After watching the totally frustrating 16-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers by the Houston Texans on Sunday, I was torn between quotes from two cultural icons. One is from that great English philosopher, Sir Elton John - "So keep your auditions for somebody who hasn't got so much to lose. 'Cause you can tell by the lines I'm reciting that I've seen that movie too". Certainly, we have seen this movie many times during the course of Texans' fandom, including an almost duplicate game two weeks ago against the Jags.
But I was drawn to that moment in Apocalypse Now, where Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz stares into the world’s and his own Heart of Darkness and whispers, "The Horror. The Horror."
Maybe that is an overstatement because after stumbling to the loss on Sunday, the Texans are 2-2 and tied for first place (and last place) in the AFC South with the rest of a hard to figure out division. Still, the Texans in the last three weeks have been given two opportunities to tee one up in the middle of the fairway. Twice they were playing at home against green QBs, who had respectively 25 (Gardner Minshew) and 57 (Kyle Allen) NFL pass attempts entering those games. Minshew was drafted in the 6th round by the Jags and Allen is still waiting to be drafted, if you want to know how highly these guys are valued by those in the know. The Texans took these two softball tosses and came within inches of losing to the Jags and then spit the bit against the Panthers.
The Texans offensive players and their GM/head coach/offensive coordinator/excuse maker better be analyzing their offensive ineptness in these two games and finding some way to improve on "The Horror" show that was their offense. In both games, they put up almost identical total yardage (263 and 264 yds) with 137 passing yds two weeks ago and 128 yds passing on Sunday. Thanks to turnovers handed to them by their own defense the only two TDs they scored these two weeks took up a total of 29 yds.
Here is some of the ugliness of this day:
• Kenny Stills who has been a bit of a revelation, picked up two first downs with 10 and 14 yard receptions on the Texans’ second drive. He pulled a hammy on the second reception and never returned to the field. Shakespeare would have used this as a dark omen of foreshadowing.
• The Texans’ first three drives (ending in a punt, missed FG, and made FG) garnered them 8 first downs. They would only collect 10 first downs on their other 9 possessions on the day.
• After their first three drives, their longest drive by plays was a 6 play drive that ended in a crucial Deshaun Watson fumble in the 4th quarter and by yards – two 28 yard drives that ended in an interception and by the final whistle respectively.
• The Texans traded the world for Laremy Tunsil and used high picks on Tytus Howard and Max Scharping to try and change the 64 sacks for 384 yds lost that last season’s line gave up. They have changed those numbers as after Sunday’s game they are on a pace to give up 72 sacks for 408 yds lost in 2019.
• At one point the team was moving the ball in the second quarter when the GM/HC/OC/EM called a trick play. Some folks may point at this as showing BOB was being aggressive instead of conservative. Unfortunately what it was - was stupid. A double pass with DeAndre Hopkins as the trigger man should not be:
o Called inside the red zone where there is no room behind the DBs
o Having Hopkins throwing diagonally across the field about 40 yds – a throw they would not trust Watson to complete
This play which resulted in a so simple interception put a stop to a likely scoring drive for the Texans and with the return gave the Panthers great field position and the momentum to score their only TD on the day.
• The Texans gave up a timeout they needed on a challenge on a miracle catch by Christian McCaffrey. If BOB did this based on coaches telling him they thought he bobbled it (which he didn’t) that is one thing. If he did it as he intimated because he thought McCaffrey could be ruled down for giving himself up on his slide, that is not understanding the rules. McCaffrey was not making a feet first slide to avoid contact, he was sliding as part of his great effort to catch the ball. There is no way you could watch that play and think the refs were going to rule him down before the 1st down marker. And of course the timeout was the difference between the Texans having a desperation drive with 28 seconds left and about a minute left at the end of the game.
• The Texans were constantly behind the chains on the day, due to the six sacks spread across five drives, and a few penalties that wiped out gains and pushed them back on a couple more drives. Add in the Hopkins interception and the Watson fumble, plus the Fairbairn FG miss and the partial block of a Bryan Anger punt and the Texans had enough negative plays for two or three games on Sunday.
• You had to feel bad for J.J. Watt. He had a terrific strip sack and recovery that led to the Texans only TD on the day. Then on the Panther’s final drive, Carolina was facing a 3rd and 6 with a little more than 3 minutes left at the Texans’ 29 yard line. J.J. burst through the middle and had QB Kyle Allen dead to rights. In a scene that seemed taken from a Scooby Doo cartoon, JJ came through hot and high and grazed over the top of Allen who almost broke his ankles squatting and swirling out of the way. Watt turned around in time to see that Allen somehow regained his footing and drilled a pass for a first down at the 12 that basically sunk the Texans’ boat. Instead of getting the ball back with almost 3 minutes left the Texans got it back with less than 30 seconds and that was all she wrote.
• The Texans allowed Allen and the Panthers to convert 50% (7 of 14) of their 3rd down opportunities, while only converting 4 of 11 of their own.
• Watson was under pressure most of the day, but he did not do what he often has done in the past, which is make lemonade from lemon seeds. He was pretty inaccurate, did not throw to some wide open check downs and missed some wide open receivers on passes that could have changed the course of the game.
The game was not a complete "Horror" show.
• The Texans averaged 6.2 yds a carry for the day, though truth be told two carries accounted for 65 of their 136 yds.
• Bryan Anger outside of the partial punt block was one of the best weapons the Texans had as he averaged 59 yds on his other 4 punts.
• The Texans had 3 sacks on the day (Brennan Scarlett, Watt and Whitney Mercilus) and remarkably all three caused fumbles that the Texans recovered. For those tracking such things that gives Mercilus 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 4 games.
In the end, it was another Texans’ loss that could easily have been a win and 3-1 sure looks better than 2-2.
Along with floating back to Apocalypse Now, my mind keeps floating back to this….
Best of luck everyone and hopefully the Texans will pull it together for this week’s game with the Falcons.