My plan for these "Five Underrated Plays" posts after Texans games has been to use them only when necessary, which in the NFL is a game that's played inside of single digits, where the butterfly effect of one good or bad play can set the tone, steer the game, or decide the outcome. My plan is to do these for Texan wins and losses that fit that bill.
Obviously, there was no need to do an autopsy on the loss to the Patriots a couple Thursdays ago. The post on that 27-0 debacle would've either been 10,000 words (sooooo much wrong) or two words ("THEY STUNK!"), depending on how you choose to approach it.
This past Sunday, however, I'll be honest, and I'm guessing many Texan fans feel the same way — the fact that we are doing a post on numerous twists and turning points in a home game with the lowly Titans is slightly discouraging. If the Texans bring the same game to Minnesota this Sunday that they brought this past Sunday for Tennessee, there will likely be no need for a "Five Underrated Plays" post next week. The Vikings will mop the floor with them.
For now, let's go back now and find five plays that helped tip the possession arrow toward the Houston Texans in their 27-20 win over Tennessee. Here we go...
1st quarter, 7:22 to go
HOUSTON 3rd and 5, HOU 25 yard line
PLAY: C.J. Fiedorowicz six-yard catch (followed by huge downfield play to Ryan Griffin)
Ok, these are actually two plays, not one, but dammit, when the tight ends get so damn involved early in this game, how can we not help but be excited enough to include C.J. Fiedorowicz AND Ryan Griffin in the mix? On the heels of his touchdown on the opening drive, this Fiedorowicz catch kept the chains moving and picked up a 15-yard horse collar penalty for good measure. Then came the explosive play down the field with Griffin for 45 yards, a smooth catch and run where DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller cleared out all the Titan clutter from the left side of the field and the inside linebackers were slow to adjust to Griffin's crossing route. That play drastically flipped field position and was a perfect microcosm of the play calling and execution zone that Bill O'Brien and the offense were in early in the game. Two plays later, Brock Osweiler would hit Fuller for an easy five-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-0. On that six-play, 80-yard drive, Brock Osweiler used four different receivers mixed in with two Lamar Miller runs. The perfect drive.
2nd quarter, 13:47 to go
HOUSTON 4th and 23, TEN 40 yard line
PLAY: Tennessee penalty for too many men on the field
On their third drive of the game, the Texans were once again moving the ball pretty easily on the Titans' defense. Then at about the fringe of field goal range, they bogged down, and on a 3rd and 13 at the Titans 30 yard line, Osweiler made one of those subtle mistakes that you just can't make (especially, say, on the road against the Vikings), taking an intentional grounding penalty that moved the ball back to the 40 yard line. The Texans sent in their punt team, but in the first of two horrific special teams gaffes, the Titans had 12 men on the field, a five-yard penalty which moved the ball to the 35 yard line, just inside Nick Novak's field goal range. A few moments later, Novak punched a three wood through the uprights that would have been good from about 60 yards to keep the Texans three for three on getting points on drives in the first half, and providing an answer to the first Titan points of the game.
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2nd quarter, 0:15 to go
HOUSTON 4th and 6, TEN 40 yard line
PLAY: Pass interference on Perrish Cox against DeAndre Hopkins
At the end of the first half, there was a sequence that, to anybody watching in the stadium, looked like Bill O'Brien was having another one of his end of half brain farts, as the Texans (who had a timeout left), on 4th and 1 at the Titans's 35 yard line, watched the game clock tick down from 35 seconds remaining to 15 seconds remaining for no good reason, before calling timeout. As it turned out, the field judge had told O'Brien the clock would stop for a measurement — a measurement that never came. The field judge was basically a big, fat liar! So then the Texans were late getting the field goal unit out there, and took a delay of game which pushed them into 4th and 6 at the Titan 40 yard line, so O'Brien decided to go for the first down. Thankfully, on one of the only successful targets of DeAndre Hopkins, Titans CB Perrish Cox committed pass interference at the 27 yard line, and the Texans were able to come away with a Novak 45-yard field goal to go up 20-17 at halftime. God bless the Titans!
3rd quarter, 7:11 to go
TENNESSEE 3rd and goal, HOU 8 yard line
PLAY: A.J. Bouye pass defended in end zone covering TE Delanie Walker
In this sequence, the Titans were at the end of a 13-play drive that began at their own 33 yard line, a methodical march in which Marcus Mariota had completed two passes of 22 and 20 yards to Richard Matthews and Andre Johnson on third downs. On this particular third down, the Titans had third and goal at the Texans' eight yard line when Mariota threw a pass in the back right corner of the end zone for TE Delanie Walker that was batted away by CB A.J. Bouye. It was one of a handful of stellar plays in coverage for Bouye, who had his best day as a pro, which is saying something, because he's been outstanding this season so far. That play in particular kept the Titans from taking their first lead, which would have put unwanted game pressure on a Texans offense that was stalled for the entire second half of that football game.
3rd quarter, 1:12 remaining
TENNESSEE 4th and 10, TEN 22 yard line
PLAY: Akeem Dent and Alfred Blue key blocks on Will Fuller's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown
While it's silly to call Fuller's punt return that provided the winning margin "underrated," there were subtle, underrated things done on that pay to sprung Fuller for his easy stroll into the end zone. The first was whatever the Texans saw on film that made them decide to put Fuller out there. What a call by the coaching staff. Next, Fuller got a great seal block by Akeem Dent to wall off the crease that he ran through to get past the wave of Titan coverage guys. Finally, Alfred Blue's hustle to get out in front of Fuller and shield off the punter and one other "last gasp" tackler was great teamwork. The whole play was perfection. Hell, it was all so good for the Texans that the Titans fired poor Bobby April, their special teams coach, the next day.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.