If there is one thing that you can count on during Bill O'Brien's tenure as Houston Texans head coach, it is that his team typically bounces back from subpar performances with, not just solid performances, but actual wins. Entering Thursday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts, O'Brien had been 9-1 in games following a double digit loss (as long as the Texans were mathematically still alive for the playoffs, eliminating the horrid, meaningless final month of 2017 from the data).
In the era with Deshaun Watson as quarterback and O'Brien as head coach, there had been no loss even in the same zip code as the 41-7 beatdown the Ravens laid on them in Week 11. Subsequently, as a result of that loss, there was no more important game in O'Brien's tenure as head coach than last night's game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Win, and the Texans seize control of the AFC South division. Lose, and all of a sudden the season is teetering on the brink of disaster, and with the Patriots coming to town next week! Thankfully, O'Brien's "bounce back" trend held up, and he is now 10-1 following those double digit losses, as the Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts in a tedious 20-17 win at NRG Stadium.
I'm operating on three hours sleep, thanks to pregame and postgame duties on game time leading into a Friday morning radio show on SportsRadio 610, so let's get right to it. Winners and losers, here we go....
4. DeAndre Hopkins
All season long, Hopkins has been his usual great self, but he's been used differently. Instead of attacking teams in the intermediate to deeper parts of the field, Hopkins has been used almost like an extension of the running game, with short passes to move the chains. He's still second in the league in catches, but averaging barely ten yards a grab. On Thursday night, though, perhaps because Will Fuller is back to attract attention (more on this in a minute), Hopkins was able to get downfield for both Texans touchdowns, a 35 yard grab in the first half on a busted coverage, and a spectacular 30 yard snag in the fourth quarter for the game winning points.
3. Brennan Scarlett
There were linebackers who had more prolific evenings on the stat sheet than Scarlett — specifically, Zach Cunningham (16 tackles) and Bernardrick McKinney (11 tackles). However, it was Scarlett who came up with the biggest defensive play of the evening for the Texans, a fourth down stop of a scrambling Jacoby Brissett, a play in which Scarlett shed a blocker and chased the Colts' QB down from behind, and stopped him short of the first down marker by a half yard. The Texans would go on to run out the last three minutes or so of the game.
2. Playoff percentages
If you want to know what was at stake in this game, all you need to do is go check out the various playoff scenario percentages on the website Five Thirty Eight. Heading into Thursday night, the Colts and Texans were virtual equals within the AFC playoff race, with nearly identical percentage chances of making the playoffs and/or winning the AFC South. Now, following Thursday's Texans victory, here is the swing:
ODDS OF MAKING PLAYOFFS: Texans 81 percent, Colts 36 percent
ODDS OF WINNING AFC SOUTH: Texans 70 percent, Colts 19 percent
It was basically a window of 45 to 50 percent opened between the two teams. Bottom line — the Texans have out themselves in a "control your own destiny" scenario, and the Colts need help.
1. Will Fuller and his hamstring
Will Fuller's health, along with his impact on the team when healthy, are perpetual talking points with the Texans, but it really hits you squarely between the eyes when we see such a glaring example of it from opening kick to final gun in a game like Thursday night's. Not only did Fuller's presence open things back up for DeAndre Hopkins, as we discussed earlier, but it gave Deshaun Watson a target to which he could finally start slinging it down the field again. Fuller caught bombs of 44 and 51 yards in the third quarter, but it was his 11 yard catch on 3rd and four on the Texans' final possession to essentially close out the game that was his most important play of the evening. Because of Fuller's return, Watson was 4-4 throwing the ball 30 yards or more down the field, the first quarterback to have a perfect night slinging it deep that many times since they began tracking that stat in 2006. Welcome back, Will Fuller!
4. Texans first drives
Yeah, the Texans won the game, but the trend of horrific performance on opening drives held up, unfortunately. Here are the revised "First Drive Blues" numbers:
Houston Texans first drive blues update —— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) November 22, 2019
11 opening drives
65 plays, 150 yards
And on and on it goes….
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This needs to get corrected before the Patriots come to town next Sunday.
3. T.Y. Hilton
Hilton has spent the better part of his eight year NFL career decimating various cornerbacks in Texan uniforms. Coming into Thursday's game, he had played 15 regular season games against the Texans, tallying 1,519 yards and 10 touchdown catches. Essentially, when Hilton has played the Texans, he's performed at the level of a first team All Pro. Thursday night, he tried to gut it out on a strained calf, and may have wound up hurting his won team, as he was on a restricted snap count, and when he was in the game, he was either having trouble getting open or dropping passes down the field. Hilton finished with just three catches for 18 yards.
2. DeAndre Carter and 1. Keke Coutee
There are issues right now for each of these diminutive slot-type receivers. Carter continues to make mental and physical errors in the return game. Last night, on his first punt return opportunity, Carter called for a fair catch with a clear path for 10 to 15 yards right in front of him, and then on a subsequent punt return, he fumbled the football. Fortunately it was recovered by the Texans. Carter, I would imagine, is on notice, as his specific role is almost solely in the return game. As for Coutee, he's been in and out of O'Brien's doghouse all season long, at first because of injury, but lately because of mental and physical errors. In the loss to the Ravens, Coutee had an issue with drops and running the wrong routes. On Thursday night, he was a health scratch from the lineup. Not a great time for Coutee right now.