At this stage of the season, there are two different flavors of .500 (or around .500) football teams in the NFL.
There are the kind who have played hard schedules, have good quarterbacks, and have enough solutions on the roster to eventually win the 9, 10, or 11 games they need in order to make the postseason. Think San Francisco, Seattle, maybe New Orleans.
Then there are the kind who are still shuffling quarterbacks, getting contributions from a disproportionally small segment of the roster, and are basically a play here or a play there away from all of it falling apart. These types of .500 teams are generally held together with chicken wire, toothpaste, and J.J. Watt.
Yes, the Texans are the latter type. They proved that yesterday against the Bengals and showed the city of Houston just how fleeting relevance can be when your roster lacks any depth.
The Bengals beat the Texans yesterday at NRG Stadium 22-13 in a game that didn't feel remotely even that close. Make no mistake, this was yet another game where the Texans, in the fourth quarter, were within one score of a team more talented than they are based almost solely on effort, opportunism, and (to some degree) J.J. Watt. (Watt wasn't J.J.-level great, but he was again easily the best player on a defense that was consistently toyed with throughout the day by Andy Dalton and the Bengals.)
Aesthetically, this game looked a lot like the Texans win over the Browns the week before, with Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill collectively playing the role of Alfred Blue, and A.J. Green singularly playing the role of DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson. The Bengals' running backs did enough to keep the clock moving on first and second down, staking the Bengals to a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, and Green kept taking down Texan cornerbacks on third down one at a time, the way Joey Chestnut takes down hot dogs on the fourth of July.
What could have been a gateway game for the Texans to 8-5 with Tennessee and Jacksonville on the horizon instead was just another reminder of how far this team has to go and a harbinger that, in the big picture, like in 2015 and beyond, it could get worse before it gets better.
Let's hand out some winners and losers for yesterday, shall we?
4. Andy Dalton I didn't see anything from Dalton yesterday that makes me any more bullish on the Bengals' chances at getting a postseason win and getting that monkey off of Dalton's back. I mean, he was 24 of 35 for 233 yards, which is fine. He got the ball out quickly and didn't take any sacks, so that was good. The one time the Texans did heat him up on a D.J. Swearinger blitz he threw a pick six to Johnathon Joseph, so the "old" Andy Dalton was in there somewhere. But he did get a win at NRG Stadium, and for a kid from Katy to have to hear about how bad he's played in his hometown for the better part of three seasons, that's something. Good enough to make the list today.
3. D.J. Swearinger Speaking of Swearinger, a week after the cosmetic move of taking him out of the starting lineup against Cleveland (he still played 64 snaps) to, I guess, send a message to him about his play, Swearinger turned in one of his better games of the season for "splash plays," with the pressure on Dalton on the Joseph INT (and a block to spring Joseph on the return), and a couple big tackles including a stop on a third down of Dalton scrambling that looked like an easy first down. Swearinger's improvement over these final five games will be a big storyline down the stretch as it's basically up to him and Hopkins to fish the disastrous 2013 draft out of the deep fryer.
2. This Vine video Yes, this is a column about the Bengals and the Texans, but we will always interrupt the topic at hand for the transcendent, for something so good, so life changing that it's enough to make the ladies cry. This lady in this video, in particular, looks like she's finally arrived in some sort of paradise thanks to a certain supernatural presence, and of course, we are talking about........CAKE......
SHE LOVES THIS CAKE, and she's not afraid to show it. Damn, that must be some good cake.
1. A.J. Green Call me lazy, but I think it's easier that I just embed one of my tweets from the game yesterday when it comes to analyzing A.J. Green's performance, in which his 12 catches felt like 20 catches:
A.J. Green wipes blood off his hands and is like "Bring me another cornerback" as he steps over Darryl Morris' carcass.
— Sean Pendergast (@SeanCablinasian) November 23, 2014
Also, because I'm just embedding shit here, this gives me a chance to embed this Odell Beckham, Jr. catch from last night's game against the Cowboys, which unto itself, feels like 20 catches:
And now to the losers...
4. Texans secondary against A.J. Green types Sticking with A.J. Green for a second, if you're looking for a common theme in the Texans' six losses this season, it's this -- number one wide receivers have essentially put together a massive portion of their Pro Bowl highlight reels against the Texans. Consider the following:
GIANTS: Victor Cruz 107 yards, 1 TD COWBOYS: Dez Bryant 85 yards, 1 TD COLTS: T.Y. Hilton 223 yards, 1 TD STEELERS: Antonio Brown 90 yards EAGLES: Jeremy Maclin 158 yards, 2 TD
And now A.J. Green's game yesterday. Oddly enough, in a game where the Texans were missing a starting cornerback in Kareem Jackson, Joseph only wound up covering Green on three of his 16 targets. The most frequent victim of Green's monster afternoon? Darryl Morris, who gave up six of Green's catches on eight targets, but found time to dance like no one was watching after the two targets in which Green didn't catch a ball.
3. Jadeveon Clowney Like most of the Houston Texans (not named J.J. Watt), Clowney spent virtually zero time getting to know Andy Dalton yesterday, which is more problematic for Clowney than the rest of the Texans' defense because that's why, y'know, they used the number one overall pick on him. Only Clowney knows how he feels physically, but just observing him, he looks tentative, unsure of himself, and explosively is a fraction of what he showed in the brief glimpses we got in the preseason. Not good. It's even worse when Clowney is jumping offsides on third and five, and when he was actually lined up offsides on Joseph's INT, which the referees failed to see.
On top of all that, Clowney's demeanor after these games, which can best be described as "cautiously carefree," will become a much bigger issue with fans as the Texans fall further from sight in the playoff picture. For better or worse, people want the players to appear to care ten times as much as they do, and that doesn't appear to be the speed at which Clowney operates in the postgame media sessions.
2. Johnny Manziel Now, say what you will about Manziel and whether or not the Texans should have found a way to draft him, but I can assure you that he would have served up exactly what Texans fans want in the post game. Johnny has post-failure anger management issues written all over him (when he eventually gets the chance to actually fail in a game, that is). That said, he needs his girlfriend to chill out on Twitter, like this one yesterday after a Brian Hoyer INT...
Put bae in
— Colleen Crowley (@Coll_Crowley) November 23, 2014
1. Ryan Mallett As fleeting as relevance was for the Texans, so too was success for Mallett who followed up a solid, poised debut in Cleveland with one of the worst performances I've seen in my eight seasons of covering the Texans. Now, let me caveat this with the fact that we found out last night that Mallett was playing with a possibly season curtailing pectoral muscle injury that he suffered last week, practiced with all week, and played with yesterday.
The fact that Mallett played with the injury, depending on how you look at it, means a) Mallett is one tough SOB, b) Mallett is one selfish SOB, or c) God, Ryan Fitzpatrick must suck if they were fine playing Mallett with the injury. Most likely, it's some combination of those three things. Whatever the case, the injury doesn't absolve Mallett of blame for a day where he looked more like he was trying to impress girls at the beach with how hard and fast he could throw a football than with how he could complete passes to guys on his team. His 21 of 45 day was most damaging on first down. Whereas last week he was 9 for 9 on first down, yesterday he was a horrific 6 of 17 for 62 yards and one killer INT on the first play of the second half.
Yet overall, how bad is the Texans quarterback situation? Bad enough to where the potential season ending nature of Mallett's injury had Twitter freaked out about a return of Fitzpatrick. Yes, Fitzpatrick is so bad that the fan base is lamenting losing a guy who's started two games and just threw up a 49.2 passer rating.
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If you're looking for a visual metaphor of how it feels right now to be a Texans fan, well, this is pretty accurate....
— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) November 24, 2014
THAT'S football time in Houston, Clay Walker.