The Houston Texans are 3-3 heading into a week seven match-up against AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars. The winner of Sunday’s showdown will move to 4-3 on the year, likely take sole control of first place and end up becoming the favorite to head back to the postseason.
That wouldn’t be the case however if not for a late hero heroics by Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph last Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. Backup quarterback Nathan Peterman entered the game in the second half in place of rookie signal-caller Josh Allen. He actually looked to have the Bills in a spot to win following a 16-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones.
The Bills were up 13-10 with 13 minutes left to play.
But then, Peterman went back to his old ways, tossing two crucial interceptions in the final two minutes, one leading to a 28-yard interception return by Joesph to give Houston a 20-13 lead and eventual victory.
In just four games with the Bills, Peterman has now thrown nine interceptions to his three touchdowns. Allen went 10 of 17 for 84 yards and averaged just 4.9 yards a throw. His longest pass of the night off his rocket cannon of an arm; 39 yards.
Yet here we are on Tuesday hearing about how the Texans barely pulled out a win against the Bills.
Take nothing away from Buffalo’s defense; they were fantastic Sunday. They collected seven sacks, held the Texans offense for 216 total yards and created three turnovers. It could have been five but two fumbles by quarterback Deshaun Watson were recovered.
But the Texans are 3-3. They could by 6-0 or 0-6. If you take away all the stats and just look at as who has given the Texans any hope, you’d find five names: Watson, Joseph, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Ka’imi Fairbairn.
If you’re looking at where to point the finger, it starts with the leadership.
Watson is struggling, but still finding success here and there. Hopkins is making Watson’s second NFL season look better than it actually is. Watt collected another sack against Allen. He’s now tied for the league lead with seven. Heck, even safety Tyrann Mathieu is doing to a solid job in his season with Houston with 34 total tackles.
If you’re looking at where to point a finger to why the Texans are might be one of the ugliest 3-3 teams in NFL history, it all starts with fifth-year head coach Bill O’Brien.
I usually wait to do Thompson’s Topics on Thursdays. I always have whether it gets plenty of reads or I get told how pathetic they are. I do Thursday’s due to two reasons. First, my last name is Thompson and as a former major of journalism and English, I can’t help but love doing the alliteration.
The other reason is Thursday is usually the middle of the week in football. Most teams, minus those who play on Thursday or Monday night, will take Tuesday off and step away from the media. Wednesday really is the start of the week. We get to hear about the game plan moving forward and a column on what to expect against an upcoming Sunday match up is always interesting to read.
I can’t do that this week. Not because I don’t have time or I don’t have an opinion on the Jacksonville game. Mainly it’s because there’s little to expect anymore in a Texans game. The main reason; play-calling.
Pretty much every game you see from the playbook of O’Brien is struggles in the run game, consistent penalties due to poor plays, sacks upon sacks, maybe a touchdown here and there, an easy turnover, terrible execution in the red zone and most recently, come from behind victories.
It was the same story again on Sunday nearly to the point. 74 rushing yards with a long of 17 yards, six penalties, seven sacks, one 13-yard touchdown, another interception in the end zone and 1 of 4 in the red zone.
“I think we’ve got to go back and figure it out, but like I always tell you, it starts with me,” O’Brien said Sunday. “So, we just have to keep grinding and figure it out, and figure out how to get better.”
He’s right. It does start with him. There’s a key word in there however that stands out in that quote; “always.”
The Texans win Sunday goes to Texans defensive Romeo Crennel and Joseph’s experience, nothing that O’Brien did. If it wasn’t for that interception one of the league’s highest interception ratio players, the Texans are playing in their third consecutive overtime game.
Poor offensive execution has been the consistent story when talking about the Texans. While Watson might have passed for nearly 1800 passing yards, he’s thrown four interceptions in the end zone. The Texans offensive line has allowed 25 sacks, the second most in league behind the Cleveland Browns. Watson is running for his life half the time to find an open wide receiver and other half, he’s taking shots that would knock most quarterback off to the sideline.
What might be worse however is Houston’s red zone offense. In all three victories, Watson and company have gone 5-of-15 with opportunities to score in the red zone. In back to back games, they’ve capitalized just once.
But hey, Houston is a .500 ball club so if the team continues to win, O’Brien should keep his job right? Sorry, that sales pitch went out the window.
It’s easy to look at an offensive playing call and say fire the offensive coordinator. That’s impossible in Houston since O’Brien is that as well. It’s nearly impossible for the Texans to find another coordinator this far into the season, at least a good one, meaning the Texans faithful are stuck with O’Brien whether they like him or not.
Wins are one thing but production is another. If the Texans were losing in close games to solid teams, that’s one thing. That’s not the case for Houston though. The Texans defeated the Colts, Cowboys, and Bills with a win margin of just 4.3 points.
Sure, a win is a win but ugly wins don’t earn you respect. The Texans are a .500 ball club when they should be no less than 4-2. Offensive play-calling is the reason why.
Houston’s offensive struggles could be the nail in the coffin for O’Brien. Even with a another average 9-7 season and a postseason berth, there’s no certainty his job is safe. With Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, O’Brien was able to get by as a 9-7 coach.
Watson and the Texans offensive weaponry are not a 9-7 roster. They’re not even another run of the mill playoff roster. They’re a Super Bowl contending unit being held back by poor play.
There’s a reason why bad teams stay bad. From poor drafting to weak rosters, anything can hold a team back. There’s also reasons why average teams stay average.
There’s an old wives’ tale that speaks of someone holding a rope too tight that it hurts them to hold on. The best thing to do is to just let go and move on.
The Texans are average so long as O’Brien controls the reins on offense. If he doesn’t release his grip and find someone new to call the offense, he might be the one on the falling side of the rope.