While watching the Texans drop their fifth game in a row Sunday afternoon, I realized that the success of one Case Keenum on the field was going to cause at least one group of people to jump for joy regardless of who they actually rooted for: professional sports headline writers. I mean, I've already used "Making the Case for Keenum," and that was off the top of my head when I was drunk. OK, I wasn't drunk, but it was off the top of my head.
There were good things to be taken from Sunday's loss and a lot of bad as well. The first thing we learned is the kid can play. Keenum brought back the vertical passing game for the Texans and a sense of urgency we haven't noticed for a while. But, he made his share of mistakes and missed plenty of reads. The defense too struggled, at least in the first half, and there were key injuries that could be problematic for the remainder of the season.
Whatever the Case (see what I did there), it was yet another loss in a clearly now lost season. Going into the bye, it was nice to see the Texans play well for a change, particularly against the undefeated Chiefs in the loudest stadium on the planet, but moral victories suck, especially when the season is rapidly going down the tubes.
What went right: The Passing Game
For once, the Texans threw the ball down field. Early in the fourth quarter, Keenum's first long shot down the field, across his body, was slightly overthrown to tight end Garrett Graham. We can only assume Graham, so used to Matt Schaub under-throwing everything with his noodle arm took his time getting there, forgetting who was under center. Keenum gave the team a vertical passing attack since Schaub has been at QB.
Runner up: The defense in the second half was the defense we had come to expect from the Texans but hadn't seen in some time. They swarmed the ball, made smart plays all over the field and even stopped the Chiefs inside the red zone. When was the last time that happened?
What went wrong: Third Downs
KC came into this game 5 for 20-something in third down conversions over the last couple games. On Sunday, they went 7-15. On the other side of the ball, the Texans went 4-12 on third downs. That's a bad combo. Too often, the defense just could not get the Chiefs off the field on third down and the Texans couldn't find their way to the first down marker.
Runner up: A lot of blame can be placed on the offensive line for the pass protection, especially in the second half (we're looking at you, Derek Newton), but on several occasions, Keenum missed his reads -- something he admitted after the game. The result against the best pass rush in the NFL was predictable. It didn't help that the run game was suffering from a serious shortage of backs and quality plays.
What must improve: Play Calling
I was impressed that Coach Gary Kubiak put Keenum in the pistol formation for pretty much the entire game, allowing him to operate from the shotgun, which allowed him more time to read the defense and gave him a comfort zone from his days at the University of Houston. But, when you are losing, you don't get MORE conservative on third and fourth downs. On at least two occasions, the team kicked a field goal or punted on fourth down when points or keeping the drive alive could have had significant ramifications on the game's outcome. As usual, Kubiak was more conservative than Rush Limbaugh and it cost them.
What should stay the same: Case Keenum
I've been critical of the choice to put Keenum on the field. But, after the past few weeks, even I figured, "What the hell." While I'm still not 100 percent convinced he Mr. Right at QB, I most certainly believe he is Mr. Right Now. This season is in the tank. This is the time to see what you have in Keenum. After the game, Kubiak himself said the mistakes Keenum made have to be corrected and the only way he'll do that is on the field. Bingo, Kubes. Keep him out there and let's see if the kid is for real. If not, there are plenty of good QBs in the 2014 draft. What did we learn from the game?
The offense is markedly better when there is a QB back there who can move around and throw the ball down the field. Everyone knew this, but maybe not everyone knew the guy to do it was on the current roster.
What do we never want to see/hear again?
Besides seeing guys like Brian Cushing and Arian Foster dropping like flies (Cushing is likely out for the season with a leg/knee injury, while Foster will probably be back after the bye week) was disturbing, even more so was watching a goal line stand lost because their only option at running back was Greg Jones. When Ben Tate got his ribs bruised, Jones, a fullback with limited carries in the last few YEARS, was the only option at tailback because the Texans only carried two for the game. Ouch.
Key Moment of the Game
Late in the fourth quarter, the Texans got the ball back deep in their own end of the field with one final chance to win the game. Quite a few people on Twitter pointed out how crazy it would be if Keenum led the game-winning drive. Unfortunately, on second and 10 from inside the 5-yard line, Keenum dropped back to pass and KC linebacker Tamba Hali got to him, grabbed the sack and forced a fumble ending the game.
Game Balls: Case Keenum
The kid was impressive in his NFL debut going 15-25 for 271 yards and a touchdown. He was fluid moving around in the pocket and showed great reads off schedule. He will need to improve in picking up the blitz, but the former UH star was pretty damn spectacular considering he came was the third stringer a week ago.
In the second half, we saw the Watt we are accustomed to seeing. On one series, he got a sack and a batted ball on consecutive plays. He ended up with 6 tackles, one of which was for a loss, the 1 sack and 3 hits on the QB. He even gave a tip of his hat in honor of the late Bum Phillips, who passed away on Saturday.
Goat of the Week: Ed Reed
I swear ever week the guy looks older and older. He gets run over, misses assignments and can't keep up with quicker players. The inspirational on-the-field leader looks more like a guy who took the Texans for a ride when they signed that deal with him in the summer. Rookie DJ Swearinger looked far more capable out there, which is hilarious considering he was 11 the year Reed entered the league.
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Random thought of the week:
In 1978, in the heart of Luv Ya Blue, my mom and I went to the airport when the Oilers returned home from their loss in the AFC title game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The airport was packed with throngs of fans. The highlight for me was reaching up through this sea of giant players and raging fans to shake the thumb of one O.A. "Bum" Phillips. It was the best either of us could do in the melee. He even gave me a quick look -- probably wondering who the hell was grabbing his thumb -- and a smile, but that was enough to last a lifetime. Everything that Texas football was, is and always will be was embodied in Phillips. He cast a very long shadow that will not soon be forgotten. I hope the roof is always open in the next life, coach, so you don't have to take your hat off.
Next Up: Bye Week
While the Texans rest up, the big question looming (and being asked ad nauseam on sports radio) is will Keenum continue to start after the bye week even if Schaub is healthy. It's clear what the fans want. Now, what will the Texans do? Stay tuned.