Four Downs, Texans 7, Bears 36

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.

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The Houston Texans played a form of Football Product on Sunday that makes you wonder what the point of all of this is. They were eliminated from playoff contention officially rather than reasonably. They did not put up any real fight and there are no moral victories in Mitch Trubisky slaughtering your defense for 30 first-half points.

Deshaun Watson had an elbow injury occur that seemed scary even if he was able to shake it off and keep playing. The offensive line plays like they all just met for the first time three hours to kickoff. The best drive of the game was the opening drive of the third quarter, one that took eight minutes off the clock because Buddy Howell was killing it between the tackles. Because not a single Chicago Bear cared and everybody wanted the game to end.

I’m glad Buddy Howell got his chance here, as I am glad that Keke Coutee caught another touchdown, that Chad Hansen caught another 56 yards of balls, and that Keion Crossen got a start. It didn’t go very well for Crossen, because Bears wideout Allen Robinson, it turns out, is much better than him. But that’s not a death sentence for his NFL career and he did make a few plays.

But mostly, my gratitude is limited to Deshaun Watson appearing to come out of the game unscathed and the fact that there are only three more games left in this season. It took me seven hours to get to writing this recap because CenterPoint Energy had a power outage in my branch of Houston and I was thinking about ways I could have continued to deliver content through that in a COVID-19 world. I did have a few, but thankfully, it wasn’t necessary, because this team’s current form is so irrelevant that I don’t think beating somebody to the punch on speed matters at this point. Those who would read this were already going to read it, whenever it got put up. The fans who are here for a winning sugar rush have moved on to something else. I appreciate you if you are still reading this.

1) “We’ve Got To Get Deshaun Out Of Houston”

If there is one thing that has been drilled into my head by posting a lot of Deshaun Watson clips on Twitter this year, it’s that there is vast media interest in Deshaun Watson, almost all of it positive, and almost all of it wants good things to happen to him. What the Texans have done this year is generate a large section of the football internet — Twitter, Reddit, newspaper columns, websites, wherever — that thinks that they aren’t good enough to have this guy’s rights. That thinks that something has to be done to move him off the team because the team is that poorly run.

I am beyond exhausted of this because, you know, obviously, it is in my best interests to have Deshaun Watson around to write about for a long time. Nobody starts blogging about a football team to write about Tom Savage or Brian Hoyer. And at the same time, I have to admit that they have a point about the organization as it is currently constituted because I think what happened on Sunday was malpractice.

Deshaun Watson wants to play. That’s understandable! Athletes are wired in a different way. I have absolutely no problems with him saying that or even wanting to play. He’s a competitor. Of course he wants to play and of course he wants to continue improving. Here’s what I have a problem with:

As I wrote about on Thursday, when there is nobody in the organization that cares about the long-view, you get answers like what Romeo Crennel put out here. There was never a consideration about that because to do so would be admitting that this season is pointless for the team. Everyone is just left to follow their guttural instincts. In Romeo Crennel’s case, that was to avoid making the risky move to pull Watson and have to answer questions about it because he said he could play. And it led to at least three more sacks as Houston’s beleagured offensive line was ransacked over and over again by Chicago’s front, which notched 11 quarterback hits and six sacks, as well as seven scrambles since I can’t remember a single designed Watson run.

I admit that I don’t have a lot to say in counter to this. I think if you’re a fan you breathe deep, believe that Easterby can be sunk by the Sports Illustrated article that you all should read front-to-back, and know that new leadership will be brought in. The new leadership is the most important decision in Cal McNair’s life. He’s got to nail it, or the people who have been collecting receipts about why the Texans hold back Watson will move from circumstantial evidence (a lost game in a lost season that he survived) to the actual warrants.

This franchise is incredibly fragile right now. It’s disconnected, the owner doesn’t know how this situation is supposed to be operated, and the leader of the culture is essentially a multi-level marketing pariah who connects with the owner via religion. We need to hold our noses and hope that things get better. Fast.

2) Mitch Trubisky’s big day was fueled by asking Texans to tackle

Mitch Trubisky threw 11 passes behind the line of scrimmage in this game. The Bears caught nine of them. That, in and of itself, isn’t very interesting. What is interesting is that those passes went for 93 yards and a touchdown. The average pass behind the line of scrimmage this year averages 4.7 yards per play. 303 of 1980 passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage from Week 1-Week 13 went 10 or more yards, or roughly 15% of them. Those other plays averaged 2.7 yards per play.

The Chicago Bears, on the season, averaged 2.9 yards per throw behind the line of scrimmage through Week 13. They do it a lot. They don’t play risky, they just ask you to tackle. The Texans couldn’t even begin to do that.

That was a bubble screen thrown because there were only two guys in coverage on that side of the formation. Eric Murray was destroyed. A cool two sack game for Murray, I guess, if you want to give him some plaudits. But, you know, this sucked. The Bears ran play-action to the flat over and over again and the Texans could not have looked less interested in defending that. It happened in the first quarter, it happened in the third quarter:

52 played this to get outside leverage, of course. But after that, you know, he just let the back run right past him. Cunningham eventually rallies to the ball, but Adams is standing there five yards away just waiting for a move. There’s no aggressiveness left. There’s such a thing as smart zone defense. We watched the Colts play it last week. This is just passive. Passive leads to this:

The only Bears receiver that was within the league average of separation was Robinson, and only then just barely. 6.45 yards? 7.91 yards? 7.55 yards? This defense never put a single drip of real pressure on Mitch Trubisky in this game. J.J. Watt said it himself:

There are games this year where if you view them, you come out of it thinking something along the lines of “Anthony Weaver’s unit is undermanned, but at least they’re trying some things.” I don’t mind that Robinson roasted Crossen. That’s going to happen. But this stuff … why even show up and play the game? That’s the kind of performance that gets coaches fired when coaches haven’t already been fired. I’m not questioning manhoods here — I believe those players want to win, and I believe they want to fight — that scheme is an abject failure at allowing them to do that. People have been dunking on how terrible this Bears scheme is all year and the Texans made it look like 2010 Auburn.

3) Jordan Akins is playing himself out of a bigger role in 2021

As the wide receiver core has drifted from killers in Week 10 to multiple practice-squad elevations every week over the last two weeks, one thing I expected to happen was that Jordan Akins would take the reins of this offense and be a focal point. Instead, he’s been largely irrelevant. In today’s game, he was part of two of the only non-offensive line sections of the game plan that were dusted. He had an end-zone target that drew gambler’s ire and that looks like someone clipped it off a video game glitch because he lost it in the sun:

And, earlier in the game, he and Watson had a miscommunication that almost led to an interception, one that left Watson furious after the play:

I’m not certain why the Texans haven’t just used Akins purely as a receiver at this point. I’m not sure what part of route-running he needs to learn better because I’m not in the building. The coaches noted him improving before his concussion. But whatever this was … well, this is not how you get on the good page with the franchise quarterback. This stretch was supposed to be a big opportunity for Akins to establish himself.

Instead, he’s establishing himself in the vein of players like Jared Cook. “Say, why does that guy never just get seven targets a game?” Hall of Famers who have great highlights and hidden skill sets that keep the from ever getting more than that.

4) J.J. Watt, a Texans Standard, and who that exists in the mind of at this point

The role of J.J. Watt in this lost season has been fascinating to me. On one hand, he has not been very subtle about Bill O’Brien’s firing being a good thing for the team. This is, in my mind, the defining quote of the 2020 Texans (and he was absolutely right about it):

On the other hand, I feel like there’s a disconnect between Watt and this organization right now. He says things like that, but his own rhetoric about staying in Houston has died down noticeably. He did not do much to allay fears of him leaving on Sunday when asked if he was thinking about his future:

He’s somehow the closest thing this organization has to somebody who understands what NFL football is supposed to be, and yet at the same time, my outside interpretation of the last two months is that he’s got one foot out the door waiting to see if Easterby is here after Week 17 is concluded. It’s a bizarre set of circumstances, this 2020 Texans team.

But I guess most of all what hit me about this is that you have him again advocating for a higher standard — he’s advocated for a higher standard for a lot of the season — and yet I don’t feel like most of the other players on this defense are, how can I put this delicately, vibing with that mindset. Zach Cunningham came out in his presser the other day and said he wasn’t surprised he was leading Pro Bowl voting at inside linebacker and felt like the recognition could have come sooner. This is a guy who has covered at times this year like the plastic bag in American Beauty, and has dipped into quite a few gaps on run plays that he should not have gone down.

Watt has complimented Tyrell Adams a few times and spoke about helping Charles Omenihu but I haven’t really felt like outside of that, there’s a lot of common ground between him and this defense. They exist together, but they also kind of don’t? Like when he ran off the field against the Packers after a tackle for loss without celebrating?

Watt has this standard and it’s excellent. He’s excellent. I don’t know who he’s subtweeting anymore when he talks about this, but it’s a subplot that has caught my eye in a lost season. In some ways, it’s a natural little outbreak of what happens when nobody else is around to actually lead the team. In other ways … I wonder what exactly is going down in this locker room that I don’t know about.

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