There's an old saying, when a fan base feels perpetually cursed, that the gods of whatever sport we are talking about "won't let us have nice things." Certainly, the last two or three years, that's how it's felt for fans of the Houston Texans. I feel comfortable now, in 2023, that the gods will let us have nice things. DeMeco Ryans, C.J. Stroud, they are nice!
After Sunday's 15-13 Texans loss to the previously winless Carolina Panthers, though, it's quite clear that, while the gods are letting us have nice things again, actually enjoying those nice things is going to be a week to week endeavor. This was our first time seeing DeMeco Ryans' team coming out of a bye week, and the results were disastrous.
The AFC is a mosh pit of very average teams right now. If the season ended today, the final two playoff spots would got to the 4-3 Browns and 4-3 Steelers. There are two other 4-3 teams that would miss the playoffs. Then, there's a sea of 3-win teams, about a half dozen in all. The Texans are one of them. A win Sunday would have kept them above the fray of AFC mediocrity. Instead, they arrived home Sunday night as one of the many faces of it.
There were winners and losers in yesterday's catastrophe in Charlotte. Here are a few of each:
4. Bryce Young
This was the big one coming into this game, and is the big one coming out of the game — this game was always going to be a referendum on the top two picks in last April's draft, Up until now, C.J. Stroud has had the much better season of the two. Bryce Young had the better Sunday of the two yesterday, in the box score (235 yards passing, 1 touchdown pass) and on the scoreboard. Young survived six sacks, and made all the necessary plays and throws on the final drive that led to the game winning field goal. The Texans punted the ball to the Panthers with over six minutes to go in regulation, and they never saw the ball again after that. Kudos to Young, who's had a rough rookie season, so far.
3. Tennessee Titans
Speaking of the 2023 rookie quarterback class, we know that Young and Stroud were duking it out on Sunday, and fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson is out for the year after shoulder surgery. Meanwhile in Tennessee on Sunday, second round pick Will Levis got his first career start, and he was fantastic in a 28-23 win over the Falcons. Levis went 19 -29 for 238 yards and four touchdown passes, three of them to DeAndre Hopkins. I don't know if this is an indicator that Stroud has company in the Rookie of the Year race, but it certainly makes the games between the Texans and Titans in December more interesting.
2. Cam Johnston
Yeah, ti was that kind of a game — the Texans' punter was one of the winners. Hey, if you were to ask me which Texan has the best case for being the best at their job versus their peers around the league, Johnston is the easy answer. On Sunday, he was used (far too) frequently, six times in all, and dropped four punts inside the opposing 20 yard line. His big punt was a 74-yard boomer that swung field position just before the half and likely kept the Panthers from being able to drive into field goal range.
1. Jonathan Greenard
The Texans came into the game on Sunday with the second best pressure rate, as a defense, in the NFL, meaning they had the second highest percentage of opposing pass attempts where they brought pressure. Unfortunately, that pressure had only translated into nine sacks, in all. On Sunday, they padded their numbers with six sacks in all, led by Jonathan Greenard, who had 2.5 sacks on the day, and now has six for the season. He is in a contract year, so if Greenard can stay healthy, it would appear he is lock for double digit sack totals.
4. Andrew Beck
For whatever reason, it felt like the Texans went back into the lab during the bye week, and Professor Bobby Slowik decided the adjustment was to inundate us with formation that included Beck. Hell, he carried the ball twice in goal line situations! Unfortunately, he got involved in the passing game as well, and his lazy ball security in the third quarter led to a fumble and three free points for Carolina's offense on a subsequent field goal. This much Beck was uninspiring.
3. Bobby Slowik
Hell, this much leaning on the team's janky running game was not only uninspiring, it was depressing. Sure, the Texans eclipsed the 100 yard mark in rushing yards (110 yards total), but it took 30 carries, and if you really go back and watch, their best runs were based on the pure individual effort of the backs. On each of their longest carries of the day, Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary were both hit in the backfield. Slowik really need to do some soul searching. His insistence on forcing the run game is putting his young quarterback in detrimental down and distance situations constantly.
2. Minnesota Vikings
In the NFL, it can ruin your day when your team loses. However, feel fortunate if all your team loses is a game. When your team loses its starting quarterback, it ruins your entire holiday season, and that's what happened with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, as their franchise QB Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in a win over Green Bay. The Vikings are 4-4, so they are in somewhat of a purgatory spot when it comes to playoff contention. Actually, there were rumors they might trade Cousins before Tuesday's trade deadline. Now, the question in "Will the Vikings trade for a quarterback to remain in playoff contention?" Expect Nick Caserio to get inquiries about Davis Mills and former Viking Case Keenum.
1. Other big mistakes
Back to Sunday's horrific Texans loss, which felt more like the Texans beating themselves than the Panthers beating the Texans. The Texans had ten penalties, including some really costly ones, the worst of which was a delay of game penalty on their final possession which pushed the Texans out of field goal range. C.J. Stroud took a horrible sack on first down toward the end of the first half that short circuited a potential chance at points before it even started. It was just a really bad day for a team that's looked so promising at times this season.
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