Texans-Panthers, Week 2 — Four Things to Watch For

As frustrating as the last couple years (…ok, five or six years…ok, forever) have been for Houston Texan fans, believe it or not, this is the first time they've been 0-1 after Week 1 since a 24-7 loss to the New York Jets in the 2009 opener. To give you an idea of how long ago that game took place, that was Mark Sanchez's rookie debut. In fact, up until Brian Hoyer was setting the Chiefs up inside the Texans' 15 yard line routinely last Sunday, the Texans had actually been 2-0 to start the season every year since that 2009 opener.

So while losing unto itself is not necessarily unfamiliar territory for the Texans, losing early in the season is a recent development. But as Bill O'Brien stated in his Monday press conference, half the teams in the league are 0-1 following the first week. That is indeed true. (Ivy League education, yo!) The key now for the Texans becomes avoiding the 0-2 start. If I may match O'Brien factoid for factoid, since 1990, only 12 percent of the teams that have started 0-2 have made the playoffs. 

That's not good. And I would venture to say that zero percent of the teams who have no idea who the QB is going to be week to week that started out 0-2 have made the playoffs. That's probably a good place to start for this Sunday's match-up in Charlotte with the 1-0 Carolina Panthers, who have actually won five regular season games in a row dating back to last season. The Panthers start Cam Newton and his shiny new $60 million guaranteed money contract at QB. The Texans start…..

4. Mallett's the Man (for now)
I respect Bill O'Brien's attempt to keep his starting quarterback decision a secret until kickoff on Sunday in 2015, where there are no more secrets. Good job, good effort, Bill. You made it all the way to Wednesday before a mole somewhere broke the news to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. So in a mild shocker, it's the Ryan Mallett Era all over again, and everyone in Houston all of a sudden has a hop in their step. This thing wasn't getting done with Hoyer under center, and clearly O'Brien realized that. (Honestly, I'm just wondering what O'Brien saw in Hoyer to put him in there in the first place.) So now Mallett gets his chance to run his own crew, presumably a real chance. There was a time, way back when, coming out of Texas High in Texarkana, when the world thought Mallett would be "The Man" on an NFL team. Maybe he will be, maybe it just took longer than we all thought it would. I'm very excited to find out. 

3. Stop being so damn charitable
How does a team lose a game fairly convincingly (and yes, it was a 27-20 final, but Kansas City carried the game for much of the afternoon) while still out-gaining its opponent by nearly 100 yards? Well, a couple ways. First, you gift them all three of their touchdowns, two from turnovers in their own red zone and one on a busted coverage on a tight end for a long touchdown. That's what the Texans did against the Chiefs. What good is having a defense that makes you grind to string a dozen plays together to score a touchdown if the opponent only has to string one or two plays together to score a touchdown? Second, you lose the field position battle by giving up gobs of "invisible" return yardage. De'Anthony Thomas had five returns for 81 yards, all between 14 and 19 yards. If you think Ted Ginn isn't salivating at the thought of going against the Texans' special teams, you would be wrong. The Texans were way too charitable against Kansas City. Can't do that on the road this week. Protect the football, tackle and cover on special teams. 

2. Clowney, Episode 2
Even though the Texans lost on Sunday, one consolation in the loss came from knowing that Jadeveon Clowney walked out of the stadium healthy after the game. While it wasn't an eye-popping performance on the stat sheet (we're still waiting for that first Clowney sack), he did have four tackles including one for loss, and in the dork stat realm, he led the NFL in Pro Football Focus' Run Stop Percentage stat, which means he himself stopped the largest percentage of run plays that took place with him on the field (30 percent). Above all else, he had moments where he looked super explosive, which is the most exciting thing. At this point, Clowney is still at a stage where success or positivity comes from subjective "eye test" things as opposed to actual stats. He needs to build on last week, and reach the point where we aren't discussing "how he looked" anymore. We need to get to where we are talking about "how he played."

1. More O'Brien willing trigger fingers
Did Brian Hoyer deserve to be taken out of the game on Sunday? Maybe. It doesn't really matter what our answer is, the fact is that he did get benched, and I don't have a problem with that. That said, I'll be anxious to see if O'Brien's willing trigger finger on offense extends to more than just the signal caller.  The top three wide receivers appear safe, as do a couple of the offensive linemen, but beyond that nobody should feel comfortable. If Jeff Adams is still blocking matador style, then find a way to get Greg Mancz onto the field (and yes, I just chugged a ton of whiskey after typing that). If Alfred Blue is still two yards and a cloud of dust on ninety percent of his carries, get Jonathan Grimes or Chris Polk in there. Seriously, if it's going poorly, I want O'Brien in hyper-Donald Trump Apprentice mode, just firing people left and right. That'd be awesome.

PREDICTION: Panthers 21, Texans 16
RECORD: 1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.

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