When the betting action on NFL Week 10 opened early last week, the Texans-Jaguars game in Jacksonville Sunday afternoon opened as a PICK ’EM in most Las Vegas sports books. The line immediately moved to Texans -1.5, but then, in an odd and somewhat ominous move (for Texans backers), the line slowly moved to Jaguars -2.5 over the next few days. Despite Houston's 5-3 record and the Jags' being one of the worst teams in all of football, the line remained there right up until kickoff.
After a 24-21 Texans win Sunday, a game in which the Texans basically manhandled the Jaguars in the trenches on both sides of the ball, particularly in the second half, I still need someone to explain to me why the Jaguars were the favorites at kickoff on Sunday. I mean, I presume Vegas DID realize that Blake Bortles was still alive and employed heading into the game.
The betting line on the game will remain an unsolved mystery. Just know that if you followed my picks this weekend, you reaped the benefit of my now 7-1-1 record against the spread picking Texans games this season, an unprecedented success level for me picking Texan games.
I'm not sure what it says that it's this 2016 iteration of Texans football with which I'm most in tune, but it is what it is. Let's examine the winners and losers from yesterday's game...
4. Houston's run defense
The Texans entered Sunday's game with the No. 28 run defense according to Football Outsiders, but the good news was the Jaguars had the No. 30-rated run offense, so it was a chance to gain a little confidence, if you're the Texans. Despite the absence of nose tackle Vince Wilfork, that's exactly what happened. With a combination of D.J. Reader and Antonio Smith filling in for Wilfork, and with the linebacking corps as active as they've been all season, the Texans held the Jags to just 80 yards on 22 carries, with a long run of 13 yards. The Texans' defensive line got a great push all day, and even the Jaguar runs that looked productive on the stat sheet usually came with some level of contact at or behind the line of scrimmage. Perhaps this will carry over in some way to this coming Monday against the Raiders (3rd-rated run offense via DVOA).
3. Akeem Hunt
Hunt was called up to the active roster late in the week (Saturday, to be exact), when it was determined that Jonathan Grimes would miss Sunday's game with an injury. Forced into an even bigger role by in-game dings to Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, Hunt provided a far bigger spark than Grimes could think of giving the Texans, with 8 carries for 52 yards, including a 17-yard run on a 3rd and 16 draw play. Hunt was a highly productive player in the preseason, yet still wound up on the practice squad. I think the only Houstonians who didn't want Hunt on the 53-man roster back in September were people who happen to make roster decisions for the Texans. It will be interesting to see if he retains his role with the team next week, or if Grimes will be active again.
2. "Invisible" yards
The final total yardage count for both teams — Texans 273, Jaguars 327. So how did the Texans win this game? Well, a big part of their success came in that they finally racked up what I call "invisible" yards, yards that don't show up in the box score, but drastically affect field position and the scoreboard. These yards have been hard to come by for a team who've been a mess on special teams and can't force turnovers to save their lives. The biggest "invisible yard" plays for the Texans on Sunday: Kareem Jackson's 42-yard interception return for a touchdown and Tyler Ervin's 57-yard punt return to set up Stephen Anderson's touchdown reception one play later.
1. "Last two minutes" Brock
We will get to the harsh critique of Osweiler in a moment, but first, the praise, and yes, despite quarterback rating numbers that would embarrass even the Hoyer-est of Fitzys, there are things for which to praise Brock Osweiler. When a quarterback is the steward of a 6-3 record, he's done a few things right. (Granted, with Brock, it's been VERY few, but still...) For Osweiler, with six wins that have all been by one score — save the opener against Chicago, which was a nine-point win — he has had to a) make important throws down the stretch and/or b) get the Texans into the correct plays to help run the ball and drain the clock. On Sunday, it was pretty easy to pick out the situational play Osweiler will point back to in this game — a 10-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins on 3rd and 5 to seal the win.
4. "Rest of the game" Brock
Now, about the rest of the game for Osweiler. The one positive is that he minimized negative plays, with no interceptions (cause for celebration!) and just one sack taken. However, there is no way the Texans can win any of the next four games against elite quarterbacks — Carr, Rivers, Rodgers, Luck — with Osweiler going 14 of 27 for less than 100 yards, as he did on Sunday. Beyond the wretched completion percentage and paltry yardage total, aesthetically, it appears as though Osweiler is trying to throw every pass through a brick wall. He is zinging fastballs even in situations that require a change-up, and frankly, it looks like the number of figurative "clubs in his arm talent golf bag" is very limited. Also, his lack of chemistry and connection with Hopkins over the course of a 60-minute game is still a major issue. Maybe Sunday wasn't a totally fair game in which to expect a statistical breakout. The Jaguars defend the pass pretty well (No. 12 in pass defense) DVOA) and Will Fuller's absence changes the dynamic of the passing game more significantly than his numbers might indicate. But more than 100 yards passing isn't too much to ask for.
3. Bill O'Brien's game management
At this point, I'm not really sure what to say about this facet of O'Brien's coaching chops. Oftentimes, the glitches I am shedding light on are not ultimately game changers, but they're totally preventable, and, more important, they COULD be game changers if they occur in a different game or result in a different outcome. Concerning yesterday's game, I'm referring to the last two plays of the game, in which the Texans ran two handoffs to Lamar Miller in the final 1:10 of regulation. It doesn't SEEM like a big deal, two innocuous, largely inconsequential running plays. However, with the Jags out of timeouts, all the Texans needed to do was take a knee on both of those plays and the game was over. Instead, they're running REAL running plays, with ACTUAL handoffs, and, more important, REAL tackling and REAL defenders pawing at the football. What if Miller fumbles on one of those plays? The Jags would essentially have a room-service field goal to tie the game, plus a couple of shots into the end zone for the win. Why would O'Brien hand the ball off there, and, perhaps more important, why would NOBODY on the Texans sideline say, "Hey, Coach, we don't need to pound Lamar between the tackles. We just need Brock to kneel twice." The whole thing was bizarre and reckless.
2. Lamar Miller fantasy owners
Texans fans and fantasy owners of Lamar Miller have been waiting all season for the fifth-year running back to have an explosive play like the 45-yard run he broke off in the first quarter on Sunday. However, even on that play, Miller was tackled at the one yard line, allowing the four or five Ryan Griffin owners nationwide to celebrate his touchdown reception a couple of plays later. (NOTE: The overall takeaway from Sunday, though, is that Miller has been much more explosive over the last six games after an initial three weeks of the season where he was under four yards per carry in each game. Also, his usage is optimal right where it's been the past three games — 11, 17 and 15 carries.)
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