For the first three games of the 2022 season, as they were sliding into the abyss of an 0-2-1 start but doing so in close losses, the question that those of us covering the Houston Texans (and undoubtedly, those of you rooting for the Texans) were pondering was "Man, what would these games look like if the opposition isn't doing everything they could to give these games away? Would the Texans be getting blown out, instead of hanging close?"
Well, we got our answer for the first half of Sunday's 34-24 Texans loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, as the Chargers played a near flawless first half, en route to a dominant 27-7 lead. The second half was a different story, as the Texans were able to creep back into the game, and even had a chance to take a lead with about nine minutes to go after a DeAndre Carter fumble set the Texans up deep in Charger territory, down six points.
Alas, as has been the case in the first three games, Davis Mills couldn't make big time plays when they were most needed, and now there is one winless team remaining in the NFL — the Houston Texans. There were winners and losers yesterday, and here they are:
4. Justin Herbert
The Chargers starting quarterback came into Sunday's game suffering from broken rib cartilage, but you wouldn't have known it from his performance, as he put up some big numbers — 27 of 39 for 340 yards and 2 TD passes. Most importantly, there were no turnovers from him, unlike last season, when his two picks were a big reason the Texans beat the Chargers in Week 16. The two plays that embodied just how talented Herbert is, and reminded Texans fans how far off their QB play is from elite, were two throws to reserve WR Michael Bandy, one for 24 yards and one for 25 yards, to set up the Chargers' field goal at the end of the first half. Both throws saw Herbert roll to his left and casually flick the ball while falling away. Remarkable arm talent and poise.
Right now, I'm not sure if Burkhead is Public Enemy Number One for Texan fans, but he is definitely on the list of public enemies somewhere. It's not Burkhead's fault he's the backup tailback and really should be third or fourth string. The Texans chose him for this role. On Sunday, once again, he was in the middle of a key play that busted up the Texans' comeback chances, a 4th and 1 toward the end of the half. He's listed as a winner because in the second half he made two or three plays, including a TD catch, that probably ensure he remains in his role for another eight weeks, at least. Ugh.
2. Special teams
Texans special teams have been solid all season, and on Sunday, aside from a missed field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn, they did the job again. The coverage teams were very solid, and they provided the best chance for the Texans to win the game (or at least take a fourth quarter lead) when they recovered a DeAndre Carter fumble on a kickoff, after the Texans cut the Chargers lead to 27-21. It was nice to see Carter, a former Texans fumble machine, fumble the ball in a situation that BENEFITTED the Texans, as opposed to hurting them. Also, it was unfortunate the Texans only turned that fumble into three points.
This one is going to get repetitive, if Pierce keeps improving like he has all season long. On Sunday, he attained his first 100 yard game of his career (14 carries, 131 yards), and his 75 yard touchdown run, with the Texans trailing 21-0, took the Texans off of life support, and might have kept Davis Mills from getting replaced by Kyle Allen, who had his helmet on once the Texans fell behind 21-0, and appeared ready to go in if his number was called. Pierce is the Texans' best offensive player right now, and it's not close.
4. Texans pass rush
One area that had been really solid for the Texans coming into Sunday, through three games, was the pass rush generated by the front four on defense. The Texans had 10 sacks through three games, and veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes was tied for second in the league with four sacks. Getting after Herbert would be important on any day where he was healthy, but with busted rib cartilage, Herbert was ripe to get seriously damaged with some well placed QB hits. The Chargers missing LT Rashawn Slater should have only helped the Texans. Instead, they hit Herbert TWICE all afternoon. TWICE. With the time Herbert had to throw, I think I could have thrown for about 250 yards.
3. Kenyon Green
The Texans have gotten nice contributions from their rookie class so far this season. Pierce's afternoon on Sunday and Jalen Pitre's game in Chicago last week (two picks, two TFLs) are probably the crown jewels so far collectively for this rookie class. Left guard Kenyon Green, the first round pick out of Texas A&M, has had a decent rookie season, but he may want to burn the tape of Sunday's game. Green allowed some crucial pressures early in the game, as the Texans were falling behind 27-7, and to close out the game, after Mills' second interception, Green was called for unnecessary roughness after the play. This, of course, was after he had gotten called for a hold on the actual play. Rough day for the rookie.
The 4th and 1 call to run a pass play with Mills as the triggerman and Burkhead in the backfield was beyond questionable. The continued love for Burkhead is confusing. However, the one sequence that made ZERO sense to me was one that had ZERO impact on the final score, but displayed a lack of attention or care that is disturbing. With the Chargers holding the ball in Texans territory and under two minutes left in the game, the Chargers began taking kneel downs to kill the clock. The game was essentially over.
For some reason, Lovie Smith felt compelled to use his final timeout and stop the clock, down ten points. The Texans had a zero percent chance of coming back. It seemed, at a minimum, silly, if not petty, Well, the end result for the Chargers' drive was they took a knee on fourth down that left 12 seconds on the clock. So the Texans offense trotted out onto the field, down ten points, with 12 seconds left, at their own 32 yard line. The only sensible thing to do would be to have Mills take a knee, and go home. Instead, Pep Hamilton calls a hand off to Pierce who got hit by about four different guys on the way to the ground. Fortunately, Pierce popped back up, but if Pierce were unnecessarily hurt on that play, firing somebody over that would have been appropriate. That sequence, inconsequential to the score, said WAY too much about Smith and Hamilton to me.
This was really just the inverse of every other Mills game this season. Instead of petering out in the fourth quarter (which he kind of did eventually, anyway), Mills put the Texans behind the eight ball early, with a horrible interception on the third play of the game. Three plays later, the Chargers were in the end zone, and the first half rout was on. The Texans fell behind 21-0 and were down 27-7 at the half. To Mills' credit, he made some throws in the second half, the best one a 58 yard rope to Nico Collins to set up the Texans' third touchdown of the afternoon. In the end, though, Mills just didn't make enough plays to win the game, and more importantly, had too many negative plays in the first half in putting the Texans in a hole. If the draft were next week, the Texans would need to select Mills' replacement.
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