TEXANS 13, JAGUARS 12

Texans use familiar formula from last season: Win ugly

Michele Watson/Houstontexans.com

Like many of the Texans wins last season, this one wasn't pretty. But it was a win. The Texans grinded out a 13-12 victory over Jacksonville to go to 1-1 on the season. The Jags did as much to lose it as the Texans did to win it.

It would be easy to be critical of the performance, but considering they were coming off an emotional opener and a short week, some rust was expected. Just maybe not this much. A look at some of the positives and negatives:

Offense

The positives: They ran the ball very effectively, especially with Carlos Hyde. He rushed 20 times for 90 yards and averaged 4.5 per carry. Despite giving up four sacks (hey, at least it was down from six last week) the Texans offensive line looked better. Rodrick Johnson started at right tackle and looked like an upgrade over Seantrell Henderson. Rookie Titus Howard started at left guard with mixed results including a bad penalty on a third down play that might have iced the game.

The negatives: Deshaun Watson was inaccurate for much of the game, and clearly was not at his best. He finished 17 of 30 for just 173 yards. He did not turn the ball over and rushed for a touchdown, but only got six yards on the ground. Still, they did not pass the ball very effectively, even with the Jags missing corner A.J. Bouye. Watson has historically struggled against Jacksonville and Sunday was no different. To be fair, the Jags secondary did a hell of a job on the Texans WRs.

DEFENSE

The positives: This unit looked much better than on Monday night, but then they were facing Gardner Minshew, not Drew Brees. The Jags helped with untimely penalties and missed passes, but the Texans still managed four sacks, forced a key fumble that led to the Texans touchdown, and limited Leonard Fournette for much of the game, including stopping him on the final two-point play. Whitney Mercilus had two sacks and forced the key fumble that decided the game.

The negatives: The Texans defense was terrific all day until it mattered. They let a rookie QB drive down the field for a touchdown. Rather than go for the tie, the Jags went for two and the win, and the Texans managed to stop Fournette again. The Jags are the kind of team Romeo Crennel defenses feast against. They play back and wait for teams to make mistakes. Brees does not make a lot of mistakes. A rookie QB is a different story. Minshew was not awful, going 23 of 33 for 213 yards with no interceptions, and he also rushed for 56 yards and almost led his team all the way back. But they came up just short. Props to Doug Marrone for going for the win. Meanwhile, J.J. Watt continues to struggle, with just two tackles. The corners were better until the fourth quarter, but the Jags receivers will never be confused for the Saints.

COACHING

The positives: With 11:35 left in the game and the Texans up 6-3, Bill O'Brien gambled on a fourth and one from the 2 yard line. It paid off when Deshaun Watson scored a touchdown to give them a 10-point lead. It was a good decision that turned into a good outcome. We rip O'Brien a lot for his decisions, but this was a good one. However...

The negatives: One of the consistently frustrating traits of the O'Brien era has been his terrible clock management at the end of the half and end of games. It was on display once again against the Jags at the end of the first half.

The Texans converted a third-and-11 coming out of the two-minute warning. It was 34 seconds before they got another play off, even with three timeouts. They let more time run off after another conversion, and wound up having to kick a field goal with two seconds left for a 6-3 lead. Better clock management could have led to a touchdown. They went to the half with two timeouts in their pocket. We have seen this act so many times from O'Brien, it's hard to expect anything else. It's just dumb football, but it is Year 6 of O'Brien, so at this point, it is part of his DNA.

It almost proved costly at the end of the game.

As usual, in the postgame, O'Brien refused to admit he did anything wrong. When asked if they should have taken a time out, he responded with his usual know-it-all bluster.

First he was asked if they had to kick the field goal because they ran out of time.

"No no no. I think that was strategy the whole drive."

The follow up: The strategy on the drive was to kick a field goal?

His answer: "No it was to score a touchdown. Felt like we were in good shape there to score a touchdown then there at the end we didn't get the touchdown so I decided with two seconds left to kick a field goal. Could've gone for there and decided to kick the field goal."

Finally he was asked if he should have taken a timeout earlier.

"No. We had two plays there and just took a little time getting lined up on the two plays but no we don't...I think you're talking about Hopkins' catch and then after that you know we could have taken a timeout but we had two plays. Took a little longer to get lined up than we thought and we'll work on that this week."

You have had six years to work on this, Billy.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Pretty? No. Effective? Yes. You would like to see the Texans actually go out and take a game like this as opposed to having the opponent fail on a two-point try. Things like this were a staple of many of their wins last season. The Texans will need to be much better next week against the Chargers, but at least they escaped with a win. It's weird; they looked much better in a loss to the Saints than they did a win over Jacksonville, but that's football.

Especially Texans football.

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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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