They knew that the recipe for victory was to blitz the quarterback. Get him moving his feet a little bit, rattle him, and he would eventually make backbreaking mistakes. This was the way.
Blitz him, blitz him and blitz him some more. So that's exactly what they did. And it worked.
Of course, I'm talking about the Texans blitzing the ever-loving hell out of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. Oh, what's that? You thought I was talking about the Ravens themselves bringing everything but the kitchen sink on Case Keenum in his first start of the season?
Well, they tried. But unlike last season, in which Keenum was winless in all eight of his starts, the former U of H signal caller was simply better equipped this time around.
Better game plan, better supporting cast and a healthy Arian Foster.
And when it was all said and done, the Texans saved their 2014 season for one more week, defeating the Ravens 25-13 in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate. Certainly, if Keenum's career as a starter in Houston extends beyond next week, he will need to be better in the red zone (1 touchdown in 7 trips) and on third down (7 for 21).
But considering he was sitting in a deer lease when he got the call from the Texans a week ago, being one of 15 winning quarterbacks so far this weekend has to be a thrill for Keenum. You can tell it means something to him.
Let's explore further, citing winners and losers along the way, shall we?
4. Case Keenum Statistically, it was not a great game for Keenum. He completed under 50 percent of his passes (20 for 42) and unlike in other games last season (like the New England game), he didn't make up for the low completion percentage with big shots down the field. He only threw for 185 yards. But he got into a rhythm early, thanks in part to a deep shot on the first play from scrimmage to Andre Johnson for 35 yards, and he recovered from his only really bad mistake of the day, an interception on the second series. There's a lot he can do better, but he didn't take any of his trademarked "10+ yard sacks" and the team seemed to respond to his field generalship. To be clear, quarterback is still obviously a major need for this team, but when the fourth guy you're using this season is a contributing factor to a win over a 9-5 team, that's a high positive and a great reflection on....
3. Bill O' Brien I don't think it can be understated what a tremendous job O'Brien has done a) making his team believe in the game plan, b) getting them to play hard for 60 minutes every week, and c) coaxing wins from three different starting quarterbacks in a six week period during which they've gone 4-2. Over the aggregate, he's coached a team that was 2-14 last season to a likely 9-7 record while getting literally nothing from the number one overall pick in the draft (or the 33rd overall, or the 83rd overall, or the....). The motivational and leadership positives have far outweighed the in-game strategy negatives (there've been a few of those), and Texan fans should feel good about this head coach heading into the offseason.
2. Romeo Crennel This is really an acknowledgment of the last two weeks of defense this team has played. They've had their moments this season, but the performance against two of the better quarterbacks in the league yesterday and last Sunday has been nothing short of remarkable. In the last two games, they've held Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco to 38 completions in 84 attempts (45.2 percent), and on Sunday they held the Ravens to 33 yards rushing on 16 carries, effectively chopping the head off of the snake that is Gary Kubiak's offensive system. No running game means no play action, which means nothing deceptive to keep the Texans honest. Jared Crick, Kareem Jackson, and the secondary as a whole all had their best games of the season. Also, Brian Cushing looked the part once again, even if the stat sheet says he only had two tackles. Crennel is earning whatever this team is paying him, and then some.
1. Ticket brokers So now Week 17 matters here, and what everyone assumed would be a friends-family-and-cheap-stocking-stuffer-ticket game when the texans were 4-5 is now one of three games that will decide the final spot in the AFC playoff race. If Kansas City (-3) beats San Diego, Cleveland (+9.5) beats the Ravens, and the Texans (-9.5) beat the Jags, the Texans will be playing postseason football in January. Clearly, the most stress inducing of all of those elements is the portion that's been farmed out to the Browns. The good news may be, though, that....
4. Johnny Football's hammy ....that hammy might be tweaked to the point where Brian Hoyer has to play on Sunday. DOn't get me wrong, Hoyer has been awful when he's played these last couple months, but Manziel is a hot mess. Hoyer, at least, can game manage the ever loving shit out of an ugly 16-14 win. Manziel is a four turnover tsunami of sadness waiting to happen.
Johnny Manziel injured his hamstring today vs the Panthers and his return is questionable. pic.twitter.com/R6UNJA2CxB
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 21, 2014
3. Joe Flacco Hell, if Flacco plays this coming Sunday the way he did yesterday, the Browns will win by double digits. Flacco was rattled from jump, completing only three of his first eighteen attempts, and not getting a first down until early in the second quarter. I still contend that his postseason run in January 2013 will be ultimately be looked on as one of the modern sports miracles, alongside Villanova winning the 1985 NCAA title, the 1980 US hockey team, and Daniel Larusso winning the All Valley Karate tournament.
2. Gary Kubiak Not exactly the homecoming ol' Kubes was hoping for. Romeo Crennel could not have made Kubiak's offense look any more inept. And Lord oh Lord, did the jokes flow on Twitter....
Fact: Gary Kubiak offense hasn't won in Houston since 9/15/13
— Waffle, Eggs, Bacon (@reddawg77089) December 21, 2014
In the ultimate tribute to Gary Kubiak, the Texans have brought out a Case Keenum-led offense that keeps settling for red zone field goals.
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 21, 2014
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Odd to see Gary Kubiak managing a sputtering offense in that stadium... pic.twitter.com/l4pNacQi1U
— Nicholas Roznovsky (@modernishfather) December 21, 2014
Crennel is to chess, as Kubiak is to Candy Land. End of subject.
1. New Orleans Saints One team we won't be watching any longer once the regular season is over is the New Orleans Saints, who even at 6-8 heading into Sunday, could have taken control of their crappy division and put themselves in line for a home game in the NFC playoffs. Instead, they lost their fifth straight game at home, and now for the first time in the Payton/Brees Era head into an offseason with serious questions about whether this is the season they begin to look ahead to life after Brees. I'm not saying they replace him, but I am saying they acknowledge that the time to do so is coming and begin formulating a plan.