DEALING WITH INJURIES

The Texans need great coaching for an evolving roster

Bill O'Brien will need to raise his game this week. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Once again, the injury bug has hit the Texans. This time they are lucky it’s not the quarterback or the pass rushers. The problem this year is that injuries have hit positions without a lot of depth like wide receiver and cornerback. But here they are, sitting on a five-game winning streak and some folks thinking they can win the division. That can still happen, but they can’t afford to be patient with back-ups while they already have three losses. The coaches will have to be the first ones to step up and make sure there’s no dip in production while the roster reshuffles.

So, someone will have to convince Bill O’Brien that he needs to adjust his offense this week because Sammie Coates and Vyncint Smith are suddenly going to see more snaps. He’s probably all too happy to throw them and newly acquired Demaryius Thomas out on the field, but he will have to be smart with his play calling. Without adjustments for the other players, DeAndre Hopkins will have to work harder to get open. If he has to do it all then there’s little chance it will all get done. I shouldn’t doubt what he can do though.

We saw last year what this team is when injuries get the best of them and O’Brien doesn’t change up the way he coaches. The adjustments won’t have to be as dramatic as they were before, but the game plan can’t be the same as it was last week. He is going to have to put on a coaching performance that gets him in the top ten coach of the year candidates list. He’s going to have to keep adjusting in order to make sure his game plan works for whoever is on the field. He’s also going to have to make sure the rest of his staff does the same.

Romeo Crennel is going to have to put his thinking cap on extra tight this week. He will be without his last starting cornerback, Jonathan Joseph, because of an injury suffered against the Dolphins. It might only be one game, but it’s a game Houston can win if the defense can keep up its level of play. That means he is going to have to get creative again with the safeties and the coverages. If Case Keenum, or any future quarterbacks they face can read those coverages and attack these less than ideal corners with impunity then it’s going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

There is going to be a lot on the position coaches this week too. They have just a short window to make sure these guys that will get more playing time know everything they need. That means every check, every adjustment and every nuance that needs to be executed. The margin of error will be razor thin and mental mistakes will have a bigger impact on the outcome of this week’s game.

The winning streak can extend to six if O’Brien and Crennel put together something spectacular with the planning and preparation before the game. Once the lights go on there is little they can do if the players have mental mistakes that lead to points for the other team. The Texans have a bye in Week 10 to give them some breathing room but a win this week in Denver will keep them in the driver’s seat for the division.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

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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