The Houston Texans fell to 1-2 Thursday night, thanks to a mixed performance during their 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The key to their loss? A hapless offense.
Since his arrival, head coach David Culley had made it clear that the Texans were going to be a run-heavy team. This was evident throughout the preseason, with their free-agent signings, and in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Entering this week, with rookie Davis Mills set to make his first start at quarterback, it seemed the writing was on the wall for the Texans to take this run-heavy scheme to the next level in order to protect their inexperienced signal-caller.
But this backfired.
First off, Houston's run-blocking needs a lot of work. As a pass-blocking line, they have come a long way from last season but the interior of their offensive line continues to struggle to provide any semblance of gaps for their trio of experienced running backs to exploit.
Particularly in the first half, the play-calling was far too predictable. It was clear Houston was going to run the ball consistently, and Carolina's defense sniffed this out from the get-go. This meant that no matter how many angry runs Mark Ingram tried to pull off through the mailbox-sized gaps he was given, it was a recipe for failure.
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Ingram ultimately finished as Houston's leading rusher with 21 yards on six carries, with all other rushers combining for a paltry 21 yards.
Carolina's defense does deserve a great amount of the credit here with their young front seven playing lights out each game. However, this isn't the first time Houston's run blocking has struggled, nor is it the first time play-caller Tim Kelly has failed to find a balance between running the ball frequently and becoming too predictable.
As the game went on, Mills felt comfortable and was capable of moving the sticks when given time in the pocket. When the Texans picked up the tempo in the two-minute drill just before halftime, it all fell into place.
Eventually, however, line failed to hold back the endless barrage of Panthers' blitzes. The hits came thick and fast for Mills, who was hit nine times and sacked four.
Mills finished the game 19 of 28 for 168 yards and a touchdown.
One positive to be taken from this offensive performance, however, is that when the Texans picked up the tempo and went for a more pass-friendly scheme they moved the ball.
On the first such drive they scored a touchdown, the second a field goal, the third they could have either gone for a field goal or a fourth-down drive but Culley opted to punt, and the final was ultimately doomed by a fumble.
The Texans, thankfully, now have a long week with which to recover, give Mills some extra time for first-team reps and prep, and hopefully solve some of the issues along that O-line.
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