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Red Zone Play: Crisis of Identity

Mike Bullock examines why we still don’t know what the Houston Texans are.

Houston Texans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

A long time ago, I heard Brett Favre talk about winning football games. He was on the subject of how to beat an opponent and how to make adjustments to take on opposing defenses.

Brett’s take on it was something I’ll paraphrase here for you:

“Why would we adjust what we do based on the other team? That doesn’t make any sense. We’re going to do what we do best and dare them to stop us. We’re gonna jam it down their throats and we’re gonna win.”

Now, I get that Bill Belichick’s team is the antithesis of that thought process. But the Patriots are the exception, not the rule. Look back through the history of the league and you’ll see that to be true.

The Steelers of the 70s didn’t decide to not throw the ball to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth because their opponents had good secondaries. If that was the case, they never would have beaten the Raiders.

Bill Walsh’s 49ers never shied away from the West Coast offense because the opposing defense had fast outside linebackers and solid safeties.

The Cowboys didn’t decide to bench Emmitt Smith when they played teams that could take away the run.

Kurt Warner’s Rams didn’t decide to get away from the quick passing game because their opponent had fleet-footed corners.

What all these teams had in common was figuring out what they did best and then executing it so well that opponents couldn’t stop them.

When you’re so busy focusing on what your opponent is going to do, maybe, just maybe, you forget how to do what you do best… or worse, you never figure it out.

For years, it was obvious the Texans were a solid running team. Arian Foster and his running mates carried this team on their back and brought them to the doorstep of our proverbial Red Zone.

Never once was Foster considered a smash-mouth, up the middle, Earl Campbell style running back. Never once did the team decide to use him that way - and Lamar Miller is closer to Foster than Campbell.

Gary Kubiak’s offense had an identity: a run-based game plan that used the off-tackle and outside running game to set up play-action and then onto outright downfield passing.

Nearly three years into the Bill O’Brien era, I doubt anyone can truly define what the Texans’ offense is, what it does well, or what it does to the degree that they dare opponents to stop them. Not even Brett Favre. If such an offensive marker exists, the execution of it is abysmal in the 2016 season.

To clarify what this column touched on in the last few weeks, Brock Osweiler is certainly no Brett Favre. He’s also no Ryan Leaf. Put in the right situation, with the right offensive scheme and the right talent around him, Osweiler can take a team to the Super Bowl. We saw that last year.

This year, he has better talent around him but fans, media and nearly everyone who has an opinion is convinced Brock is the reason the Texans are struggling.

Except the men calling the game yesterday.

And Jon Gruden.

And Rich Gannon.

And probably John Elway, Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning.

While Rick Smith has done an admirable job of loading the Texans’ roster with talent, he’s failed to build the offensive line.

While Bill O’Brien is a great guy who got the most out of recycled journeymen in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and the like, he’s failed to give this team an identity.

At the end of the day, the NFL and the Houston Texans are nothing more than entertainment. Something to fill the moments between what really matters in life. In our current society, where everyone is overworked, over-stressed and over-tired, knowing you can count on your entertainment choices to relieve a lot of that goes a long way to building unbreakable loyalty.

When fans don’t know what to expect, or worse, to expect frustration and stress, they get up and walk out of the stadium in the beginning of the fourth quarter. They change the channel. They turn off the sports talk radio. They stop reading the blog posts.

When fans know who their team is, know what to expect, and know that everyone in the organization is giving it their all so the team can do what it does best, they hang around and grind it out. They sympathize with the losses, share in the heartache, and commiserate at the water cooler, online, or wherever fans gather.

Let’s face it. If you don’t really know who your friend is, you won’t stick with him through thick and thin.

Right now, no one knows who the Texans are.

As they head into Indy next week on a three game losing streak, the question on everyone’s mind will be what Texans team will show up.

Unfortunately, no one has an answer for that question.