The 2023 regular season is in the books, but we get bonus football here at Battle Red Blog. Personally, I hardly know what to do as I wasn’t here in 2019. I certainly have been a fan of Houston football since the late 1970s. Last night’s game was setting up like so many others when the Colts were driving with a chance to win the game by a single point. They made a boneheaded fourth down call.
They get the joy of blaming the play caller, blaming Gardner Minshew, blaming the receiver, somehow blaming the referees (although we will get to that later). They played good enough to win, but they didn’t win. There will certainly be plenty of things for DeMeco Ryans and his staff to focus on this week. Suffice it to say, they will need to play better to keep this thing going. Still, those are problems for another day. Let’s focus on the good stuff for just a little while longer.
Time of Possession
We should point out that the Texans run game was more effective than those numbers show. Cam Johnston was credited with -23 rushing yards on that little safety at the end of the game. So, they really carried the ball 27 times for 83 yards. I know that doesn’t look a ton better, but it should be mentioned. However, let’s take a look at the great, good, and bad from Saturday's huge win.
C.J. Stroud just may want to set up shop at Lucas Oil Stadium. The last time he was there he was torching the Georgia Bulldogs. If he is going to play that way in Indy for the rest of his career we might just sign him to a lifetime contract now. He has technically played better (against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers comes to mind) but considering he was missing most of his receiving corps and offensive line, this one was a huge performance. The opening play to Nico Collins was a thing of beauty.
We should probably take more than a moment to tip the cap to Collins. He had a brutal season going in on the road. Of his 1,100+ yards, less than 200 came on the road. He had nearly 200 in one night. He was the only consistent threat that the Texans had and yet he could not be stopped. Maybe those yahoos wherever they are should rethink the Pro Bowl vote.
The defense deserves a tip of the cap themselves. No one is going to confuse them with the 1985 Bears. After all, this team is a team in transition in many ways. There will be draftees and a free agent or two added to this core. They stood up and made plays when they needed to as the Colts converted only one third down without the help of officiating. Gardner Minshew looked ordinary. You could argue he is ordinary, but there have been other ordinary guys that have torched them in the past. Did you hear Michael Pittman’s name more than once or twice? Thank Derek Stingley. That’s what shutdown corners do. They take the other team’s best target and shut them down.
I could focus on two things so I will focus on the thing that the Texans can most control. They committed a season high eleven penalties on a night when mistakes are magnified. You could argue that they may have won this one going away had they cut even half of those penalties out. Most of those were the pre-snap variety and they almost all killed drives. I should mention Jonathan Taylor completely torching this run defense, but even in the playoffs there won’t be any teams with a Jonathan Taylor. In the interest of looking forward, we should focus on what is likely to give them the most trouble and that would be the penalties.
Five quarterbacks in the game’s history have thrown for 4,000 or more yards as a rookie. C.J. Stroud is one of those. He did it in 15 games, so he didn’t even need the extra contest to do it. Exactly one quarterback has thrown 20 or more touchdowns with five or fewer interceptions as a rookie. That’s C.J. Stroud. Those might seem like random stats, but they both encapsulate what Stroud is as a quarterback.
A lot of guys sling it around the yard and make plays, but few do it while making so few errors at the same time. Usually you choose between gunslinger and game manager. With Stroud they haven’t had to make that choice. You could argue that at least a couple of their losses came because they refused to unleash him when they needed to. January football is all about the quarterbacks. There aren’t many Gardner Minshews left. Yet, we can argue that our guy is just as good if not better than their guy no matter who we match up against. That’s a comforting feeling.