Titans-Texans: 4 Winners, 4 Losers, "Gary Kubiak, Replay Ninja" Edition
Throw that red flag, Gary!
Photo by Groovehouse
Around 8:00 Sunday night (presumably after walking several old ladies across the street and single handedly raising a million dollars in two hours to cure an obscure disease), Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted this:
Nobody said it'd be easy. #FindAWay
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 16, 2013
Now, Texans fans can't be blamed for being a little cautious about a 2-0 start with seemingly so many holes in it -- uneven quarterback play, issues in the kicking game, and long periods of offensive doldrums, to name a few.
The issues were different, but the feeling kind of the same just three seasons ago when the Texans started 2010 with a 2-0 record and the happiness was tempered by some glaring issues on the defensive side of the ball.
So if the "a win's a win" mantra feels a little empty or "fool's gold"-ish after barely beating San Diego and Tennessee in the first two weeks, I get it. Just understand that the games these last two weekends were the types of games that the Texans would typically lose back in that 2010 season.
Go back and look at the box score/play-by-play for the Jacksonville (away), New York Jets, and Baltimore games from 2010. That team had no idea how to win close games (going back to 2009, when they would find ways to lose close games regularly).
This team, frankly, does know how to win.
And in a league where, through the first two weeks, I can only identify two teams that I would bet money will absolutely win five or fewer games this season (more on this in a minute), I don't think you can discount the value of finding a way to eke out a few close games, even if they weren't expecting them to be close going in.
So with that in mind, let's look at the winners and losers from Sunday...
4. Wade Phillips' pet bulls Simply put, this team doesn't have the foundational cracks that other worrisome Texans 2-0 teams have had in the past, nor should it since it's a direct descendant of the two 2-0 Texan teams that turned into AFC South division champions (2011 and 2012). If you're worried about the narrow margins in the first two games, and the fact that the Chargers and Titans averaged 26 points scored in these first two games, just know that the Texans' defense, since allowing the first 28 points of the game to the Chargers, have done the following:
* Allowed only two touchdown drives, both to the Titans (80 and 99 yards) * In the 17 other drives, the Chargers and Titans collectively ran 59 plays for 47 yards. * The end result of those 17 drives have been 12 punts, one pick six, one turnover on downs, one missed field goal, one made field goal, and a safety. So the Texans' defense has actually outscored the Chargers/Titans offenses 9-3 on those 17 possessions.
This is why I'm not all that worried about this thing bottoming out like it did in 2010. Now, can it get taken to the next level where it surpasses 2011 and 2012, that's a question for Matt Schaub, who by the way, has a nice, shiny new toy he seems to like....
3. DeAndre Hopkins You have to wonder if Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith are wondering why they didn't invest a draft pick in a wide receiver (a good wide receiver) until now. Hard to argue with their success in the first round of the draft, especially from 2008 through 2011, but I feel like the guys running the team were the only ones who were insisting the Texans were fine in the "playmaker" department. On Sunday, DeAndre Hopkins made an early statement in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, not only catching seven passes for 117 yards, but making two of the biggest plays of the game -- the catch to set up the winning touchdown, and then the touchdown itself -- with Andre Johnson out of the game, a huge positive sign for the day down the road when Andre Johnson becomes a Texans Ambassador.
2. Gary Kubiak, replay bad ass Is it possible to get better at replay challenge decisions? Because Gary Kubiak had two huge replay challenges that wound up in reversals that directly led to points, the first on the safety to make it 16-10 Texans, and the second on the catch by Andre Johnson that set up the tying touchdown. I can't begin to tell you how odd a world it is that we live in when Gary Kubiak is helping with his replay challenges. It's like waking up and seeing highlights of Matt Schaub running the read option for 150 rushing yards in a playoff win in New England.
1. J.J. Watt (with a Mario Williams honorable mention) For better or worse, J.J. Watt's 2013 season (and pretty much all subsequent seasons) will be assessed largely statistically and placed alongside his transcendent 2012 season. In fairness to the millions doing the assessing, Watt happily invites the comparison when he publicly sets goals of "20-20-20" (sacks, passes defended, and tackles for loss), and his performance on Sunday put him squarely back on pace to accomplish that -- 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended.
(Fair time to mention here that Mario Williams had his best game as a Buffalo Bill, since I know this interests many of you -- 6 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss for Mario against Carolina. Of course, here is where the "Mario warning label" comes out and we remind you that he rarely builds on these multiple sack games, Buffalo. Historically, they've wound up as a large clump that serves no purpose other than getting Mario paid eventually.) LOSERS
4. #FatRandy For a coach who, not all that long ago, would bring in veteran kickers to compete with other actual veteran kickers (This is how Neil Rackers wound up a Texan for a couple years.), Gary Kubiak's leeway for second year kicker (and first time starter) Randy Bullock this preseason was a little curious, but not all that surprising considering the team spent a draft pick on Bullock, and he was going to be the starter eventually. However, two games into his NFL career, there are already questions as to just how much Bullock can be trusted as a weapon for the Texans, making field goals that frankly a drafted kicker should make, at least more consistently than Bullock did on Sunday (0 for 3, missed game winner at end of regulation from 46 yards).
3. Houston area livers I haven't tabulated the final damage from this weekend's BATTLE-DRINK card, but as best I can tell, Vanilla Ice did his fair share of damage, as did Arian Foster, and as usual, the nuclear bomb of all drinking games, John McClain's Twitter account, may be singlehandedly responsible for a wave of liver transplants in Houston come, say, 2014 or 2015. One thing I do know that we saw was the first (to the best of my knowledge) double drink BATTLE-DRINK event! Check out this tweet from the General:
I can't overstate has utterly pathetic the Texans offense has been since its first series. Wretched.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) September 15, 2013
A "pathetic" and a "wretched" in the same tweet! DRINK! And DRINK AGAIN, BITCHES!
2. The city of Orlando The way the NFL television rules work, not only is the home market of each team required to show its home team's road games if they are part of the normal Sunday afternoon rotation, but there are also "secondary cities" designated to be specific parts of the 32 NFL markets that are required to carry certain games as well, even if nobody in the city wants to see that team play. Orlando is one such "secondary" city. Unfortunately, it is the NFL's "secondary city" for Jacksonville, which is like being the wingman for a meth addict.
So in an age where it's all about customer service, sometimes it's nice for viewers to know that their local CBS affiliate feels their pain. Well, WKMG in Orlando apparently knows this as they did the empathetic courtesy of apologizing to Jacksonville citizens that they had to watch the Jags and Raiders instead of the battle of the Mannings:
The station's general manager is as upset as anyone.
"I know it's frustrating, but as a CBS station in this market you have to carry the away games," Skip Valet told the Associated Press.
Poor Orlando, getting slapped onto Jacksonville's ticket. As I mentioned earlier, through the first two weeks, I can only count two teams I'd bet serious money on winning five games or fewer -- Cleveland and Jacksonville. There will be others, the math dictates, but I just have no clue who they will be. Speaking of the Mannings....
1. Eli Manning Kind of a random "loser" in this post, I know, but in watching Eli throw seven picks in his first two games this season, amidst an 0-2 start for the Giants, I got to thinking about what Eli's legacy will eventually be after he's all done. He's in his tenth season, and probably has four or five more "normal Eli" years left. Notice I hesitate to say "good" years because I'm not sure just how "good" Eli Manning is.
The default seems to be that "he won two Super Bowls, so he's a Hall of Famer," but Eli is so painfully average (and at times, detrimental) over most of his other seven-plus seasons, that I really wonder how we would look at him if his last name were something other than "Manning."
Consider the pros: * Two Super Bowl titles, including one against the 18-0 Patriots in the '07 season * Never finished below .500 in a full season as a starter * Hasn't missed a start since becoming the full time starter in 2005 * Has the same last name as his brother "Peyton"
Now, for the cons: * In the other seven seasons that he didn't win a Super Bowl, his post season record is 0-3 * Led the league in interceptions in 2007 and 2010 * Finished in top 10 in passer rating once (2011, 7th) * Average 16th place finisher in passer rating since 2005 * Has maybe the worst "chips are down" body language and dopiest "mystified" face of any professional athlete in the history of team sports
I think if this is who he ends up being. a talented, but largely average quarterback with two remarkable postseasons, Eli Manning will probably get into the Hall of Fame because he's part of football royalty, but I'll say it -- I wouldn't vote for him.
I am willing to compromise, however, and if the Hall of Fame committee promises that Eli's bust in Canton will be a replica of the face that he makes after every interception, then I heartily endorse his candidacy. Hell, I'll go argue it myself to the committee!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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