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Conservative Play-Calling Cost Houston Texans More Than A Win

The Texans elected to play it safe, and it backfired on Thursday Night Football

HOUSTON -- As running back David Johnson and the Houston Texans exited the field at the start of the second quarter,  NRG Stadium erupted with boos. No, those boos weren't directed at Johnson, who managed to put Houston in a fourth-and-9 situation. 

All were directed at Texans head coach David Culley. 

Houston was in a third-and-16 the play before following a false start call. It's was an obvious passing situation, but the first-year head coach elected to go with the run. 

Might as well just waive the white flag and call it an evening. Tensions only grew worse on the way to a 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. 

“We’ve just got to be better," Culley said postgame Thursday evening. "We’ve got to play better."

READ MORE: Texans WR Brandin Cooks an NFL Leader In Loss To Panthers

Culley's conservative play-calling kept Houston from consistently moving the ball against the Panthers' front seven. The run game was all but eliminated by the third quarter, but the Texans stubbornly kept trying to move the ball on the ground. 

Mark Ingram averaged 3.5 yards per run. Johnson gained 11 yards on two plays. Phillip Lindsay, who looked like the like back based on his preseason, didn't even average a yard per play. 

No running back finished with a run of more than seven yards, but that didn't stop Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly from trying to force a ground game in existence. 

"That's who we are," Culley said. "And I think offensively our biggest ills of the night was the fact that we could not establish any consistency in our run game, and we have got to be able to do that to be successful, to be able to become better in the pass game and to be consistent and stay on the field, and we weren't able to do that tonight."

READ MORE: Texans' Offense vs. Panthers: Inconsistent, Inept

That's why Houston fans were booing their own club. Most have accepted that this season will be used to find franchise pieces for the imminent rebuild.  

If that's the case, why not take the occasional risk? Now more than ever, teams are testing testing defenses by going for it on fourth and short. 

During the third quarter, Houston was in a fourth-and-4 situation at the Panthers 39. Down by one, a 50-plus yard field-goal attempt from Joey Slye would have given Houston the lead — maybe even the momentum. 

Instead, Culley took the delay of game call and punted. Carolina would march down the field 75 yards for a touchdown to extend its lead. From there, the Panthers took control of the game and never took their foot off the gas. 

At that point, what else could Houston do? 

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“We’re still just playing the game right there,” Culley said.  “I just felt like we needed to do what we did to be able to just continue to be able to have some momentum and we didn’t get any. We didn’t have any.”

READ MORE: Special Teams: Major Issue For Texans vs. Panthers

Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills only could do so much in his first start. The first-team offense usually features Nico Collins and Danny Amendola at receiver. 

On Thursday, Anthony Miller started in the slot and there wasn't a No. 4 receiver.  Mills finished 19 of 28 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown.

At least he didn't commit a turnover, right? 

With Houston playing short-handed, several play designs weren't accessible. Does that make it understandable for a team to play it safe? Culley said after Week 1 the Texans were going to be an aggressive team. 

"Passive'' has been a more apt description so far.  

Injuries happen all the time, but Houston has enough talent to win five games. Heck, maybe even six if the schedule leans its way. 

READ MORE: Texans Lose to Panthers in Davis Mills' Starting Debut

Mills might not be the elite QB prospect, but Houston has to see what they have in him for the future. If Texans general manager Nick Caserio believes he can be a franchise piece, why not test the waters with more explosives plays?

The rookie connected with Brandin Cooks on a 30-yard pass. Outside of that, his longest throw was an 18-yard dart to Cooks in the third quarter. 

"I probably need to make some more plays and gain some more respect before I can weigh in a lot on that,” Mills said when asked about playing more aggressive. 

Culley is still learning how to lead a team. A 27-year veteran in the game, he's never been a head coach or a coordinator. There likely will be growing pains as a head coach. 

The Texans were expected to be one of the league's worst teams. They've shown in flashes that they might not be. Drives like the two-minute drill to close out the second quarter and limiting the Panthers' run game show there's possibly more than meets the eye. 

Unfortunately, playing it safe sometimes backfires. Culley's conservative design only led to frustration from fans in the stands. 

Would it be shocking if that frustration seeped into the locker room as well? 

CONTINUE READING: Panthers Over Texans; How Bad is Christian McCaffrey Injury?