Four Downs: Texans 14, Jets 21

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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One thing that remains a trademark of the Easterby Texans is that it would be really easy for them to fade out of our memories during lost seasons, but they can’t help themselves. They have to find a way to do some real amateur psychology stuff, they have to find a way to embarrass themselves, they have to resist any urge to be normal.

Today’s idiotic thing was the surprise deactivation of one of their defensive leaders before the game for reasons that will be handled SO internally.

With Justin Reid sitting, the Texans could muster only one pick of a clearly dying-to-get-picked Zach Wilson. And, as it turns out, when the Texans don’t get five turnovers a week, it’s a lot harder for them to go home with a happy win. On the bright side, at least we got someone from management to explain a position they hold on TV for once — that’s as accountable as the team has ever been! And it’s just as incoherent as they usually come across:

OK, listen up Texans front office that obviously reads this. (They won’t, that would involve them having to care about anything anybody thinks outside of the building.) Nobody suspends more players before a game randomly than you. Desmond King, Zach Cunningham, now Reid. Aaron Wilson was tasked to defend this with saying it’s “maintaining consistency in how he handles individual player situations.” Well, OK, but if the consistency is something that nobody actually agrees with or understands, and literally nobody else in the NFL operates like this, what good is it doing?

The No. 1 thing the Houston Texans do not understand — something I bring up over and over again — is that none of the people who want them to do well understand what exactly they are doing here. They want to win, so they’re not tanking, but they’re willing to bench their best safety before a winnable game over some weird argument? And whenever they are questioned about it, they can’t say anything to defend it beyond it being a policy and something they deal with inside the building. They go out of their way to tell us over and over again that they don’t care what we think. Well, what happens when you don’t care about the fans? They don’t care about you.

I will be honest with you — I’ve felt for a while that Reid’s days in Houston were numbered. I don’t say this out of any kind of inside thoughts about how he feels so much as reading the room of the public statements he’s given (paraphrasing: we’ll see how things go when free agency starts) and noting how little David Culley felt they missed him after the Panthers game. So rather than trade him, they’ve kept him, and rather than draft of develop young players to turn to, they’ve got nobody but old veteran safeties. So there’s almost not even a point to benching him from a team perspective. It’s a perfect microcosm of how this Texans organizational-wide philosophy of never focusing on anything but the current day is just self-destructive at its core.

They created a team so bad that they could lose to the Jets, and they created a team that, outside of Jon Greenard and a few nice finds, has no future but rounding up some other highly-drafted young players to drown in culture as they lose to the future Jets. All while continuing to offer no real explanation about why they think what they’re doing is working beyond “we know the process.”

1) How do you go an entire half without scoring on the worst defense by DVOA in the NFL?

The Texans gained 45 offensive yards after halftime. The Jets were not only 32nd in the NFL in defensive DVOA (here for those that don’t know what that means), but they were 32nd by almost 10%! No other team in the NFL is playing the kind of terrible defensive football that the Jets are right now. They’d given up 31 or more points in four of their last five games, including three games of more than 45!

The Texans saw this and … they started crafting a legacy of runs to nowhere while they were losing and passes that had no prayer.

One thing I posted earlier today on Twitter was that the Texans have generally been pretty good on the first drive of the game and, by extension, the first quarter. The Texans have a -6.7% DVOA in the first quarter as an offense. That is 17th in the NFL, just about an average offense. The other three quarters? 32nd, 31st, and 30th, respectively.

And so it was again as the Texans ran for 38 of their 96 rushing yards on their first drive. Take out Tyrod Taylor’s 30-yard scramble, which isn’t a designed run, and they wind up with 16 carries for 28 yards over the course of the rest of the game. This against a run defense that gave up 260 rushing yards to the Colts on Thursday Night Football. The Texans are incredibly consistent at this since the Miami game: They can run the ball on their first drive, for some reason. And then for the rest of the game, they can’t.

It would seem very clear to me that the Texans lean overtly conservative after their first drive. Their entire plan is to have a lead and then, after that, run the ball and hope their opponent gets bored of playing football. 2-9 demonstrates the efficacy of this strategy better than I can in words. Even their big plays come on third-and-long because they’ve set them up with ghastly second-down runs that everyone in the building can see coming.

You can’t continually play as conservative as the Texans have and make it work for you. You need the defense to at least respect you. And when even the worst defense in the NFL is just so in-sync with what’s coming that your good third-down plays require feats like this to pull off:

…the entire point of the conservativism no longer becomes about being smart, but just spinning gears. Until the next drive. Until the next game. Until the next season.

2) The Jets coached ballsier than the Texans did and it paid off

The Texans found themselves in a great spot as the fourth quarter started when Zach Wilson went three-and-out on three horrific pass plays, one of which was nearly picked by Terrance Mitchell. They followed that up with a 29-yard punt to the Houston 37.

The Texans attempted to run twice in a row to start that series, down four with about 11 minutes left. They got zero yards. On third down, they went past the sticks to Danny Amendola and couldn’t pick it up. If the Texans had any concept that they could go for it, they might have considered just getting what they could on the Jets on third down. Instead, they trotted out Fairbairn for a field-goal attempt that he, of course, missed. Fairbairn is now 15-of-25 for his career on kicks beyond 50 yards. A 55-yarder would have been a career-best for him. Maybe he’s not good at that and the Texans can stop pretending that he is? No? OK, well business as usual then. (This exact scenario played out in the Patriots loss, too, by the way.)

The Jets take over and, up four, they never give the ball back until there’s 3:34 left in the game. They convert twice on two fourth-and-short looks.

The Jets don’t actually punch it in, because they found an offensive holding penalty on first-and-goal at the Texans 8 — yes, that happens to other teams too — but they held the ball for 6:20 of game time and got a much easier field goal for their beleaguered kicker.

The Texans instead wind up going for fourth-and-2 at their own 39 after this disastrous third-down play call:

They asked Taylor about this after the game and he said (paraphrasing) that it was about trying to get one first down before they go into hurry-up mode. Did the Texans think they were winning? Why would you ever run the ball here? It was just a patently “we don’t trust this passing game” play call. And, well, they were paid with what they deserved after being stuffed on fourth down on a quick throw to Nico Collins.

3) Why is a 2-8 team trying to hurt David Johnson for no reason?

A story told through Aaron Wilson’s Twitter timeline:

David Johnson got three touches from the 7:31 mark in the second half and limped off the field each and every time he touched the ball. He’s turning 30 years old in a few weeks. He’s not playing great football — though to be fair to him, anyone who leaves this offensive system immediately starts playing much better. (See: Ingram, Lindsay.) His backup, Royce Freeman, is no great shakes but is 25 and could conceivably masquerade as cheap depth next year if they evaluate him positively. The team is 2-8.

What is the point of doing this to David Johnson? What did he do to deserve this? Why does this team insist on trying to create something out of him when — let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s better than he’s showed on raw talent — the Texans simply have no idea how to make him play well? Who is this good for beyond his therapist? Who asked for it? Why do we have to pretend this is working? I just don’t get anything about the way this has played out in either of the last two seasons. Let it go, Jack. Don’t injure the guy for no reason.

4) The new-look offensive line felt like a panic move and it played out that way

With Lane Taylor activated for the Texans, they moved Tytus Howard to left tackle for the first time ever in a game situation, then asked him to play it. How did that go?

Taylor wound up taking five sacks — his second five-sack game in three weeks — and the Jets weren’t exactly sending the house on all of these.

The Texans, to be fair, lost Justin McCray mid-game and had to reintegrate Max Scharping again. But it sure seems like this is all just shuffling deck chairs at this point. Charlie Heck gave up one of his own:

I am starting to wonder when or if the fanbase will turn on Tytus Howard. It’s not his fault in my view that he’s been jerked around all over the place and hasn’t settled at one spot. It’s not his fault that the line is bad. But he’s not playing well, and the fanbase sure turned on Lonnie Johnson fast in the same basic situation.

At this point, the Texans have a defense that isn’t actively destroying my will to live every time they take the field. They’re more scrappy than good, but they set out to win the turnover battle and they sell out for loose balls. They could have come up with a few more turnovers in this game with a little luck here or there. They’re not going to stop the run well against every front and they’re going to get picked on because they’re too conservative. But they do what it says on the label and what Lovie Smith has preached the moment he’s walked through the door: turnovers.

What about the offense is going well? Who holds the ultimate accountability for that?

Ah, I see accountability hits different for players versus coaches in this culture. What a useful culture it is!

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