Four Downs: Texans 9, Dolphins 17

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If I had written a preview for this game, I would have made an embarrassment of myself. I thought that the Texans would come out emboldened after watching their general manager get roasted by the local media on Wednesday. I wouldn’t have necessarily prepared a win in that prediction, but I also hadn’t factored in the Dolphins losing Tua Tagovailoa before the game started. Get a load of these circumstances:

– Jacoby Brissett was 12-23 as a starting quarterback, 0-3 with the Dolphins, and can’t even pretend to throw a deep ball. The Dolphins didn’t even try, as Brissett’s longest completed throw of the game was 28.6 yards.
– The Dolphins turned the ball over to the Texans five times. Not two, not three. Five. Since the Texans came into the NFL, only five teams have won with five or more turnovers in a game. The most recent was the 2019 49ers. That was the only game like that in the last ten years.
– The Texans, who have been just miserable at running the ball, found an opponent that also couldn’t run the ball. They held the Dolphins to 1.9 yards per carry. The Texans were at 15 non-quarterback carries for 50 yards, which isn’t good, but certainly isn’t as bad as it has sometimes been this season.

When I wrote about the Texans in the preseason, and I projected three wins, the reason I went there in spite of the talent is because there were going to be games like this that perfect-stormed for them. They’d have a bad opponent facing some adversity, they’d force some turnovers, and even though I don’t think their offense is all that great, they’re not always going to be at a marked disadvantage.

It is a testament to this team’s ability to never even attempt to have an answer to real glaring problems that we are here today talking about a 17-9 loss that might have been one of the worst Texans games in the history of the franchise in terms of pure watchability. The Dolphins suck out loud. But you have to hand it to them, they suck out loud in a way that just can’t match what the great people the Texans have in the building are putting together.

The juggernaut rolls into the bye week at 1-8, essentially eliminated from even dreaming about the playoffs, and behind the Jaguars in the win column in the AFC South basement. Let’s have some discourse.

1) Tyrod Taylor joins the Rosencopter and the Chris Brown halfback pass in vaunted embarrassing Texans play history

There are many plays that are scarred into my memory from a lifetime of watching Houston Texans football. Some of them are great — the J.J. Watt pick-six against the Bengals — but because of the circumstances, most of them are bad. Only a few of them are downright embarrassing. I will list the ones that immediately come to mind in that category:

The RosenCopter
– DeMarcus Faggins getting called for DPI and defensive holding on a play he still allowed Roddy White to catch.
– Chris Brown halfback pass picked off in the end zone against the Jaguars
– Glover Quin’s Q-Tip touchdown to the Jaguars.
– Kris Brown’s wild shank in the Bush Bowl.

We have a new contender today in Tyrod Taylor’s amazing interception that he was attempting to throw away:

Now, all of those other plays have something in common: They have someone daring greatly. Glover Quin was absolutely trying his damndest to knock the ball down, but sometimes things happen. DeMarcus Faggins was not very good, but he was trying his best. The Texans have a history of attempting incredibly stupid things and not succeeding.

This is an attempt to do nothing that is somehow still intercepted, and that meant I could only stare on at disbelief. It sums up where this team is at right now better than anything I could ever write.

This team wasn’t built with a real purpose beyond “gather all the best culture players in the NFL together,” and that means it’s not trying to tank or bereft of a certain baseline level of NFL talent. It doesn’t really matter though, because it shoots itself in the foot at nearly every occasion. It turns the ball over at the worst time, can’t convert in the red zone, and finds new ways every week to have flags thrown just when things are starting to get better.

This team is an attempt at an incompletion (spinning wheels with older average players that are holding on, trying to be a working man’s NFL team) that somehow still manages to embarrass itself every week.

2) The Texans have absolutely no plan to actually deal with a blitz-heavy Dolphins defense

It became very evident early on in the game that the Dolphins had one strategy for dealing with Tyrod Taylor: blitz the hell out of him. Taylor and Tim Kelly did not respond to this well, and it was the major place the game was lost.

Taylor’s Texans went 6-of-17 on third downs, none of which were running plays. Only two of them were deeper than third-and-7. By the second half, Taylor looked notably slow to react to the blitz and then we got downs like this:

Some of your favorite box score-reading fans who didn’t watch the game will say things like “he still threw for 248 yards!” Do not fall for the bait. This was an abysmal game for Taylor and the ability to escape pressure as he did against the Jaguars was non-existent. Maybe that’s on his hamstring, or maybe what happened against the Jaguars was a fluke. I certainly have my lean on fluke. To be fair to Taylor, it’s not his fault that the offensive line decided to part ways with him on third-and-goal, but other than that, most of the pressure came late in the down or off the edge.

This isn’t all on Taylor because Tim Kelly has never really developed a good way to beat a blitz with this receiving corps, probably because that’s something Bill O’Brien was never any good at either. Kelly has wideout screens — you’ve seen how that goes with Davis Mills and Taylor bounced one in the first quarter on a third down for good measure. Beyond that, nobody can win one-on-one.

This team never has conceived of the idea of a backup plan. They have one way of doing things, and if you beat them schematically, you’re going to win. That’s about as simple as I can put it at this point. I don’t think the Dolphins did anything legendarily great, and I don’t think their blitz schemes were so majestic that Taylor had no chance. The Texans just never considered that their plan wouldn’t work, because that is the level of obstinate they are willing to be.

David Culley was non-committal about another Taylor start after the game. I think Taylor’s the better quarterback of the two despite this game. But we’re at the point where it doesn’t really matter, and I’m not going to complain about either quarterback because I don’t think either of them is an answer.

3) This game is not really the defense’s fault, but they’re incredibly soft on third down

OK, so Brissett is the opposing quarterback. He’s yet to go above 3.3 completed air yards per pass attempt in a season in his career. When he does glitch out of the matrix and attempt to throw deep, things like this happen:

But in spite of that, Houston’s coverage on third down against Brissett just made it too easy for him in underneath coverage over and over again, particularly when the Dolphins were trying to salt away a lead and it would make sense to be aggressive. The Dolphins were 9-of-16 on third-down attempts. With Jacoby Brissett! And they either found easy open spots or they made Texans underneath defenders look silly. Take a bow, Zach Cunningham:

There are just too many plays where nature finds a way to allow Lovie Smith to give up third downs with the game on the line. And when they happen, they’re so easy that even a Brissett or a Sam Darnold can see them:

This game’s not on the defense, as I said, but it remains alarming that they continue to make the mediocre quarterback class rich on underneath throws.

4) David Culley’s a placeholder

There’s a certain baseline level of empathy I have for a head coach. It’s a terrible job with long hours, you’re accountable for so many people who aren’t you, and your reward is usually getting fired. This particular situation would have tested any head coach’s resolve. That said, the idea that David Culley came out of halftime and was happy with what he saw on the field in the first half outside of the turnovers is just completely baffling to me.

It was okay that they couldn’t throw the ball? It was okay that they looked schematically defeated? It was okay that after Tim Kelly’s opening script faded the offense couldn’t run the ball at all? It was just all execution?

The process is doomed. The process is the idea that the Texans are doing anything right to be here in this moment of time. They are not. There is no read of this team that is improving. They will have more promising players next season because they’ll have a high draft pick, and probably a Deshaun Watson trade, but nothing about what has happened this season outside of Roy Lopez winning a starting spot should give anyone a lot of hope that those players will be used in the right way or anything like that.

Culley spent a timeout to avoid a Delay of Game penalty near his goal line that might have saved two yards. He didn’t go for it on fourth-and-2 at the goal line when his team needed a touchdown desperately. There’s no fight in him. He’s happy to be here, happy to say one day that he was an NFL head coach. Perhaps there was no one better that would take this job in this specific set of circumstances — I’m not involved in those meetings — but it’s hard to believe that someone who wanted to be a head coach for as long as Culley did became one to just babysit this team and talk about doing things the right way for 17 games. There’s no backup plan. There’s not even an ounce of curiosity about why the team is 1-8. Just a straight “we’re gonna keep doing what we know works in the past,” while losses continue to stockpile.

The entire team just has its head in the sand, and they’re all waiting for the 2021 season to be over.

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4 Replies to “Four Downs: Texans 9, Dolphins 17”

  1. “The entire team just has its head in the sand, and they’re all waiting for the 2021 season to be over.”

    I certainly don’t claim to speak for *all* Texans fans, but I think a majority of us are also just waiting for the 2021 season to be over. Several friends of mine have all said the same thing the past few Sundays when the Texans have come up: “Oh, I didn’t even think about the fact that there’s a game today.”
    What a damning indictment of the state of this team. I can’t remember a time when so many fans have just flat-out not cared about Texans football.

  2. I am in no way shape or form a Texans fan, and I read this every week. I’m not sure if that says something good about rivers writing, something bad about my brain, or both lol.

  3. I’d like to also add to your “burned into memory” one from 2005 Week 1 against the Bills. Possibly David Carr’s best pass of the season. It went 20-25 yards through traffic to the deep middle and hit his target (either Jabar Gaffney or Corey Bradford, memory fails me but it doesn’t really matter) square in the shoulder pad before bouncing to the turf. The receiver had never turned to look at the ball during the entire route because why would you expect 2005-era David Carr to even attempt that throw?

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