Immediate reaction to my Houston Texans’ losing to the Indianapolis Colts on the Thursday night special: I am proud of my team, I like them, and I like their prospects. I know I am an outlier in this, and I know the media will be loaded with negative comments about the quarterback and the coaches and the general manager, but here goes.
v The coaching. Yes, some big time screwups:
- The onside kick. Inexcusable. Bad planning or bad execution, but either way, bad coaching. Coaches must have seen Colts’ film, with 2 onside kicks already this season.
- Why did the score have to get to 24 – 0 before Romeo Crennel scrapped his initial plan of trying to lay a heavy pass rush on Andrew Luck? After the point when the adjustment was in place, the Texans outscored the Colts 28 –to- 9!
- When is some coach other than Belichick (and a couple of others) going to figure out the geometry of field-goal kicking, which dictates that the worst setup on the field, for a right-footed kicker with a natural right-to-left kick trajectory, is the right hash mark? And that the closer you are to the goal line, the more severe the angle to the goal posts becomes, making the kick from the right hash harder, rather than easier, when you get closer. If you doubt me, ask any PGA tour golfer why, if his natural shot is a draw or hook (right-to-left), he prefers to hit his drive to the left side of the fairway. Geometrically, the target is bigger; visually, the target is more comfortable. If the eventual field goal was the O’Brien plan, his 3rd down play should have been run to the left, not the right. The blown field goal was predictable.
v The players. Yes, some big time screwups:
- D. J. Swearinger. Somewhere, somehow, the man’s psyche was imprinted with the idea that the occasional big play (an interception, causing a fumble, intimidating an opponent with a big hit) is more valuable than making fundamentally-sound plays every time. Instead, we get blown tackles, blown coverages, time after time.
- The rest of the defensive backfield. As even the TV guys are now observing, Kareem Jackson may be a hard tackler and a decent cover guy on crossing patterns (questionable), but he absolutely cannot cover on deep routes – especially when they are not run to the sideline. Jonathan Joseph was once a shutdown corner, and he is still decent on the run, but he is no longer very good on single coverage. Can this really be only about “communication breakdowns?”
- The nearly-sainted Andre Johnson may have cost his team the game by fumbling at a point where, had he held onto the ball, the Texans might have finally taken the lead. Yes, the same Andre Johnson who evidently held out from training camp because he did not think the new coach, the new QB, and the team were good enough for him. The same “Dre” who threw a sideline tantrum last year when his previous QB disappointed him in some way. Yes, he also made numerous catches last night, including an excellent catch for a TD, but I, for one, have had enough of the man’s feelings and am hoping for improved performance.
v The officials. They did not have such a good night, either. The phantom PI call on the Texans’ cornerback in the 4th quarter, when he had the temerity to allow the Colts’ pass receiver to run into him and knock him down, was so bad that even the broadcast booth could not believe it, and it got pretty funny when the rules specialist in the TV booth, a retired NFL ref, found his unequivocal call on the Johnson fumble overruled by the refs. (He assured us it was an incomplete pass.) The refs did offer an offsetting makeup call to the Texans shortly thereafter, but it was too late to undo the damage of the original mistakes.
Now for the good news: this team has a lot of heart, an above average level of talent, and – wait for it – A GOOD QUARTERBACK. There, I said it.
First of all, the Texans, after opening with 3 wins, have had 3 straight games in which they fell way behind, but in each case, though they could not manage a win, they staged a comeback, and the comebacks ranged from impressive to terrific. That shows me two things: (a) they have good NFL talent, they can hang with anyone when they get it together; and (b) they have character. The character is key: bad teams do not go down 24 – 0 and come all the way back, especially when up against the NFL’s best 4th quarter player, Andrew Luck, the Comeback Kid, who was reduced to mediocrity in the 4th quarter.
Secondly, J. J. Watt is the best football player I have ever seen, the best in the NFL today. Not the best defensive lineman, not the best defensive player, the Best Football Player. No other defender has ever done what he can do, and what he does every week. No one else can transform a game as completely as he, not even Peyton Manning.
Finally, the controversial one. Check the game stats on the QBs. The acclaimed Luck not only threw an interception (Houston’s beleaguered and belittled Ryan Fitzpatrick threw NONE), but he also committed the critical fumble – the one Watt recovered and ran in for a TD. Fitzpatrick’s only fumble (like many of the other turnovers throughout his career, the ones that gave him his bad rep) was the direct and almost inevitable consequence of the combination of a desperate situation, mistakes by his blockers and (probably) by his receivers, and a decision to at least try to make something happen rather than just surrendering to defeat. Check out the number of excellent throws Fitzpatrick made – long, short, to the sidelines, a perfect endzone fade, several where he threw to adjusted targets to which only the receiver, but not the defender, could get. Check out the fact that Fitzpatrick, unlike nearly all of his predecessors in Houston, actually has quick feet, both to escape the rush and to get the occasional first down when no receiver is open. Finally, despite all the claims that Houston must always step out into a quick lead because it is not “built for comebacks” (code for having a QB who cannot throw deep), please note that this guy – who supposedly is not able to lead comebacks – brought his team back from 24-0 to 33-28 and, but for the blown field goal, the Johnson fumble, and 2 critical officiating mistakes, probably would have won this game.
Coach O’Brien seems to be saying, in Coachspeak (which is almost as guarded as Politicianspeak), that the players are not yet carrying out their assignments correctly on a consistent basis. In other words, they have not yet mastered the new offense and new defense installed by the new coaching staff, and so they suffer from too many “communication breakdowns” or other mistakes that are mental rather than physical. In other other words, they have the talent, they have the QB, that they need to become consistent winners, provided the coaches hurry up and complete their job of installing the new systems. I am inclined to believe him.
By the way, if anyone thinks the Texans would be better than 3 & 3 at this point if they had Blake Bortles or Johnny Football or Teddy Bridgewater at QB, I say they are nuts. The Texans went with the only available QB with a decent chance of taking them to the playoffs this year, and meanwhile they got a potential superstar pass-rusher. I, for one, am prepared to forgive them for drafting Louis Nix.