Four Downs: Colts 30, Texans 23

I mean, it is what it is.

There’s not much new to be said. The Texans have been owned by Frank Reich’s Colts. Outcoached. In Bill O’Brien’s words, “they did a good job.” They have a lot of “good players.” They do a lot of “good things.”

The Texans didn’t answer the bell. O’Brien’s team made a number of on-field mistakes. Most notably, they gave the Colts a free set of downs in the red zone when Bernardrick McKinney hit Eric Ebron away from the play, drawing a flag. The Colts scored touchdowns on four of their first seven possessions, and the three possessions that didn’t score were an end-of-half kneelout, an aggressive fourth-down go that got stopped, and a fumble that set the Texans up with great field position.

There were a number of highlights for Jacoby Brissett which were just way, way, too easy.

Instead of stomping down on Indy’s throat while they had an injured secondary, the Texans slid right back to the pack, putting the division up for grabs and making the season much tenser than it had to be.

I wish I could say I was surprised.

1 — RPNo

After tearing up the Chiefs with misdirection runs, the Texans leaned mostly away from that outside of their touchdown run with Keke Coutee and maybe a few other plays:

Now, I understand that football teams can sometimes wax and wane on concepts in a game. Maybe the Texans didn’t think the Colts would bite so hard. But leaning so far away from what was so successful is, in my opinion, a little overly cute. Make the Colts prove they can stop it. This was highlighted by the bizarre idea to mostly go with Duke Johnson on the opening drive, one where he ran for six yards on three carries.

Houston eventually got to 100 yards on the ground, but it took 24 carries, and they had just one rushing first down in a first half that mostly set the terms of engagement for the rest of the game. That came on this cleverly designed O’Brien run where Deshaun Watson was under pressure and did whatever the hell he wanted:

Bill O’Brien, I’m sure, has a reason that he leaned so far away from what worked last week. All I can tell you right now is that nobody asked about it at his post-game presser as far as I could hear. Not much was said about it. Maybe we’ll get something on Monday.

One of O’Brien’s biggest weaknesses is his adherence to the run game while trailing. When it all looks good, and the play-action passes are hitting, his offense looks unstoppable. But when what should be part of the base offense is instead a wrinkle, and he can’t decisively win the ground game, well, nothing comes easy. You can’t have that in today’s NFL, especially with how easy things looked for Indianapolis with much less talent.

2 — Bill O’Brien’s fourth-quarter drive and safety

I have been nice to Bill O’Brien this week, and even applauded him for (correctly) going for it on fourth down a few times in this game. So let’s bury him together.

The Texans get the ball in the fourth quarter with 4:09 left. They are down five points. They have all their timeouts. Here is the sequence of plays:

— First-and-10 pass to Hopkins, incomplete. OK, makes sense. Colts saw the play coming.
— Second-and-10 run with Duke Johnson for three yards. Inexcusable play call this backed up if you’re not going for it on fourth down, then, somehow, it was made worse by the fact that the Texans then let 41 seconds run off the clock before their next snap at 3:23.
— Third-and-7 sack taken by Watson. Then, a carnival of indecision before the Texans called a timeout with 2:44 left. They let more time run off the clock trying to decide what to do.
— Then they take an intentional safety. Let’s throw it to BOB:

Per the folks at EdjSports, where I do some work and am privvy to some information, here’s what the splits look like on that fourth-and-9 play.

–Decision to punt puts the game-winning chance at 7.5%.
–Decision to go for it puts the game-winning chance at 14.5%
–Decision to take a safety puts the game-winning chance at 4.3%.

Now, some of that comes down to the actual idea of winning the game. It’s hard to win the game when you put yourself down seven without overtime. But the Colts on a punt are more likely to run the clock out or attempt a field goal than they are to get a touchdown, and that means that the Texans could still catch them in any scenario where they got the ball back.

This was a masterpiece of overthinking. I feel like I talk about O’Brien’s clock management in every loss the Texans have. But removing the opportunity to win the game with a touchdown in a one-score game is special even for O’Brien. It’s not like Adam Vinatieri has been lighting it up this year — I think the Colts were more likely to go for it than attempt the field goal on fourth-and-short at, say, the 38.

3 — Injuries on injuries on injuries

This is why the Texans went out and got Kenny Stills. The perception is that Will Fuller isn’t healthy often, and when he’s not, it takes Houston’s offense with it. Well, here we go. Fuller was taken out in the first quarter, ruled out at halftime, and the Texans attempted exactly one pass deeper than 20 yards before halftime.

Stills lived up to his end of the bargain when targeted:

The Texans continued to deal with injuries to the secondary, where Johnathan Joseph exited and can, if we’re being honest, not really be counted on to finish any game he plays in at this point. Phillip Gaines left later and appeared in the locker room on crutches. Jon Weeks has a bum ankle. Roderick Johnson took a stinger, per Texans PR.

It’s convenient and cathartic to blame injuries for this loss, but just like it is with the officiating, that’s not really the scope of the game. Houston had backup playmakers and backup defensive backs that shouldn’t have been much of a dropoff from the starters, in theory.

They had more than enough firepower to win the game. They out-performed the Colts on a yards per play basis. They had only one more turnover, and that came on the final drive of the game while trying to tie the game.

I think, as usual with these kinds of things, a lot combined to go wrong to sink the Texans. But the galling thing about it is that, even when given proper replacements, the offense didn’t seem to run any smoother. They ran their smoothest when they were just going hurry-up, two-minute drill ball. The defense ran their smoothest when they’d lost Joseph.

The worst feeling of all is when it feels like all this attention and coaching for a divisional game is less effective than just letting guys roll out there and play basic concepts on their own.

4 — A one-man defense

J.J. Watt had an incredible day. He batted down one pass, had six quarterback hits, and was the only consistent pressure that the Texans got against Jacoby Brissett all day. He also drew two different holding flags.

via NFL Next Gen Stats

When Brissett had a clean pocket, he was able to pick and choose exactly what he wanted from the Texans defense. Brissett finished 22-for-26 for 266 yards and four touchdowns from a clean pocket. He was just 4-of-13 for 60 yards under pressure.

The Texans came away with just one sack. Whitney Mercilus got a fumble recovery off of a bobbled snap, and got half of the sack with Brennan Scarlett, but was otherwise empty. I can’t remember D.J. Reader making any splash plays in this game. All the other rushers got just about nothing.

Watt is a hell of a player, a Hall of Famer, and it’s awesome to know that he hasn’t declined much. It would be even nicer if he had some actual help. The Texans were able to shut down Brissett with better blitz schemes and more aggressive coverages in the fourth quarter, but were otherwise just completely lost.

Watt has 12 quarterback hits over the last three games. Nobody else on the team has more than two.

It was a day to miss Jadeveon Clowney, even if he would have jumped offsides once or twice.

***

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2 Replies to “Four Downs: Colts 30, Texans 23”

  1. Nice article…good writing. Valid takes for the most part. I’m still chuckling a little bit from the one truly ridiculous thing you wrote, and am assuming it’s a misprint -otherwise, it’s just too darn funny. And I quote:

    “especially with how easy things looked for Indianapolis with much less talent.“

    Exactly how MUCH less talent would you, in your honest opinion, say that the Colts have compared to the Texans?!? As much as the Colts beat the Texans, do you realize the implications of your statement/claim? That last question is not intended as a dig. I have much respect for the Texans, and am loving the great rivalry that is evolving. I am 100% Colts fan through and through, but am not afraid to admit that I think Watt is freaking amazing, and will also confess that I love watching that guy play.

    That all said, I just have to ask you how much conviction you have in that aforementioned statement on talent? You seriously believe that, and want to stick with that narrative-regardless of the embarrassing implications? If I had a team constantly beating MY team, seems like I’d want to at the least give the appropriate credit where due.

    Needless to say, I 100% believe your statement is false, but worse than that, I feel it has very embarrassing implications for your team.

    Watson seemed to have matured and grown from last years embarrassing signaling of a first down when his team was down 21-0 at home. I saw a different guy yesterday, and that’s nothing but good for Texans fans. It is my wish for you, that the same growth & maturation occur, and that this time next year, I’m reading the writings of a much more realistic sports journalist.

    Cheers, and good luck the rest of the way.

    Colts Fan from Indy

    1. Well, on offense, which is what I was working with in that sentence, I don’t think Jacoby Brissett is Deshaun Watson. I would say the Colts have a better offensive line. Mack is the best back either team has but I think Duke Johnson is the better passing-down back compared to Hines. I’d say DeAndre Hopkins and T.Y. Hilton are both good receivers, but that the rest of Indianapolis’ pass-catching corps is not up to Houston’s. I don’t expect Zach Pascal to ever score a $10 million a year contract. Tight ends … Indy has more depth, I think Akins might be the most explosive pass-catcher at the position either team has, but I’d give it to the Colts.

      You’re right — the statement does have embarrassing implications for the team. It says that Bill O’Brien gets his bell rung by the Colts coaching staff every time they play, which is my take.

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