Houston's does for their performance in the second half. The Texans' offense needed to put the game away and they didn't. That is what scares me. When they play the top teams in the league, like Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, and New England, failure to put the game away will result in a loss. There won't be a chance for a miraculous comeback to save them.
Forget About 'Dre
Dre The Second displayed why Rick Smith and Kubiak took Clemson's all-time leading receiver with their first round pick. I won't know until I get the chance to watch the Game Rewind, but it seemed to me that the Titans either double-covered or had the safety helping over the top on Andre Johnson, which left Hopkins alone in man coverage. Andre Johnson still had 8 catches for 76 yards before Bernard Pollard a/k/a "The Baby Face Killa" knocked him out of the game. Houston needed DeAndre to step up and beat man coverage. Hopkins did that.
Down 17-16 in the 4th quarter with 6:37 remaining, Schaub tried to complete a pass to Hopkins streaking down the sideline on 3rd and 21. It what was an apparent Tony Romo/Dez Bryant patented miscommunication, Schaub threw a comeback, but Hopkins never turned around for it and kept running down the sideline. The ball floated and fell right into Alterraun Verner's hands; he thundered into the end zone, making the game 24-16. The next series of events would be a three and out each for Houston and Tennessee. The Texans would have the ball at their own 13 with 3:07 remaining to tie the game. At this point in time, Houston had a .4% chance of winning, according to Pro Football Reference. The drive started with the groans of another incompletion. Then Hopkins took over.
He had three catches in a row for 23, 13, and 28 yards, exceeding his entire stat line in 32 seconds as Houston moved the ball from their own 13 to the Titans' 23 yard line. The next play, Johnson took his shot from Pollard on a 21 yard gain and Foster would punch it in for the TD and two point conversion.
With Johnson out, overtime would again be the Hopkins Show. On 3rd and 10 (HOU had a no gain on 1st down), Schaub completed a 25 yard pass to Hopkins to put the Texans at the one yard line. They then ran for -2 yards and ran my least favorite play in the history of football, the fade into the corner of the end zone not once, but twice. Somehow it worked the second time when Hopkins did his best Andre Johnson impression, leaped over the defensive back, and planted both his feet in the end zone for the game-winning score.
- DeAndre Hopkins, Before the Pick 6: 2 catches for 24 yards.
- DeAndre Hopkins, After the Pick 6: 5 catches for 93 yards and 1 TD.
- Total Stats: 7 catches (13 targets) for 117 Yards and 1 TD.
DeAndre Hopkins turned into a demonic receiving monster and simply put the game on his back after Schaub's last interception. When Hopkins was drafted, I heard all of the talk about how he could revolutionize the offense. I had my doubts at first after looking at the numbers rookie wide receivers usually post. However, we all saw what the offense can do when its playing at its full potential, and I love it. Double 'Dre, and there's 'Dre II in man coverage. Focus all of your effort on the outside, and the tighty whities Garrett Graham and Owen Daniels will tear up the middle of the field. Matt Schaub should have his best passing season since 2009, where he threw for 4,770 yards and 29 TDs; back then, all Houston did was throw the ball. This potential for rebirth in the passing game can be attributed to the arrival of Hopkins and the difference a second receiver makes. It should only get better as the season progresses. Offenses take a little longer to develop because of the intricacies involved of creating instead of just reacting like a defense does. Hopkins is a game-changer. Hopefully he keeps delivering performances like this as the season progresses and he brings death to the one wide receiver offense.
Watt and Cushing Sitting in a Tree
A couple of weeks ago, Brian Cushing was rewarded with a six-year, $55.64 million ($21 million guaranteed) contract extension. I was a little hesitant about the deal when I first saw it. Even in today's world of modern medicine, one never knows how a player will come back from a calamitous injury. In spite of the whispered doubts, Cushing has already proven he's worth the money. He still is one of the best middle linebackers in the league. Right now, the only shame is Houston wasn't able to reap the benefits of him and Watt playing a full season together in 2012.
In Sunday's game, Cushing had an A-1 performance of 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, and 2 QB hits. He controlled the middle of the field and devoured the Titans' run game. Up the middle, Tennessee had 25 runs for 102 yards at 4.08 yards a carry. The average is skewed a bit by some 8 to 12 yard runs the Titans were able to break up the middle, but there were 16 runs where the Titans gained 2 yards or less. The problems the Titans had in running the ball up middle can be attributed to poor play by the center and Cushing's ability to shoot the gaps and fill the holes (I'll beat you to it...TWSS). The whole linebacking corps was terrific even if the individual numbers don't show it. The outside linebackers were able to set the edge and usually keep Chris Johnson inside the tackles. Consequently, the Titans could only muster 6 rushes outside for 18 yards. Their longest run of the day was 16 yards.
J.J Watt, denizen of the backfield, the man whose three-point stance is a portent of an offensive line's misery, the suzerain of the football field, had another dominating performance. After the San Diego game, some people were confused about Watt's performance. Was there something wrong with him? Was he heading for a slump? You know an athlete has reached the pinnacle of success when a 3 tackle/1 TFL/1 PD/2 QB hit game raises questions like these.
On Sunday, he turned in another masterful performance against Tennessee's revamped offensive line. He had 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD, and 4 QB hits, even with the Titans' offensive line tackling him on some plays. Watt answered all doubts about him not being able to live up to the expectations last season's production brought. He played at the impossible level he's admired for. I'm guessing a game against the Titans is exactly what he needed to get back into his 2012 season groove. Watt's lifetime numbers against the Titans are below.
As you can see, Watt has feasted on the Titans like a hillbilly at a KFC buffet. It's interesting to see how he turned from J.J. Watt into J.J. Swat from 2011-2012, when he went from 0 passes deflected to having six in his last three games against the Titans. The only game he didn't make an impact was the second game in 2011 when Houston rested their starters and still almost beat the Titans with Jake Delhomme as the starting quarterback. I don't know why Watt destroys the Titans. My guess is either teal is synonymous to a bull seeing red for Watt or Bud Adams once ruined his letter man jacket after he drove through a puddle while Watt was standing on the corner waiting for his bus. Whatever the reason, Watt swallows the Titans' offense like Fransisco Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children.
- Arian Foster had one of the toughest runs of his career Sunday on that two-point conversion. He knew the Texans had to convert and he willed his way into the end zone. That hard-nosed running style is the difference between him and Chris Johnson
- The Titans had 9 three and outs yesterday. They scored 10 points off Houston turnovers. If you don't make mistakes, Tennessee will starve for points.
- I love the no-back sets, but the Titans were able to blitz more than Houston could block and neutralized the spread field (I'll dive into this on Thursday).
- Tennessee's "run the ball, don't make mistakes, play great defense" strategy may work in today's pass-happy NFL. When the pendulum has swung one way, there are opportunities in doing the opposite.
- In the second half, Andre Johnson had 4 catches for 43 yards on 6 targets. The Titans did a fine job adjusting their coverage to stop him.
- Houston may think about pulling a Jerry Jones and have two kickers on the 53 man roster. Even though Randy Bullock is inaccurate, his ability to kick the ball out of the end zone on every kick off is extremely valuable. I'm sure they can find a kicker who knock down 40 yarders on the waiver wire.
- Tennessee's defense played a great game, but until they develop some consistency on offense, they are nothing more than an 8-8 team.
These last two weeks have stolen a few years off my life. I woke up this morning w/ a few gray hairs and deepened wrinkles above my brow. They stuck out like a girl at a UTSA party. The first two games of the season were exciting, joyous, and almost more intense than these last few episodes of Breaking Bad have been. As a result, we have no idea if Houston is a good football team in an objective sense. Yes, they are too talented and have the track record to prove they are better than a .500 team, but their play has suggested otherwise. They have failed to put teams away and have yet to play a full sixty minute football game.The offense goes through stagnant stretches of wasteful possessions, which forces the defense to play a nearly perfect game until Schaub and company save the day and rip the rubber mask off the monster. Houston has had spurts of greatness, but right now they are a lucky football team.
It has only been two games, but I'm still worried about the team's play so far this season. They have yet to show they are any better than a team who is something better than a divisional round casualty. I'm waiting to see some type of killer instinct that says "Eff this. We aren't going to lose this game. We're going to close the door on the opponent." All that being said, we will learn all we need to these next five weeks when the Texans play against five playoff contenders--Baltimore, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Kansas City. I'm just happy they're sitting at 2-0 instead of the 0-2 they could very easily be.