I have no idea if the Houston Texans themselves needed a relatively stress free win, like the one they got yesterday morning (Houston time) in London, a 26-3 cruise over the Jacksonville Jaguars. My guess is they'll take any type of win, stress laden or stress free. However, I think it's safe to say that the fan base needed a laugher of a game.
After eight weeks of games, all still in doubt late in the fourth quarter, not to mention still stinging from the stress of watching the Astros lose Games 6 and 7 of the World Series at home this week, Texan fans needed a game where they could relax and enjoy their beers (or more appropriately, Bloody Marys) throughout the fourth quarter.
And that's what they got, a blowout. There was no loss to avenge from Week 2, the Texans won THAT game against the Jags and rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew. However, there was underperformance to avenge and erase from one of their least impressive games of the season in that win, and there was the motivation to remind the rest of the league that as long as Deshaun Watson is the quarterback for the Houston Texans, anything is possible.
Watson was merely efficient and, at times, spectacular on Sunday. He wasn't superhuman, because he didn't need to be. In fact, let's start there, with Watson, as we break down the winners and losers from the Texans' first trip to London to play American football....
4. Deshaun Watson
Week by week, this team continues to take on the traits of its leader and signal caller. Deshaun Watson is a dynamo with the ball in his hands, but he is also the picture of resilience, a maestro in the face of adversity. So it shouldn't be a surprise that as the offense becomes almost completely Deshaun-centric, and as he continues to reach peak self-awareness like some QB-playing cyborg, that this team has had its gutsiest two week period in this phase of the O'Brien Era.
Last week's 27-24 win over the Raiders was a group effort that will be forever remembered for Watson's individually great play on the winning touchdown, a play in which he was kicked in the face BEFORE throwing a touchdown pass. This week's win will be remembered for the Texans heading to London with a skeleton crew in the secondary, and the somewhat unexpected absence of their star left tackle, Laremy Tunsil. Yet, all they did was go out and win 26-3. It will be fun to see how embedded Watson is in the MVP conversation this week, as the national media covering the game yesterday was clearly smitten with him for all 60 minutes. Jags head coach Doug Marrone was pretty impressed, too.....
Doug Marrone on Watson escaping sacks: "I think the guy we were playing against ... the quarterback ... rather than looking at it as we missed something ... I look at it as that guy is just unbelievable ... the quarterback was just exceptional at being able to avoid it." pic.twitter.com/c8FPfd6KZu— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 3, 2019
Oh, one more Watson-related winner.....
Deshaun credited his rapid recovery from being kicked in the eye to his devouring numerous Popeye's chicken sandwiches in his presser (as he did in his on field hit with the NFL Network)...
Watson: "Shoutout to Popeyes, I shouldn't be eating fast food but ... I guess my background is just ... I love it so ... we've got ties. Shoutout to Popeyes." pic.twitter.com/ak0JcqtQDH— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 3, 2019
If he doesn't have a Popeye's endorsement by Tuesday, then something's wrong.
2. Romeo Crennel
For the third time in four seasons, the Texans' defense is having to adapt to life after J.J. Watt, with Watt lost for the season thanks to a pectoral muscle tear suffered against Oakland. For the third time in three tries, the Texans emerged victorious in the first game played without Watt after each of those injuries. Credit defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who confused Minshew throughout the afternoon with different coverage packages, and then cleaned up down the stretch by bringing more pressure in the second half. Crennel has been coaching a winning defense the last two weeks with a cornerback depth chart built largely around Gareon Conley, Keion Crossen, and Cornell Armstrong (with some Johnathan Joseph mixed in yesterday, when he wasn't leaving the field banged up). Despite O'Brien's insistence on being a "game plan" offense, the offense is finding an identity with Watson as the focal point.
Ironically, it's the defense that will probably now need to be super adaptable week to week to find ways to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. This week was a good start, but the degree of difficulty picks up after the bye week with Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady looming. (Jacoby Brissett was injured on Sunday, and it's unclear his status for the next few weeks. The Colts play the Texans in Week 12.)
1. Carlos Hyde runner
Of all the trades that Bill O'Brien made on the notorious Swap Meet Saturday right before the season, the one that is the clear cut winner for the Texans is the swap of two guys who were going to be cut anyway — offensive lineman Martinas Rankin for starting RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde has been exponentially more to this team than the mere filler backfield body it felt like he would be when they acquired him. He was 11th in the NFL in rushing yards coming into Sunday, and then went out and had a monster day, 160 yards on 19 carries. He's been really good, and I would say the only negative has been.....
4. Carlos Hyde, securer of the football
....his four fumbles this season, including this play yesterday where he got Leon Lett-ed by Jags defensive back Jarrod Wilson....
Thankfully, this occurred with the Texans up 19-3, but Hyde has to do a better job of securing the football, it goes without saying.
3. Keke Coutee
The last time we saw Coutee on the field, he was juggling a Deshaun Watson pass into the hands of Colts LB Darius Leonard to close out the loss to Indy. Since then, DeAndre Carter has taken over the reps at slot receiver, Steven Mitchell, Jr. has gotten on to the field, and Coutee is not even mentioned when O'Brien discusses the entire position group in his postgame presser....
Bill O'Brien didn't even mention Keke Coutee as part of the wideout rotation. pic.twitter.com/slklNw8Xy6— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 3, 2019
That O'Brien doghouse can be nasty. Just ask D'Onta Foreman.
2. Leonard Fournette
Fournette, who was the 4th overall pick in the same draft that saw Patrick Mahomes got 10th overall and Watson go 12th overall (yes, that's me rubbing salt in Jaguar fan wounds), came into this game as the second leading ground gainer in the NFL. I haven't watched a ton of Jaguar football this season, but we heard things about how much more explosive, sleek, and motivated Fournette is. Well, you wouldn't know it from the two games against the Texans. In the Week 2 win, the Texans held Fournette to 47 yards on 15 carries, and yesterday, they outdid that, limiting Fournette to just 40 yards on 11 carries. Those are his two worst performances of the season. Fournette was a total non factor yesterday, forcing the Jags to put the game into the hands of Gardner MInshew. Here's how that went.....
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1. Minshew Mania
The whole Minshew Mania thing has been kind of fun, what with a quirky, plucky rookie captivating fans, based in part on his style of play and in equal part on his facial hair. I would imagine in Jacksonville, a city starved for something remotely resembling hope at quarterback, Minshew Mania was something sustaining the fans, the talk radio hosts, the local sports bars, everybody. Their big free agent signing, QB Nick Foles, is scheduled to return from the injured reserve list after the bye week, and as the Jags climbed to 4-4 on the season, there seemed to be a legit QB controversy growing in Jacksonville. Sunday was Minshew's closing argument in stating his case to be the starter. After generating just three points all day, Minshew turned the ball over four times in the game's final 6:37. As closing arguments go, Minshew may as well have been this guy....
Put Minshew Mania on the shelf next to Linsanity. It's over. R.I.P.