FRED FAOUR

Thanks to a 'game manager' effort from Watson, Texans are in first place in the AFC South after 20-7 win over Jaguars

Deshaun Watson did just enough. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

A month ago, the Texans were 0-3, with little hope of a turnaround. They were playing terrible football on defense, struggling with turnovers on offense and getting Deshaun Watson killed.

Today, they are alone in first place in a suddenly weak AFC South.

The Texans were better at the most important position on Sunday, and the end result was a 20-7 Houston victory over Jacksonville. It was a good example of what Bill O’Brien likes to refer to as “complementary football.” Special teams pinned the Jaguars deep. The defense forced two fumbles and caused the Jaguars to change quarterbacks.

The maligned offensive line opened up enough running lanes for the Texans to rush for 141 yards and only allowed one sack of Deshaun Watson.

More importantly, Watson protected the football. His numbers weren’t great - 12 of 24 for 139 yards and a touchdown - but most critically, no interceptions.

The Texans were conservative on offense against a tough Jaguars defense, but they could afford to be, because the Texans defense came to play. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles was yanked after going just 6 of 12 for 61 yards and two critical fumbles on attempted scrambles. He was replaced by Cody Kessler, who was much more effective, going 21 of 30 for 156 yards and a touchdown but also an interception. 

But a big difference in the game was Watson, who managed to get a victory when he was not at his best. He played the role of game manager, and it was what the Texans needed on a day like this. He was effective when his team had chances, and the Jaguars QBs were not.

Watson did some little things to help with the win. He threw the ball away on several occasions rather than take sacks or risk interceptions. He was more mobile than last week, and rushed for 13 yards on seven carries (two were kneel downs at the end of the game). He played hurt again.

He was not dynamic, but he did not make mistakes, either. With the way the Texans were running the ball, and as solid as the defense was, that was what was needed. The Texans won the turnover battle 3-0, including a late pick by Tyrann Mathieu. They sacked Kessler four times in the second half, two by Jadeveon Clowney. With a 20-0 lead, there was little reason to take chances with Watson, who helped lead two TD drives on short fields.

With the complimentary performance on special teams and defense and Miller's running, they just needed Watson to protect the ball. He did exactly that. It might not be sexy, but it was very effective. Watson and the offense were 50 percent on third down (8 of 16) and two of three in the red zone, an area where they have struggled all year.

The Texans had control for almost the entire game, and the end result was a fourth straight win.

They are now 4-3 in the AFC South, a game ahead of the 3-4 Jaguars and Titans and two ahead of the 2-5 Colts. They have won four in a row but not been impressive doing it. They were gifted a win by the Colts and were outplayed by the Bills and managed to beat them thanks to ineffective quarterback play on the Buffalo side late in the game. But they earned the wins over Dallas and Jacksonville, and the defense has looked great for the last three weeks. They will have a quick turnaround with the Dolphins coming in on Thursday, and will need another big effort. 

Things can obviously change fast, but as of today, the Texans are in first place, and they did it without a big game from Watson.

None of that would have seemed possible just a month ago. But here they are, and the season suddenly has taken on a new look.

 

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TEXANS HAVE ZERO DEPTH AT CORNER

Here's what Davante Adams' big day against the Texans really proved

Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Seven weeks into the season, Bradley Roby has been the sole bright spot playing for a secondary that has been subpar at best. He entered Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers trailing only Eric Murray for the most tackles as a defensive back, while owning the Houston Texans' only interception of the season.

During his media availability on Thursday, Roby spoke about having the Texans' confidence to trust him as the primary defender shadowing the opposing team's best receiver.

And with Davante Adams coming to NRG Stadium with Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Roby had an opportunity to illustrate why Houston's coaching staff have so much faith in him.

Three plays into the game, Roby sustained a knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the afternoon. In his absence, the Texans felt his importance competing with a depleted secondary.

Adams would go on to have a career day against the Texans. He recorded a career-best 196 receiving yards on 13-of-18 targets and two touchdowns — as the Packers handed the Texans a 35-20 loss on Sunday.

Had the Fort Worth native avoided the injury, would it have resulted in a victory for the Texans? Perhaps not. It is always hard for a team to come away victorious after going scoreless during the first half, but Roby would have limited the destruction caused by Adams. Rogers completed four deep passes where he recorded 28 or more yards, with Adams being the recipient of three.

Not only did Houston have to deal with the effects of not having their best corner shadow one of the league's premier receivers, but the team was not prepared to battle without Roby, according to Michael Thomas following the loss.

"When you lose your starting corner like that, it's going to affect [the team]," Thomas said. "Anytime you have to make adjustments. If you're not prepared, and you don't have the right mindset, then you're probably not going to get the right results you want. Maybe we could have done it a little sooner, but you definitely miss a guy like Roby. You plan on having your number one guy go against their number one guy all the time."

Roby's premature exit left the Texans with a gaping void to slowdown Rodgers and the Packers without two of their projected starting corners. Gareon Conley — who revived his career during the second half of last season — has yet to play a single snap for Houston in 2020 as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.

Their lackluster performance on Sunday showcased the lack of depth and talent the Texans have in the secondary. And with the trade deadline a week away, it may be in the Texans' best interest to invest in a young defensive back they can build around in the future — especially considering the timetable on Conley's return remains unknown.

Interim head coach Romeo Crennel said on Monday that the team is hoping Roby's injury is short-term and hopes to have their top corner make his return following the bye.

At 1-6 on the year, all the Texans have left to play for is pride as they close out the remaining nine games of the season, and the best way is to prevent another receiver from recording nearly 200 yards in a single game.

For this vulnerable secondary, it is a feat easier said than done. And with the talents of Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton, and A.J. Brown remaining on the schedule, it is only best for Roby to make his return to the field sooner rather than later.

"I take pride in it. It's an opportunity that not a lot of guys get throughout the league, and I'm thankful for that. Just to be able to go against the best and try my best for the team and see how I match up. I'm very thankful for that." — Roby.

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