The good, bad and ugly from the Texans' season-ending loss in Indianapolis

Jadeveon Clowney and Bernardrick McKinney were impact players on Sunday. Houstontexans.com

This was the final game of the season for the 2017 Houston Texans. The 22-13 loss to rival Indianapolis Colts mercifully ended what has been a dumpster fire of a season. The 4-12 record makes them  the third worst team in the league in terms of record and tied for second worst record in the team’s history.

The Good

- Zach Cunningham had 12 tackles, four of which were solo. The rookie linebacker has been rounding into form as of late and was all over the field against the Colts. His sideline to sideline speed is undeniable. However, it’s his understanding of his assignments that I’ve noticed the most improvement in his game. He still has moments of looking out of place, but I look forward to what he can provide this team in the future.

- Jadeveon Clowney has proved he’s more valuable to this team than J.J. Watt. He chased Jacoby Brissett out of the pocket several times recording a half a sack, held up well against the run (sans that stiff arm from Marlon Mack), and dropped into coverage (where he laid Mack out to get revenge). Do not argue with me on this one. He’s proven himself worthy of perhaps the richest non-quarterback contract in the league.

-Benardrick McKinney has showed continued improvement. While his coverage skills still need work, he appears to have a much better understanding of the game. I particularly like the way he calls out adjustments to the defense. His passion for the game was on display when I noticed him trying to pump up his teammates after the safety punt.  

The Bad

- Jonathan Joseph may have played not only his last game as a Texan, but his last game period. He no longer possesses the athletic ability that was his calling card early on in his career. He was badly beaten by T.Y. Hilton on the Colts first possession and fell down. Luckily, the pass was overthrown, or else it could have resulted in a touchdown.

-Another loss, another game in which this team averaged less than four yards per carry, 3.1 to be specific. What really puzzled me was that Lamar Miller averaged 4.6 yards per carry on eight carries, but Alfred Blue got 18 carries averaging a miniscule 2.2 yards per carry. The offensive line is partially to blame here, but at what point does this team need better talent in the backfield?

-Speaking of Blue, the mere fact that he led the team in receptions with four says all you need to know about how this game went and the depth this team doesn’t have. Second leading receiver was Chris Thompson, an undrafted rookie free agent.

The Ugly

- Will Fuller left the game with a knee injury in the first half. It didn’t seem too serious because he was standing on the sideline and appeared fine, but it’s a mere drop in the bucket to what they’ve experienced this year. The Texans have used 77 players this year and have 19 players on injured reserve.

-Chris Slade and Breno Giacomini had a terrible miscommunication that led to Yates getting sacked for a safety. Giacomini (playing right tackle) went wide as Slade (playing right guard) went towards the inside leaving a hole you could’ve driven a bus through. Thank God Yates didn’t take a huge hit and was able to get up. Offensive line play like this has hurt the run game as well as caused Tom Savage to get concussed. Deshaun Watson was running for his life before his unfortunate injury.

-Braxton Miller had an opportunity to step up to the plate to prove himself worthy of his status as a third round pick and help begin to dispel the bust talk that follows him. He had two catches for nine yards and one punt return for -3 yards. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, must be a duck? Right? I don’t know how he comes back to this team next year.

One thing I noticed about this game is that players didn’t give up and played hard. I didn’t see many “business decisions” being made by players who may have had their vacation bags packed already. There were even some chippy extracurricular activities following some plays.  Sure, there were a few guys that didn’t run out plays, or attempt to chase a play down, but no full-on mailing it in. Bill O’Brien didn’t call plays as if he had punted on the season. Biggest evidence to this thought was the fact that he used all three timeouts with about 3-4 minutes left in an attempt to get the ball back while down 19-13. Games like these between two teams with nothing to play for can often be a snooze fest. While it wasn’t exciting, it was good to see it be competitive.

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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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