Texans 23, Bucs 20

Despite sloppy performance, Texans escape Tampa with win, AFC South title

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The Texans and Buccaneers played one of the most bizarre games of the season. The first half was a turnover filled mess. The second half was a more grind it out, conservative type of football. In the end, Jameis Winston's four interceptions gifted the Texans a 23-20 win over the Bucs and an AFC South title. The Texans were badly outplayed, but escaped with a victory. Here is how it all played out:


Positives: There weren't any.

Negatives: The Texans offense was simply ineffective for much of the game. They could not run the ball, and Deshaun Watson played another sub par game. Those are starting to mount late in the season; he has not played a good game since the New England win. He was 19 of 32 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He was also sacked five times, most on him. He missed several open receivers throughout the game. Not really a negative, but it was expected: Will Fuller once again left the game with an injury, this time with a groin. Fuller just can't stay on the field. The first offensive possession yielded only a field goal despite great starting position due to an interception. In 15 games, the Texans have managed six points on their opening offensive drives. Duke Johnson had a bad fumble early in the second quarter. The Texans struggled against the Bucs defense and did not take advantage of all the early turnovers. They averaged just 2.6 yards per rush.


Positives: The game could not have started any better for the Texans, as on the second snap Bradley Roby picked off Winston and took it to the house for a 7-0 lead. Winston has now thrown picks on four of his last five opening drives. His second pick went to Justin Reid, who also ran it all the way back, but a penalty wiped the touchdown off the board. The Texans would settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead with still more than 11 minutes left in the first. They followed up the two picks with a blocked field goal, their second in two weeks. They forced five turnovers in the game, including a clinching pick. In the first half alone, they picked off Winston three times, forced a fumble and blocked a field goal, and yet they were tied at 17-17. That is in part because of the poor offense, but also...

Negatives: Some of the same old ugly issues came up. They gave up huge plays on third down throughout the game, including on several third and longs. Tampa was 9 of 17 on third down for the game. They got almost no pressure on Winston until late in the game. They missed tackles throughout as well. They were lucky that many times Winston was inaccurate on some passes where he had wide open receivers. They failed to cover tight ends and backs out of the backfield, problems they have had all year. The reality is when the Bucs did not score, they stopped themselves with the turnovers or missed open receivers, or in some cases dropped passes.

Some extra thoughts

A positive: Bill O'Brien won his first challenge of the season! It overturned a big pass play near the end of the first half.

A negative: Rich Eisen, who was doing play by play, constantly kept mixing up names and really did as poor a job as any professional broadcaster on an NFL game this season. The entire crew was bad, but Eisen's inability to get basic names and facts straight was an outright embarrassment. Eisen in general is really good, but on Saturday he was pathetic.

The bottom line

Despite the offensive struggles, despite being badly outplayed, the Texans win the AFC South. They were outgained 426-229, averaged just 3.6 yards per play to Tampa's 6.1, and would have had no shot if the Bucs had not kept shooting themselves in the foot.

The good news is the Texans will be able to rest some key players next week and prepare for a home playoff game in two weeks. It's hard to have a lot of confidence in this group in the postseason, but they are AFC South champs again nonetheless. After winning 11 games last year, they will be 10-6 at worst against what was a pretty good schedule. Deshaun Watson will have to play much better in the postseason, and there are some things to clean up on both sides of the ball. But they are where a lot of teams would like to be - in the playoffs with a home game.

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The Texans staff is almost complete. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

DeMeco Ryans was hired as the Houston Texans' sixth head coach in their young history on January 18. The next question was who will be his offensive and defensive coordinators? It took almost a month before those questions got answered. The team hired Matt Burke as the defensive coordinator on February 10. Then they hired Bobby Slowik as the offensive coordinator two days later. Burke was previously the Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach. His most recent stint as a DC was in Miami from 2017-2018. Slowik was previously the San Francisco 49ers pass game coordinator and specialist. This is his first stint as an offensive coordinator. Both were interesting hires for different reasons.

Burke as the DC was fascinating for a few reasons. One being that DeMeco was the hottest coaching candidate this hiring cycle. He took over a great defense in San Francisco and kept the ball rolling. Burke coming in raised the question will he call plays? Or, will DeMeco continue to call plays himself? While they've been vague in answering the question, it's pretty obvious DeMeco will be heavily involved. I think DeMeco will either call plays himself, or have veto power over Burke. Once they get a feel for one another, Burke will then take over the reins. Should that feeling out process make all parties comfortable earlier on, Burke could take over sooner.

Slowik is the one everybody is really looking at. As the offensive coordinator, he's expected to help guide the incoming rookie quarterback. As they interviewed head coaching candidates, the Texans let them know they intend to take a quarterback with the number two overall pick. That tidbit of info led me to believe the offensive coordinator hire is almost more important than DeMeco's hire. Almost. Key word. If Slowik develops this rookie quarterback into a top 10-15 guy within two years and the offense ranks in the same range, he'll be highly sought after.

Offensive coaches have gotten most of the recent head coaching jobs because the league is on the offensive cycle right now. We know Slowik will call plays because DeMeco is a defensive guy. Handing over the keys to the offense to Slowik means he gets the chance to prove himself, by himself. While DeMeco may call plays initially, or at least help out, Burke will be seen as an assistant. If and when Burke calls plays on his own, he could be seen as a future head coaching candidate. His candidacy will take longer because he will have the Eric Bieniemy effect: being overshadowed by his head coach, who works on the same side of the ball.

All three guys are young enough to put in work here for years to come. DeMeco is 38, Burke is 46, and Slowik is 35. When you look at coaches like Pete Carroll (71), Bill Belichick (70), and Andy Reid (64), these guys could have a 20-30 year run if they so choose (provided they stay relevant, successful, healthy, and engaged). Now, will they all stay here? DeMeco is a lifer if he doesn't get fired. Burke may be here a while until he establishes himself further. Slowik is the one that may move on to bigger and better things sooner than later. My only hope is that they all succeed and grow this franchise into what these loyal fans deserve: a consistent winner and eventual Super Bowl champion.

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