Last week, on the post game show for the Texans' 30-23 Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as we were trying to assess just exactly where the Texans rank among NFL teams, my colleague Mike Meltser had a general observation that I thought was accurate:
In the NFL, there are about five or six teams that are definitively bad football teams, and about the same amount that are unequivocally good football teams. The remaining 20 or so teams are all in the middle and are separated by a handful of "turning point" type plays throughout the season.
Very true, and for what it's worth, I'd put Oakland, Jacksonville, the Jets, Washington, and Tennessee in that first category (with about 3 or 4 teams knocking on the door), and I'd put Denver, New England, and Dallas in the latter category (with like 7 or 8 teams shuffling in and out of a league-wide top five all season long).
On Sunday, if nothing else, we got confirmation that the Texans reside firmly in the meaty part of the curve, one of the most predictable of the middle couple dozen teams. Why are they predictable? Well, it's pretty simple...
In the Texans four wins this season, they've beaten Robert Griffin III (version 2.0, the bad version), Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, and Zach Mettenberger. Two rookies, one second year guy who's lost his job, and RG3, who scares nobody.
In the Texans four losses this season, they've lost to Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger, all of whom have been to the Pro Bowl not all that long ago, and all of whom played pretty well against the Texans.
The trend is simple -- play a young, overwhelmed quarterback and the Texans win. Play a veteran, franchise quarterback and the Texans lose. Truth be told, this actually has been a recurring theme for four years now (well, in seasons not labeled "2013," when they lost to pretty much everyone).
This team is literally and figuratively a .500 team, the quintessential Jekyll and Hyde, at times looking competent enough to throw a scare into the "power tier," but with just enough mental lapses and negative mojo to find ways to lose. On Sunday, despite a win that saw the Texans take a 27-3 lead in the third quarter before cruising to a 30-16 win, there was nothing remarkable enough about the win to recalibrate expectations.
Statistically, they ran the ball pretty well, but a lot of that was on the wings of Arian Foster's individual greatness. They protected the football well, but not without Ryan Fitzpatrick's flirting with disaster on five or six different passes that hit Titan hands. Special teams put them in at least two field position situations that good teams would make them pay for (poor punt coverage on the first punt, and Keshawn Martin letting a ball bounce 20 yards to the two yard line).
The Titans are anything but a good football team. They are good for what ails you. These Texans needed a win. The Titans were just what the doctor ordered.
Here are the winners and losers from that game, and a few from around the league....
4. Arian Foster Even while his team was losing three games in a row this month, Foster was putting up numbers (three straight 100 yard rushing performances) and cobbling together what may end up being, statistically, the best stretch of his career. Sunday furthered that cause, as Foster rushed for 151 yards, including a superb 34 yard touchdown run that gave the Texans their first lead of the day at 10-3 in the second quarter. I've said this before, and if anything Foster has galvanized my declaration -- when taking into account accompanying offensive line and QB play, there is not better running back in football in 2014 than Arian Foster. In a perfect Week 9, Foster will touch the ball another 25-30 times next week against Philly as keeping the Eagles offense on the sideline will be a huge key to the game.
3. Jadeveon Clowney's surgeon On the stat sheet, Clowney was on the field for 33 snaps and made one tackle, so from a "splash play" standpoint, he was nearly a zero in the game. However, Sunday was not about "splash plays" for Clowney. Soon enough, it will be, but it wasn't Sunday. Against Tennessee, I just wanted to see a healthy, trending-toward-explosive Clowney and I think we got that. The good bits of Clowney news, in my mind, are the following:
* He seemed to get more confirmable as the game went on, citing nerves and confidence in the knee as a reason he may have started slowly.
* He drew double teams on a handful of occasions, which is something that no other outside linebacker on this team can claim. One message is clear -- coordinators will need to game plan for Clowney.
* He was in during garbage time, presumably to help shake off as much rust as possible, and that's obviously a sign that the knee must feel good, if he's still playing with the game already decided.
2. Inside linebackers with working legs So the Texans get Clowney back and immediately the outside linebacker position feels upgraded in quality of play (although Whitney Mercilus has been good the last few games). We now shift inside to Brian Cushing's troubling journey back from his second traumatic knee injury, where Mike Florio's forecasted Cushing absence became a reality on Sunday. The sore knee that's been ailing Cushing (and drastically slowing him down physically and mentally the last two games) would not allow him to go Sunday, and the dirty little silver lining in all of it -- the Texans were far more effective covering the middle of the field and cleaning up on the tackling end from that position, with Akeem Dent getting his first start and Mike Mohamed getting a game ball. If nothing else, the Texans got a clear signal on Sunday that they need to let Cushing rest this one and see what happens, because at the very least, the guys they have are significantly better than a hobbled Cush.
1. J.J. Watt's Mettenberger diss So a couple hours before his first start, Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger took this picture and tweeted it....
— Zach Mettenberger (@mettshow) October 26, 2014
So in the second half of the game, after sacking Mettenberger, J.J. Watt did this....
And after the game, Watt explained why he did the "selfie" gesture, citing perhaps a perceived lack of respect for the game from Mettenberger:
"Their quarterback had posted a few selfies this week, inclduing one before the game, and it's just kind of a reminder, this is the National Football League, not high school," Watt said. "So welcome to the show."
Of course, this gave the internet a chance to remind Watt of the Texans' own high school-ish foibles back in 2012...
— Andrew Martinez (@andtinez) October 26, 2014
Nobody brought this up to J.J. after the game, and that's probably wise, although it would have been fun to see if J.J. would've just pinned the stupid stunt on Connor Barwin, which most fans seem to do. ("Bulls on Parade," most fans want to throw that nickname out as well, also perceived to be a Barwin brainchild.)
4. Xavier Su'a-Filo The Texans' offensive line has had its issues this year, and Sunday was no different, although to their credit, they got better as the game went on and were very good in the second half, both running the ball and protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, one particularly troubling spell occurred in the first half when rookie guard Xavier Su'a-Filo was inserted for Ben Jones, and the Titans proceeded to pick at him like a scab, running all sorts of blitzes his way, to the point where Fitzpatrick could have probably sued Su'a-Filo for negligence. O'Brien, perhaps not wanting any litigation between his quarterback and one of his lineman, yanked Su'a-Filo mid series. The 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Su'a-Filo has been a major disappointment, especially considering he had an engraved opportunity to win the left guard job. Bad look for the personnel staff right about now.
3. Jets' special teams But hey, at least Su'a-Filo isn't Zach Sudfeld, right? Who's Zach Sudfeld? He's number 44 in a Jets uniform whose lack of blocking almost gets his new teammate, the ever belligerent Percy Harvin, killed on this ill advised trick play on a kickoff in the Jets' 43-23 loss to Buffalo....
To be fair, the Bills spent almost the whole afternoon kicking off the the Jets. This may have just been a way for rex Ryan to keep his players from getting bored with the "same old kickoff returns" each time.
2. Matt Schaub's punting career
Speaking of ill advised special teams plays, this one from interim Raiders head coach Tony Sparano was beauty. Matt Schaub (remember him?) was in to hold for what looked to be a long distance Sebastian Janikowski field goal, but WAIT! TRICKERATION!!!!! Schaub shifts from a holder's position to a shotgun formation. Unfortunately for the Raiders, this happened:
The good news for Schaub is that the interception was only returned for 35 yards and not for a touchdown. And honestly, after hearing his head coach's explanation for the play call, Schaub had to feel right at home:
"I thought we needed to take the chance," Sparano said. "You don't go on the road and play to lose. I understand that those are the calls that get second-guessed. I got it. That one is on me. We came here to win and we were going to do everything we could to win the football game."
"That one is on me." Kubiak wants his catchphrase back, Sparano.
1. Lamarr Houston Alongside Bill Grammatica and Stephen Tulloch, go ahead and add Chicago Bears defensive lineman Lamarr Houston to the Celebration Dance Injury Hall of Fame...
Of course, we never root for anybody to get injured, but you have to wonder about the vindictiveness of the football gods that Houston would sustain this injury celebrating a sack with his team trailing by 25 points.
Makes you wonder.