Bradley Roby had a great first year with the Houston Texans. When healthy, he was undoubtedly Houston’s best cornerback; when he was injured, the defense took a massive hit. He brought tight man coverage and the versatility to play boundary or nickel, but his biggest impact to the Texans came in the form of interceptions.
On paper, interceptions are extremely valuable; the more interceptions a cornerback has, the more luxuriously he will be paid. It’s a medal of honor to them. Same for the defense. While it isn’t the only measure, great defenses pick off quarterbacks. Creating turnovers is a huge emphasis, especially for a team like the Texans, where stealing possessions and keeping the ball in Deshaun Watson’s hands is vital.
Furthermore, forcing turnovers is one way to hide a bad defense. You force a turnover, and the defense gets off the field and can’t give up any points on that drive. We all understand that logic, but the importance of interceptions goes beyond that. It creates something that drives the Texans and almost every football team in the NFL. It’s not a tangible thing that someone can touch, feel, or buy. It’s not something that you can coach or learn. No matter how many hours you spend in the gym, you can’t get better at it. So what is it? Momentum.
Momentum is the feeling of going up 24-0 in the NFL Playoffs against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s the excitement of Deshaun Watson throwing that first touchdown to Kenny Stills. It’s the adrenaline gained by Barkevious Mingo blocking a punt and Lonnie Johnson returning it for six. It’s the feeling of disbelief as Tyreek Hill fumbles a punt return and Keion Crossen recovers it. It’s setting the Texans’ offense up on the goal line and Deshaun tossing an easy four yard TD to Darren Fells.
Momentum is like a pendulum. It can swing just as easy in one direction as it can the other. From opening kickoff, to the 10:54 second mark of the second quarter, the Texans quickly jumped out to a 24 point lead. Everything was great, Texans fans around the world were in disbelief. I remember asking my roommates to literally pinch me. We were finally going to advance past the Divisional Round. We were going to play the Tennessee Titans in the AFC
South Bowl Championship Game for the chance to go to the Super Bowl.
And then it happened. The pendulum swung in the other direction and momentum quickly shifted. While up 21-0 and deep in Kansas City territory, tasked with a crucial 4th and 1, Bill O’Brien made the genius decision to kick the field goal. He later stated he “didn’t have a great play there”. While we can get into BOB’s lack of coaching ability another time, this was an abomination and the first act of losing momentum.
Instead of keeping their foot on the gas, the Texans settled for three points. They played it safe. 24-0. It became a three possession game if three two-point conversions were made. We can keep doing this, the Texans thought. They couldn’t keep doing it. Kansas City had been given life. They knew, with how explosive their offense was, that a 24 point deficit meant nothing. From 10:54 in the second quarter to 0:44 left in the first half, the tide turned. The pendulum swung; a 24-0 lead had evaporated and become a 24-28 deficit. From that point on, the Chiefs never lost momentum.
It started with the cowardly field goal attempt. Then it was the failed fake punt on the ensuing drive. Next, it was DeAndre Carter fumbling a punt return. Everything that was going the Texans’ way started to go the Chiefs’ way. The impact of each singular play wouldn’t have been game-breaking if they were spread out through all four quarters, but all three occurring within a ten minute period was a disaster. It was negative momentum. We all know what happened after the lead was lost. The Texans looked dead. They didn’t necessarily give up, but there was little energy, rare chest bumps, and few “slime” celebrations.
Momentum killed the Texans in that season-ending game. It was their best friend and then their worst enemy. The Chiefs game wasn’t the only time where they had fallen victim to the kingpin known as momentum. In the Ravens game, things went bad early, and we were never able to recover. The same can be said about the Broncos game. Two games where Houston was never able to punch back. Never able to swing the pendulum in the right direction and hold it there.
Momentum is a vital component of winning football games. Bringing it back to Bradley Roby, his interceptions do more than scrub the opposing offense at the field; they flip the momentum into Houston’s favor.
Roby’s first interception as a Texan came against the New England Patriots, and boy did it change the tide of the game. The Texans had gone down three points, and while it didn’t start as lopsided as most O’Brien-Belichick throwdowns, the consensus feeling was that it would get there, very soon. The Patriots got the ball with 2:49 left in the first quarter. After a slow start, you could just feel they were ready to explode and take the game over at any point. Then came the first third down of the drive. It was crucial for the Texans to get off the field and would be huge if they could secure the three and out.
The Patriots go five wide, spreading the Texans’ defense, which is in Cover 1, out. As Julian Edelman motions across the line of scrimmage, this has the inklings of yet another demoralizing third down Tom Brady to Edelman connection. Brady looks in Edelman’s direction initially, but chooses rookie WR N’Keal Harry (#15) instead. He throws the quick slant, believing in his rookie and assuming he’ll box Roby out and convert the first down.
Roby (#21) says no. He expertly jumps the route, picks it off, and tries to take it back for six. NRG Stadium erupts, fans jump out of their seats, and Brady is in disbelief.
Taking a closer look at the play, Roby plays it nearly perfect. He flips his hips inside and when Harry cuts inside, Roby grabs hold of Harry’s left shoulder pad. He uses this to slingshot himself forward and undercut the route.
Not only did the Texans get the three and out, they gained prime position in the red zone. Deshaun went on to throw a touchdown to Duke Johnson, putting the Texans up 7-3. The Texans didn’t look back and went up as much as 28-9. The offense looked electric, the playcalling was refreshingly breathtaking, and the defense looked hungry to prove themselves. They had taken momentum from the Patriots, swung the pendulum in their favor, and grabbed control of the game.
Roby wasn’t the sole reason the Texans finally beat the Patriots that night. IT was a full team effort. But make no mistake, he was the one who created the wave of momentum that the Texans rode to victory.
Roby’s second interception came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This time, neither team had momentum. It was the second play of the first drive of the game. Nonetheless, Roby worked his magic and spawned momentum out of thin air.
The Texans roll to a Cover 1 here and Roby (#21) is in off man coverage against wide receiver Justin Watson (#17). Watson runs a pretty bad out route here, but don’t let that discredit Roby. He reads Jameis Winston and Watson at the same time. When Winston winds up his throw and Watson starts his cut, Roby breaks on the ball. He explodes of his back foot and flies forward. He undercuts the route, picks off the ball, and runs it back uncontested for six.
The Texans go up 7-0 and the defense is fueled by momentum. Up against an explosive and productive Bucs’ offense, Houston holds them to a mere three points until two minutes left in the second quarter.
Winston throws another interception on the next drive, this one to Justin Reid. On the following drive, Angelo Blackson blocks a field goal attempt. Was it luck? Or was it the continued momentum, driving everything in the Texans’ favor? The pendulum had swung yet again and the Texans went up 17-3 deep into the second quarter.
Momentum isn’t like a light switch that is flicked either on or off. It goes back and forth, caused by big, game altering plays. As we have seen, Roby’s interceptions can be extremely valuable to a Texans team that feeds off of momentum and is quite mediocre without it. An interception of Patrick Mahomes would’ve been very valuable during the Chiefs’ comeback in January.
So while you ponder Bradley Roby’s new three-year, $36 million dollar deal (which is already very team-friendly), please take into account how big of an impact his interceptions have. While he only had two in ten games for Houston last year, there were multiple interceptions that Roby dropped. Let’s hope he continues to be aggressive and keeps swinging that pendulum.