Let's be honest here. The Texans got a win. But, like I said during the game, this is a win purely in the strictest sense of the word.
Save for the first quarter to quarter and a half of the game, everything about this game felt like a loss. The offense was hamstrung by an offensive line which was more like a dotted line, hindering the running game and contributing to some of the questionable throws made by one Brock Osweiler. The defense looked lost at times, helpless at others, and the less we say about the last 15 seconds of the first half the game, the better for my blood pressure.
I want to like Brock Osweiler. I really, really want him to be the Texans' answer at quarterback. But some of the throws he's made, including the two interceptions today, leave you scratching your head, wondering exactly what he saw that you, me, or the rest of the world did not. Because those interceptions, the intentional grounding throw, and a few others flat out baffled me.
When this game started, I thought it was going to be one of those classic Texans bounce back games; the kind of game where, after an absolute pantsing, the Texans look like gangbusters against complete garbage to confuse everybody as to exactly what this team might be. And for a quarter and a half, they played really good football against complete trash, getting that 14-0 lead. Then the Tacks made adjustments and the Texans either couldn't or would not adjust in kind, making the game feel like a battle for the bottom.
That the Texans struggled, by and large, against one of the worst teams in football fills me full of happy warm feelings, or something polar opposite to those, as the Texans go up against what appears to be a pretty good Vikings team next week.
Oh, and Will Fuller is awesome.
When do we start to worry about Brock Osweiler? Is it this week? Is it the next? Is it after another first round playoff boot following another year of being the best team in a bad division? I don't know. What I do know is that after a great first game against an atrocious Bears' defense, he hasn't been very good.
Overall, he's thrown for 949 yards, has a completion percentage of 61.6%, an average completion of 6.5 yards, and has five touchdowns to six interceptions. Those are his counting stats. Entering last week, Football Outsiders had him ranked 26th in DVOA and 27th in DYAR, behind lustrous quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert and Blaine Bortles. He's led an offense that ranked 32nd in DVOA, 29th in passing, and 31st in rushing. After the way the Texans played against the Titans, there should be some improvement, but not an enormous leap to viability. Although these numbers haven't been adjusted by opponent and swing wildly because of the small sample size, it indicates that Osweiler hasn't even been as good as his modest counting stats indicate.
When watching him, you would think the numbers would be better. He looks like a good quarterback. He makes plays like a good quarterback. This is on the surface level. When you dig deeper, there's one main flaw hiding underneath everything. Ball placement. He doesn't lead receivers well in the short to medium throws. Some of this interceptions have been a direct result of him throwing too far inside and giving a beat corner an opportunity to make a play on the ball. Even his completions suffer from the same error. His touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz was a perfect example. He's wide open. Osweiler throws him high. C.J. has to make an unnecessary leaping catch and plant both feet in the end zone.
It feels like the deep ball can make up for his errors. If he can make the throws that pick up passes in fat increments, then the problems with ball placement, being the only person in the world who can't throw the ball to DeAndre Hopkins, the interceptions, the bad decisions, the clopping around the pocket all are livable. And then you look at the numbers. On throws farther than fifteen yards down field, Osweiler is 11-30 for 308 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He ranks 13th, 6th, 15th, T-8th, and T-6th in the NFL in these categories. He's been average at throwing the deep ball. I guess it feels like he's so much better because the offense has lived the last two years with a quiet, incessant run game and throwing the ball to DeAndre Hopkins for 12 yards.
This isn't an inexperienced quarterback, either. He's 25 years old. He's on his second contract. This is his fifth year in the league. He's started eleven games now. The problems he's shown and the offense he's led this year can't be attributed or swept away to youth. These are now consistent errors.
All that being said, I still think he and this offense will get better. It takes time for an offense that has this many different parts to come together. Osweiler is new. Lamar Miller is new. The offensive line is new, even if it is mixed and matched from a pick and pull. I just don't know when and if it will happen. What worries me, as of October 3, 2016, is it seems like Osweiler's ceiling is Joe Flacco, a quarterback whose success is directly tied to the deep ball. That's fine when he's hot, but it's a much lower point than the above average/good/top ten quarterback I thought he could reach.
It's going to be interesting in the next few weeks to see how this Texans offense evolves without the deep ball. Those first two weeks had the luxury of defenses not focusing on protecting against Will Fuller going deep. This gave the Texans chances to stretch the field in spaces that wouldn't be available against deep safeties.
The past two games, we've seen the Patriots and Titans employed numerous two deep safety looks to restrict the amount of space the Texans can create by sending Fuller deep. While the Patriots game gave us increased usage of TEs on shorter routes, this week saw a more short yardage passing game with the TEs stretching the seams of the Cover 2 and finding gaps between linebackers and safeties. Apart from that, the only thing which generated consistent yardage was getting the ball into Will Fuller's hands as much as possible. There were a few catches where he juggled, but getting the ball to him in short yardage spaces and letting him use his speed has been Houston's best option on offense.
If a short yardage passing attack is going to be the Texans' offense going forward, it's going to need more out of DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller. Hopkins has been suffering from Brock's accuracy issues in contested catch situations where Hop is usually so good. Brock just really seems to struggle on the short to intermediate stuff, especially with his accuracy and ball placement. There were a few throws yesterday in which the receiver had space and Oz airmailed the throw. At this rate, I'm not sure we're going to see the best out of Brock until the Texans can re-establish the deep ball as a viable option.
I don't think we're going to get a strong idea about what this defense can do until it faces a more proficient offense, so trying to draw anything out of this week's performance would be fool's gold.
Either way, it's a win, and it's another step towards being able to say we're the best team in the worst division in football.
I heard Bill O'Brien on the radio this morning (a sound bite from earlier in the week) talking about what the team needed to do going forward after last week's debacle.
- Coach better.
- Execute better.
- Tackle better.
- Block better.
- Make better reads.
[insert other things pro ballers need to do]
Other than Will Fuller, I'm not sure any one of the staff or players took that stuff to heart.
They faced a Tennessee Titans team that's won only six games since the beginning of the 2014 season. That's 6 of the last 36 games. Yes, they're that bad.
That same Titans team almost made it seven today. Almost.
There's no reason the Titans should have even been in this game at any point, with or without J.J. Watt. But they were. All the way down to the wire.
While none of us have a clue what's going on down in NRG Park, it's becoming a recurring question in the national media if any of them have a clue. While I know they do, the constant appearance of cluelessness is not only disconcerting, it's going to catch up to them again just like it did in New England. Particularly if they don't get it together before facing a hungry, undefeated Minnesota Vikings defense next week.
The silver lining? Instead of succumbing to "oh KITTEN it's happening AGAIN!" like they did in 2013, the Texans pulled together and found a way to win. That's all that matters. That and the fact that Andre Johnson didn't score the game-winning touchdown.
Will Fuller is so fast that he should insist on wearing nothing but plaid when he's out of his Texans uniform.#SpaceBalls #Ludicrous Speed
The Texans are on pace for 12-4, but it looks and feels more like 4-12. The OL needs to improve the most. Brock needs to make better decisions and be more accurate. Kareem Jackson needs to stay near the box and never be assigned deep again. Fuller needs to be fed early and often. Hopkins needs to be included earlier than the middle of the 4th quarter in games. O'Brien needs someone to build a battle card for him to reference on what to do with clock management in different situations.
Did I mention how fast Will Fuller plays? He may be single-handedly capable of helping me to not descend into depression after losing J.J. Watt for the season. One more game like this and I'm dropping some hard earned coin for one of his jerseys.
I really thought (not just hoped, actually THOUGHT) Osweiler would rise to the occasion today and show us Best Case Scenario Brock. Sure looked that way for a while, but it didn't last long. While it's impossible not to love up on Will Fuller, the total lack of chemistry between Brock and Hop, and the continuous horrible decisions by Brock each game really makes you wonder if this team will be able to stay within the ten legitimately good teams. Thanks, AFC South!
On defense, I'm not going to overreact to one game without J.J. Watt, but if it turns out a large part of 59, 51, and 90's early-season success is more heavily tied to how defenses account for Watt than most thought, none of us should be surprised.
The Texans' offensive shortcomings were on full display against a crappy BE-SFs team on Sunday, but we have Will Fuller.
Heading into the season, it was pretty clear the Texans' offensive line was going to struggle. Duane Brown is hurt, Jeff Allen is new, Nick Martin is a rookie, and Xavier Su'a Filo is going to play. Of those four issues, three of them remain, but we didn't even get to see Nick Martin. Instead, we got Greg Mancz at center, which is an even bigger problem.
As a result, the Texans have struggled to run the ball, Brock Osweiler is consistently under pressure from even basic speed rushes, and the offense looks pathetic at times. Giving Jay Prosch snaps doesn't help either.
Worst of all, for the second consecutive week, teams have been bracketing both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, taking away Brock's best route accuracy. When forced to make throws other than fades and deep balls, Brock's decision making and accuracy remain iffy, showing little sign of improvement after four games if not downright becoming worse. I'm writing this during the Sunday afternoon games, so it's possible Brock will have the second worst QB rating at the end of the day. It's not like we're playing the Seahawks every week either: the teams we've faced are ranked #4, #14, #24, and #27 by DVOA.
Defensively, "Exotic Smashmouth" looks just as stupid and moronic as it sounds. 1973 called, Mike Mularkey, and it wants its offensive scheming back. And how about A.J. Bouye?
Early in the first quarter yesterday, the Houston Texans looked like an upper echelon NFL team. Yes, it was against the Titans, but the offense was humming like it hadn't all season long. Brock Osweiler was completing passes over the short, middle part of the field; he hadn't really done that with any sort of consistency until yesterday. Those completions were spliced between Lamar Miller runs and the occasional deeper shot down the field. Essentially, save for the absence of DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans' offense finally looked like we hoped it would.
Then it stopped, and it didn't really come back. Instead, the offense regressed. If not for Will Fuller saving the day with a punt return touchdown, the likely scenario was overtime, if not a loss. After the way the Texans came out of the gate yesterday, that would have been cataclysmic.
As others have mentioned, a win is a win is a win. 3-1 at the quarter pole is nothing to sneeze at, and the Texans are firmly in control of the AFC South. Still, there's a lot to to wonder about, including but not limited to Osweiler's interceptions, Bill O'Brien's clock management, O'Brien's use of challenges, the offensive line, and most importantly, how this team will compete against the best teams in the league. The next quarter of the season sees the Texans traveling to Minneapolis to fact the Vikings, coming home to host the Colts on Sunday Night Football, traveling to Denver to play the Broncos on Monday Night Football, and closing out October with a home game against the Lions. Based upon what we've seen over the first four games, expecting the Texans to hit the halfway point with a record better than 5-3 would seem to require a leap of faith.
Now, that'd put the team on pace for 10 wins, which will almost definitely win the division, which means a home playoff game, and we certainly aren't in a position to turn up our nose at that. But will they compete against the really good teams in the NFL, particularly on the road? Even if they lose to the Vikings or Broncos, will they show up? Or will they be handled in a matter similar to what happened in New England? That's the question.
The Texans are good, or at least good enough to sit comfortably atop a bad division. How good beyond that? I have no idea.
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