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Reflections on the Texans

On Thursday Night Football, the most maligned of the prime time offerings from the NFL, the Houston Texans laid an egg against a determined and robust Patriots in Foxborough.

Our 2-0 AFC South sweethearts were considered a sneaky pick for an upset on the road. Facing the third-string QB, a rookie no less, and no Gronk was seen to be the ideal situation for a fearsome Texans D. The offence, whilst no great shakes thus far, was looking efficient and effective which would match nicely against an ok (to date) Patriots D. That’s what the optimists thought. Indeed, it’s what I thought might happen. A statement game. A showing that the Texans are legit, built to last and can do it on the big stage against the big teams.

What I always, always forget, or perhaps choose not to acknowledge, is just how good Bill Belichick is. I mean, I know he is good. We all know his record, but I think sometimes we forget how much he thrives on adversity, how he is so good at scheming up to meet and nullify the strengths of opponents.

(Forgive me an aside but BB and the Pats right now remind me of late career Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. You hated their arrogance during the ascendant ‘90s but by the late 00s you couldn’t help but respect the hell out of them. I used to despise the arrogance of the Pats, the mentality. Now, I can’t help but admire and respect the relentlessness of Belichick and the organisation. Heck, I’m an avowed Peyton Manning acolyte and I kinda like Brady now too. I suppose, after a while, if you truly, truly love the game, then you respect those that do it better than most. BB, TB and the Pats do it exceptionally well).

So what went so wrong for the Texans. I’m going to offer some thoughts from the game tape and some from conjecture. The advanced stats aren’t out yet on this game, so let’s have some old-fashioned gut reaction:

Out-Coached

Bill O’Brien is a likeable guy. He is a good coach. He got absolutely, completely, crushingly out-coached by BB. The Pats had a game plan and they executed it ruthlessly. The Texans had nothing on D and absolutely nothing on O. Their play-calling was tepid, insipid, vanilla, weak. It was submissive, passive, soft and bland. The Texans showed no ambition, creativity, innovation, zeal or zip on either side of the ball.

This hyperbole may be superlative but it needs to be so – the Texans should be going in to Foxboro and competing, they should be showing their class. They’ve drafted well and acquired sensibly, they should not be an also-ran in this fixture. Thanks to the play-calling, they were.

Is it as simple as BB knowing OB too well and thus knowing how to counter him? Is it that BB also knows Romeo Crennel very well and knows how to nullify his scheme? Maybe. Or rather, it was evidently the case that BB played his game, used his team to the strengths they had and the Texans didn’t have a response to it.

Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are both talked about as potential Head Coach candidates next year. No question they will be in the running for top jobs if the Pats continue as they’ve started.

Turnovers!

Protect the football. Do your job. Both axioms that read like stupidly obvious statements. But they’re true! Clichés are clichés for a reason. The Texans coughed up the ball on two kick returns. It’s hard not to root for Charles James, the good guy and star of Hard Knocks 2015, but you can’t put the ball on the carpet. Rookie Tyler Ervin did the same after he took over (another aside, I’m not a fan of the ‘bench-for-fumble philosophy at all. Come on, it’s not school) and the Texans surrendered TDs subsequent to both fumbles.

Brock Osweiler threw a nasty pick to Jamie Collins. He didn’t see him sneak under the route but he really should have. Osweiler was trying to force the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. It wasn’t that the window was tight, it was that it wasn’t a window. It was a wall. QBs make bad decisions now and then but if special teams are not helping, the QB must protect the football. Osweiler didn’t.

The Pats didn’t do anything special in this regard, they just protected the football and took advantage of a team that didn’t.

Houston Offensive Woes

They really looked bad, didn’t they? And it’s not just the fact that they were playing the run when it wasn’t really working, or that they were slow when they were trying to be the fast it was the lack of zip, of pace, of momentum. They ran it on 3rd-and-long. They threw under the sticks when facing crucial downs. They played ‘safe’ when actually ‘safe’ was going put a ton of pressure on their D.

To some extent, you can understand the desire to play conservatively on the road in a big spot but the lack of spark crippled this offence. It was tough to watch.

Vaunted Defence…failing

The Texans D looked gassed because they spent most of this game on the field. It is only to be expected that they would be worn down but, like the offence, this unit didn’t look like they had any game plan to truly stop the Pats. They struggled to get pressure and allowed the Pats to move the ball on the ground and in the air on relatively low-risk plays.

The Texans D is a top five D and that will be proved over the course of the season but on Thursday night, they got beat up.

Overall, the Texans showed that they are not yet prime time players. They are the class of the AFC South, that we know, but their task is to take that to the national stage and make an impact. They failed to do this on Thursday and the manner of it does not bode well for their post-season prospects. That said, it is week three so perhaps take this polemic with a grain of salt!

Article written by:

Gareth joined the NFLGirlUK.com team in 2016 and covers the AFC South for the site. He has been following the NFL for over 15 years, though first encountered the game through Channel 4’s hourly recap programme in the late 1980s, and over the last couple of seasons begun to write about the draft through his own blog. Gareth tweets from @GDux3 and you can also follow him on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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