Texans QB Davis Mills had an uneven performance. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
The Houston Texans let one slip away, but it wasn’t all the way as they settle for a tie with the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener. Here are 11 observations about the season opener.
1. The Texans really let this one get away. After scoring to go up 20-3 the team wouldn’t score again and would amass very little offense. A back-breaking turnover severely injured their chances of winning as well. Yes, it ended in a tie, but any semblance of life from the offense might have avoided that scenario altogether.
2. Lovie Smith said after the game the Texans decided on a tie. Smith said a tie was better than a loss and he didn’t like the way his defense had been playing. I didn’t either, but the setup to get to the questionable fourth-down decision was a tough one.
3. Rex Burkhead probably shouldn’t be featured this much. Yes, I understand he can pass block but there isn’t much left in the rushing tank. This was his second-highest touches in a game while with the Texans at 19. Burkhead touching the ball 19 times isn’t a recipe for success. Lovie Smith’s explanation of why Burkhead was used so much left a lot to be desired. He didn’t specifically address why the veteran running back, who he deemed the passing down back, was in the game on third down with one yard to gain in overtime.
4. Davis Mills missed a few too many passes. Mills sailed a few and notably made a poor throw on third down to Chris Conley early. He got a little shaky in the pocket in the fourth quarter and overtime led to some iffy output. As Mills looks at the film there is plenty he might want back.
5. The offensive line was below average overall. There was a bone-crushing sack that resulted in a turnover. Tytus Howard was put in a blender late and beat to give up a sack. Justin Britt regularly failed to make his assignment. Justin McCray and Kenyon Green rotated at left guard. It must be better up front.
6. Jerry Hughes looks like he has plenty left in the tank. The 13-year veteran had an interception, two sacks, and a pass deflection. He was a camp surprise, and keeping the veteran fresh for the whole year is a key to this defense.
7. The linebackers got eaten alive later in the game. Matt Ryan and the Colts offense hit them with plenty of zone-breaking passes and Jonathan Taylor got rolling late. Taylor averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the second half. Lovie Smith said his defense was gassed at the end, and it showed. That is also what contributed to the team’s decision to play for the punt.
8. Derek Stingley had a bit of a rough first quarter, but he showed up late in the game. The third overall pick got sticky on Colts wideout Alec Pierce and batted down a play that would have been a score. Stingley has plenty to grow on, but the team used him a lot in off and zone coverages. I would be interested in seeing more man coverage.
9. Rookie safety Jalen Pitre had an expected day. The second-round pick was all over the place and in early on with some big tackles for the defense. A late interception looked to go through his hands, and that will keep him up at night. Overall Pitre was solid as a rookie starter.
10. Lovie Smith passed up a 56-yard field goal for Ka'imi Fairbairn in favor of a punt. This was curious as Fairbairn made a 61-yard field goal at home last year. Smith said the expected field goal wasn’t totally in his kicker’s range.
11. This isn’t a loss but it sure feels like one. The Colts played a horrible football game but still clawed their way back into a tie. The Texans collapsed down the stretch allowing for a disappointing non-loss result.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.