Another win! And on a holiday weekend, no less! Progress is finally being made!
Christian Harris read this one beautifully.— John Crumpler (@JohnHCrumpler) December 24, 2022
Malik Willis looked every bit the part of a project-quarterback today and Harris punished him for tracking so blatantly. Really good stuff #WeAreTexans pic.twitter.com/dNRYYrKNq9
This defense has been modestly better than last year all season long - especially against the pass - but that improvement has yet to earn Houston more than just a couple of wins this season. Luckily for Houston, Tennessee’s offense has been in a particularly impressive funk on both sides of the ball, creating a great opportunity for an increasingly spicy spoiler of a team to hang up victory number two on their wall of accomplishments.
What’s interesting about this win, however, is that it even came to fruition with a rushing defense still this bad. Houston is currently last in the NFL in rush defense, and it felt like it when Derrick Henry opened up scoring in this game with a 48-yard touchdown run. Tennessee has been good at running the ball all season, and accumulated 184 yards rushing on 31 attempts (5.9 yards per rush), gaining 11 first downs. This, as expected, was markedly better than Houston’s ground game, which tallied only 70 yards on 30 attempts (2.3 yard per rush), gaining seven first downs. These two bugaboos of the Houston Texans - running the ball and stopping the run - were still plain to see on Christmas Eve, so what was the difference?
Passing offense and turnovers, just what Dr. Lovie Smith had ordered!
This isn’t to say that Davis Mills had an exceptional passing performance, far from it! 20-32 for 215 yards, eight first downs, a touchdown and an interception is pretty middling of a performance through the air and doesn’t really tell us anything new about Davis Mills, who will always complement his ugly fumbles and interceptions with a handful of pretty passes to Philip Dorsett or Jordan Akins. Most of the time, this milquetoast performance hasn’t been enough to put Houston over the edge, but against a particularly putrid Malik Willis passing attack, it was just enough to win.
That and a very well-time fumble from Derrick Henry via Jake Hansen made in the fourth quarter:
Lovie Smith lives by the clutch turnover. Even though this year has been proof that he’s gonna need a lot more firepower to make this philosophy consistently successful, there’s definitely players on this roster capable of making this dream a reality (and more to come in the future). The record doesn’t show it, but this defense is better than it was last year, and progress is the only thing we can ask for during a rebuild like this.
This hilarious play has to be remembered, though. If everything else has to be forgotten about the 2022 Houston Texans, this has be remembered:
If I’ve ever seen heart AND hustle, this has got to be it.
Here’s where everyone is ranking the Texans after their upset win over the Tennessee Titans:
31. Houston Texans (2-12-1)
Week 16 ranking: 32
Defining moment: Benching Davis Mills.
When Mills was benched after his first 10 starts, it publicly signaled that he was not the long-term answer. Coming into the season, the hope was Mills could become the team’s quarterback of the future. But now, the Texans are the favorites to earn the No. 1 draft pick in the 2023 draft. In Mills’ first 10 starts, his passer rating was 78.1, which ranked in the bottom third of the league. Mills also had thrown 11 interceptions at the time he was benched, which was the third most in the NFL at the time.
- DJ Bien-Aime
Houston Texans (2-12-1)
Previous rank: No. 32
The Texans have played competitive football all month. On Saturday, they finally got credited with a win for their efforts. Lovie Smith’s defense allowed just 272 yards and forced three turnovers in the 19-14 win over the Titans, Houston’s first victory in over two months. Derrick Henry had dominated this rivalry with a slew of 200-yard games, but the dynamic running back was mostly contained outside of his 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Smith could make a real case for another year on the sideline if Houston can finish the season with two more strong efforts.
- Dan Hanzus
PRO FOOTBALL TALK:
30. Texans (2-11-1; No. 32): To their credit, they never give up.
- Mike Florio
29. Texans (32): They’ve still got league’s worst record (2-12-1), but Saturday’s upset in Nashville was Houston’s third consecutive game decided by six points or fewer.
- Nate Davis
31. Houston Texans (2-12-1 | last week: 32)
Beating Tennessee on Saturday says more about the Titans than it does about the Texans’ chances of turning things around. The quarterback carousel of Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, and Kyle Allen is still a ride that the Texans will be desperate to jump off of when they’re picking at the top of the 2023 NFL draft.
- Austin Gayle
31. Houston Texans (2-12-1)
Last week: win at Tennessee, 19–14
Next week: vs. Jacksonville
The Texans managed to clip a Ryan Tannehill-less Titans team to get their second win of the season. While their record may ultimately be turned into an indictment of Lovie Smith, make no mistake: this is not a team meant to be winning games right now. Kudos to the Texans for doing so on Saturday, anyway.
- Connor Orr
31. Texans (2-12-1)
They have showed some fight the past three weeks and clearly have made major strides, even upsetting the Titans on the road. Lovie Smith has done a nice job the past month.
- Pete Prisco
31. Houston Texans (2-12-1)
Last Week: 32
Week 16 Result: Won at Tennessee 19-14
As Ben Arthur reported for Fox Sports, even as the losses continued to mount in Houston, head coach Lovie Smith never wavered in his belief that the Texans were improving. In fact, on some level Smith should be credited for being realistic about the timeframe for a ground-up rebuild.
“The same thing I’m telling the team and everybody else: the history behind, we can’t go there,” Smith said when the Texans were 1-9-1. “We understand the fans have been around a long period of time. For us, we’re trying to build. It’s a process that you can’t skip a step, and we’re not there yet. That’s what we’re telling them, but we’re going to get there. We work extremely hard each day to try and make that happen. I just don’t think it does a lot of good to talk about some of the good things we’re doing. Know what the record is. We have one win, and we need to get better in all the areas, and I’m telling the fans that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Sunday’s win doesn’t change the Texans’ trajectory any more drastically than the losses that preceded it. The reality is that Houston is a bad team that just so happened to play a worse team Saturday in the reeling Titans. Houston remains in line for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.
However, the “lead” for that pick has shrunk to half a game, and if the Texans want their pick of any quarterback in next year’s class, the best thing for their long-term prospects may be a two-game losing streak to finish the season.
- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski
32. Houston Texans (2-12-1, Last Week: 32)
Winning is good for anyone and you’re not convincing players and coaches to tank. But go ahead and ask the New York Jets if they’d have rather lost two more games in 2020 and gotten Trevor Lawrence, or if going 2-14 was worth losing Lawrence for Zach Wilson.
- Frank Schwab
There’s some real variety on Houston’s positioning, this week! You start winning some games, and it’s like nobody knows who you are anymore…
Next week, the Texans will try to play upset for the second time in a row as they host the surging Jacksonville Jaguars, the only other team Houston has bested this season. Jacksonville has transformed since the previous matchup with the Texans, but Lovie Smith has finally showed what this team is capable of when everything is clicking. This defense is going to force turnovers on Sunday, so the game will likely come down to Davis Mills’ ability to spur points off of turnovers, and the Houston backfield’s ability to keep Jags QB Trevor Lawrence out of the end zone. Another upset win would be a great way to kick off 2023!