The Good, Bad & Ugly As Texans Fall To 1-6
Anthony R Wood
A "Good, Bad & Ugly' SPOILER ALERT: Unfortunately, but predictably, this Houston Texans review will be made up mostly of the latter two.
Houston had a chance to send itself off into next week's bye with a hint of momentum in their favor and a reason to be optimistic, had they beaten the Packers in Week 7. But, of course, this wasn't to be, as they fell 35-20 to a Green Bay team coached by former Texans assistant Matt LaFleur.
It's slim pickings here as has become the norm in 2020, but there were some positives to be found among the mire of mediocrity.
Deshaun Watson finished 29 of 39 with 309 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions to his name. While also rushing for a 38 yards, Watson has a quarterback rating of 114.2
When given the chance, Watson and his receiving corps were more than capable of moving the chains. When the Texans pick up the tempo and go no-huddle, Randall Cobb, Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and Kenny Stills showed yet again that they can be the spark this team needs.
As the weeks have gone on, this offense has shown that it has no out-and-out "No. 1 receiver'' after the tumultuous departure of DeAndre Hopkins earlier this year. Despite this, they can still rack up the yards. Cobb, Fuller, and Cooks in particular have taken it in turns to be the lead receiver on a week-to-week basis, with Cobb the beneficiary against Green Bay. The former Packer finished with eight receptions and 95 yards receiving - both team-highs.
Defensively the Texans managed to hold the Packers to under 100 yards rushing, only the second time this season they have managed this feat.
The highlights of the day, however, came from Houston's special teams in the fourth quarter. Buddy Howell blocked a Packers punt, which was recovered by Dylan Cole, leading to a Texans field goal. Later, Michael Thomas recovered an onside kick by Ka'imi Fairbairn, which gave the Texans great field position at Green Bay's 47-yard line.
Naturally, David Johnson subsequently turned it over on a fumble the very next play, but let's try to focus on the positives.
OK, enough of the positives. Where to begin?
Starting with Houston's offense, we will argue the Texans are being weighed down by sub-par play-calling from Tim Kelly. His insistence on trying to establish a run game is infuriating. The fact of the matter is this: Houston's run game is non-existent. The guards cannot run-block, while the aforementioned Johnson is simply not the back they had hoped he would be. He looks slowish, seems to lacks vision, and is not the down-hill rusher this scheme demands.
In our opinion, Watson - in terms of body language - looks dejected and, at this point, doesn't even try to disguise upcoming hand-offs to Johnson. After a give for an inevitable menial gain, Watson simply stands still showing little emotion - and who can blame him, given the situation?
Adapt or die. It's a simple but effective mantra that applies to Houston's run game. It hasn't worked for the past six weeks, so why continue down the same path? Insisting on rushing the ball to form a 'balanced' offensive scheme is effectively accomplishing the opposite.
By losing downs with one or two-yard runs, the pressure is heightened on the receivers to make a play at crunch time.
By no means should Houston abandon the run altogether; the Texans should simply accept/admit that this is a 'pass-first' offense. Its strengths lie in its quarterback's arm, his ability to extend plays, and its plethora of capable receivers. Use them.
But our issues with Kelly's calls don't stop there. While many had accused them of being too 'gung-ho' last week in deciding to go for two points and seal the deal towards the end of the fourth quarter, this week they went too far the other way.
Playing it safe isn't going to win this team many games. Going for a field goal on fourth-and-11 at Green Bay's 22-yard line when down 14-0 and with halftime rapidly approaching is a questionable call, especially after a decent 86-yard drive.
This decision reared its unwelcome head yet again when in the fourth quarter, down 28-10, they opted to go for the field goal instead of giving their offense a chance to close the gap on fourth-and-goal.
On defense, it was the same-old. Aaron Rodgers had all the time in the world in his pocket, safe in the knowledge Houston's pass rush appears to be on vacation this season. With zero sacks and just one quarterback hit all day, Rodgers passed for 283 yards and four touchdowns.
The biggest issue with coordinator Anthony Weaver's defense this week was not the faltering run-stoppage, as it has been in recent weeks, but the porous secondary. Davante Adams had a game to remember up against this Texans back end, with 196 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
His performance highlights a serious issue that has been somewhat overshadowed by their front seven this season: Safety Justin Reid is not playing at the level to which he is capable this season, defensive back Eric Murray was a free-agency mistake by former head coach Bill O'Brien, and safety Lonnie Johnson is still adjusting to his new position and needs time.
At cornerback, the situation is equally dire. Gareon Conley and Bradley Roby are currently injured, and corners Phillip Gaines and Vernon Hargreaves are simply not good enough, both being torched consistently once again this week. Why the Texans chose either of them and opted to leave promising rookie John Reid inactive is a mystery.
A Week Of Reflection
Credit to Green Bay, they played well, took what the Texans shortcomings handed them, and ran with it.
Ultimately, the bye week comes at the perfect time for Houston. To put it simply, this team looks gassed and deflated. Time apart to recover and reflect can only help. Who returns after next week's Nov. 3 trade deadline is anybody's guess at this point, and should any of them leave, this will not have been the note they will have wanted to leave on.
Houston's schedule eases up once the club returns. The Texans had an undeniably brutal start to the season down in part due to the caliber of opposition they have faced. Next up are the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots and Detroit Lions.
Perhaps with a week's rest and some time to rewrite the game plans, the Houston Texans can rescue some dignity in time for a new regime to take over in 2021.