Jordan Thomas caught the opening touchdown. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Like a lot of Texans wins, Sunday’s 19-17 victory over Denver was not pretty. Deshaun Watson did not put up cartoon numbers. The offensive line struggled against the Broncos’ rugged defense. The Texans defense struggled at times and forced just one turnover.
In the end, it did not matter. The Texans got two TD passes from Watson to Jordan Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins and a couple key defensive stops when it counted to escape Denver with a win.
Oh, and a missed field goal at the buzzer from Brandon McManus certainly helped salvage the victory.
No matter how non-sexy the win might have been, it looks beautiful in the standings, where the Texans are now 6-3 after their 0-3 start. They are in control in the AFC South with the six straight wins.
And make no mistake, the Broncos were no easy out. Despite their 3-6 record, they have played well, especially at home, where they did lose to two of the best teams in football - the LA Rams and Kansas City.
On Sunday, Denver played the Texans basically even throughout the game, and took its first lead in the third quarter at 17-16. But the Texans answered with a field goal to retake the lead in the fourth. Case Keenum had better yardage numbers than Watson, with 26 of 42 for 290 yards and a touchdown.
The Texans defense responded once they got the lead, with back to back stops that included sacks by Jadeveon Clowney on one drive and J.J. Watt on the other.
The Texans got the ball with over seven minutes left after that, and ran the clock down to 3:29 before giving Keenum and the Broncos another chance. The Broncos nearly took advantage, converting twice on fourth down to set up McManus’ 51-yard field goal attempt to win the game.
He missed wide right, and the Texans get a chance to get home, heal up and get ready for a stretch drive that will include all three remaining divisional games at home.
Watson was a solid 17 of 24 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and a finished third straight game without a turnover, a huge key on Sunday. Hopkins was big again, with 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
The Texans were outgained 348-290. They scored a whopping 3 points in the second half. They allowed four sacks and averaged just 3 yards per rush. But they escaped. Would it have been nice to see them make a play at the end to stop the drive? Yes. It always looks better if you make the play to win it rather than have someone on the other team fail.
Still, so what? Who cares if it was ugly?
Things look pretty attractive from atop the division. And now they have some time to get heathy.
That would be even more beautiful.
“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.