DROWNING IN A SEA OF NEGATIVITY, THERE WERE SOME POSITIVES FOR TEXANS FANS AS WELL IN GAME 1
Texans: It wasn't a win, but at least it was fun to watch
I'm going to try something different with this column and focus on the positives I took away from Game 1 of the Texans season Monday night in New Orleans. I know everyone wants to focus on "Usual Suspects" for all the hate and negativity when talking Texans, mainly Bill O' Brien, the offensive line and the defensive secondary. Don't get it twisted, those were all areas that warranted criticism in the past and deserved plenty of blame again Monday, but I want to talk about a few bright spots to build on as the team goes forward, including turning a few perceived negatives into positives that could pay off in a big way in the final 15 games.
The first bright spot for the Texans was the ability to run the ball effectively against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. When the Texans lost Lamar Miller to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason there was little hope that the team could replace him and his steady output at the tailback position.
With no one on the roster capable of carrying the load, Bill O' Brien and his staff went outside the organization and pulled off two trades that created the duo that was able to account for 140 of the 180 rushing yards Houston finished the game with. Deshaun Watson scrambled his way for 40 yards while keeping plays alive, but the rest of the runs were compliments of two guys that weren't on the roster midway through training camp.
Duke Johnson joined the squad in a trade with the Browns early in the preseason. Initially, he was looked at as a third down back with more ability in the passing game than running the ball and the hope was that he would compliment Miller while lightening his workload by occasionally picking up some carries.
That all changed when Miller went down and suddenly he was the only experienced RB on the roster that O'Brien could trust. The versatile back rushed for 57 yards on 9 carries and added 33 receiving yards out of the backfield as a safety valve for quarterback Deshaun Watson. He averaged a little over 6 yards per rush and 8 yards per reception and will only get better as he gets more familiar with the offense and playbook.
The other move that was made to add depth to the ground game was a late move to acquire Carlos Hyde from the Chiefs. Hyde had some good seasons early in his career but had struggled of late making brief stops with several teams. The Texans took a flyer on him and he paid off in a big way, rushing for 83 yards on 10 carries as he showed speed, quickness and the ability to make people miss. He too will only improve as he gets more comfortable with his new team and system and the hope is the duo will be able to put up numbers similar to what Miller gave them over the past few seasons.
Another reason for optimism if you're a Texans fan has to be what you saw from two of the other newcomers that came to Houston before the start of the regular season, wide receiver Kenny Stills and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The two main pieces of the Dolphins trade showed that the sky is the limit for them and their new squad as both made steady, solid contributions to their new team as they helped keep them in the game and gave fans hope for the future. Stills had the big 37-yard touchdown reception with under a minute to play that looked like it was going to be the game-winner as his time on the field was limited as he learns a new offense. He will be a welcomed addition to the receiving core as he showed he is still a deep threat and steady target for Watson to utilize, as well as an insurance policy for the often injured Will Fuller and KeKe Coutee. Tunsil had less than a week to get some chemistry with his new teammates while learning the blocking schemes and playbook and while he wasn't perfect, he showed that he is the future at left tackle and the perfect protector of Watson's blindside.
The biggest takeaway for me when watching the game in New Orleans was how exciting and productive the offense was when they had the ball, regardless of the sacks and QB pressures. O' Brien and his new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly called a pretty good game as they weren't hyper-conservative and predictable, didn't run it into the center of the line on every third and long situation and let their stars shine.
Watson and DeAndre Hopkins were clicking all night long as they constantly put pressure on the Saints secondary. Fuller looked great coming off his serious knee injury as he showed his speed was still there and his hands were better than expected. Johnson and Hyde provided offensive balance while showing the ability to make defenders miss and getting productive yards after contact. Johnson also contributed in the passing game and he will only get better as he gets more familiar with the offense and playbook.
The biggest positive of all was the play of Watson who just gets better and better with each passing game. He continues to prove that no stage is too big and no lights are too bright for the emerging superstar as he led his team all night long, including on the biggest drive of the night when they got the touchdown they needed in the final two minutes of the game. If the line can find a way to prevent him from getting sacked 6 times a game as he was in New Orleans and Watson can stay healthy, this team is going to put up a lot of points while being extremely fun to watch.