281 days. Going into Sunday, that's how long it had been since the Houston Texans had won an NFL football game, all the way back in the first weekend in January against the Buffalo Bills in the wild card round of the playoffs. A lot has gone down since then, both within the Texans (DeAndre Hopkins trade says "What's up!") and around the world (Do I even need to list things here?), that make the 281 days feel longer than that.
Thankfully, Bill O'Brien's firing a week ago had the desired effect, at least temporarily, as the Texans rode an improved attitude and energy, along with the right arm of Deshaun Watson (25 of 35, 359 yards, 3 touchdown passes), to a 30-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the first win of the season for the 1-4 Texans, and the first time the Texans won a game by double digits since — wait for it, wait for it — they defeated the JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS in London last season, 26-3.
In Sunday's game, and around the league, there were winners and losers. Let's get after them right now. Here we go...
4. Brandin Cooks
Not to start the analysis off on a down note, but Bill O'Brien has left this roster in rough shape over the next couple years, with his reckless all-in moves to trade draft picks for veterans, and clog the salary cap with overpriced contracts. It would be nice if a few of these movs worked out. Four weeks into the season, the trade of the 57th overall pick in the 2020 draft for Cooks was looking like a disaster. However, Cooks had breakout game on Sunday, with eight catches for 161 yards, and the game clinching touchdown on a fourth down catch in the fourth quarter. Right now, it looks like it's going to be different guys each week leading this team in receiving, a function of O'Brien's "layers and layers of players" mantra. Sunday, it was Cooks. (In case you're wondering, DeAndre Hopkins had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Let's move on.)
3. Alex Smith
It was actually a game against the Texans, all the way back in 2018, where the Washington quarterback suffered a cataclysmic broken leg injury that ended his season, and as Smith went through the subsequent surgeries, nearly ended his having two working legs. Smith ended up undergoing countless procedures over the last two years, and was facing amputation of the leg at one point. On Sunday, Smith returned to live NFL action, replacing Kyle Allen in a game against the Rams. Smith's stats were pedestrian — 9 of 17, 37 yards passing — but the mere fact he got back on the field should sew up the Comeback Player for the Year award, in my opinion.
2. Eric Bieniemy
The Texans are going to execute an exhaustive search to find their next head coach, and the whomever they choose needs to be a good answer to the question "Is this hire in the best interests of Deshaun Watson?" In other words, they need someone who swaps out this archaic, clunky system Bill O'Brien spent seven years farting around with, and install something Deshaun-friendly and far more productive. If you're to believe Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Deshaun Watson likes Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy:
Specifically, owner Cal McNair has already talked to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson about the direction of the team going forward and solicited his opinion, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. While Watson will not be a formal part of the team that chooses the next coach — and McNair intends to hire the GM first — the owner does value very much the feedback of his highest-paid player, and sources said Watson has already advocated for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
There will likely be a bidding war for Bieniemy's services, but Cal McNair is not afraid to spend money, especially on something as important as the team's next head coach.
1. Romeo Crennel
Hey, if they start putting coordinators in the Hall of Fame on a regular basis, then Romeo Crennel has that kind of coordinator's resume, but his career as a head coach has been less than stellar, with a career record of 28-55 coming into yesterday in two stints as a head coach (Cleveland, Kansas City). So it was great not only to see Crennel get a win yesterday, but to see him making a crucial, gutsy call down the stretch, with the decision to go for it on 4th and 4 in Jacksonville territory late in the fourth quarter, a call that resulted in Brandin Cooks' touchdown catch. Also, if this video below is indicative of the rejuvenation of the Texans' locker room, I wish Cal McNair fired Bill O'Brien about two years ago....
yooooo???????????? pic.twitter.com/qfKrgjuL9z— ROMEO CRENNEL TIME???? (@ReportTexans) October 11, 2020
4. Opening drives
The Texans improved in two key areas on Sunday on the defensive side of the ball, as their league worst run defense held the Jags to 75 yards on 20 carries, and their previously empty sheet of turnovers caused was finally marked up, with two second half fumble recoveries. That's good. However, one trend that held up was the Texans' inability to score on opening drives, as their opening drive on Sunday resulted in a punt for the fifth straight game. Going back to the beginning of the 2018 season, with Deshaun Watson as the starting QB, the Texans have scored just one TD on an opening drive in regular season games. They did mange to hit one big downfield shot to Brandin Cooks in the opening drive yesterday, before going three down and punting. That's improvement over the first four games, which say them go three and out on each of their opening drives.
3. Bernardrick McKinney
McKinney showed up in the injury report late in the week last week with a shoulder injury, and was rendered inactive on Sunday. He was replaced by Tyrell Adams, who proceeded to rack up 13 tackles, including a TFL, and received a Whitney Mercilus fumble of a Jaguar turnover to keep a possession for the Texans in the second half. With the Texans facing almost certain salary cap issues in 2021, big contracts for declining veterans like McKinney are going to be targets for savings. For one game, at least, Adams proved McKinney, who is a liability in pass coverage and against speedier teams, is highly replaceable. Good game for Adams.
2. Doug Marrone
The Texans earned their win on Sunday, but they were most certainly aided by the Jaguars. First, their kicker, Stephen Hauschka, missed not one, but two field goal attempts within about 30 seconds to end the second quarter. Either field goal try would have tied the game at 10-10 at the half. Then in the third quarter, following an interception and return deep into Texans' territory, Marrone (and offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden) decided to dial up a trick play on 4th and 1, a halfback pass by rookie RB James Robinson, who fumbled the football and turned it over to the Texans. From there, the Texans never looked back.
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1. Dak Prescott
The Cowboys QB suffered an absolutely heartbreaking and gruesome injury on Sunday in the Cowboys' 37-34 win over the Giants. It was an ankle injury that required almost immediate surgery Sunday night, and ends Prescott's continued audition for a long term deal from the Cowboys. (He was playing this season under the one year, $31 million franchise tag for quarterbacks.) Watching this clip of Prescott leaving the field is just brutal:
Dak Prescott was extremely emotional as he was leaving the field pic.twitter.com/ay8ExxP8tk— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 11, 2020
Moving forward, there are two things to monitor. First, it will be fascinating to see how the Cowboys handle Prescott contractually. Does the injury sway them from whatever their original plan may have been, to either offer him a long term deal, or tag him with the franchise tag again? Second, as for the 2020 season, the Cowboys should still be the favorites in the NFC East, even with backup Andy Dalton at quarterback. Their 2-3 record, as of Sunday night, is good enough for first place.