Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans' Opening Drive Awfulness Now Infecting the Defense, Too

Not even J.J. Watt can save this Texans defense from being awful on opening drives over the last month.
Not even J.J. Watt can save this Texans defense from being awful on opening drives over the last month. Photo by Eric Sauseda
At the beginning of every football game, at every level, there is a coin toss at midfield. The captain of the away team calls it in the air, heads or tails. The winner of the coin toss essentially chooses whether to put their offense or defense on the field to start the game, whichever makes the most sense. Here is the problem right now for the Houston Texans — putting either side on the field for the first drive of the game is a bad idea.

We've chronicled the Texans' issues on first drives on the offensive side of the ball for the better part of the last three seasons. Without going into tremendously granular detail, the Texans have scored just two touchdowns on opening drives over the last three regular seasons with Deshaun Watson as the starting quarterback — Week 9 in 2018, and again in Week 9 of this season. 43 games, two touchdowns. That's it.

In 2020 alone, they've punted on 11 of their 12 opening drives offensively this season. The one exception was Brandin Cooks' catch-and-run for 57 yards on the team's opening drive in Jacksonville back in November. So this has been an ongoing thing that, hopefully, will be cured by a new head coach and play caller next season.

Unfortunately, the Texans' ineptitude early in games offensively has company now, as their defense has gotten in on the act. Honestly, of the two sides of the ball, offense and defense, it would actually make sense that the Texans would have some early game doldrums defensively. They are simply not a very good defensive team. Since Week 7, in fact, here are the opening drives for the opposing teams' offenses:

WEEK 7 vs GREEN BAY
DRIVE INFO: 10 plays, 75 yds, 5:39
END RESULT: Davante Adams 3 yd TD reception

WEEK 8 BYE

WEEK 9 at JACKSONVILLE
DRIVE INFO:
3 plays, 75 yds, 0:52
END RESULT: D.J. Chark 73 yd TD reception

WEEK 10 at CLEVELAND
DRIVE INFO:
12 plays, 52 yards, 6:33
END RESULT: Cody Parkey 41 yd field goal

WEEK 11: vs NEW ENGLAND
DRIVE INFO:
10 plays, 84 yds, 5:32
END RESULT: Damien Harris 9 yd TD run

WEEK 12: at DETROIT
DRIVE INFO:
7 plays, 85 yds, 4:16
END RESULT: Adrian Peterson 1 yd TD run

WEEK 13: vs INDIANAPOLIS
DRIVE INFO: 6 plays, 67 yds, 3:28
END RESULT: T.Y. Hilton 21 yd TD reception

So in their last six games, the Texans' defense has allowed five touchdowns and a field goal on the opening drives, while the offense has been scoring just one touchdown and punting five times. To contextualize this, there are normally about 12 possessions for each team in an NFL game, so if these first possessions represented a "game," theoretically, we would be at halftime — six possessions for the Texans, six for their opponents.

The halftime score of this theoretical game would be Opponents 38, Texans 7, with the yardage difference at 438 total yards for the opponents, and 131 total yards for the Texans. Furthermore, the Texans' defense is allowing 9.1 yards per play on these six opening drives. The most prolific offense in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs, averages 6.3 yards per play.

The one encouraging thing about this development for the Texans' defense: in these last six games, once they've gotten their legs under them, by and large, they've played much better defense. Take out those opening drives, and for the remainder of the snaps in those five games, the Texans are averaging 5.3 yards allowed per play, which is the equivalent of a Top 10 defense over the course of a season.

In a season that has gone horribly sideways for the Texans, there is no doubt that a prospective head coach is going to have to look at how this team starts games, and fix it in 2021,

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast