Four Downs: Texans 13, Jaguars 12

The Houston Texans survived. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a fun game. There were no awesome Deshaun Watson comebacks. Neither team could stop themselves from getting sacked until the fourth quarter.

My major takeaway from this game is just that nothing has changed. After all the upheaval of these trades, after all the starting lineup changes the Texans made this week, this was a win born of the DNA of this team. That DNA is not changing.

Bill O’Brien is going to run the football. The pass rush did better when they weren’t facing Drew Brees and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen, but they still had no real response for Jacksonville’s hurry-up offense. Deshaun Watson versus blitzing is highly inconsistent and that can make the Texans a high-variance offense when he doesn’t have or misses hot reads.

The Houston Texans can trade every first-round pick they have from now until the end of time and get Patrick Peterson and a better interior rusher. So much of what they do still depends on how Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, and Watson approach the games together. No amount of realistic personnel change is going to fix that.

Laremy Tunsil played well outside of a false start. There were flashes of brilliance on a couple of individual plays for Roderick Johnson and Tytus Howard. It didn’t matter. Watson took four sacks and got hit seven times. That is a game that O’Brien’s scheme and Watson have combined to create, and it’s not one that is likely to change any time soon. I’ll look at what we’ve seen in the first two weeks with that when we have All-22 released from this game.

The Texans are blessed to have this hard-fought win. It was not going to be quite as easy to pull out of a tailspin as it was last year.

***

1 — Bill O’Brien giveth, Bill O’Brien taketh away

First of all, let me give some actual praise to O’Brien for going for it on fourth-and-1, up 3, at the Jacksonville 2, with 11:35 to play. That’s not an NFL gimme. There are many coaches, including Bruce Arians on Thursday Night Football, who kick that field goal to go up six and get beat. It was the primary decision that O’Brien made that kept the Texans from losing this game.

If there is one element of NFL coaching management that I think O’Brien actually has a good sense for, it’s when to go for it on fourth down. He’s not perfect with it, but he does a better job than most.

Now … the hit:

The Texans have the ball just after the two-minute warning, and Watson hits Jordan Akins for a first down.

The sequence after goes like this:
— Carlos Hyde runs the ball for five yards. (1:25 — about 30 seconds ticked off before this play)
— Incomplete pass to Keke Coutee stops the clock at 46 seconds. The play went off at 51 seconds, so about 35 seconds ticked off here.
— A slant to DeAndre Hopkins gets the Texans a first down.
— Watson scrambles out of bounds for a four yard gain. The play was snapped at 0:22, so the Hopkins slant took 24 seconds off the block. The play concluded at 15 seconds. O’Brien called a timeout.

Somehow during that sequence of plays, O’Brien never thought to call a timeout even though
1) He has a quarterback who makes plays out of structure and often eats up large chunks of time in doing so, and…
2) He was never inside the opponent 30, making it at best a long field-goal attempt if you want to argue he was playing conservatively.

Here’s how he defended this call in his post-game presser:

I don’t know how to explain this response rationally, I’m sure he’ll do better tomorrow. Moving on…

2 — Romeo brought the heat … until he didn’t

One of the major suppositions of my preview was that the Texans would get carved up by a quick Jaguars passing offense. Instead, that offense was mostly sidelined until the fourth quarter because Romeo Crennel brought the heat.

Minshew fumbled three times, finally coughing up a ball that put the Texans deep in Jacksonville territory that led to their lone touchdown. He was good when he had time in the pocket, but he barely had it until the fourth quarter. He also missed a couple of throws that would have put Jacksonville in a driver’s seat as a result of the pressure he was feeling:

That’s the risk you take against a rookie quarterback — and it’s clear that Crennel felt more comfortable on that risk with Minshew than he did with Drew Brees.

The passive nature reappeared on the final drive of the game, as Minshew was able to weather three-man rushes and produce a couple of good run plays, as well as his touchdown pass:

The Texans are a team that wants you to beat yourself. That’s harder than ever in today’s NFL, and it shows every time they’re in a close game with time winding down. The Jaguars had several holding penalties and other plays that stalled their second half drives, and still were mere inches from the comeback.

3 — Carlos Hyde has been Houston’s best find through two weeks

There were many areas where the Texans could have improved the roster, but the one that looked to mostly have been ignored by the team was a true replacement for Alfred Blue. Of course, for most of camp that was slated to be Lamar Miller’s role anyway, but Miller hadn’t necessarily shown the kind of juice to make you think he’d needed an expanded role.

Then, at last cuts, the Texans picked up Carlos Hyde from the Chiefs. Hyde has looked phenomenal through two weeks, and he keyed a lot of the clock-killing for the Texans in this one:

There’s one play I grabbed but didn’t post where Tytus Howard lost to Calais Campbell, then Hyde casually brushed aside one of the best interior defenders in the NFL and went along his day. It was spectacular, but my brain was working on something else and I didn’t want to go back and ruin the flow of the game by posting it. I bet it will make a nice All-22 snag.

Hyde rushed for 90 yards on 4.5 a tote. He’s a been a big improvement for the Texans on Miller as an interior runner. He has good vision, but it’s more about the ability to keep balance through contact on plays where he is taking arm tackles.

Hyde was available for almost nothing at final cuts. Don’t trade draft picks for running backs, kids.

4 — Will Fuller and the edge of aggression

NFL Next Gen Stats keeps a stat it calls “aggressiveness” — it’s a stat that looks at how many throws a quarterback attempts into tight coverage.

Last week Deshaun Watson had a 16.7% aggressiveness rate, which tied him for eighth. In Week 2 against the Jaguars, Watson was at 24.1%, which ranked third through the early games.

In this particular game, the Texans tried to impress more on Fuller’s plate, and Fuller dropped a deep ball. He also caught a deep ball.

The Texans are always going to throw to DeAndre Hopkins in contested coverage — they had problems doing that today against Jalen Ramsey, who had one of his better games. But when you trust in a pass like this on second down, you wind up creating third-and-long and inviting the defense to blitz Watson.

The Texans didn’t really make an effort to attack the middle of the field against the Jaguars. They made Watson go get these tough throws outside the hashes, despite last week’s Jaguars game being all about easy plays over the middle and how depleted that area of the field is for them.

There’s a proper balance of aggression and ease that I think this offense is still trying to find. I’ve been saying that for a lot of the O’Brien era. Sometimes, I just think this team gets so caught up in how hard everything is supposed to be that they forget that there are some easy yards out there.

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