Two seasons ago, with their season circling the drain at 3-5, with multiple gargantuan blowout losses on their ledger, the Houston Texans went into Cincinnati to face an 8-0 Benagls team on a Monday night. The game was a hideous bloodbath, and in the end, the Texans harassed Andy Dalton into a 10-6 loss. The Texans went 5-2 the rest of the way and won the division.
It's only Week 2, and I still don't think the Texans are going to win the AFC South, but the feel of Houston's' 13-9 win in Cincinnati on Thursday night was nearly identical to that win in 2015. The big difference? The quarterbacks that night were a combo platter of Brain Hoyer and T.J. Yates. The quarterback this time was the future of the franchise.
Indeed, rookie Deshaun Watson, one of college football's greatest winners, is 1-0 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It wasn't always pretty on the field, but it was gorgeous on the scoreboard. Let's get to some winners and losers...
4. Mike Vrabel
After an opening week loss to Jacksonville, in which Vrabel probably got far too cute for his own good with formations and schemes, he went far more basic on Thursday night, and the result was a stout night against the run — 24 Bengal carries for 82 yards, wth a long run of just 12 yards, and that was on a reverse (which was fumbled) — and Dalton being chased into a 20 for 35 night throwing the ball with only one really big play down the field, a 50 yard catch by A.J. Green in the first half. THIS was more like what we all expected.
3. Kareem Jackson
This might have been Jackson's best game as a Houston Texan. On a night where the other top Texans cornerbacks wound up on the bench injured — Johnathan Joseph with a shoulder injury and Kevin Johnson with a knee — Jackson stuffed the stat sheet. He was the leading tackler (seven total) with a sack and two tackles for loss. He also had a QB hit, and forced the huge fumble that was returned by Clowney deep into Bengals territory and set up the first points of the game.
2. Ka'imi Fairbairn
We didn't see much of Fairbairn in Week 1, but he played a huge role in the win last night, getting the Texans on the board first, and more importantly, knocking through a 42-yard field goal to cap a nearly seven-minute drive to provide the four-point margin that forced the Bengals to need a touchdown on their final drive to win the game. Fairbairn passed his first big test.
1. Deshaun Watson
As they say after ugly wins like this, there will be plenty to learn from in film study, but there is definitely a magic about this kid. While O'Brien's decision to switch over to Watson at halftime of the season opener was illogical considering how they handled the starter's reps in training camp, it was undoubtedly the correct decision if the question is "Who gives you a better chance to win?" Watson was poised amidst another night of shoddy offensive line play, and two of his biggest plays — the long touchdown run at the end of the first half and the 11-yard run to set up the final field goal — were plays Tom Savage couldn't make in his wildest dreams. I am giddy for the Deshaun Watson Era.
4. Xavier Su'a-Filo
I'll just leave this right here...
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3. Brian Cushing
My feeling on the football effect of the Cushing suspension is documented in great detail in the post I wrote about Cushing, but in short, I think that the Texans might wind up with inside linebacker play from the combination of Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole as they were getting from Cushing, who has devolved into a slower, older player. The two rookies came up big in this game, combining for 11 tackles, and Cunningham made a huge stop early in the game on a 3rd and 3 at the Texans 48 yard line on a catch by Bengals RB Gio Bernard in space.
2. Special teams coverage
After a solid game in the opener for Larry Izzo's coverage units, the old Texans coverage units showed up last night. Shane Lechler punted the ball very well, but the Bengals averaged 16.3 yards on six returns, and on kickoffs, they returned two for an average of 38 yards, including a 35-yard return on the final Bengals drive to put the heat on the Texans defense from a field position standpoint.
1. Andy Dalton
Designating a guy as a franchise quarterback in the NFL can be a slippery slope, and the Bengals are in the process of finding that out. Pay the wrong guy, and you're stuck treading water, or worse, going backward, and that's what the Bengals are going through right now with Dalton. Two games into the season, both at home, and Dalton has generated zero touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if they punt on Dalton after this season (or during this season) with A.J. Mccarron still on the roster. The cap hit would only be $2.4 million to let Dalton go. As a Texans fan, I would be sad to see Dalton, who the Texans have a 6-1 record against, go.
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