In a Thursday Night Football battle, the Texans edged out the Colts in 20-17 hard fought victory. Here's how I saw things play out:
-DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller re-established themselves as one of the best wide receiver duos in the league this game. 13 catches on 19 targets for a combined 234 yards and two touchdowns (both by Hopkins). Whenever Deshaun Watson has Hopkins on the short to intermediate stuff and Fuller stretching the field, it gives him more options in the pass game.
-Deshaun Watson completed 63.3% of his passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. While he did throw an inexplicable interception and took a sack, he still did enough to guide his team to a win. This kid is going to be a star and eventually lead his team to great things one day.
-The defense came up big against a division rival. Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney combined for 27 tackles, 19 of those were solo tackles. This wasn't an easy game. It was a grinder, and the defense deserves some love for their contribution.
-Watson's interception in the 2nd quarter hurt their momentum. The Colts had just punted the ball to the Texans. With a 3-0 lead, they could've taken a two score lead with a touchdown drive. Instead, pressure up the middle tipped the pass and Colts corner Kenny Moore made a great play to pick it off. Sometimes good defense beats good offense.
-Back to back Colt possessions swung momentum back in their favor. At the end of the 1st half, the Texans gave up a field goal to tie the game at 10. To start the 2nd half, the Texans failed on a 4th&3 conversion. The Colts went on an 11 play drive (10 runs, one pass) and scored after Benardrick McKinney failed to make the tackle when he met Jonathan Williams in the gap.
-The Colts ran the ball 39 times for 175 yards at a 4.5 yard per carry clip. Losing the rushing yardage differential by -76, turnover game by -1, and time of possession by almost seven minutes is normally a recipe for a loss. These metrics need to be cleaned up moving forward, or else this team will be out early in the playoffs.
-The Colts convderted 9/15 of their 3rd down conversions. Giving up 60% on 3rd down conversions isn't what good football teams do. If the Texans expect to advance in the AFC playoff picture, they have some work to do as far as 3rd down conversion percentage.
-Dylan Cole went down with a calf injury in the 2nd quarter. He's not only one of their more athletic linebackers, he's alos the leading special teams tackler. Hopefully he's okay as this team, particularly the defense, has suffered enough injuries.
-After the field goal early in the 2nd quarter, I heard them playing "Football Time In Houston" by Clay Walker. Will they PLEASE get rid of that damn song?!? I'm sure there's a rap song they can use that's better. Hell, get a local band to do a rock song. Anything but that tired ass song!
Now that the Texans have won this game and firm control of the AFC South, they have about a 75% chance at making the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Colts have only about a 20% chance to make it. The Texans have five games left: Patriots, Broncos, @Titans, @Bucs, and Titans. None of those teams pose a serious threat outside the Pats. Winning all these games would give them a 12-4 record and a shot at a first round bye depending on what happens with other teams. Winning this game puts them in the driver's seat in the AFC South, and helps them in the race for a first round bye. They'll need some out side help to get first round bye in the playoffs, but health is a major component moving forward. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. With the Pats coming into town next Sunday night, the Texans have a chance to make some noise in the AFC. Next week will be the new biggest game of the Bill O'Brien era.
“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.