EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT MY JOB - with Titan Matt Weston, Slanderer of Blade Runner and a Huge Fan of the Texas Rangers off wandering the desert somewhere, I am stepping in to gather (some of) The Masthead’s thoughts on the Houston Texans’ 27-20 season-opening loss to the Patriots in Foxborough.
The “revamped” offense to me looked suspiciously like the pre-Deshaun Watson Bill O’Brien offense, with =SOME, but noticeably LESS, of what Watson was able to execute well from last year. That said, let’s not ignore that Watson looked below average at times, and just plain awful other times. Some will seek to assign that blame entirely to the offensive line or O’Brien, and it’s just not the case. DW4 was holding the ball too long, missing guys when he DID have time, and really just looked completely out of sorts. Toward the end of the game, the Texans were getting the snap off with 5-7 seconds left on the play clock while the game clock was running! That is flat-out unacceptable and as much on Watson as it is on O’Brien. Zero sense of urgency, it seemed.
We are at the same point with O’Brien as we were with Gary Kubiak after a few years - he is who he is. O’Brien’s playcalling is suspect at times, but even worse I think is the continued lack of situational awareness. In the fourth quarter, O’Brien went for it on fourth down too early when he should have kicked a FG (and that is NOT hindsight). Then when he absolutely should have gone for it later in the game, there was the punt team. Toward the end, it seemed more like a coach trying to keep the score respectable rather than trying to win the actual game.
As expected, O’Brien pointed to the success in the run game. I’ll give them credit for the good runs in the first half, but the Patriots were just trying to keep plays in front of them in large portions of the second half - making sure they didn’t give up the big play while being perfectly content to let the Texans rip off some yardage and keep the clock moving.
I was encouraged by the safety play and by what J.J. Watt was able to do in the second half. Dylan Cole looked great. Lamar Miller looks like a different guy this year... but the brightest spot for the Texans in this game was, of course, the special teams, specifically the return units. Let’s hope that keeps up because I could get used to that.
In closing, my sincere hope here is that the Texans just simply got beaten by a legendary coach, QB, and perennial Super Bowl contender, and the Texans will still be able to feast on (or at least beat) teams weaker than the Patriots. As for actually being able to compete with the Patriots - which they did NOT in this game, despite the final seven-point deficit - that will have to be a bridge the Texans cross if they’re able to get to it in January.
So let’s start with the good.
Dylan Cole is making a honest case to be on the field more often that Zach Cunningham simply because he can cover infinitely more ground with greater ease than Cunningham can.
Aaron Colvin looked good in the snaps I saw of him. Same for Justin Reid. Apart from Kevin Johnson’s issues, the Texans’ secondary looked individually good. It’s the collective that will have to be worked on over the next couple of weeks.
J.J. Watt had a nice second half, with some quite impressive plays where he was timing the snap well and getting a pretty good jump start.
Now the bad......
Stop putting Jadeveon Clowney in coverage. It was a cute idea three years ago when we all saw what a athlete he is, but at this point it’s just lessening his impact on the field.
Deshaun Watson had happy feet pretty much the entire day and never really looked settled in the pocket. There were three or four times I saw him miss a receiver because he was dealing with the rush.
The offensive line struggled. Let’s leave it at that.
Bill O’Brien’s weird playcalling/time management issues reared its head again. The decisions to punt were surprising, in particular late in the fourth quarter. I don’t think it’s something we investigate a great deal due to the literal mountains of other things which we question BOB over (playcalling, personnel choices), but he’s never really seemed to have his head in when it came to clock management and late game scenarios.
Smart offensive coordinators are going to attack the Texans’ LB corps this season in passing situations. Benardrick McKinney and Cunningham both looked lost in coverage at times during that game. Cunningham in particular was able to run with Rob Gronkowski but had zero awareness of where the ball was or when it was arriving. It seems he has been to the Kareem Jackson School of Man Coverage.
The final cut is this: It was New England, a team that has historically made the Texans look bad whenever they have played each other. The Texans will have the Titans next week to hopefully recover. Get Will Fuller back, give the secondary more time to gel, allow Deshaun Watson to get up to game speed against a easier opponent, and we’ll get a better idea of what this team is going to look like going forward for the rest of the season.
This game was Bill O’Brien incarnate. He checked off every stereotype box:
-Offense not ready to play.
-Poor offensive game plan.
-LOL game management.
-Terrible clock management.
-Got beat by a .500+ team (probably).
Sure, Deshaun Watson finally had his rookie bad game, but that’s also in part to the offensive scheme. Simply contrast how Matt Nagy was calling plays that got the ball out of Mitch Trubisky’s hands early against the Packers. BOB did not do that, instead harking back to the eleventy dimensional chess he expects his quarterbacks to process. BOB simply cannot show he can punch up on a consistent basis. At least schedule is fairly easy until the first match-up with the Glitter Kitties.
Romeo Crennel’s back must be killing him with the way his squad carries the team and all.
Let’s end with some positives:
Julie’n Davenport and Martinas Rankin both struggled, but this offensive line is clearly improved.
Lamar Miller runs well in an outside zone scheme. Who knew?
J.J. Watt was unvisible (sic) in the first half and a monster in the second. Blaine Gabbert, Real American (also sic), might want to wear an extra pair of Depends on Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski aside, that was the best safety play we’ve seen since Glover Quin was back there, if not the best the Texans have ever fielded.
Dylan Cole had a heckuva game.
The line did a great job run blocking, I felt - certainly better than they did pass blocking of course. Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue were both effective on the ground, and I’m a little bit irked that Bill O’Brien didn’t lean a bit more on the ground game once it became clear that the pass game was struggling. Once O’Brien did so in the third quarter, the offense finally found life again, but by then it was too little, too late. Speaking of the running backs, Tyler Ervin had a nice day returning the ball, and the punt coverage team did well overall too. It’s a relief to see the special teams not completely crap the bed against the Patriots for once, so I’ll take it.
Oh, and while we’re talking about good things - I love our safety situation all of the sudden. Kareem Jackson balled the hell out, and Tyrann Matheiu might be the best free agency signing we’ve had since Johnathan Joseph. I hope we keep him forever and ever.
Deshaun Watson was extremely erratic, both in terms of accuracy and decision making. He held the ball way too long while trying to process the coverage in front of him, and as a result made several throws much more difficult than they needed to be. It always felt like he was just trying to make a huge play rather than keeping the offense on schedule and taking what the defense gave him. Hopefully he settles down next week and goes back to being the driver rather than the engine, because when he does that, he’s fantastic.
Kevin Johnson also had one of the worst games from a Texans corner that I’ve seen in a while (and that’s saying something), but most of his problems seemed to be based on communication errors rather than just straight up getting beat. We know he has the physical talent to play in this league, but these mental errors are absolutely killer. While he is out of action with his concussion, I am curious to see what the secondary looks like without him. Hopefully he gets better soon, of course, but not having those mental mistakes in the red zone from Johnson could have been the difference in that sloppy, sloppy game.
Deshaun Watson played his worst game as a Texan. In my mind, that’s where what transpired a couple of days ago really begins and ends.
While Bill O’Brien certainly didn’t shine, while the corners (especially Kevin Johnson, who was atrocious) got picked on, while the linebackers were a consistent liability in coverage (as has been the case against the Patriots since time began), and the unavailability of Will Fuller stung, DW4’s abysmal performance was the story. Whether you want to chalk it up to a lack of live snaps in the preseason, first game jitters that may have been heightened after a return from a season-ending injury, Bill Belichick simply putting together an exquisite game plan, or something else, Deshaun Watson looked tentative and inaccurate.
The good news is that he’s still Deshaun Freaking Watson. There’s no reason to think that he won’t bounce back and show his Week One egg was an aberration. After all, the last time he played the Titans, this happened.
On to Tennessee.