Going into Tennessee on Sunday, the Texans were teetering on the brink of another disastrous season. After three straight losses, they were facing a division rival on the road. Another loss and they go to 3-5 including 0-2 inside the division. Win and they go to 4-4 keeping their season and hopes for the playoffs alive. Fortunately, they have a couple extraordinary players and were playing a bad team starting a sixth round draft pick at quarterback. The end result was a 30-16 rout over the Titans.
In truth, the Texans didn't look like world beaters for much of the game, but Arian Foster and J.J. Watt most definitely did. Foster had 173 total yards and three touchdowns. Watt racked up two more sacks, a forced fumble and another pass batted down. The deficiencies the Texans have at key positions and in depth might not get them over the hump against good teams, but the Titans are not a good team.
Still, for nearly two quarters, both teams seemed to be playing for who would be the most boring squad in the NFL. With multiple three-and-outs, punts and shoddy offense, it looked for a while like the first quarter field goal by Tennessee might be enough to win the game. But the Texans came alive and took a 10-point lead into the half before scoring 17 in the second half while holding the Titans to nine points through all but the last two minutes when Tennessee scored a meaningless TD to make the final score look slightly more respectable.
Despite the win, the Texans are still have some significant issues on both sides of the ball. They didn't have any turnovers, but they still had a handful of penalties, including a couple of drive stoppers. Ryan Fitzpatrick still looks like a marginal quarterback and there are question marks all over the offensive line. They may have manhandled a bad team, but they will need to improve quickly if they are going to beat anyone that matters and have any hope of reaching the playoffs.
Offensive Game Balls
Arian Foster Fosters stats are eye popping, but even more importantly, he shouldered the load for an offense that has all too often been below mediocre. The Texans must have performances like this from him with regularity if they are going to pull out victories against good teams. Six out of eight games with 100-plus rushing yards is a good start.
DeAndre Hopkins What a difference having a big time second receiver makes for this team. Hopkins is quick and a terrific route runner. He also has the best hands on the team. Having him opposite Andre Johnson makes the team very dangerous in the passing game even with a journeyman quarterback at the helm.
Defensive Game Balls
J.J. Watt What more can you say that hasn't already been said about Watt? He is, quite simply and inarguably, the best defensive player in football and in the conversation for the best player period. Once again, he was dominant.
Mike Mohamed Filling in for an injured Brian Cushing is difficult enough, but keeping a very shaky linebacking core together is nearly an impossible task. Mohamed appeared to be up to the challenge. He led the team in tackles with six, but more importantly was a stabilizing influence on the entire defense.
Offensive LIne Run Blocking Foster can see things on the field few can, but even he needs a great push up front from his blockers. The offensive line was getting to the second level all day and pushing the pile forward for the backs.
Offensive Line Pass Blocking For all the things they did well in the run game, they fell woefully short in the passing game. The up-the-middle rush for Tennessee, a decidedly average defensive group, looked like no one was blocking them because, at times, no one was. What Should Stay the Same
Without question, if this team has any chance of competing for a playoff spot, they must run the ball effectively. But, more importantly, they cannot be themselves. Zero turnovers and only four penalties is a good start for a team that has been awful in both categories the last few weeks.
What Needs to Improve
Arian Foster can only carry the ball so many times. Eventually, Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to have to win a game with his arm. He wasn't terrible on Sunday, but no one is going to fear what he brings to the Texans on offense, particularly if he can't get any pass protection.
Alfred Blue has made his presence felt on special teams, but not nearly as much in the run game as fans would like. After a steady diet of Ben Tate at the back up running back spot the last few years, we've all become accustomed to not missing a beat when Foster goes out. On Sunday, Blue ran for 42 yards and even had a 22-yard reception. Let's hope this is the start of something for the talented rookie.
Bill O'Brien and staff managed to bounce back from a disastrous game in Pittsburgh where they gave up 24 points in the waning minutes of the first half. After struggling in the first quarter and a half, the Texans seemed to settle into a groove and O'Brien consistently dialed up good calls. The slow start is still concerning, but the end result is a win.
The calls for backup quarterback Ryan Mallet have been coming from just about everywhere but the folks on Kirby Drive. The argument goes: Well, if you know you aren't going to contend for a title and Fitzpatrick is not the long-term solution, better to find out what you have. For now, the Texans are still alive in the playoff hunt and Mallet remains on the bench. He couldn't even get reps when the game was clearly out of hand. For now, the Fitz-o-Meter remains embedded in green "all good for Fitzy" territory.
Media Moment of the Game
When Randy Bullock lined up to kick the longest of his three field goals (49 yards), play-by-play voice of the Texans Marc Vandermeer called down to sideline reporter John Harris. The result was one of the funnier moments in the game.
Marc Vandermeer: Let's go down to John Harris to get a report on the wind. John? John Harris: None. MV: Well, alright.
Media Moment of the Game Part II
During his postgame press conference, J.J. Watt called out Titans rookie QB Zach Mettenberger saying the youngster was spending too much time on social media and not enough on football, which explained Watt's "selfie" sack celebration. "This is the National Football League, not high school," Watt said. "Welcome to the show."
The Texans are back at home to face the 5-2 Philadelphia Eagles, who fell to 5-2 after their loss to a surprising Arizona team Sunday. Coach Chip Kelly brings a seriously revved up offense into NRG Stadium and the Texans defense better be ready. The Eagle's defense is also stout, but if the Texans are going to be considered -- and consider themselves -- legit, this is a game they need to win.
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