Four Downs: Texans 27, Raiders 24

Michael Jordan comparisons were coming out of the mouth of Raiders head coach Jon Gruden after the Texans narrowly turned away the Raiders on a Sunday afternoon matinee at NRG.

No argument here.

On a day where the Texans offense seemed listless, and where the Raiders seemed to have opportunity to exploit a broken Houston defense with aplomb, the Texans were able to will out a win with Deshaun Watson. On a day where the rest of the AFC South also won, all but cementing the fact that the top two teams in this division are in line for playoff spots, the Texans kept pace in a game where they never seemed like they had much control.

Deshaun Watson kept them in the game.

1 — We are all eyewitnesses

This was not Watson’s sexiest game.

He didn’t throw a great deep ball all game, as Kenny Stills seemed unable to shake Oakland’s deep coverage. (What do Oakland, Carolina, and Jacksonville have in common? Let’s file that away as a post idea.) All Watson did was cooly take the Texans from a 21-13 hole to two consecutive touchdown drives. He bailed the Texans out of a pair of clutch situations with his legs, converting a fourth down deep in Texans territory (an incredibly ballsy call by Bill O’Brien) with his legs, and converting a third-and-1 in the red zone with his legs when nothing was open on a rollout.

Then we come to the play that’s going to be remembered for a long time:

Bill O’Brien said he thought they had a good play, but that it wasn’t open initially. Watson got kicked in the eye in the middle of the play. His eye was swollen, and he was down on the field for several minutes after it was over.

There is nothing that speaks more to the phrase “willing a team to victory” than what Watson did today. There are quarterbacks who would take that hit to the face and leave the game. Houston’s franchise quarterback took the kick, rolled out as if it’d barely happened, and fired a bullet to a well-covered Darren Fells for a go-ahead touchdown.

In a city that is spoiled for incredible talent right now: Altuve, Harden, Watt, Westbrook, Bregman, Cole, Verlander, Watson is still somehow the most compelling player to watch.

There have been better running quarterbacks, and there have been quarterbacks with better arms. But what Watson does with his own intuition and his own drive makes him a combination to where I can’t even compare him to anybody else I’ve seen play this game. He’s so watchable because he’s completely, utterly, one-of-a-kind.

Watson said he couldn’t even see when he let the ball go:

Preposterous.

2 — Goodbye, pass rush

The Texans got one quarterback hit all day, and it came on a play where Jacob Martin came late on a reset by Derek Carr:

And, of course, we learned as soon as the game was over that J.J. Watt would be out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Ian Rapoport reported it first, and Watt followed up with his own post about it:

As I brought up last week, the Texans have been bereft of pressure outside of Watt, who had 12 quarterback hits compared to his teammates’ six over the last three weeks. This only exacerbates the issue. Whitney Mercilus’ hot start was something everyone got excited about, but was really driven a lot by D.J. Reader’s hot start up the middle. With Reader cooling down as a pass rusher the last few weeks, it’s been nothing but Watt.

A secondary that already had problems covering is now about to see how they do with just about zero negative plays, barring yet another trade to fill the ranks. Even if the Texans do find somebody, they’re probably not going to find somebody like J.J. Watt. It’s, unfortunately, a devastating injury for this team’s chances of winning this season. There’s not much of a way to sugarcoat it. Deshaun Watson is going to have to ball out every week from here on out, and the defense is going to have to take advantage of it’s turnover chances.

3 — Gareon Conley’s revenge game

Conley’s first game in a Texans uniform wasn’t bad. He was burnt once, but on a route that you rarely see that happened only because the Raiders had extra time to dial it up:

It’s easy to look at him trailing on the touchdown and get upset and make a snap judgement about who won a trade. But, as I was saying to Avery Duncan on Twitter, I think Tyreek Hill beat Chris Harris on a similar route last week. Most cornerbacks don’t play to stop routes like that.

That’s not to say that Conley’s first game was great. He had another completion allowed at the top of a route after he slipped. Another deep ball that they targeted Conley on early was simply overthrown by Derek Carr:

But when the chips were down, in the biggest defensive play the Texans faced, Conley broke up what would have been a first-down throw to Tyrell Williams. It was a game-changer:

No big statements from me after this game. Conley played alright, I think he can do better. I just want to point out that the touchdown, even when it goes on his record here, isn’t really something you can expect most cornerbacks to do anything about.

You can really feel the deep passion flowing off those words. I don’t know if Conley will ever get over this.

4 — 2017 throwbacks nobody asked for

The Texans had Roderick Johnson active, but instead started Chris Clark at right tackle. Nobody asked Bill O’Brien to clarify Johnson’s status after the game so we’ll have to have that clarified at some other point, but if this was a straight benching, it made no sense.

Clark was quickly pushed around by an Oakland front that was in the bottom five in sacks created coming into the game. Benson Mayowa rolled right over him:

This was hardly the last time that Clark was rolled in this game, including being the root cause of a second sack:

The Texans lost Laremy Tunsil towards the end of the game, forcing Clark to left tackle with recent practice squad signee Dan Skipper at right tackle. The team was mum on Tunsil’s status, but that’s a good sign at least in so much as we know it’s not a season-ender. What was a position of strength as recently as the Kansas City game is now a position, once again, manned by guys who are going to start fires in the backfield and ask Watson to put them out.

A big part of the problem the Texans had in the early going was that they were allowing pressure, four-on-five, versus a Raiders front that couldn’t get pressure against anyone. If that trend continues, Watson is going to be ending every game looking like a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out profile photo.

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