Well, Texans fans that was a tough game to lose. Definitely the closest game we have seen so far this year, in both score and the eye test. The offense got off to a better start then we have seen this year and clicked more than a few times. They definitely have the capacity to stay competitive. The defense actually fared pretty well and kept the Steelers close throughout most of the game.
Houston really only showed their weakness in the two-minute drill and late in the game, so there is good reason to be optimistic in the future, after putting such a dangerous three-game stretch behind us now.
Let’s take a look at Week 3 and see what strengths and weaknesses really caused some problems.
Offense: Dangerous or Lackluster?
Ok, first off… the obvious: Tim Kelly, what are you doing? It looked like an 8-year-old playing Madden out there, calling the plays! And not like the new fancy Madden; we are talking old-school, 16-bit Madden. Run twice, then pass, in that order, on what appeared to be nearly 50% of the drives?
To be fair, I am a big believer in establishing the run game and always have been. Makes play-action easier, causes the defense to respect the pass, and leads to overall easier play calling.
So, did anyone tell Tim Kelly that he has David Johnson in his backfield and not Jonathan Taylor?
David Johnson is an elusive running back; not one that you just call inside-run after inside-run. 13 carries for 23 yards, with the large majority of those plays being inside-runs? 1.8 yards a carry. You would be hard-pressed to find a worse average this weekend.
If you see this is not working, then it’s time to change it up; move him to the outside, where he is meant to be running, and get the ball to him more than twice! They are flat-out not going to win many games if they are unable to create any threat in the run game and if they refuse to use David Johnson efficiently.
I don’t put a ton of blame on Deshaun Watson so far this year; a reasonable amount of his passes have been about where they should be. He is completing over 65% of his passes and throwing for over 250 yards a game. His big problem is holding onto the ball too long and trying to make something out of nothing. There were numerous plays this week where Watson should have just gotten rid of the ball instead of trying to force a play. This has led to a number of third-and-longs this year, and has put them in a few additional bad spots. That said, being in a near-constant bad spot, he feels he has to put the team on his shoulders to get a win.
The biggest problem here continues to be — and stop me if you have heard this before — the freaking offensive line.
This line is doing this team no favors at all. The aren’t opening any holes and they’re making it tough for any play to develop. David Johnson is getting hit early and often; screen passes are getting blown up; and Watson is having to move, more often than not, less than two seconds into the play! How in the world are they collapsing that fast?!?
This is the fastest fix if you want results, Texans: fix your offensive line!
You especially see how bad this is on nearly every passing play. Watson has no time for the play to develop, the pocket is constantly collapsing, and he is always on the move. The only time you saw Houston move the ball effectively was during the two-minute drill, when plays are designed to be lightning-fast. If the offensive line cannot give Watson time, then we need to see changes, such as adding one of the tight ends in more often to run block. More than my first two issues with the offense, this is the focal point. If you change nothing else, Bill O’Brien, change this.
Defense, Where Do I Even Begin?
This Houston defense is… It’s something.
I suppose that’s not completely fair; when the offense is constantly not even making it to the 50-yard line, it makes it hard for the defense to keep you in the game. The defense actually started pretty strong here and kept the Steelers from running all over them, the majority of the game. But you could tell, as this game went on, they got tired. Late in the third quarter and on, they were worn out and were just not as effective. To be fair, they were out there 11 minutes more than the offense. Nearly a whole quarter of game time! That’s enough to wear out any defense.
The Texans’ defensive play calling left a lot to be desired as well, as they constantly only rushed four players and regularly gave Big Ben all the time in the world to throw — and he did, completing 23 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. The solid run game of the Steelers didn’t help matters either, as James Conner, Benny Snell, Jr., and Anthony McFarland rushed 31 times for 169 yards. They ran often and effectively, and you could tell the Texans linebackers were constantly frozen in place as they waited for the plays to develop. They were unsure of what to expect, as the Steelers did as they pleased, especially in the late part of the game. The corners and safeties did the best they could, but with the linebackers leaving much to be desired, and the simple four-man rush not achieving desired results, it made it very difficult for them to do their job effectively.
Earlier, I spoke of how often the defense was on the field and the problem this causes for the team. They allowed 25 first downs to the Steelers, who also converted 45% of third downs and 100% of 4th down conversions. This is a problem and we saw it late in the game. The team was gassed and tired from all that time on the field. Between the offense only gaining 13 first downs and the defense’s length of time on the field, this will continue to be a problem and make it hard to win games.
Again, the conversion rates and keeping the offense on the field will go a long way in helping the defense and keeping these games closer than we have generally seen.
Overall, we saw a much stronger game against the Steelers than we had seen against Baltimore and Kansas City.
The Houston Texans were more competitive throughout, and in reality, only let the game slip away in the last half of the fourth quarter. The encouraging sign is, as bad as the Texans have looked so far this year, they really only need a few small adjustments. These adjustments will be the difference maker in these close games. If we had seen a better pass rush and overall better offensive line play, the Texans could have squeezed out a victory here.
There is hope Texans fans; it just requires Bill O’Brien to acknowledge what he is doing is not working, and to make his coordinators make the needed changes!
Now, I don’t recommend holding your breath on good ol’ Bill making the tough calls, but it can be done. We aren’t far away from wins here, and the schedule gets considerably easier than what we have seen so far. Hopefully, there more positive things to discuss before the game against the Vikings.
Let’s go, Texans — it’s time for a win!