11:38 of hell: A gory, blow-by-blow look at how the Texans blew a 24-point lead in one quarter

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With 12:28 left in the second quarter, the Texans achieved their highest EdjSports game-winning chance of the game: 84.5%. That number is derived not only from game states, but an evaluation of the two teams as a whole. So even though the lead was already enormous, you could already see a mathematical system being a little uncertain how much it meant. From a perspective of eyes on the field, the Chiefs had gone three-and-out twice, with two dropped passes and perhaps the only great Texans defensive play of the game: Justin Reid’s break up of a pass intended for Tyreek Hill.

They had a first-and-10 at the Kansas City 22, one more touchdown would put them up 28-0. Not only would they have hosted an AFC Championship game for the first time in franchise history, they would have avoided the Ravens, who spanked them 42-7 in Week 11. It was an opportunity of fortune that just simply doesn’t come along every day.

Over the next 11:38 of game time, the Texans gave up 28 consecutive points, and their GWC fell to 15.7%. Let’s look at why that happened. I’ll use as many interviews as I have to add color to this, but keep in mind that most Texans players only spoke in generalities after the game and didn’t speak to specific plays. Romeo Crennel was never interviewed on the record. What we have is a lot of Bill O’Brien talk, which I know is a massive turn-off to many fans.

OK, I warned you and gave you an intro. Let’s melt together.

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1st-and-10, KC 22, 12:28 second quarter, 84.5% GWC

On first down, the Texans ran with Carlos Hyde. I’ve written all year about what a bugaboo the first-down runs have been, and I’ve written many times about my distaste of Chris Clark having a starting job. Here, both Clark and a pulling Zach Fulton blew blocks and what starts out looking like a very clean run goes for one yard:

Second-and-9, KC 21, 11:53 second quarter, 83.8% GWC

The Texans ran play-action on their next down, and the natural action of the play took Deshaun Watson to the right side, where Darren Fells was one-on-one with Tanoh Kpassagnon to hold the edge and Watson was looking up Will Fuller deep. Both Kansas City safeties played this well, and the first read was covered. Kpassagnon beat Fells and, even though DeAndre Hopkins was open to the left side, the scramble and the natural motion of the play kept the Texans away from exploiting that. Watson had to throw it away.

Third-and-9, KC 21, 11:46 second quarter, 82.3% GWC

The Texans took a timeout before their third play, when they couldn’t get their protection set in time. Something that has literally never happened every game in the O’Brien Era — it just feels like it has. They didn’t line up until there were 11 seconds on the play clock. They came right back with another deep route combo, and the Chiefs countered by faking blitz and dropping everyone deep. Watson’s only real read was the short game, and Duke Johnson came ever so close to picking it up, but he just couldn’t get there:

Fourth-and-1, KC 13, 10:58 second quarter, 81.3% GWC

Bill O’Brien kicked a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 13. Many people I followed on Twitter in the moment decided that this was the moment that momentum shifted. Per EdjSports, the decision to kick the field goal cost the Texans 2.5% game-winning chance — their metric that examines game states.

I didn’t take much issue with the field-goal attempt. Here’s why: Andy Reid is a fairly conservative coach in his own right. He attempts plenty of fourth-and-midfield punts, and he attempts plenty of fourth-and-short field goals. It’s true that, from an optimized game theory sense, the Texans were leaving a four-score lead on the board. It’s also true that, given how Reid typically plays, the Texans likely were creating a four-score lead.

What I did take issue with on this drive comes from a lack of consistency in O’Brien’s statements. He said multiple times in his presser that he knew he needed to be aggressive. He also had to waste two timeouts. I think when O’Brien gets pissed off, he cascades himself with other bad decisions. I don’t think this was a bad decision from a 30,000-foot view, but when you view it in context with the fake punt, it’s a little more puzzling.

This play was the last play where the ball would be in Kansas City territory until 4:28 in the second quarter.

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Kickoff, 10:54 second quarter, 81.6% GWC

Kickoff coverage breakdowns are not my forte, but I do want to point out on Mecole Hardman’s 58-yard return that gave the Chiefs some life that it did look like he got sprung a bit on a hold that impacted A.J. Moore’s ability to make the tackle:

Is that something that merits a ton of scrutiny? Man, I don’t think so. Obviously I want the Texans to win, and special teams have been called so tightly this year, but it didn’t mean a ton in the context of this game. That little hold there created a crease. Home-field advantage is a bitch. Note that Lonnie Johnson gets injured on this play, so the Texans have to go with Mike Adams on the next set of plays. Justin Reid is no longer playing deep and gets moved up.

First-and-10, HOU 46, 10:46 second quarter, 77.7% GWC

It took the Chiefs two (2) plays to answer with a touchdown. The first play came off play-action, with the Texans playing single-high with Adams. Adams has to commit to the post over the middle, which leaves Reid on Travis Kelce one-on-one. Great play on both sides, and it took a terrific throw by Mahomes to hit this angle and avoid the underneath zone tip. Just gotta tip your cap on that one:

First-and-10, HOU 17, 10:00 second quarter, 75.0% GWC

The next play was where the Chiefs broke Romeo Crennel’s rules. They motioned the running back Williams in to confirm coverage, but motioned him to the other side of Mahomes. As you can see from the checks, the Texans linebackers are frantically confirming that this means that Jacob Martin is in coverage. One pick play against an inexperienced coverage player later, the Chiefs are on the board:

And so it began…

***

First-and-10, HOU 25, 9:55 second quarter, 70.9% GWC

The Texans received a touchback and on the first play of the drive, ran with Carlos Hyde again. They pulled Tunsil across the line of scrimmage and got a good block, but once again Zach Fulton struggled to make a reach block, limiting the play to five yards:

Second-and-5, HOU 30, 9:16 second quarter, 71.4% GWC

Successful running play! Second down, the Chiefs run an eight-man box and Bill O’Brien runs directly into it. Not so successful running play!

Third-and-4, HOU 31, 8:35 second quarter, 70.6% GWC

But still, third-and-short, the Texans are able to keep the drive alive. The Chiefs show another blitz look, and throws short and outside to a single-covered Will Fuller. The ball is not even in the right area code. I’m not sure if it was a miscommunication or a straight up miss — this is what happens when your receiver never plays:

Fourth-and-4, HOU 31, 8:32 second quarter, 66.4% GWC

So now we have the fake punt. This is the play where I think momentum really swung, and I say that and I don’t altogether hate the call. It’s just how that call and the field-goal call sort of intersect: They’re not telling a consistent story. The play was schemed well, it took Daniel Sorensen coming from the middle of the field and beating Reid to the spot:

In a vacuum, is this a bad play call? No. They have to run it with Reid because he’s part of the normal look. I don’t think Reid has any running back experience at even a college level, which is annoying. But what ends up happening is you get a look and the opposing special teams player makes a great one-on-one tackle.

O’Brien said that he thought he had to score more than 24:

Andy Reid said he liked the call:

I don’t hate the fake punt, but there was an aspect of it that felt a little panicked to me. Almost like a residual “well, I didn’t get aggressive downfield but now I’m gonna flip the knob and take that momentum right back, sucker!” vibe. The thing about being aggressive on a play like this is that if you don’t get it, it can break you. It broke the Ravens not converting fourth-and-short on Saturday as well. And, well, the wind came out of the sails quickly for the Texans after this.

***

First-and-10, HOU 33, 8:28 second quarter, 58.7% GWC

The Texans defense got tough and allowed a touchdown in only four plays instead of two. Much improved!

Mahomes takes a shot against Vernon Hargreaves with Mecole Hardman on the outside. The safety on this play reads Tyreek Hill all the way, and then comes back to the other side late, leaving Hargreaves and Roby essentially on an island with their receivers. The ball looks like a wounded duck, but the Texans don’t capitalize on a potentially interceptable ball because Hargreaves has to play Hardman all the way with no help behind him:

Second-and-10, HOU 33, 8:23 second quarter, 60.1% GWC

On the next play, the Lonnie Johnson-Jason Kelce matchup that had been bubbling officially got cooking for the Chiefs, as Kelce left him a step behind at the line. Johnson got called for the DPI on this play. He was lucky the ball was underthrown:

First-and-goal, HOU 5, 8:17 second quarter, 53.5% GWC

First-and-goal from the 5, the Chiefs come out and run jet motion in the backfield and fake the handoff, then have Kelce come underneath. It’s actually read well by Hargreaves, who funnels Kelce to the sideline and breaks the pass up:

Second-and-goal, HOU 5, 8:11 second quarter, 54.8% GWC

Second-and-goal from the 5, the Chiefs hit pay dirt again. It’s a bunch to the right with a single-high safety, and Kelce and Johnson on the other side of the formation. Kelce actually tricks Johnson here with a stutter like he’s stopping, then continues his route to the right. Johnson kept fairly good coverage, but not good enough. Mahomes was able to buy enough time to get down in his route tree to Kelce.

Well, okay, guess the Texans have to score next series…

***

…Or not…

Kickoff — 8:05 second quarter, 51.5% GWC

If the game turned on the fake punt, I think DeAndre Carter’s fumble was the moment that we collectively knew that the Chiefs were about to win the game. Carter, as Mike Meltser said on his podcast, has been asking for this fumble for a while. I don’t quite know if releasing him is right — as Mike said — because he does seem to know his role in the offense in a world where Keke Coutee doesn’t. (According to O’Brien, anyway.) But he is a replaceable talent in the grander NFL landscape and this was a stomach punch.

It was the most important play of the game per EdjSports’ GWC. Cost the Texans 17.7% GWC.

***

It took the Chiefs three plays to score this time.

First-and-goal, HOU 6, 7:56 second quarter, 33.8% GWC

Their first play went for two yards to Kelce — I’m starting to believe they think Kelce provided matchup problems or something — they ran another play-action with Kelce rolling underneath. They were attacking the Texans horizontally, as teams should, and Johnson has to go a long way to make this play. That he makes it at all is a credit to him, but man does this defense force some poor positions:

Second-and-goal, HOU 4, 7:20 second quarter, 35.4% GWC

The Chiefs took a break from all their wild passing success and decided to run, it didn’t work. Zach Cunningham destroyed this play in the open-field:

Third-and-goal, HOU 6, 6:37 second quarter, 39.0% GWC

The Chiefs come out in a bigger set for third-and-goal, and the Texans actually swap coverage on the right side of the field to help Kelce. Unfortunately, Gareon Conley overruns the coverage to the outside. I’m not sure if that’s a scheme rule or if that’s just a mistake. Either way, he leaves enough space for Kelce to get his second touchdown:

At that point it was 24-21, and the game was officially bungled. The only question was if it could be pulled back.

***

First-and-10, HOU 25, 6:31 second quarter, 31.8% GWC

Houston opened in empty, with Hopkins in the slot, and got a matchup against linebacker Damien Wilson, shaded to play the run/slant. Hopkins settled, then broke a tackle for nine yards:

Second-and-1, HOU 34, 5:51 second quarter, 33.3% GWC

The Texans come back and run a read-option play that Watson keeps. It is the only offensive snap of the game for Cullen Gillaspia. He gets a good edge block to help Watson out. It goes for 10 yards, and all of the sudden the Texans are rolling again:

First-and-10, HOU 44, 5:04 second quarter, 34.8% GWC

On the next snap, Watson resets the offense — I believe he’s seeing the zone coverage — and takes a nice little open checkdown to Carlos Hyde for 10 free yards.

First-and-10, KC 46, 4:28 second quarter, 35.9% GWC

Then the Texans start to defeat themselves again. First-and-10, the Texans line up both Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. The give is to Hyde, and the Houston offensive linemen just have a terrible rep. Laremy Tunsil can’t stop his man. Max Scharping tries to help with two and helps with none. Nick Martin is defeated straight-up by Derrick Nnadi, who stuffs Hyde for no gain:

Second-and-10, KC 46, 3:44 second quarter, 34.8% GWC

For the second time in the only two series we have looked over where the Texans hit opposing territory, they call timeout. The Texans are lined up with 14 seconds left, Duke Johnson splits out wide with 11 seconds, and Watson doesn’t like what he sees and calls timeout before giving props to Tyrann Mathieu. There’s now 3:44 on the clock, and the Texans are out of timeouts.

The Texans motion both Johnson and Hopkins out to the left side of the field, getting chasers. It’s a screen, but the moment Tunsil lets Frank Clark into the backfield, this thing is dead in the water. Hopkins tries to lateral it to Watson because he was infected with the Josh Allen virus last week. Keep in mind, this is out of a timeout. This is when, in theory, you get your best playcall. O’Brien’s screens have been broken and relied too much on offensive line movement for years, to the point where he barely calls them. Second-and-10 in plus territory, in a situation where you probably go for it if it’s close, and that’s your playcall?

Third-and-12, KC 48, 3:02 second quarter, 31.6% GWC

On third-and-12, the Texans try to get all of it back. They run a go/post combo with their two inside receivers in a trips set to the left. Mathieu passes the post off to the safety, comes off, and breaks up the post to Hopkins:

It’s worth pointing out that the Texans had Mathieu last year and Kansas City offered him more money than the Texans did despite the Texans having more cap space. The player that the Texans brought in to replace him, Tashaun Gipson, missed this game with a back injury. I’m not saying that was the only difference between the two teams, but I do think Mathieu offers flexibility that the Texans just don’t have right now. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

The CBS crew made a big deal about Mathieu possibly getting there early. I didn’t really see it, but if you want to be that way, here you go:

If the Texans had run something shorter, they would have had a chance to go for it on fourth down, but instead they punted in Chiefs territory.

***

First-and-10, KC 10, 2:47 second quarter, 27.4% GWC

Patrick Mahomes got the ball at his own 10 with 2:47 to play and two timeouts. He would be past midfield in exactly three plays.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Chiefs went right at Lonnie Johnson again on the first play, and he picked up his second DPI of the day:

It was that little tug at the top of the route that earned it. Again, Tashaun Gipson’s absence showed itself. He helped hold tight ends to a very low completion rate this year, and helped limit Kelce to 58 scoreless yards in Week 6. (Johnson played some against Kelce in that game too.)

First-and-10, KC 25, 2:43 second quarter, 25.1% GWC

The Chiefs came out with a double-stacked Hill on the left side on the next play, so Bradley Roby could not be aggressive with him off the snap. The ball is a little late coming out, but Hill cleanly won to the outside for 20 more yards:

First-and-10, KC 45, 2:05 second quarter, 22.6% GWC

Fed up with getting wrecked no matter what they do out of this coverage look, the Texans finally send a real blitz on first-and-10 from the 45. The result would have my timelline screaming at me about why the Texans didn’t have a quarterback spy.

Mercilus on the right side is trying to jam Kelce, and both middle linebackers come. Mahomes is able to roll out to his right and, once there, finds that there is a vast acre of space between him and any Texans defender. He scrambles for 21 yards. The two-minute warning hits. The Chiefs are already in long field-goal range.

First-and-10, HOU 34, 1:55 second quarter, 20.5% GWC

Kansas City comes out of the two-minute warning with a trick play to nowhere. This is, hilariously enough, counted as a sack. I don’t know why they thought they needed to change anything they were doing at this point, but uh … yeah, best sack in franchise history.

Second-and-15, HOU 39, 1:48 second quarter, 23.3% GWC

Uh oh, the Chiefs are at second-and-15! Surely the Texans can … you watched this game, you know what happens next. The Chiefs run pre-snap motion against with Kelce. The Texans have finally given up on trying to cover him with Johnson and have moved on to Hargreaves. It doesn’t matter a damn bit:

First-and-10, HOU 19, 1:05 second quarter, 18.7% GWC

The play that the Chiefs run to get Sammy Watkins open over the middle of the field works, but the Texans appear to almost accidentally create some pressure as the left guard helps on J.J. Watt and gives Jacob Martin an almost unimpeded path. Mahomes runs to his right, and a 100% Watt probably has a chance to make a big play. This Watt looked gassed. Possible he was hurt at this point as well. I’m always grateful for Watt gutting it out, but this is a play that he makes if he never gets hurt in my opinion.

First-and-goal, HOU 5, 58 seconds second quarter, 17.7% GWC
Second-and-goal, HOU 5, 55 seconds second quarter, 18.3% GWC
Third-and-goal, HOU 5, 50 seconds second quarter, 20.6% GWC

Just to get us out of here as quickly as possible, it took the Chiefs three red zone plays, but they finally found someone who could catch an open ball:

The only notably positive thing you can take from a Texans perspective about those three plays is that Charles Omenihu beat his man on the second one. The Chiefs didn’t even need to get to the third quarter to erase a 24-point lead. After kicking the extra point, the Texans were left with 44 seconds and 15.5% GWC.

They left enough time for Kai Fairbairn to shank a field goal, which was very polite.

***

So, let’s talk about why this happened. If I had to assign the blame for this out, this is the order it goes in:

1a — I don’t think Romeo Crennel’s fastball is enough against a top-10 offense — Crennel does some great things as far as simulated pressures, but on a regular basis, too many players are left wide open over the short area of the field. The NFL right now is a league about easy offense. If you create it with a bad quarterback, you can go far. If you create it with Patrick Mahomes, it can be downright unfair to be a fan of the other team. Crennel’s hands were tied because of 1b, but this wasn’t the kind of game where he pushed the right buttons to get the Texans off the field. The Chiefs were never in any real danger of not scoring on any of these drives. The Chiefs created more drops than the Texans did actual stops.

Moreover, against a team that barely ran, Crennel played Brennan Scarlett over Jacob Martin and Charles Omenihu. I think Scarlett is a solid NFL inside linebacker, but he can’t be asked to pass rush in this game if you’re expecting good things to happen.

Crennel has learned a lot over his career, and knows a lot more about good defensive play than me. I know that he wanted to be aggressive here because he knew he was outgunned. But I would have little faith that a good offensive coordinator couldn’t exploit his defense at this point, and it’s time to admit that this is a problem.

1b — Tashaun Gipson’s injury in Week 17 destroyed the Texans — I don’t know that they would have had a chance against the Chiefs anyway, but taking away their (by the numbers) best safety this season was a deathblow against a team that schemes this well. The Texans felt they had to run single-high the entire game and use Lonnie Johnson as the main “second safety.” Johnson was crushed and there was no Plan B.

Bill O’Brien knew that Gipson was playing hurt in Week 17 — a completely meaningless game — and played him 43 snaps anyway. That’s something he’s largely escaped public scrutiny for, but I’m here to give it to him: It was idiotic.

2 — There was no pass rush — Romeo Crennel’s unit is used to giving up open receivers. The thing that’s supposed to bail them out, and the thing that came back against the Bills, was the pass rush.

Against the Chiefs, the Texans had one “sack” and three quarterback hits. They were disrupting nothing. They couldn’t create enough negative plays to get off the field in that area.

3 — Bill O’Brien’s decision making didn’t have a consistent ethos — Like I said, I’m fine with both the fake punt and the field-goal decision in a vacuum. It’s the fact that they didn’t tell a consistent tale that made them bad together. See also: If the Texans are being aggressive, why are they going for a home run on third down on their penultimate drive of the second quarter?

4 — If you come with the fake punt, you best not miss — And they did.

5 — Too much commitment to the base run game — Carlos Hyde and this offensive line mauled the Chiefs front in Week 6 when given the threat of Watson. Watson ran for 10 yards on his only real look in four series here. But the Texans just kept handing it off to Hyde with no dressing and expecting something great to happen in a playoff game. That’s, at best, a clock-killing method. At worst, it’s putting the ball in the hands of your fifth-most explosive offensive player when you have admitted you need more than 24 points to win the game.

6 — DeAndre Carter’s fumble — Inexcusable in a game of this magnitude.

7 — Offensive consistency — There are a number of plays on offense that were unforced errors: the second-and-5 Hyde run into an eight-man box, Watson’s throw to Fuller that didn’t look to be on the same page,, the screen to Hopkins. With great playcalling outside of that, you can overcome maybe one of those a drive. But you can’t create this many negative plays on your own. That’s the defense’s job.

If this brought up and/or reinforced bad memories, I apologize. Just know that we all carry this scar with us for the rest of our lives. Gen X had Bills-Oilers, and we have this.

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