Texans Week 2: The Good, The Bad, And The Very Ugly
Anthony R Wood
"The Good and The Bad'' from a Texans Sunday? Spoiler alert: It's mainly bad.
The Houston Texans lost 33-16 to the visiting Baltimore Ravens as they fell to 0-2 for the 2020 NFL season.
It was another rough performance from start to finish across the board, with a few bright spots thrown in to give fans the smallest crumbs of comfort.
Coordinator Tim Kelly's offense picked up right where they left off in at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 1. They lacked rhythm and urgency to a degree that a layman can argue against whatever the game plan was.
Their pace slowed and sped up intermittently as they fumbled around for a style of play that worked for them. And yet they still haven't seemed to find that "style'' for this new-look offense.
The offensive line, which many had expected to take a step forward in 2020 due to the full year of experience as a unit, struggled to protect Deshaun Watson yet again.
This resulted in four sacks allowed and 13 quarterback hits as well as little to no time to look downfield for options.
Second-year linemen Max Scharping and Tytus Howard were particularly poor, with Scharping being benched on numerous occasions for Senio Kelemente, who arguably played better when on the field.
None of the linemen are immune from criticism as the pressure forced Watson to run for his football life on several occasions as Baltimore's high tempo, high pressured defense forced some poor decisions from the Pro Bowl quarterback.
Watson himself had far from his best game. Overthrown and underthrown passes cost the Texans on more than one occasion, while failing to adjust the protection upon reading the defense resulted in unnecessarily easy pressure from the Ravens.
Yes, Watson did finish 25 of 36 for 275 yards, one touchdown, and one reception for which he shouldn't take the blame as it was an well-executed play by Ravens defensive back Marcus Peters.
However, this was far from the electrifying "LeBron-like'' escape artist who can tear teams up with his rushing ability and accurate deep balls. Kelly's game plans and coach Mike Devlin's offensive line are simply hampering Watson before the game has even begun.
The game plan itself was odd in this sense: Their run-blocking struggled all afternoon, so the decision to stick with the run late on in the game was baffling. With Duke Johnson out with a sprained ankle, it fell on David Johnson to shoulder the load of the ground game.
Despite having two other backs active they relied solely on the veteran back, opting against employing the two-back sets which had shown promise last week. The play-calling? We'll call it "uninventive'' despite the number of weapons on this offense.
Then there was the call early on to go for it on fourth-and-1. With two seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Texans decided to leave their offense on the field at their own 34-yard line despite only being down 3-0.
One incomplete pass later and Baltimore stepped on the field to score a touchdown just four plays later.
The Texans coaching staff has been heavily criticized in the past for not taking risks, but this was not one worth taking. When facing the reigning NFL MVP at quarterback and one of the most complete teams in the league, the choice to risk giving them the ball back in your own half early on in the game is baffling.
Elsewhere, the receivers struggled for a second straight week to create much in the way of separation at times. This intern forced Watson to hold onto the ball and extend the plays for menial rushing gains on his part.
Slot receiver Keke Coutee also marked his season debut with two receptions for 11 yards and an inexcusable turnover. Coutee failed to protect the ball as the Ravens forced a takeaway and went on to score a touchdown as a result.
Given that he was inactive in Week 1, not targeted after said turnover, and has failed to live up to expectations after an impressive rookie season in 2018 his time in Houston, may be dwindling. The Texans have rookie receiver Isaiah Coulter on IR who can be activated after next week's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a harsh critic might say Coutee may have just created a roster opening for him.
Searching for positives amidst this mire of disappointing play-calling and executions, the tight ends would have to come out of it with some credit. Darren Fells recorded his first touchdown of the season and showed why he was such a red-zone threat last season with his physicality.
Jordan Akins impressed again with his ability after the catch with seven receptions for 55 yards. Fells acted as a safety blanket at times last season, and both he and Akins should be employed more heavily in this role as the weeks go on as they have both proved to be solid receiving options.
Also worth mentioning is wide receiver Randall Cobb. After a particularly underwhelming debut, his five receptions for 59 yards were an improvement an his involvement in this offense will be key moving forward.
Fellow receiver Brandin Cooks also overcame an injury that had him listed as questionable for a second straight week to record five receptions for 95 yards.
These improvements did, however, come at the expense of Will Fuller. The former Notre Dame receiver racked up 112 yards receiving last week, only to be exempt from any targets on Sunday. ... His one rush for zero yards his only action.
If this Texans offense is going to utilize all of its weapons effectively, they need to find a way of spreading the ball around more consistently.
On the plus side, it wasn't all bad. Coordinator Anthony Weaver's defense showed a marked improvement from the Week 1 performance. Tackling as a whole was more consistent, their four sacks were decent and they managed to contain quarterback Lamar Jackson for the most part as he recorded just 204 passing yards.
The defense was the only reason the Texans remained in the game as long as they did. While they were far from perfect, it was a much more rounded performance than against the Chiefs.
Defensive end J.J. Watt recorded two sacks, three quarterback hits, and a defended pass showing he still has plenty of juice left in the tank. There were at least two more plays where he would have had the sack had Jackson held onto the ball a millisecond longer, and his presence in the pass rush was a thorn in the Ravens' side from start to finish.
Defensive tackle P.J. Hall continued to stake his claim for a permanent spot on this defensive front as he showed stout run-blocking abilities all afternoon.
The Ravens may have rushed for 230 yards, but given that this offense is built to pound the ground game it would have been significantly worse had it not been for the likes of Hall and Watt.
Linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney, and safety Justin Reid all recorded double-digit tackles on the day (15, 10, and 10). Reid in particular caught the eye as he made numerous last ditch tackles to halt Jackson in the run game.
Of course, there were issues. Missed tackles are still an issue from all over Houston's defense. This can be partly blamed on rust given their short preseason, but some, such as one particular far too high tackle by Cunningham later in the game, are down to basic fundamentals.
Outside of Watt, there wasn't another player who provided a consistent pass-rushing threat. Some had their moments such as Cunningham and Charles Omenihu, but the outside linebackers as a whole had little impact barring one or two plays a piece.
The Texans need to get rookie Jonathan Greenard active as soon as possible to improve this unit. And speaking of rookies, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock had another game to forget.
After having little to no impact in Week 1, the second-round pick recorded just one tackle and was ejected in the fourth quarter for unnecessary roughness.
Houston's defense as a whole is simply relying too much on too few. Watt, Reid, Hall and Cunningham cannot be relied upon to alone pull them through games. Their teammates have to raise their game if this defense is to reach its potential.
Where's The Fight?
The biggest frustration - and admittedly this is always tough to gauge from the press box and beyond - was the seeming lack of fight. Barring one or two players, this team presently lacks consistency, urgency and fight. When they were down, there were few trying to make a difference on their own or motivate their teammates.
Players and coaches could be seen sitting stagnant on the sidelines, either emotionless and silent or even smiling.
Yes, football is a game, and this is just a job to some. But at the end of the day this means so much to so many people that in a situation such as this where your team is losing or has just lost, you should be livid. You should be embarrassed, frustrated, ashamed, and above all else, motivated.
In our view, and acknowledging that every person is different, and handles adversity differently: The audience is encouraging when it is able to see this emotion on a performer's face and in the way he plays. Fans should see coaches and players showing passion on the sidelines, revving each other up to dust themselves off, and showing both the opposition and the doubters that they deserve every rep they are getting, that they deserve to wear the Texans uniform and represent the city of Houston.
The season is still young, and the Houston Texans have faced two of the league's best. But so far, they are doing themselves and their fans a disservice by coming short in what is ultimately a game driven by passion.