Four Downs: Texans 27, Jaguars 25

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The schedule has relented. The Texans have Deshaun Watson. This game should have been a one-way ticket to Get Right town. But between a COVID-19 (and Bradley Roby surprise inactive)-depleted defense struggling to do anything and a Jaguars defense that did their homework, this game almost blew up in Houston’s face.

In the end, it came down to a play that shouldn’t have counted: Deshaun Watson hitting Will Fuller on third-and-6 for a breakaway touchdown. It only took place about two or three seconds after the play clock hit zero.

Doug Marrone was appalled. This created a two-score lead for the Texans, and one that — bless the defense for trying — they just couldn’t lose. Did the Texans know they got away with one there? Let’s ask Deshaun Watson:

They sure did.

As much as the organization wants to create the allure of a football season that isn’t over yet, this is a win that only the hungriest of fans can walk away from feeling nourished. It was tough sledding against a 1-6 team starting a rookie quarterback who had never taken an NFL snap before. It was custom-built in a lab as a layup, and the Texans still hit every part of the rim, spinning around and around and almost out, before taking down the win.

1) The Battle Red Carpet rides again

The Texans punted on fourth-and-6 from the JAX 38 (after taking a delay of game penalty), setting up 80 yards for sixth-round rookie Jake Luton to go the distance of the field, needing eight points to tie the game. He had 3:03. He needed 1:33.

It doesn’t matter if the opponent is Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, or Tom Brady. It doesn’t matter if the opponent is Jake Luton, Ryan Tannehill, or Nick Foles. When this Texans defense goes into hurry-up mode, it is a sitting duck. I don’t know if this is a feeling that is unique to the team — I honestly want to look it up and do a big project about it and compare to what other teams have done. What I do know is that I had no confidence — NONE — in the Texans stopping a rookie sixth-round pick from driving the field with ease in his first start to hold a lead. And that lack of confidence was rewarded:

This team’s only saving grace is when the other team celebrates a touchdown so they can get a breather to prepare for the two-point attempt. Thankfully Luton botched that one. It was one of very few underneath throws he botched, as he went (checks notes) 18-of-21 for 164 yards on passes that traveled between 0-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. I don’t clip short pass plays because generally they don’t matter much — but if you just let the opposing quarterback do that all game for free, it adds up. I mean, would you ask a rookie quarterback to try to make some difficult throws? The Texans got four bites at the turnover apple and came away with just one interception. They finished the game with four quarterback hits and two sacks. There’s barely any negative plays and barely any turnovers.

Listen, on a fundamental level, the hurry-up defense is broken. I don’t know how you fix that without a different coaching staff. Some of Houston’s lack of defensive success today is because they held Roby out, some of Houston’s lack of defensive success today is because of COVID and other injuries. But it is at least equal parts pure stubbornness. Speaking of…

2) Rescued from commitments

David Johnson took a nasty hit on a short throw from Deshaun Watson that concussed him. I feel bad about that, and in no way want to imply that I am happy that it happened. But it must be noted that when Duke Johnson was in, and actually attempted to cut the ball back, the run offense was incrementally better.

Duke Johnson had 16 carries for 41 yards, and he lost a fumble when Myles Jack straight up jacked it from him. It wasn’t the second coming and it proved that scheme and blocking had a say in all the problems the Texans have had running the ball to date. At the same time, when the Texans needed to close the game out, Johnson rallied with carries for four, four, and five yards. His ability to actually break tackles and cut back was sorely needed.

It appeared that Vernon Hargreaves was mercifully benched after missing a tackle, which put Keion Crossen in a big spot on third down, near the goal line. Crossen delivered by actually slowing up the underneath receiver on the same type of play:

Was it the best thing I’ve ever seen? No. But was it better than what Vernon Hargreaves has reliably been providing the Texans? Yep. Brennan Scarlett got hurt in this game and will miss the rest of the season, a move that forced Jon Greenard on to the field for his first extended snaps of the season. At times, that worked out well:

Now, am I denying that he got stiff-armed and thrown out the club by Jake Luton? Nope. But how many impact plays do you remember Scarlett giving the Texans?

When the Texans were forced to expose their roster depth to us, it turned out that those players made some plays. They also didn’t make some plays you’d like them to make. But it seems that the actual making of some plays was more than a lot of players who have been considered starters via fait accompli have produced all season.

In other words: The Texans got knocked out of their comfort zone via injuries. It turns out that the excuses to stay in the comfort zone were just that: excuses. If the players you thought weren’t the best aren’t working out, get out of your own way, and some good things will happen.

Maybe DeAndre Carter can not return kicks anymore?

3) Watson under siege by the worst pass rush in the NFL

Coming into today’s game, the Jaguars had a league-low six sacks. They also had just 55 pressures per SportsRadar data, a number that ranked them eighth-to-last. In the last game against the Texans, the Jaguars pressured Deshaun Watson six times in 36 dropbacks, getting one sack. They only picked up two sacks today, but the pressure was constant and it was constant from players who you’ve never heard of unless you’re a Jaguars fan.

Jacksonville showed a number of exotic blitzes that Watson had to find a way to get around. In the end, it wound up being Watson’s legs that carried a lot of the game for the Texans. Time and time again the Texans get stopped because their blocking situation just simply doesn’t add up or a mental mistake crunches them.

The Texans come out with the ball and eight minutes left looking for the killshot. Pressure immediately comes from Zach Fulton’s block. Watson steps up to try to get the ball off anyway, he gets crunched, the Texans have second-and-10. On the next drive:

Everything is slow, Watson sees the extra rusher coming. Nick Martin winds up on his ass. Watson evades the arm tackles and gets the first down.

There were countless plays like this. And, I would say, the offense didn’t really play all that well. They had two long pass plays that were exquisite, sure. But other than that, it was mainly Watson’s legs that had to save the day because the Texans continually were in bad blocking situations. This is a problem that goes all the way back to 2018. Take those two plays out and Watson was 17-of-30 for 147 yards. I’m not saying they don’t count — just that for the majority of the day, this offense stagnated in structure.

It is extremely telling to me that the Texans and Jaguars both came into this game off a bye week. One of these teams scouted the other team very well and did exactly what they’d need to do to win the game. The other is the Texans. Shades of Baltimore 41, Houston 7 here — just with a different caliber of team.

4) The Will Fuller factor

It’s been fun and memes online to talk about Will Fuller being traded for a “deluxe nut package,” but after the game, Fuller spoke to the human element of it:

The problem with trade rumors taking on a life of their own is that there’s a human side to that sort of thing. And when you’re dealing with someone who is set to become a free agent in short order, it’s perhaps not the best look to shop them, ultimately not trade them, have the interim head coach spend a lot of time talking about not trading them, then turn it into a meme. Particularly when the player has been the kind of solider that Fuller has been for this team gutting it out while hurt several times.

I can’t help but feel like a better, more experienced general manager would have turned the conversations away from Fuller before they started. Could have left Fuller feeling like someone valued by the organization rather than just a deluxe nut. If he was really in their long-term plans from the get-go, it’s a boondoggle that the Texans ever entertained trading him. That, unfortunately, is a problem with interim organizations where guys are out of their depth. I don’t think this is going to be a dealbreaker for Fuller come contract time — I think his injury history is ultimately going to steer teams away from anyway so his ability to be picky is going to be limited. But it does feel like yet another fire that could have been put out much earlier than it was.

Fuller has always shown the ability to be a No. 1 receiver. Watson was always going to stick up for his guy if given the chance. The fact that nobody at NRG thought about these two things before actively engaging the fourth-round hotline is yet another concern about the people running the show right now staying one second past the time the new head coach is hired.


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