Lance Zierlein

I'm here to fix the red-zone woes for the Texans

The Texans were much better in the red zone in 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Is there anything worse than not being able to finish something that you really want to finish? It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s happened to you before. Just think about it. Let me give some examples and see if any of these sound familiar.

  1. Jumping up to dunk the ball (choose 8 foot goal or 10 foot goal or Nerf goal according to your athletic abilities) and having the rim block your dunk.

  2. Starting a sneeze and then having it abruptly stop.

  3. Having someone at your table say “No thank you, just the check” when the waiter asks if you want dessert.

  4. Being in the middle of passionate moment with your wife and then having your kids bang on the locked door demanding to know what mom is doing and preventing things from… finishing.

  5. Getting hung up in the red zone and settling for field goals (or interceptions, or missed field goals).

Look, I’ve experienced all five of those if I can count the Texans red zone inadequacies as my own source of aggravation for “not finishing”. All of them suck, but probably #4 and #5 suck the hardest.

Texans Gross in the Red Area

There is no way you can hear about how bad the Texans are in the red area and not have some type of joke bubbling up in your head about a rash. However, we are talking about the spot also known as the red zone which is everything from the opponent’s 20-yard line and in.

Last season, Deshaun Watson was incredible in that most important area of the field. That’s the money zone and Watson cashed all the checks last season. Granted, it was a limited sample size, but his rate of 13 passing TDs on just 27 attempts inside the 20-yard line in 2017, was unmatched by any quarterbacks with Wentz coming the closest on touchdowns per percentage of attempts with 24 TDs on 59 attempts.

This season? The Texans are next to last in the NFL scoring a touchdown on just 36% of their trips inside the red zone. That’s it! That’s the equivalent of them falling on the ground before they even get to the basket to try and dunk. That’s like realizing you left your wallet at home in the middle of the meal before they even offer you dessert. That’s like zipping yourself up in your own pants before the romance starts.

Fix-A-Flat

The Texans red zone offense has a big flat tire and it’s time to fix it. So let’s diagnose the problems. Let’s start off with the quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is so good near the goal line because he has an absolute rocket launcher for an arm, so he can fit throws into the tightest of spaces. Watson doesn’t have that same ability, so he can’t just sit and wait for guys to get open.

The Texans need Watson to make pre-snap reads on where he wants to go with the football based upon coverage and matchup. Once he starts doing that, he can begin to target who he wants to throw to before he even snaps the ball which will allow him to throw with much better anticipation. Throwing with anticipation is the key to success in tight quarters.

Secondly, and most importantly, Bill O’Brien absolutely, positively MUST do a better job with not only his play-calling, but his play design near the goal line. Remember that first touchdown where Keke Coutee caught the flip toss on the jet sweep action and scored a touchdown? Yeah, me too. It was awesome. So where did that play or a counter to that play go?

Misdirection, counters, and quick-hitting plays are the way of the world now. Hell, go turn on a Chiefs game and watch how “instant” their goal line offense is. They hit you as quickly as possible before you know who has the ball and where it is headed. Speed headed in all directions keep defenses guessing and on their heels. Let’s see if the Texans can figure this out and stop making Houston such a Factory of Field Goals.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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