For the past two seasons, during the Bill O'Brien era, the Houston Texans entered the regular season with a bunch of unknowns on the offensive side of the ball, largely because of injuries and uneven quarterback play. The one thing they could count on was knowing they'd get an All-World effort from J.J. Watt on the defensive side of the ball.
On Sunday, it was a case of role reversal. Despite numerous new pieces, including a new starting quarterback, the Texans gave us a fairly good glimpse of what to expect offensively, with Brock Osweiler showing an advanced knowledge of O'Brien's complex playbook in the second and third weeks of the preseason. In short, we kind of knew what to expect. Defensively, though, J.J. Watt was coming off of back surgery with zero snaps taken in the preseason, so who knew what to expect from him?
In the end, the Texans gave us answers to several of the burning questions on both sides of the ball in a methodical 23-14 win over the Chicago Bears, a game in which the only really good things to happen for the Bears came largely off of self-inflicted Texans wounds.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers of the Texans' 1-0 start to the 2016 season...
4. Will Fuller
When he dropped what would have been, at the very least, a deep play down the field (and possibly an 80+ yard touchdown pass) with a little under two minutes left in the half, it was hard to envision the Texans rookie WR's winding up on this "winners" side of the ledger, especially when you consider that his drop led to the Bears' getting the ball back and getting seven points to lead 14-10 at the half. However, Fuller was huge in the second half of yesterday's game, finishing with five catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. It was his last three catches, all on third down, that made a statement, including his 18-yard catch and run for the go-ahead score. Fuller has quickly given the Texans a second weapon in the passing game, along with DeAndre Hopkins, that requires attention from more than one defender. This could get fun.
3. Jadeveon Clowney
I think this is the first time we can say this — Jadeveon Clowney, from beginning to end yesterday, played a game commensurate with being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. That never happened in the four games he played his rookie year, nor in the 13 games he played last season, although he occasionally flashed in his second year. Even his one multi-sack game in 2015, the loss to the Patriots, came in a blowout, so no one really noticed. On Sunday, the Texans lined Clowney up a ton with his hand in the dirt, showing perhaps that the attempt to make him a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker has been scrapped (thank God), and Romeo Crennel is just going to ask Clowney to do what he does well — collapse pockets and torment quarterbacks. On Sunday, he did just that — one sack, two tackles for loss and three QB hits.
2. Special teams
Eddie Royal had a 31-yard punt return on the Bears' first return of any type in the first quarter. Fortunately, despite the advantageous field position, the Bears were unable to score on that drive. After that, the Texans allowed nothing in the return game, giving up just 103 yards on five kickoff returns and just nine yards on three subsequent punt returns. Charles James was huge as a gunner, making two tackles and coming close enough other times to allow teammates to finish plays. From the second quarter on, the Bears' average starting field position was their own 22 yard line, a far cry from the beginning of last season when, via turnovers and poor kick coverage, the Texans were routinely allowing opponents to start around their 35 or 40 yard line on average.
1. Brock Osweiler
It was overall a solid debut for the most scrutinized quarterback in the league, but it didn't start off very auspiciously. As with Brian Hoyer in 2015, Osweiler's first drive ended in an interception on a poor throw to DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had a chance to wrestle the ball away from the defender, but the throw was definitely behind the Texans Pro Bowl WR. After that, Osweiler was solid the rest of the way, keeping the Texans on schedule for most of the day, converting 12 of 20 third downs and checking the Texans into an audible on the go-ahead touchdown to Fuller based on a look they saw on film. Overall, Osweiler was 22 of 35 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Projected over a season, that's 3,696 yards, 32 touchdowns and 16 picks. That'd be worth $18 million, in my opinion. Unfortunately...
4. Pro Football Talk
...there are contrary opinions, which is fine when they are based in solid, thoughtful analysis. When they appear to be written by a junior high student who stole a blogger's laptop, well, that's an issue. Pro Football Talk, for better or worse, is a respected outlet for NFL news and analysis. That's what makes it so hard to fathom the site's posting this piece by Michael David Smith on Osweiler's debut, which includes hard-hitting analysis like this:
Osweiler’s two touchdown passes were a great diving catch in the end zone by Hopkins and later a nifty catch-and-run by Fuller. Osweiler, who threw an interception on his first drive, generally had his numbers inflated by the strong play of his receivers.
Sorry, I didn't realize that we could only prop up quarterbacks whose receivers played lousy games. Also, Smith fails to mention anywhere in his piece:
a. Fuller's drop, which in theory left 83 yards and a touchdown on the table
b. Osweiler's stats on the day, which again project to 3,700 yards and more than 30 touchdowns on the season
c. Osweiler's skippering a team that converted 60 percent of its 20 third downs
This was just a bad piece, which frankly offended me more as a semi-intelligent sports fan than it did as a Texans fan. Try again, Smith.
3. Uniform statements
Over the weekend, we got this post from The Big Lead, discussing Titans linebacker Avery Williamson's desire to wear 9/11-themed cleats on Sunday to raise money for charity and the league's preventing him from doing so. TBL's Stephen Douglas wrote:
Williamson is still auctioning off the cleats, even if they won’t be game-worn. (Bidding is already up to $3,000.) He’s also auctioning a meet and greet, tickets to a Titans game and an autographed jersey. So in the end, maybe he’ll end up raising more money and the NFL doesn’t get to hand out a fine. Still, what a lame move by the league. They didn’t do this to help him raise more awareness for the charity – which they did – they did this because those shoes don’t look like the rest of the shoes.
This is one particular area where I've started to come around to the league's way of thinking (and I honestly don't know how to feel about that). If it allows for one deviation from the norm on uniforms for charity's sake, basically Pandora's box is then opened, and eventually there would be a deviation the NFL would have to say "no" to, and then out comes the outrage! At this point, complaining about it, whether you agree or not, is like complaining about humidity in Houston. It is what it is, it's not changing, so what's the point in complaining about it?
2. Brian Cushing
If you're looking for one thing to be sick about after Sunday's win, look no further than Brian Cushing. Courtesy of NFL.com:
Texans linebacker Brian Cushing didn't make it through the first quarter before suffering a major injury. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Cushing suffered a torn MCL, per a source informed of the injury. Cushing won't require surgery but will miss six weeks. Cushing has suffered a myriad of injuries over the course of his NFL career, including a broken fibula and torn LCL back in 2013.
There's no good time for something like this, for the Texans or Cushing personally. The Texans will now try to make do with Max Bullough at Cushing's inside linebacker spot. Bigger picture, this makes Cushing's future with the team a little murkier, as he is set to have a cap figure of nearly $10 million next season.
1. The rest of the AFC South
So the Titans gave up two defensive touchdowns to a team quarterbacked by Shaun Hill to lose 25-16, the Jags couldn't close at home against the Packers (a 27-23 loss), and the Colts choked away a late 35-34 lead by giving up a field goal off a drive in which the Lions got the ball back with 37 seconds left in the game. So as of right now, the AFC South standings look like this:
Houston Texans ..................... 1-0
Screw You, Andrew Luck .. 0-1
Jacksonville LOL .................. 0-1
Tennessee Team Stealers .... 0-1
This has happened one other time in team history in Week 1 — 2012, the greatest season in Texans franchise history.
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