The Texans went into Sunday's game against the 5-2 Philadelphia Eagles knowing they would be without middle linebacker Brian Cushing, who remains out with a knee injury, and rookie outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, unluckily (according to Coach Bill O'Brien) out with the flu. Had someone told them the Eagles would lose former Texan Demeco Ryans to a torn achilles that will end his season, quarterback Nick Foles to a broken collar bone that will cost him at least a month and starting guard Todd Herremans, my guess is they would think the playing field would be somewhat leveled in their favor, especially considering the backup QB in Philly is Mark Sanchez.
That was, of course, until the home team lost both starting corner backs in the first couple series of the game (Jonathan Joseph to a concussion and Kareem Jackson to a knee injury) and Arian Foster in the third quarter to a strained groin.
As the training tables underneath the stands at NRG Stadium started filling up, so did the scoreboard on the visitor side as the Eagles pulled away from the Texans and their inept offensive performance despite coughing the ball up four times to the home team and only taking the ball away once.
Defensively, the Texans simply couldn't stop the deep throws from any Philadelphia quarterback or the run by either of the Eagles' two backs. On offense, the Texans only made two trips into the red zone the entire day and needed a defensive touchdown on an interception by A.J. Bouye and a miracle turnover that wasn't in their own red zone to squeak out 21 points.
It was a pretty miserable performance all around on Battle Red Day inside NRG. Fortunately, they have a couple weeks to figure it out before going to Cleveland to face the surprising Browns, who, despite multiple predictions before the season started, will not be running rookie QB Johnny "Football" Manziel out there.
Offensive Game Balls
DeAndre Hopkins Perhaps the lone bright spot on the Texans offense Sunday was "Nuke" Hopkins, who brought down 6 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He is rapidly evolving from Andre Johnson's understudy to the starring role. Johnson struggled on Sunday while Hopkins excelled. We may be witnessing a metaphorical passing of the torch this season among the wide receivers.
Defensive Game Balls
Whitney Mercilus Mercilus, a guy whose face could only be found on the back of a milk carton through the first few weeks of the season, turned in a fantastic performance on Sunday with 5 tackles including 2 of those for a loss, 2 sacks and two quarterback hits. That's four sacks in his last two games compared to zero over his first six. Maybe the light finally went off for the former first rounder or maybe the continuing injury/illness for Clowney gave Mercilus the chance he needed. Whatever it is, it is working.
Jumal Rolle Nevermind if fans knew the kid who came up with two interceptions on Sunday was, I'm betting there were people in the press box hurriedly searching the web for Rolle's name. Rolle was pressed into action when Jackson and Joseph went down. Though he and his secondary teammates gave up some big plays and struggled to contain the run, they did grab three interceptions, which is unbelievable considering those came from a rookie and a guy who was signed off another team's practice squad just a few weeks ago.
Medical Staffs for Both Teams With players dropping like flies, both teams had medical staffs stretched thin. The Eagles appeared to have suffered the worst of it, but both teams had to shift their triage teams into overdrive on Sunday.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Hard to imagine the Texans can justify staying with Fitzpatrick much longer. I personally haven't been calling for his job given the fact that his two backups are a rookie and a guy the Patriots gave up for a conditional seventh round pick, but it is clear that Fitzpatrick is out of his depth as a starter. My guess is the team sticks with him for a couple more games until the playoffs are completely out of reach. Then fans will finally get to see their QB of the future is not on the roster. But, on Sunday, I'm sure many of them would have taken anyone over the Texans' starter.
What Should Stay the Same
The Texans give up way too many plays on defense, but they make a ton of them as well. They forced three turnovers (the fourth was a bizarre play by the offense -- see below) and sacked Nick Foles four times. Unfortunately, that performance was wasted by an ineffective offense. If they can figure out how to limit giving up big plays and avoid third down conversions, they could be a force on that side of the ball. As it is, the defense is what is keeping them in games, including Sunday when they were responsible for one of the touchdowns.
What Needs to Improve
There's no way to sugarcoat the fact that the Texans are a train wreck on offense. The offensive line is poor in pass protection and, for the first time this season, looked equally bad against the run on Sunday. They are getting absolutely nothing out of their tight ends and little help from receivers that don't have "Dre" in their names. If Arian Foster misses any significant time with his groin injury, Fitzpatrick may be forced to throw the ball even more, something no one wants to see.
It would be easy to mention Rolle here again, but since he got a game ball, I'll give this to A.J. Bouye. He had a touchdown return on an interception and, on the whole, filled in admirably for Joseph and Jackson. The Texans secondary was reduced to rookies and also rans, but Bouye is proving he belongs on the field with the first team.
The Texans did appear ready for the up-tempo Chip Kelly-powered Eagles offense even if they did rack up nearly 500 yards. But, the offense, which is the direct charge of O'Brien, was pathetic yet again and they continue to commit awful, drive-killing penalties including many of the pre-snap variety. Simply inexcusable at this point in the season.
After a really poor performance Sunday, the calls for Ryan Mallet will grow even stronger. Fitzy simply cannot make the throws necessary to have consistent success in the NFL. The guy is tough and elusive in the pocket, but he is starting to cost the team games and that can't go on forever. Unfortunately, the team really has no one they can legitimately call a future quarterback on the roster, so calls for Mallet are mostly out of desperation. A couple more losses like Sunday and desperation might be all they have left.
Media Moment of the Game
When two wide receivers run into each other on a route, it's definitely going viral. My guess is Keyshawn Martin is at fault here, but who knows? Whatever the case, it made for a few entertaining comedy moments during the broadcast.
Something You Probably Won't See Again for a Long Time
In the fourth quarter, one of the most bizarre plays you'll ever see unfolded in the Texans red zone. Fitzpatrick, under pressure, floated a pass that was picked off by Demeco Ryans, who managed to fall down without being touched. The ball was dislodged by the ground, which is considered a fumble so long as no one touches the player with the ball before he hits the ground. Hopkins recovered the ball and the Texans were turned over and "forced" a turnover on the same play, all within their own 10 yard line.
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Play of the Day
In the second quarter, Foster demonstrated why he is the most valuable offensive player for the Texans when he ran a wheel route and beat former Texan Connor Barwin for a 58-yard touchdown. As the Fox announcers pointed out, Foster had mostly caught his passes on check downs, but he has expanded his game to include serious route running like this beauty on Sunday.
Thank heavens for small favors. The Texans take their walking wounded into a bye week this week before heading to Cleveland to face the surging Browns the following Sunday.