On the surface, Sunday afternoon was merely the piece of chronological real estate where the football gods decided to park the latest loss in the Houston Texans' abysmal 2020 season, a 10-7 downer of a loss to the Cleveland Browns, played in a Mother Nature temper tantrum that included a monsoon that delayed kickoff by over 35 minutes.
The Texans falling to 2-7, in a vacuum, is neither surprising, nor particularly entertaining. However, embedded on the slate of games throughout the day Sunday (one other game, in particular), and sprinkled with some of the oddest rumors yet during this Texans' head coaching search, the NFL's episodic might was on full display. Let's start with the actual Texans game itself, as we lay out the winners and losers from Sunday....
4. Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb
The story of this game was undoubtedly the second half bludgeoning the Browns administered to the Texans in the run game. Thus far, this season, the Texans had allowed at least one 73-yard rusher in each of their nine games, and coming into yesterday's game, they'd allowed a 100-yard rusher in half of their eight games. On Sunday, they upped the ante and allowed TWO 100-yard rushers, with Chubb and Hunt both going over the century mark. The Texans were actually defending the run well for most of the afternoon, allowing 83 yards on 23 carries through three quarters. Then, the floodgates opened in the fourth quarter, with the Texans allowing 150 yards on 16 carries (I removed Baker Mayfield's two kneel downs to end the game from those numbers). In other words, the Texans running defense continued to be a disaster.
3. Myles Garrett
Garrett didn't have a "vintage J.J. Watt, circa 2014" type stat-sheet-stuffing performance on Sunday, but the Browns defensive end is undoubtedly the most fearsome athlete off the edge in the AFC since Watt's reign of terror from 2012 through 2015. On Sunday, his impact was felt early, as he had a half-sack on Watson, and a stop on 4th and goal from the two yard line in the first quarter. Garrett was the first pick in the 2017 draft, which included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, so the pressure is on Baker Mayfield to make Browns fans forget that they had a shot at each of them (two shots at Watson, actually). Perhaps Garrett's most impressive plays as chasing Watson out of bounds on a QB keeper, running stride for stride with the Texans' athletic QB.
2. The AFC middle class
So the Texans fall to 2-7 on the season, which unto itself is infuriating, when you consider that Bill O'Brien, fired five weeks ago, traded away their first and second round draft picks for the 2021 draft, and spent them into salary cap hell with big contracts for marginal players. However, let's add the REALLY exasperating part about the Texans' lot in life. It's not that they aren't anywhere close to the Chiefs or Ravens or Steelers, the class of the AFC. It's that teams like the Browns, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills, and Colts (all 6-3, except the Bills, who are 7-3) have all shot past the Texans. These are all teams that were punchlines as recently as a year or two ago (except maybe the Colts, who were blindsided by Andrew Luck's retirement before 2019, and still got back on track). In fact, prior to yesterday, the Texans had beaten all of these teams in their most recent meetings, dating back to mid-2018. And now the Texans are 2-7. And the Bill O'Brien journey from Sunday is just getting started.
1. DeAndre Hopkins
So Clint Stoerner and I had just finished up the Texans' postgame show up at the SportsRadio 610 studio on Sunday evening. We always have the Red Zone Channel on TV, and the game being featured at this particular moment was the Bills in Phoenix to play the Cardinals. The Bills had just scored a late touchdown to take a 30-26 lead, with just seconds to go. The Cards were about to fall to 5-4 on the season. I turn to Clint and said "I know the Cards are about to be 5-4, but I think they might be THE team I'd buy season tickets to go watch. They play exciting football!" Then, validating my opinion, this happened....
Don't ever say it's impossible... pic.twitter.com/lqe2UkxsCT— Deandre Hopkins (@DeAndreHopkins) November 16, 2020
Hopkins finished with seven catches for 127 yards, and leads the league in catches and receiving yards. His departure and the lunacy surrounding it are rapidly evolving into the most depressing development in the history of the Texans. All thanks to....
4. Bill O'Brien
,,,, who was abjectly horrible at being a general manager of an NFL football team. It's not an exaggeration to say that Bill O'Brien is the worst general manager in the history of team sports. He is 100 percent in that conversation. Oh, have I mentioned the guy who came over to the Texans in that Hopkins trade?
3. David Johnson
Yeah, the washed up running back, three seasons removed from being remotely productive, who O'Brien apparently thought he was going to resurrect, he was sent to the injured reserve list with a concussion, and in about as macabre a development as you could see within a fan base, most Texan fans rejoiced because it meant that somebody else —- ANYBODY ELSE —- would get his 15 to 20 touches per game. Johnson is to NFL running backs what O'Brien was to NFL GM's. It was really a marriage made in heaven.
2. Romeo Crennel, head coaching candidate?
So O'Brien's firing has left us with Romeo Crennel as the interim head coach, and while Crennel has not really righted the ship post-O'Brien, he has gone 2-3 and done so in a much more affable and friendly manner than O'Brien ever did. However, Crennel's warm demeanor this DOES NOT mean that Ian Rapoport's rumors in this tweet are even remotely acceptable .....
From @NFLGameDay: The #Texans are considering keeping Romeo Crennel on through 2021, a controversial and unconventional discussion that is ruffling some feathers inside the building. But it is being discussed. pic.twitter.com/Ny0Ll1nCBd— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 15, 2020
1. Fourth down decision making and execution
And if Crennel was trying to use Sunday's game as part of his sizzle reel for the full time Texans' gig, he picked a bad week to do so, as several coaching decisions or game management gaffes helped the Browns in the game's outcome. First, on 4th and goal from the Browns 2 yard line, early in the game, Crennel decided to go for the touchdown (a decision I actually liked) and his OC Tim Kelly called a QB draw that the Browns were camped out waiting for (I hated the play call). In the third quarter, in what was essentially a football tornado, on 4th and 2 from the Browns 27 yard line, Crennel burned a time out, only to decide to try an ill-fated 46-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right. Later in the game, Crennel burned ANOTHER second half timeout when the Browns unexpectedly kept their offense on the field on 4th and 4 from the 50 yard line. Crennel called the timeout, and the Browns' offense immediately jogged off the field and allowed the punt team to take over, showing they'd accomplished exactly what they wanted — forcing the Texans to unnecessarily use another timeout. Those may have come in handy toward the end of the game, except truth be told, the Texans' run defense probably wasn't stopping the Browns anyway.
And somehow, the Texans have been installed as 2.5 point favorites over the Patriots next weekend. Remarkable.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.