Perspective is a difficult thing to come by in sports. We either exaggerate the positives in our wins or accentuate the negative in our losses. There were plenty of both on Sunday as the Houston Texans lost a nail biter 15-13. The loss looked eerily similar to the loss against the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, that by itself could be a negative sign or a positive sign. One way or another, this team is starting to build an identity.
Inside the Numbers
Time of Possession
The categories that the Texans usually outperform their opponents were losers on Sunday. They lost the turnover battle and the battle on penalties. Both figured prominently in Sunday’s outcome, but they didn’t necessarily provide the kill shots. DeMeco Ryans mentioned them in the postgame news conference. Well, let’s get into it.
The Texans are building an identity on defense. DeMeco Ryans has done a terrific job of taking the biggest weakness on either side of the ball from 2022 and turning it into a strength in 2023. Since week two, no one has run roughshod over the Texans. That was an inflection point this Sunday when the Panthers gained less than two yards a carry. Furthermore, they were able to parlay that success into additional pressure on Bryce Young. They got to him a season high six times. Whatever else we could say about Sunday’s loss, we can say the defense played good enough to win. The same was true in Atlanta as well.
This one depends on how you choose to interpret what you are watching. The defense had a chance to close out the game. They didn’t. You could choose to see it as a defensive failure. They committed a few costly penalties and were unable to make a big play at the end. You could also blame it on an offense that just couldn’t move the ball in the fourth quarter. Maybe another field goal seals the deal. Maybe an additional first down or two gives the Panthers less time to operate. So, take your pick.
DeMeco Ryans wants the Texans to be a ball control offense. They just aren’t that right now. If you take away the wide receiver, fullback, and quarterback rushing yards you see a combined 76 yards on 22 carries. That means the other guys got 34 yards on eight carries. Three of those were sneaks from the one yard line with two being successful. So, those gadget plays gained 32 yards on five carries. Those 76 yards comes out to 3.45 yards per carry. You just can’t possibly maintain an identity running the football like that.
I honestly couldn’t tell you whether it is the running backs, offensive line, or the plays the coaches are calling. I don’t know if there is an obvious fix before the trade deadline today. Maybe a Derrick Henry makes this better. Maybe a Saquon Barkley makes this better. Maybe another offensive lineman makes this better. Then again, maybe it doesn’t.
The good news is that you can win in the NFL without a good running game. The Chiefs have been doing it for years. They also have the best quarterback in the NFL and a Hall of Fame play caller in Andy Reid. Stroud could be close to that some day. Bobby Slowik may or may not develop into that guy. What we do know is the Texans have built an offensive identity. They cannot run the football consistently. It’s time to embrace that and try something else.
The aforementioned Mahomes is proof that even the best quarterbacks in the history of the game have duds. The Chiefs lost 24-9 as the they were not able to find the end zone and Mahomes threw two interceptions. Some reports say he was still suffering side effects from the flu. It was also unusually cold in Denver. You can make any excuse you want. He just wasn’t effective.
C.J. Stroud— 16/24, 140 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 2 carries, 13 yards, 1 TD
The statline is a very Davis Millsean stat line. The Mills truthers used to focus on a decent completion percentage. There were some games where he avoided turnovers. There would always be individual plays that seemed to give you hope. All of that was there on Sunday. The difference was that on the two drives the Texans actually made, they finished them off with touchdowns. That’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened the past two seasons.
Still, if Stroud’s bust makes it to Canton some day, this game will not appear on his highlight reel. The key is figuring out why. Maybe the Texans really missed Robert Woods. It’s hard to shape your mouth to utter such a statement, but he always seemed to be good for two or three first down catches a game. Those weren’t there on Sunday. Maybe the focus on establishing a running game put Stroud behind the eight ball. Maybe the Panthers found a weakness in the passing attack and exploited it. It could be a lot of different things or a combination of all of the things. Either way, it’s back to the drawing board.