Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 2, Colts 31, Texans 20: Four Winners, Four Losers

DeMeco Ryans debut at home did not go according to plan, with a 31-20 loss to the Colts.
DeMeco Ryans debut at home did not go according to plan, with a 31-20 loss to the Colts. Photo by Eric Sauseda
If you're wondering how long it takes for a honeymoon period between a fan base and a franchise icon hired to rebuild their football team lasts, in Houston in 2023, the answer is 229 days. DeMeco Ryans, beloved former player and still beloved (but struggling) head coach, was hired to coach the Texans on January 31, 2023. Week 2 of the 2023 season, a 31-20 loss to the Colts at home, exposed some major warts on this early version of a Ryans coached Texans team, though, and Texan fans are showing very little patience.

Keep in mind, even with all of the injuries the Texans are dealing with, along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary particularly, they came into Sunday's home game against the Colts as slight favorites to win the game. Make no mistake, the Colts are not a good football team. However, the Colts controlled the game against the Texans practically from jump, taking a 14-0 lead early, taking a 28-10 lead into the locker room at half-time, and cruising to the 31-20 win.

It was a depressing day for Texan fans, who were primed and ready to root hardcore for their team again, after three depressing seasons totaling 11 wins. Many of them will be back to try again in two weeks, but the early returns on this season show a team that is clearly another couple years away from being competitive at any sort of high level.  As for Sunday, there were winners and losers. Let's do this!


4. Shane Steichen
Ryans was the clear cut top head coaching candidate on the market this past head coaching cycle. All five teams with openings wanted to at least interview him, including the Colts. That conversation between Ryans Colts owner Jim Irsay never took place, although I'd have paid money to see it, if it had. Instead, the Colts wound up with Steichen, whose claim to fame was molding Jalen Hurts into an MVP candidate as the OC in Philadelphia. On Sunday, Steichen had the better prepared team, the more energetic team, and even showed off some chess moves, when he lured Ryans into having to call a timeout on a fourth down where the Colts quickly replaced their punt team with their offense, feigning that they were going to go for the first down. In the head coaching category, it was a TKO for Steichen over Ryans yesterday.

3. Zack Moss
In Week 1, outside of Anthony Richardson's 40 yards on the ground, the Colts got next to nothing in the running game. Their next leading rusher was Deon Jackson, with 14 yards on 13 carries. Moss was injured for Week 1, and back for Week 2, and while he didn't have any big chunk plays in the running game, he had a very efficient 88 yards on 18 carries. When Richardson went down with a concussion, Gardner Minshew came in at quarterback, and on his first three drives, Minshew led the Colts to two touchdowns and a field goal. On those three drives, moss had 51 yards on seven carries. The Texans' run defense took a step backward this week.
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Stroud and Collins seem to have found a connection.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
2. C.J. Stroud
1. Nico Collins
 I'll go ahead and combine these two, because while the Texans are struggling to figure out how to do the little things to win games, it appears as though they've found their future quarterback, and it appears that quarterback has found a favorite target> Stroud threw for 384 yards on Sunday, and 146 of those yards went to Collins, who repeatedly made big, field position swinging catch-and-run plays. Through his first two games of this season, Collins has two of the three most prolific games of his career, and if he can stay healthy, the Texans may have found their next go-to wide receiver. As for Stroud, the one big negative play was the fumble in the first quarter that set up the Colts' second touchdown, but given the protection issues and a bum shoulder Stroud's dealing with right now, the Texans rookie seems to be ahead of schedule.

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It was tough sledding for Dameon Pierce all day long, as he averaged just two yards per carry.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
4. Dameon Pierce
Putting Pierce in this category here is not a commentary about his effort nor his skill level. This is more about the punishment that Pierce's body has had to endure — 26 total carries — to gain a scant 69 yards on the ground. The Texans' offensive line, which is admittedly banged up and full of backup caliber players, can't move a barstool right now, and it shows in how Pierce is getting obliterated at the line of scrimmage on virtually every carry. His long carry so far this season, through two games, is ten yards. If anyone will keep a happy face on this, it's the affable Pierce, but the Texans need to find a running game quickly.

3. Texans' health care provider
I don't know how the whole health insurance thing works for NFL players, but if it were to work the same way it does for us regular folks, then my God, the admin department for the Texans' health insurance company is flooded with Explanation Of Benefit forms right now. I can't remember a Texans team that was THIS injured THIS early in the season. Four of the five offensive lineman they'd planned to use to protect Stroud missed Sunday's game. Two of them won't be back until Week 5, at the earliest, and Kenyon Green is out for the season. The Texans are missing their top two safeties, Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward, and they were joined by fellow safety Eric Murray on Sunday, as he left game with a concussion.

2. Anthony Richardson
Speaking of concussions, Richardson was knocked out of the game in the second quarter on Sunday and replaced by Gardner Minshew. This means that in his first two games as a pro, Richardson has been knocked out and unable to finish either of them. Richardson understandably plays a very physical style of football, what with him being one of the largest humans to ever play quarterback. However, he is going to need to get much mroe judicious and smarter about how he uses his body, or he will turn into the washed up version of Cam Newton WAY sooner than the actual Cam Newton turned into the washed up version of himself.

1. Bobby Slowik
It seems as though hiring somebody off of the Kyle Shanahan/Gary Kubiak coaching tree to run your NFL team's offense has been viewed as a "cure all" of sorts around the NFL. it's definitely worked in places like Miami (Mike McDaniel) and Green Bay (Matt LaFleur), to name a couple. So far, Slowik, who was Shanahan's passing game coordinator in San Francisco, has not been impressive. I know on Sunday, he was trying to coordinate an offense with several backup offensive linemen, and I'm sympathetic toward that. However, Slowik's insistence on running the football between the tackles, when (a) the Texans suck at it, and (b) the Texans are down 31-10 in the third quarter, was maddening. On top of that, the Texans offense continues to play without urgency getting in and out of the huddle, running the play clock down to nothing repeatedly, and that falls on Slowik's leadership. In short, two games in, I've seen no evidence that Slowik is special. He's just some dude who worked for Kyle Shanahan.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast