Keenum vs. Kubiak: Former Coach Suffers 7th Straight Loss at NRG, QB Gets First Win
All kinds of records were being set on Sunday, but none more important than new/former quarterback Case Keenum recording his first win at the expense of former Texans coach Gary Kubiak -- now the offensive coordinator with Baltimore. But Keenum, while steady, was not the star of this 25-13, improbable win by the impressively resilient Houston squad. This victory rests on the shoulders of the defense, which was absolutely outstanding on Sunday, stifling Baltimore and turning QB Joe Flacco back into the interception machine he was before he won a Super Bowl.
Still, a major storyline was Keenum, who, just one week ago, as the announcers mentioned during the game, was deer hunting on an off day as a practice squad quarterback for the Rams. He got a call from his wife, and shortly thereafter he was back in Houston as the starter. Keenum filled in admirably, going 20-42 for 185 yards and one interception, running a wildly aggressive game plan dialed up by Coach Bill O'Brien, who left just about every offensive play call on the field from rollouts to the wildcat. There was even a halfback pass by Arian Foster that resulted in the only touchdown of the day for the Texans to, of all people, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
It was a remarkable win for the now 8-7 Texans, who finish out the season against Jacksonville at NRG Stadium next week with a chance to go 9-7 just one year after 2-14 with the slimmest chance of still making the postseason still alive.
Offensive Game Balls
Case Keenum Look, his performance certainly wasn't one for the ages, but the former University of Houston star did just enough to get the team in position to score and didn't make any big mistakes. He got rid of the ball quickly and was fairly accurate for a guy who just flew into town a week ago. The offensive line deserves credit as well for not allowing a single sack all game.
Defensive Game Balls
(J.J. Watt has already been retired from consideration, FYI, or he would be in here every week.)
Kareem Jackson Jackson came into the game with one INT on the season. He left with three, tying the team lead with Jumal Rolle in one of the weirdest combination stats ever: The Texans are near the top of the league in interceptions with 20, yet no player has more than three, including Jackson and Rolle. The secondary, as a whole, was simply outstanding along with the entire defense, and Jackson was a standout.
The Defense The Texans defense held Baltimore to 31 yards in the first half. They finished with 211, but most of those came on the last couple of series when the game was essentially out of reach. They sacked Joe Flacco twice, but were in his face all game long, and held the Ravens to only 33 yards rushing. They average more than 140 per game. It was an impressive outing for one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Former Texans Never mind poor Gary Kubiak, who can't seem to catch a break at NRG Stadium -- former Texans Owen Daniels, Justin Forsett and Jacoby Jones were held to 7 catches for 54 yards and 10 carries for 19 yards. Jones had a nice 45-yard punt return in the second half to set up a touchdown, but it was a mostly forgettable game for guys who used to wear the deep steel blue and battle red. What Should Stay the Same
You couldn't ask for a much better defensive performance than this one. Combined with the minimal mistakes on offense and the foot of kicker Randy Bullock, this was a formula for winning, something most assumed wouldn't happen against a team fighting to get into the playoffs in Baltimore. From the front seven to the secondary, this was a complete domination by the defense.
What Needs to Improve
In the offseason, the Texans are really going to have to look at their special teams closely. You could make an argument that the lack of depth is hindering them, but there is more to it than that. They are an awful coverage team and they don't have anyone who is a threat in the return game. O'Brien recently praised their returners for their ability to catch the ball. That's not good. Fortunately, their kicker and punter have been outstanding, or this part of the team's game would be a complete disaster.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, a guy who in some circles was praised as a poor man's Rob Gronkowski. More like bankrupt, as Fiedorowicz has struggled mightily. But on Sunday he had two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown thrown by Arian Foster. It's not much, but it's a start.
Hats off to Bill O'Brien. When virtually everyone, including Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, no doubt, believed he would dial back the playbook and play it safe with Case Keenum under center, he went the complete opposite direction, letting Keenum throw it deep and pulling out plays no one had seen the Texans run all season, including the wildcat. Maybe he was throwing caution to the wind assuming they had nothing to lose with only a very slim chance of making the playoffs, but whatever the reason, it was a success.
With the Fitz-o-Meter on the fritz, the Case-o-Meter was fired up and rolling on Sunday. It might not have been all positive, but the meter definitely leaned onto the plus side more often than not.
Record Setting Stats of the Day
The Texans' special teams have been anything but special this season with perhaps two exceptions, punter and kicker. Sunday belonged to kicker Randy Bullock, who set a team record with six field goals made. On defense, J.J. Watt became the Texans' all-time leader in sacks at 54. And Andre Johnson became only the tenth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 catches in a career, the second-fastest player to reach that mark behind Marvin Harrison.
Play of the Day
My wife, only marginally paying attention to the game, remarked in the fourth quarter that the announcers seemed to be going overboard in their praise for J.J. Watt. I paused the game on the DVR and explained that what we are witnessing is one of the great performances of all time. I guess I went on a bit because she responded, "Now, you're doing it." I turned around and hit play. Seconds later, Watt sacked Joe Flacco to end the Ravens' day and set the team record for sacks. Appreciate you helping me make my point, J.J.
The Texans finish up the regular season at home against Jacksonville, one of the worst teams in the league. A win would solidify a winning record, but they will need a ton of help to win a spot in the postseason if if they whoop up on the Jags, which they should.
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