For an NFL head coach, there are probably a half dozen or so things that outsiders like us (and by "outsider", I mean "people who haven't spent time in an NFL locker room as a player nor a coach") can judge his performance by on a week in, week out basis, and against the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien failed at nearly all of them.
First drive failure, check. In game adjustment failure, check. Failure to take advantage of the bye week, check. The Texans did nothing well on Sunday, and it starts with him. He admitted as much following the game:
“It probably does. We have to turn the page quickly. We have to correct the mistakes and move forward very quickly. It didn’t start well. We didn’t get off to a good rhythm. I just need to do a better job with this team.”
Now, tonight at NRG Stadium, he gets a chance to check off at least one of the GOOD boxes as pertains to a loss like the 41-7 loss to the Ravens — bouncing back and turning the page. It shouldn't be too tough for the Texans to refocus, as this is a Colts team that has beaten them five of the last six times that they've played, with the one win coming thanks to a decision from Colts head coach Frank Reich to go for it on fourth down, in overtime, in his own end of the field (and failing).
The stakes are simple, and much higher for playoff survivability than they were a few days ago before the Baltimore loss. Let's actually start there:
4. AFC playoff picture
What makes last Sunday so painful for Texans fans is what makes the NFL so great. Think about it — a Week 11 game was so crucial for one team that, instead of being in line for the second overall seed in the AFC and a first round playoff bye, that team is now hanging onto the last wild card spot by a tie breaker thin thread. The scarcity of games, along with the resulting importance in EVERY SINGLE GAME, are what make the NFL so popular. For the Texans, Thursday's game is a simple as this — win and you are up at least one game on everybody in the division with five games to go (three of them at home), but lose this game, and you're a game behind the Colts, lost the head to head tiebreaker with them, and sit at 6-5 with the Patriots coming to town. This, in a conference with over half the conference sitting in between 6-4 and 4-6 after this past weekend. It is a MASSIVELY important game.
3. Thursday night vibe
The Thursday night aspect of this game seems to always favor the home team, since the travel day eats into crucial prep time on a three day oak week. For the record, this will make it half of the six Thursday games in O'Brien's Texans career where the Colts are the opposition at home. The last two times have not gone real well. Here's O'Brien's Thursday night head coaching history:
2018: Defeated Miami 42-23 (Week 8)
2017: Defeated Cincinnati 13-9 (Week 2)
2016: Lost to New England 0-27 (Week 3)
2015: Lost to Indianapolis 20-27 (Week 5)
2014: Lost to Indianapolis 28-33 (Week 6)
The good news is that O'Brien is 2-0 on Thursdays with Deshaun Watson as his starting quarterback. Another bit of good news, Deshaun Watson is 4-2 in prime time games (and would be 5-1 if Aaron Colvin knew what the hell he was doing against the Saints in Week 1 of this season). The three non-Watson games all have ties to the Colts, as 2014 and 2015 were losses to the now retired Andrew Luck, and 2016's loss to the Patriots was Jacoby Brissett's first NFL start. Let's hope this goes better than all three of those games.
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2. Texans secondary
A short week means that the injury die is pretty much cast come Monday or Tuesday, and if there is an area of the Texans that probably needed a full week, it's the secondary. Rookie CB Lonnie Johnson left the Ravens game with what looked like a serious leg injury when defensive tackle Brandon Dunn rolled him up trying to tackle Lamar Jackson. Safety Justin Reid is in the concussion protocol, which is the worst thing for a short week. He won't play, and that's a big loss. Joining him in concussion protocol is fellow safety Mike Adams, who was involved in an odd pregame mishap on Sunday when he inadvertently ran into a Ravens player in warmups. We will probably get our first look at waiver pickup, former first round pick Vernon Hargreaves, and the Texans will need all the healthy bodies they can get after giving up 326 yards to Brissett in the first matchup. No T.Y. Hilton for the Colts would really help.
1. Deshaun Watson bounce back
Coming off a 34 point loss, this is uncharted territory for Deshaun Watson, so it's fair to wonder, not so much how will he handle a loss, but how will he handle an embarrassing loss in which he was just as, if not more, culpable than most of his teammates. His two turnovers in that Ravens loss were Grade F terrible turnovers, and the first one continued the Texans streak of absolutely terrible execution on opening drives. In many of the losses in his Texans career, Watson was the reason his team was even in the game to begin with. In several of those games, he left the field with a lead late in the game, in a hostile road environment, only to see the defense cough up the lead. This past Sunday was not that. It will be fascinating to see just how short a memory Watson has, and from a more tangible standpoint, how his ankle (which was rolled over pretty nastily on Sunday) handles a short week of recovery time.
SPREAD: Texans -4
PREDICTION: Texans 26, Colts 20
SEASON RECORD: 6-4 SU, 5-5 ATS