On the way back from Austin, Texas, coming back from bigfatdrunk's and Halloween hangovers, going back home to San Antonio, I hit traffic in Schertz. In the left hand lane, there was a fire truck, a cop car, another fire truck with several men wearing blue shirts sitting on the back bumper, a cop car, cops talking to a distraught woman, a car with a smashed driver side and obliterated bumper lifted up onto the bed of a tow truck, and more cop cars. The drive stuttered and stopped. A five minute section of road took thirty-five minutes to get through. I listened to the Broncos-Chargers game with my head out the window, drowning in the orange and bronzed light, cooked in some spooky 80 degree October heat.
All of that nihilistic, time-wasting traffic was still more fun than the Texans-Lions game that took place on Sunday. There was nothing fun or interesting that occurred. It was filled with a lot of running, decent throws to tight ends against the Lions' linebackers that are the worst in the league, and Matthew Stafford being inaccurate and inefficient. If you wanted to come up with highlights from this game, I guess a touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz on a short uncovered out route, Bill O'Brien hollering about ten men on the field for a kickoff return, Jadeveon Clowney's wide nine sack against a backup right tackle, and DeAndre Hopkins's fumble that was never reviewed, or Hop's one-handed catch are it. All of which aren't really highlights. All of which were plays devoid of the spectacular.
Then, at the end, with a possible chance for something memorable to happen, Jim Caldwell went aggressive and ended up incompetent. Instead of kicking the ball as far as possible down the field while trailing by seven with three timeouts and the two minute warning remaining, against the worst offense in the NFL, Caldwell tried to quick snap an onside kick. It skittered directly to a Texans player. Houston then ran the ball until the game was over, and Matthew Stafford never received the opportunity to lead another fourth quarter comeback drive.
There's something to be said of playing football the way Houston has. If you play good defense, tackle well, don't make mistakes, grind the ball on the ground like teeth stuck in sleep paralysis, and hold the opponent to seventeen points or less, you can win games. It has to be against bad to mediocre teams, and it has to be boring.
The Texans are 5-3, which is cool, I guess. But they are the blandest team in the league. The defense is dull without J.J. Watt. The only fun times are when Clowney chases someone down from the backside, bloody and panting, to make tackles, or when a defensive back knocks down a pass. The offense is the worst in the league. They still can't get their "explosive" skill players to make plays. Will Fuller V, Braxton Miller, Lamar Miller, and DeAndre Hopkins are all stuck running through muck and catching short passes while trying to maintain a positive outlook on life. In this game, against the worst defense in the NFL, Houston scored just 20 points, relied on the plodding Alfred Blue, and Brock Osweiler continues to show that he is a really bad quarterback. It's just sad that we all waited two years of our lives for this. The Texans are the football equivalent of sitting in traffic, yet they aren't even as much fun as sitting in traffic.
Houston jumped out to an early lead, shocking most of us. Then it seemed like they were going to let it slip through their fingers, but they hung on to win. Bravo, Texans. It's great to hit the bye week on a win and sitting at 5-3, but there's a LOT of work they need to do between now and when they travel to Mexico City to play the Raiders after the bye and the sort of bye before that (Jacksonville).
Houston is now 5-0 at home, for the first time in franchise history, but Oakland is 5-0 on the road. Hopefully the back-to-back bye weeks bring healing, no more injuries, and vast improvement for the offense and special teams.
I have seen more interesting thumb wars than what this game provided, but I'll certainly take the win. Brock looked better but is still far from what is expected in a franchise-pay-level QB. Will Fuller had a (rare) perfectly thrown ball slip through his fingers, but I'll give him his rookie year to improve the drop syndrome he is clearly plagued with. He simply MUST catch footballs in that role in the NFL, as he wasn't drafted as a first round pick to block, tackle, or throw.
The offensive play-calling is still incredibly baffling in many circumstances and looks like a very disassociated collection of random plays rather than a strategic sequence that sets up consistent scoring throughout a game. We are at the halfway mark, and I really expect to see an improvement after the bye week where the offense takes a step forward, with more of the players executing in harmony like a symphony instead of a collection of rented musical instruments falling off the back of a truck.
The defense was signature R.A.C.'s "bend don't break," but I'd like to see them get turnovers and have the pass rush finish plays in the backfield. A.J. Bouye is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and I'm worried that Rick Smith didn't offer him a contract before this regular season started, because he's going to be expensive to keep against the open market now as the top graded CB in the league. I think Johnathan Joseph will be gone next year; it would be ideal to have both Kevin Johnson and Bouye around going forward.
No points for style, but the Texans are 5-3 and first in the AFC South. It's time to heal up and build on this for a strong finish.
I'll lead with the big positive I'm taking from this win. When the Texans needed to run the ball to close the game out - when everyone in the building KNEW they were going to run the ball - they stepped on Detroit's collective throat and sealed the deal. That was unexpected and impressive. The defense played well, considering how many injuries it has been dealing with, and with how well Matt Stafford has played lately.
Everything else is basically the same. Going into the bye week, the Texans have won the games they were supposed to win, and lost the games they were supposed to lose. At home, they play like a team with a terrible offense that can still find a way to win. On the road, they play like a team with a terrible offense, terrible defense, and seemingly little interest in competing.
To be frank, at a high-level view, this team is exactly what I expected with or without J.J. Watt - a team that can look respectable at times, win this division, and is destined to get the full "Negan" treatment in the playoffs.
Any other week, the story would be how the Texans' defense managed to contain Matthew Stafford, who looked like every bit of an MVP candidate and a top five QB coming into yesterday's tilt. While the Texans' run defense again left something to be desired, they did a great job frustrating Stafford all afternoon. A.J. Bouye in particular continued to shine, to the point that even people like Peter King have taken notice of Bouye's play and looming free agent pay day.
As impressive as the Texans' defense was against a very good quarterback and dangerous offense, the biggest story to me from yesterday was Brock Osweiler. I thought he played well. His stat line isn't going to blow anyone away and yes, the interception at the end of the first half was horrific, but Osweiler on balance looked solid. For the first time all season, he consistently led his receivers instead of throwing it behind them. Osweiler did also did a good job working the middle of the field, especially with C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin. Will Fuller didn't help Osweiler with two bad drops, and Xavier Su'a-Filo might as well have been on the sidelines on a few occasions where his man came through the line virtually untouched. Despite these issues, Osweiler looked like a totally different QB than the guy who played in Denver six days before. He answered the bell. It's progress.
There's still plenty of room for improvement and several things fans can complain about, but the Houston Texans are 5-3 at the midpoint of the season and leading the AFC South by a game. It's nice to have the luxury of spending the bye week whining about what could have been or should be at 5-3 instead of doing the same at 3-5.
As I've gotten older, I've realized one very important aspect to life: expectations.
After the Texans went full Ricky Bobby on the draft, focusing heavily on speed, we expected the Texans' offense to be explosive and exciting. Instead, it more closely resembles a 1973 Ford Pinto. Alfred Blue has looked like the 2015 version of Lamar Miller while Miller looks like the 2015 version of Blue. I'm not even going to get into the QB problems.
Worst of all, this is a painfully boring offense to watch. In fact, the only time we're exciting to watch is when Tyler Ervin has the ball, but it's a bad kind of exciting.
Defensively, Romeo Crennel has done an amazing job with a defense with a couple glaring issues, especially as JJ Watt is out for the season (I still hate writing those words). Our pass rushers have a difficult time winning one on one battles, and our interior run defense resembles a colander, but Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and especially AJ Bouye are playing lights out. And how about a little more Jadeveon Clowney in a 9-wide look, please?
Putting it all together, this looks like yet another 9-7 season, one based upon excellent defensive play and ghastly quarterbacking. It's kinda like somebody is replaying 2014 and 2015 right in front of us.
Heading into 2016, that's not what I expected. Heck, after the third game, I even said this could be a 13-3 team. Unfortunately, Brock Osweiler really did turn out to be a taller Brian Hoyer, except without the grit.
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