Coming off a gut-wrenching defeat on Monday night against the Saints, the Houston Texans entered Sunday’s game against Jacksonville seeking to get the taste of defeat out of their mouths. It was not pretty, but the Texans survived to win their first home game of the season, 13–12. Even more importantly, Sunday’s win not only evens the Texans’ record at 1–1, but also gets them off on the right foot against their division. The season may be only two weeks old, but these two games have provided lessons on what could help push the Texans to new heights in 2019. They also highlight threats that could prevent Houston from getting to where they want to be.
What we’ve learned so far
1. The offense will come around. The Texans’ offense looked crisp and very fluid on opening night, which was an eyebrow-raiser for me. Not because Houston’s offense stinks, but because that side of the ball had been essentially remade nine days prior to their trip to the Superdome. That is the other reason, I was surprised to see the renewed offense put together click pretty quickly. The Texans were in a hostile environment, facing a Saints team charged up to avenge last season’s ending. But even with the Saints faithful going crazy, the Texans were able to move the ball efficiently. The renewed Texans offense racked up 414 in total yards, and were able to convert 7 of 13 on third down (54 percent), and were very efficient on the road. The defense could not hold the lead, but nonetheless the Texans were very impressive in a difficult environment.
Sunday, they ran into the buzz saw which was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense. The Jaguars may not have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but even missing a couple of players due to injury, the Jaguars’ bread and butter is their stingy defense. Even though the Jags were 5–11 in 2018, they held opponents to under 25 points in four of their 16 games last year; they ended the year 4th in scoring defense and 5th in total defense.
The offense will be fine, as long as the receivers can remain healthy and on the field (I am looking at you, Will Fuller and KeKe Coutee). As the season progresses, this group will come together, and judging by what they did on opening night, I’d say the Texans could have a top-5 offense easily. One thing that could still boost the progression of this offense is a stable group on the offensive line. Watson is still getting hit and sacked, but part of that issue is the game of musical chairs up front. O’Brien needs to pick a combination that will work best and ride with that group. Once the offensive line has stability, they will develop good chemistry, and the rest of the offense will reap the benefits. The Texans offense may have an up and down start, but they are a unit I would not be too worried about; they will be fine.
2. The defense needs improvement. After allowing the Saints 27 points in the second half in Week One and giving up the game winning field goal, the Texans were able to limit Jacksonville to just 12 points, though once again they came close to surrendering another potential game-winning drive. Safety Justin Reid came up huge, playing with a bad shoulder, and still kept Leonard Fournette from converting the go-ahead two-point conversion.
A lot of folks have chimed in via social media in regards to Houston’s early defensive struggles. There is a belief that former Texan Jadeveon Clowney would help, and it’s true that the front seven for Houston has not generated consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Texans only have 10 quarterback hits and 5 sacks, with 9 tackles for loss (vs Saints; vs Jaguars).
Clowney probably would help the pass rush, but he would not mask Houston’s biggest defensive flaw, their ability to cover. Here is the thing with the Texans defense, which I have noticed since 2012: if any quarterback or any offensive line can find a way to negate the pass rush, the Texans’ defense is instantly vulnerable. The reason Houston becomes vulnerable is because their linebackers aren’t fast enough to cover the field on those quick, short passes, and the secondary does not consistently cover well against the deep ball. That’s why Colts wide receiver TY Hilton has a field day against Houston.
If the Texans do not tighten the screws defensively and can’t get key stops, as they have failed to do these first two weeks, it will prevent the Texans from being where they want to be.
3. The Texans need to be better at situational football. The Texans have their flaws, but that is not out the ordinary, because who in the NFL is perfect? The biggest flaw, and one they need to correct quickly, is their situational football.
Whether it is the final defensive possession in the Big Easy, or the first-half blunder where the Texans mismanaged the clock and had to settle for a field goal at the 2-yard line, the Texans’ situational awareness sometimes makes me want to scream, then cry, and then scream again.
Teams like the Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, and Saints have a lot of talent; but what makes them elite is their ability to execute in key moments, such as third-down defense (the Texans were better against the Jaguars, allowing 3/13), third-down offense, red zone efficiency, or the two-minute drill.
Whether the problem is coaching or lack of player execution, the Texans have not been great so far in certain situations. If they do not clean that up, it could not only cost them games; it could be the difference between a great season and a dud.
What’s on tap?
The Texans will look to build on their win when they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers. The Chargers, on the other hand, will try to rebound from a disappointing loss against the Detroit Lions. Both teams entered the season with high expectations, and it should be a fun matchup between two AFC contenders. The game will start 3:25 Central Time on CBS.
It is early, but these first couple of weeks could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. The Texans have shown promise these first two games and have also provided lessons into what they could be this season. There is plenty of season left, and I am intrigued to see what is in store for the 2019 Texans.