Three weeks ago, the Houston Texans beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Carson, CA, and we called it the biggest win of the Bill O'Brien Era. Since then, the Chargers haven't really done much to fortify the magnitude of that win, but whatever. The win felt good. Now, three weeks later, the Texans on Sunday went into a tougher venue (Arrowhead Stadium) against a better head coach (Andy Reid) and a league MVP at quarterback (Patrick Mahomes), and they came away with a 31-24 victory.
So the title belt for "greatest win of the O'Brien Era" only stayed on the waist fo the Charger win for three weeks, and now belongs to yesterday's win over the Chiefs, a win whose defining quality might be the fact that it probably should have been much bigger margin of victory than seven points, when you consider the Texans dropped at least three touchdown passes, and continue to have point-wasting issues in the kicking game.
Bill O'Brien's offense is humming right now, with well over 1,000 yards of offense over the last two weeks, and the Texans' defense isn't far behind. Let's lay this win out with winners and losers from yesterday afternoon, shall we?
4. Texans' defense
Much of the hoopla over the next few days will have to do with the Texans' offensive operation, and that's fine, because we all know this team will go as far as Deshaun Watson takes them. But it must be pointed out that Romeo Crennel's defensive unit was fantastic yesterday. It started with them holding the Chiefs to just a field goal after a terrible Carlos Hyde fumble on the Texans' first play from scrimmage, and ended with two huge three and outs on the Chiefs' last two possessions. In between, they held the Chiefs to just seven points over the final 46 minutes of the game, and forced some huge turnovers, including Patrick Mahomes' first interception of the season and a strip sack by rookie Charles Omenihu that led to seven points and a 23-17 lead right before the half. Maybe the most amazing thing is that, after CB Bradley Roby went out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, the Texans held Mahomes to 5-11 passing for just 31 yards. The Texans were already without Johnathan Joseph, who was inactive with a hamstring injury of his own. Game ball to Romeo Crennel!
3. The offensive line
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Texans are doing things that didn't seem possible even as recently as a few weeks ago, when Deshaun Watson was busy getting sacked six times and hit ten times by the Carolina Panthers. In the last two weeks, the Texans have flipped their offensive line narrative on its head, giving up NO sacks — yes, you read that right — and just three QB hits combined against the Falcons and Chiefs. That's got to be especially troubling for the Chiefs, who gave up tons of high draft capital for and $63.5 million guaranteed to Frank Clark to sack quarterbacks. Through six games, he has one sack. The Texans' offensive line also paved the way for 192 yards on the ground, led by Hyde's 116 yards. The Texans held the ball for nearly 40 minutes of clock time, and they have the line to thank for that.
2. Deshaun Watson
A season ago, in Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills, Deshaun Watson threw two horrible picks and lost a fumble, a culmination of an early chunk in the season in which Watson had become terribly turnover prone. The game seemed to serve as a wake up call, and over the remainder of the season, 10 games, Watson committed just three turnovers. If the Bills game last year served as a turnover epiphany for Watson, maybe that Panthers game a couple weeks ago served a similar purpose for Watson's decisiveness and penchant for holding onto the ball too long. In the last two games, Watson has gotten the ball out much faster, taken what the defense has given him, and most importantly, avoided the physical damage that he suffered against Carolina and throughout 2018. We forget sometimes that Watson doesn't even have a full two seasons worth of starts under his belt, as Sunday was his 28th career regular season start. His ascension continues to be a joy to watch, and there is an MVP award in his future.
1. Bill O'Brien
When you combine the play calling for Watson with the resourcefulness on defense, this was Bill O'Brien's best day as a head coach in the NFL. The errors in this game that kept the score closer than it should have been were physical errors from his players that O'Brien couldn't control, and even his key game management decisions that didn't work out — namely, the challenge for pass interference on a 52-yard Chiefs screen pass — I was still fine with the thought process behind them. Two seasons ago, O'Brien had chances to seal wins on the road over New England and Seattle if he'd just put the ball in Deshaun Watson's hands and let him close the deal. He didn't, and they lost. O'Brien wasn't going to let that happen on Sunday. On 4th and 3, with the game on the line, he leaned on his two best players, Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, and the deal was sealed. Good for Bill O'Brien.
4. Andy Reid
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, there was Reid, whose offense had both of its explosive plays (20 yards or greater) on the first drive of the game, and that was it. More importantly, Reid coughed up a time out in the second half (and thus, one more chance to stop the clock late in the game) on an awful pass interference challenge by Reid, and then on the final possession for the Chiefs, he chose to run the ball up the middle on 2nd and 14 (instead of, you know, letting his MVP quarterback throw the ball against a slew of backup cornerbacks), making it 3rd and 13, and the Texans' defense was off the field a play later, and the game was over shortly after that.
3. Marcus Mariota
After the Texans games each Sunday, I spend three hours hosting the team's postgame show on SportsRadio 610, and then another hour or so writing up this here post, so I don't get much of a chance to watch condensed versions of the other games on the schedule until Monday, at least. At the top of my watch list for tomorrow, I promise you, will be the Titans' 16-0 loss to the woeful Denver Broncos, in which Marcus Mariota was finally benched for Ryan Tannehill. Mariota, while in the game, completed just 7 of 18 passes for 63 yards and two interceptions. The Titans' season is now swirling down the drain, and apparently their head coach Mike Vrabel isn't the love child of Bill Belichick and Will Hunting that everyone was making him out to be when he got the job.
2. The Texans' "kicking operation"
For the second straight week, there were multiple missed kicks by Ka'imi Fairbairn, with a missed PAT and a missed field goal yesterday. After the game, O'Brien said the entire kicking operation needed to improve, and obviously the head coach's choice to eschew a 45 yard field goal that would have put the Texans up 10 at the end of the game, and instead go for it on 4th and 3, shows an overall lack of confidence in either Fairbairn or holder Bryan Anger, as much as it shows supreme confidence in Watson. In fairness to Fairbairn, on the field goal, Anger's holding of the ball left a lot to be desired....
1. Will Fuller
Last week, there were a slew of Will Fuller fantasy owners who had benched him and had to watch him go for a career day of 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns (raises hand). This week, those people (like me) decided to put him into their lineups and they were "rewarded" for their confidence by having the Fuller from his rookie year show up, with him dropping three different deep balls that could have gone for touchdowns. Look, the Texans' offense has to have Fuller on the field to run at optimal strength, his deep speed is that crucial, but dear God man, catch the freaking ball!
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.