There was a lot to like in the Houston Texans' 37-21 thrashing of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The offense was nice and balanced (289 yards passing, 160 yards rushing), the defense was disruptive enough to rattle Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and most of all, the entire second half was basically just a smooth afternoon jaunt on a calm harbor, bringing the boat into shore.
There was very little sweating on Sunday, and I'm not necessarily counting on that being the case for most of the season. We savor the wins when they come, and for a team that was projected to win four games (maybe) this season, we savor them even more.
However, there's even more to get excited about beyond just the basics scorecard result. The Houston Texans took a handful of old trends, and smacked them in the face, sending them reeling sideways, hopefully on a permanent basis. Even better, these trend-breakers all played right into the style of play the Texans will need to employ, if they're going to overachieve in 2021. More specifically, they need to start fast, run the football, and win turnover margin.
The first two trends they bucked on Sunday play into the "start fast" efforts, while the other two feed the "run the ball" and "turn over the opposition" categories. Here we go:
Winning the season opener
For the first time since 2016, the Texans won their opening game of the season. On the calendar, that's five years, but given everything this team has gone through over the last couple years, it feels like over a decade ago. Consider that the starting quarterback in that game for the Texans was BROCK OSWEILER. Brock has now been retired for three years. So, for those of you who have turned against Deshaun Watson (and I can't say I blame you), you can look at the four season openers since then and say, "Wow, Tyrod Taylor did something Deshaun Watson NEVER did! Win a season opener!" I would point out that in 2017, Watson's rookie year, Tom Savage started the opener (which is still hysterical, to this day). In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the Texans opened up on the road at New England (defending AFC champ), New Orleans (should have been defending NFC champ), and Kansas City (defending Super Bowl champ), respectively. Taylor got to play the team who was picking first in the draft five months ago. But a win is a win, and we will savor it!
Multiple offensive touchdowns in the first quarter
We know that one of the staples of a Bill O'Brien coached Texans team was that they were horrific on opening drives. The day O'Brien was fired, I burned all of the parchment and scrolls on which I saved O'Brien's opening drive ineptitude stats, as I didn't care to relive that ever again. Now, Culley and OC Tim Kelly were not able to scheme up success on the opening drive this past Sunday, but the offense did them score two touchdowns on the next two drives, both in the first quarter. The last time the Texans OFFENSE scored 14 points in the opening quarter in the regular season was in Seattle, in Week 8 of 2017, Watson's rookie year. That is a LONG time. (NOTE: The Texans scored two touchdowns in the opening quarter against the Colts in 2018 and the Lions in 2020, but in both of those games, there was a defensive touchdown scored. Also, in the playoff game in Kansas City in January 2020, the offense scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, hence, REGULAR SEASON trend.)
Possessing the football and playing "keep away"
If the Texans are going to win games, David Culley clearly sees running the football as a staple to do so, especially if the Texans get a lead and they can soak away the clock. That's exactly what they were able to do on Sunday against the Jags, with their largest time of possession margin — 35:04 to 24:56 — since holding the ball for 35:53 against the Raiders in October 2019. On the day, the Texans only found themselves in second down situations beyond 10 yards to go for a first down three times all day, and on third down, their average distance to go for a first down was 3.57 yards. That's game control right there.
We all know the Texans were historically bad at turning over the opposition last season, with just six fumbles recovered and three interceptions. Hell, one of the interceptions was by J.J. Watt, so you can barely call that traditional pass defense. All signs in the preseason indicated that they would be considerably better at forcing turnovers this season, and Week 1 against the Jags was a great start, as Lovie Smith's defense recorded three interceptions, marking the team’s first game with three or more interceptions since posting four against Tampa Bay in Week 16 of the 2019 season. Now, that was against QB Jameis Winston, who handed out interceptions like Halloween candy back then. Their last three interception performance against a non-Winston quarterback was against rookie Baker Mayfield and the Browns on December 2, 2018.
And with that, we spend the rest of the week looking forward to the Texans' game this weekend against ... drum roll, please
.... BAKER MAYFIELD and the Cleveland Browns!
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