In his Monday media availability, Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien put perfectly the spirit of the topic on which I am about to write. When asked about his team's seven game winning streak's imperfections, he responded with the following:
“I do think that that’s a good thing when you’re winning, that you’re able to stand up in front of your team, put the film on and say, ‘Look, this is good, but this still is not very good, and if it doesn’t get better, it’s not going to be very good on Monday night.’ So, I think that that’s a big thing, and I think that’s kind of what I’m saying about this team. They have an understanding of that. They’ll look at the tape when I show them the tape at 12:30, and they’ll say, ‘Yep, we do need to improve on that. We can’t do that again. We’ve got to communicate better. We’ve got to use better technique here. We’ve got to get in and out of the huddle faster, or whatever penalties. We got to stop doing penalties – the one’s that we can control, the neutral zone infractions, the false starts.’ These are things that’ll get you beat late in the season, and when you’re winning and you can still coach that, that can be a good thing.”
In other words, savor the winning streak, but do not ignore in victory what you would attend to in defeat. Put even more simply, with some specificity toward Sunday's 23-21 nail biter of a win over the Washington Redskins, it doesn't always have to be this way. It is okay to beat teams by a couple or more touchdowns. Less drama equals fewer heart palpitations, too.
Sunday's game should give O'Brien plenty to show his team as they prepare for Monday night's visit with the Tennessee Titans. (Truth be told, the Week 2 loss to the Titans should provide enough visual fodder, but this post is about this past Sunday's game.) In particular, there were five junctures in Sunday's game where the Texans could have put away a Redskins team that, prior to Sunday had not come back from a single deficit all season. In fact, until Sunday, all three Redskin losses were by double digits, specifically BECAUSE they were (and probably still are) ill-equipped to come from behind in games.
Yet, the Texans let them hang around. Here are those five junctures, crossroads where, if they occur again on Monday, the Texans hopefully take the correct turn at the fork in the road:
TEXANS 10, REDSKINS 0
WAS BALL: 3RD & 10 AT HST 34 | 01:44 left in 1Q
PLAY: Alex Smith sacked at HST 43 for -9 yards (J.J. Watt). FUMBLES, recovered by WAS-C.Roullier at HST 47. PENALTY on Tyrann Mathieu, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at HST 34 - No Play.
COMMENT: This was a real chance to bury the Redskins early. The Texans had moved the ball fairly easily on their first two possessions, notching a field goal and a touchdown, and this Watt sack would have forced a punt back to the Texans, up 10-0. Instead, Mathieu gets called for an unnecessary hold downfield, and the Redskins go down and score a touchdown to make it 10-7 and get the crowd back into the game.
TEXANS 17, REDSKINS 7
HOU BALL: 1ST & 10 AT WAS 22 | 01:19 left in 2Q
PLAY: Deshaun Watson sacked at WAS 34 for -12 yards (Preston Smith).
COMMENT: This came shortly after back to back interceptions thrown within a minute of each other by Alex Smith, Justin Reid's pick six and an interception by Brennan Scarlett deep in Redskins territory. Unfortunately, instead of punching it in to go up 24-7 (or even kicking a field goal to go up 20-7), AND getting the ball to start the second half, the Texans goose egged. The big negative play? A first down sack just outside the red zone that made anything productive for the Texans EXCEPT a fairly long field goal attempt a near impossibility...
TEXANS 17, REDSKINS 7
HOU BALL: 2ND & 10 AT WAS 42 | 12:11 left in 3Q
PLAY: Deshaun Watson pass short middle to DeAndre Hopkins to WAS 35 for 7 yards, Hopkins FUMBLES (H.Clinton-Dix), RECOVERED by WAS-M.Foster at WAS 35. (The Replay Official reviewed the fumble ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field stands.)
COMMENT: Even with the end of half foibles, the Texans started the second half with the ball. Watson was driving the team toward the Redskin red zone, and on a fairly benign short route, in which Hopkins just stopped and turned around, the All-Pro WR juggled the ball, and allowed for a situation where a bad officiating crew might award a fumble to the defense..... and a bad officiating crew awarded a fumble to the defense. The game remained a manageable (for the Redskins) 17-7 score.
TEXANS 17, REDSKINS 14
HOU BALL: 2ND & 6 AT WAS 6 | 02:10 left in 3Q
PLAY: Deshaun Watson sacked at WAS 15 for -9 yards (Ryan Kerrigan).
COMMENT: The Texans responded to the Redskins' second touchdown with a drive of their own, highlighted by a Keke Coutee 40-yard catch and run on the first play of the drive. Eventually, the Texans had first and goal at the six, with a chance to reset the lead to ten, and this sequence occurred....
More rookie Jordans at tight end, less Ryan Griffin. Griffin seems like a great guy and great teammate, but he might get Deshaun Watson killed.
TEXANS 23, REDSKINS 21
HOU BALL: 4TH & 5 AT WAS 27 | 00:56 left in 4Q
PLAY: Ka'imi Fairbairn 45 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right.
COMMENT: O'Brien went super conservative with his play calling down the stretch, trying to burn as much clock as he could, while not putting Watson in harm's way at all, nor risking a turnover. In O'Brien's mind, taking the clock down under a minute and kicking a field goal to go up five points, and the Redskins having no timeouts left, was the right call. And it was. Just one problem, you have to make the field goal. The 44 yard miss by Fairbairn left the Redskins with 1st and 10 at their own 35 and about a minute to work with to get a field goal.
Thankfully, the Texans defense has playmakers, and they made plays. But it doesn't have to be this way.
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