There will be no long preamble here. The Texans showed up Monday night for a prime time game (finally!), a game they had a great chance of winning. However, in the end, a sea of officiating mistakes, game management errors from their head coach, and missed tackles in the fourth quarter did them in.
FINAL SCORE: Raiders 27, Texans 20
I didn't get home from doing the post-game show on Texans Radio until 2:30 in the morning, so I'm spent. Let's get right to it...
4. Jadeveon Clowney
With J.J. Watt out for the season, as well as Kevin Johnson, it's not a stretch to say that Clowney has been Houston's defensive MVP. And last night, the nation got to see how impactful he has been in defending the run. The Raiders ran the ball for just 30 yards on 20 plays, and a lot of that ineffectiveness was caused by No. 90. He was an absolute beast defending the run. Clowney was also fairly active in getting into the pocket on Raider passing plays, but his biggest problem now is that he doesn't finish any of those plays. It's like he's able to shove his blocker backwards into the pocket, but once they're both in the pocket, Clowney still can't get off the block and/or gets steered easily out of the way of the quarterback. It will be interesting to see a) if Clowney is able to add some moves this coming offseason to get off blocks and finish pass rushes, or b) worst case, if he's not, what impact Clowney's disruptiveness has for a healthy J.J. Watt, and vice versa. What will things look like for Clowney when he's not the opposition's No. 1 target in the front seven?
3. Brock Osweiler
Skeptical Texans fans are going to hate my putting Osweiler here. However, I do so with some degree of context and relativity. I'm not saying Osweiler was great, by any means, last night. He threw another bad interception, and could have had two more if the Raiders had held onto the football. However, Brock did complete 67 percent of his passes, and when the game was rolling sideways on the Texans a couple of times, he did put drives together that ended in points. When he was hit with a little game adversity (and green lasers), he responded, and he did so on the road, at night, against a good opponent. He even had a couple of scrambles for some tough yards. Hey, Osweiler still has a few plays in which he looks like a high schooler, and the cadre of throws he can make is still limited to north-south fastballs for the most part, but this was a small glimmer of hope, in a season that has been largely hopeless for the Texans' $37 Million (GUARANTEED) Man.
2. Lamar Miller
As sketchy as the Osweiler signing still looks, the Miller signing has been the complete opposite. Lamar Miller has been everything the Texans signed up for — especially now that he's making some explosive plays — and more. The most pleasant surprise has been Miller's willingness and proficiency in grinding out tough yards. A lot of these clock-eating drives are built on the back of Miller's making tough runs of four or five yards to set up manageable third downs. He was tremendous last night (104 yards rushing), and he's been great this season, arguably the Texans' team MVP.
1. Elevation (maybe?)
All season long, the Texans' defense has been, statistically, one of the better ones in the NFL, which is remarkable when you consider that a) they don't sack the quarterback all that often, and b) they are one of the least proficient units in generating turnovers. What they have been is very solid in tackling. They don't give up a ton of big plays or yards after the catch. So when they give up a 75-yard touchdown to a fullback (good try, good effort, Andre Hal), and then two 35+ yard catch-and-runs on the final Raider touchdown, it's jarring to look at. The assumption is that this was the nearly 8,000-foot elevation rearing its ugly head, but the Texans defense had hardly been on the field at all (13 plays), compared to their Raider counterparts (25 plays) when Jamize Olawale caught that touchdown pass. Ultimately, it was probably poor angles and poor execution as much as it was a lack of oxygen, but the Texans defense looked spent on those final two Raider touchdowns, as well as the eight-play Raider drive to close out the game.
4. Tyler Ervin (and the Class of 2016)
This Texans rookie class, which was looking so promising on paper and, to some degree, on the field to start the season, has either hit a wall or just isn't as good as we suspected. Will Fuller hasn't made an impact on a game since the Titans in Week 4. Braxton Miller finally made some plays last night. Nick Martin, we'll see when he gets healthy. And then there's Tyler Ervin, who was basically gifted the kickoff and punt return specialist's job in the preseason, and aside from one long return last week in Jacksonville, he's been a big nothing. Of course, "nothing" would be an improvement over being a huge "minus," which is what he becomes when he makes plays like this...
Houston is down 10-3. It could be worse! pic.twitter.com/QdmHQZOGA0— Deadspin (@Deadspin) November 22, 2016
If you're keeping track at home, then you know that this is Ervin's second monstrous fumble in the return game in three prime time appearances. (He had one that put a nail in the Texans coffin at New England, too.) Quite simply, Ervin can't be on the field for the Texans right now. He obviously isn't ready to contribute offensively, or else he'd be getting Akeem Hunt's snaps in a game like last night. And he's singlehandedly giving games away with plays like the ones above. Time will tell if Ervin (and the rest of the rookies, for that matter) becomes something substantial for this team, but the possession arrow is pointed in the wrong direction right now.
3. Kirk Cousins
We take a quick break from the Texans and Brock Osweiler to acknowledge another 9-7, one-and-done, 2015 division winner with an unlikely $18 million-per-year quarterback — the Washington Redskins. The main difference between the Redskins and the Texans is that their quarterback is actually somewhat equipped to throw for more than 300 yards when his team needs him to do so. Kirk Cousins was amazing (21-30, 375 yards, 3 TD, 94.7 QBR) on Sunday night against the Packers, and that's good news for him, because when you're playing under a one-year franchise tag, every game is an audition for your next big deal. Of course, Cousins, being the savvy businessman that he is, is wisely going to check with the man who will dole out a long-term deal this offseason, Redskins GM Scot McCloughan, and make sure that McCloughan appreciates his effort in a big Sunday night game by asking him "HOW YA LIKE ME NOW?!?!....HUH!!"
Nice little hair tussle at the end. If there's something that team executives LOVE more than anything else, it's getting their hair mussed up like a second grader for all the Internet to see. They LOVE that. Keep doing you, Kirk...
Yes, very much so, Kirk... we like that... WE LIKE THAT!!
2. Laser pointer guy
Um, seriously, Mexico... what the hell?
1. Bill O'Brien, game mangler
This is getting old, man. Every game, when it comes time to break down the tactical, game management decisions made by Bill O'Brien, I feel like I'm calling the same kid into the principal's office for the same transgressions on the playground. Oh, Billy Boy, how many ways did you butcher this game...let us count up the ways:
PLAY: 3rd and 2 at HOU 45
(4:48 — 1st) (Shotgun) Direct snap to B. Miller. B. Miller right tackle to HST 46 for one yard (K. Mack). Officials to measure for 1st down — Short
On this play, Braxton Miller clearly landed on Khalil Mack as he was being tackled, not the ground, and rolled a good yard in front of the first down marker. (This was just the next one in a long line of butchered spots and administrative gaffes by these officials.) A simple O'Brien challenge here likely keeps the drive, and the Texans' early momentum (they led 3-0 at the time) going. Instead, O'Brien punts it away on 4th and 1 at the Houston 46 yard line.
RAIDER RESPONSE: Eight-play, 79-yard TD drive in 4:35 to take a 7-3 lead.
PLAY: 3rd and 1 at OAK 11
(11:00 — 4th) B. Osweiler pass incomplete short right to L. Miller
At this point in the game, the Texans were about six minutes into a drive that could have put them up by two scores, and facing a 3rd and 1, and with Lamar Miller having 84 yards on 19 carries to this point, O'Brien and George Godsey decided it was a good idea to roll Osweiler out of the pocket and throw the ball...on 3rd and 1. The play was a mess, and O'Brien again stayed conservative on 4th down and kicked the field goal to go up 20-13.
RAIDER RESPONSE: One-play, 75-yard TD drive to tie the game at 20-20.
PLAY: 3rd and 2 at OAK 16
(6:56 — 4th) (No Huddle) L. Miller left end pushed out of bounds at OAK 15 for 1 yard (M.Smith). Officials to measure for the 1st down — short.
This was the first of two butchered spots by officials on this series. Like "this crew should be removed from any playoff consideration"-level butchering. That said, O'Brien had all of his replay challenges available. A simple look from somebody — ANYBODY — in Texans gear upstairs in the booth would see that Lamar Miller clearly picked up the first down. And while challenging an official's marking of the spot can be a dicey deal, Miller went out of bounds right next to the first down marker. This one was easy — you challenge it, if you're O'Brien. However, instead of challenging the spot, O'Brien went for it on 4th down with diminutive Akeem Hunt (who finished with -2 yards on five carries...not a fake stat) as the ball carrier, needing a tough yard, and the Texans got jobbed on the spot again. This time O'Brien challenges on a much harder spot to challenge with the play ending in the middle of the field, not near the first down marker on the sideline, and the crappy spot was upheld. This whole series summed up the "random number generator" nature of O'Brien's decision process. No rhyme, no reason, no results.
RAIDER RESPONSE: Five-play, 85-yard TD drive in 1:32 to take a 27-20 lead.
PLAY: 4th and 5 at HOU 44
(3:02 — 4th) S. Lechler punts 51 yards to OAK 5, Center-J. Weeks. T. Carrie to OAK 20 for 15 yards (D. Jones)
With one timeout left and the two-minute warning, O'Brien chose to punt the ball away to a Raiders offense that had just generated 160 yards (and 14 points) on its previous SIX plays, six plays in which the Texans defense missed about 100 tackles and looked spent. There was zero chance the Texans were seeing the ball again after this punt.
RAIDER RESPONSE: The Texans never saw the ball again...the Raiders ran eight plays, picked up two first downs, and the game was over.
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Hey look, I get that an NFL sideline is not a normal workplace, and that it's hectic, with tons of micro-decisions being made every minute by the head coach. However, other teams don't seem to deal with this stuff nearly as much as the Texans do with O'Brien. What's the Texans' system for this stuff? Who is calculating these probabilities, and informing O'Brien of what he should do? Is ANYBODY doing that, and if so, is that person awake?
O'Brien frequently reminds the media what a hardworking group of players this is, and I have zero doubt that's the case. Football is hard. These guys are giving up their future physical well-being to win games. Is it too much to ask for their head coach to make simple decisions that maximize their chances of success, and make all the sacrifice worth it?
(And I didn't even mention the aborted pass to Duane Brown on 1st and goal at the 1 yard line that turned into an Osweiler catch of his own batted pass for a six-yard loss, Bill...or I guess, now I did.)
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.