2017 NFL Playoffs: Houston Texans Win If They Do 3 Things

The Houston Texans need to do these three things to notch a win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday in the Wild Card Round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs.

The Houston Texans may have caught a break with their first matchup of the 2017 NFL Playoffs as the Oakland Raiders are on their third quarterback. However, a win isn’t guaranteed as they play in the Wild Card Round. It has been an up-and-down season to say the least for the Texans. They seemingly won the offseason by signing free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller.

The running back held up his end. Miller finished the season with just over 1,000 yards on the ground and 31 receptions. He totaled six touchdowns, all impressive feats considering the atrocious offensive line blocking for him and the nagging shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games.

Osweiler on the other hand, was not such a good investment. The former Denver Broncos second round selection from Arizona State was given $37 million guaranteed from the Texans this offseason, and has done nothing to justify it. He completed just 59-percent of his passes for 2,957 yards with more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15).

With just a couple weeks remaining the Texans actually benched their opening day starter in favor of former fourth-round pick Tom Savage. The replacement led them to a comeback win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but then was hurt in Week 17 and has again been relegated to the bench in favor of Osweiler.

On top of the err in signing the quarterback, they also lost the identity of their team this season. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, was lost to a back injury for the season. All that put together makes them look like an easy one-and-done playoff team.

Not so fast, though. The Oakland Raiders are the opponents heading to NRG Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 7, and they are also dealing with quarterback issues. Starter, and MVP candidate, Derek Carr went down with a broken leg on Christmas Eve. His replacement, Matt McGloin, was injured in his first start of the year in Week 17.

That means the Raiders will turn to rookie fourth-round pick Connor Cook this weekend. While that doesn’t guarantee a win for Houston, it makes it much more likely than if Carr (or even McGloin) was slinging the ball around. They should be able to move on to the Divisional Round though, as long as they do these three things.

Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Run the Rock Early and Often

Lamar Miller may have averaged just four yards per carry, but he did so with little help from the Texans porous offensive line. He also had to face stacked boxes all season as no one respected the passing attack of the Texans.

Miller not only remained effective on the ground, but also had just two fumbles (only one which resulted in a turnover) on 268 carries. That’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum from their quarterback, as Osweiler had five fumbles and 16 interceptions on the season.

The bottom line is that, while their running game isn’t explosive, it doesn’t result in many turnovers whereas their passing game does. Getting the ground game on track early helps tremendously because Oakland struggles on defense and usually wins thanks to their high-powered offense. While that offense is weakened without Derek Carr, turnovers by Houston would be the ultimate equalizer.

Keeping running back Latavius Murray and receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper on the sidelines is paramount. If the Texans turn this into a low scoring, defensive affair, they can and should win.

Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) is introduced before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Unleash Clowney

After they lost J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans defense took a serious step back. That was until defensive end Jadeveon Clowney saw the light bulb go off. The first overall pick in 2014 had been a huge disappointment for the Texans until about midway through this season when he became unblock-able.

Clowney was outstanding at setting the edge against the run and was constantly taking on more than one blocker as offenses tried to slow him down. Down the stretch it became common to see him triple teamed by linemen, but he still managed three of his six sacks in his final three games.

Against Oakland, with a rookie quarterback, Clowney needs to make a name for himself. Doing so would not only help the Texans win on Saturday, but it would go a long way towards quieting some of his critics thanks to who is suited up for the opponent.

The Raiders took pass-rusher Khalil Mack with the fifth pick in the same draft Clowney was taken, and it has become a punchline in reference to their production thus far. In three seasons Mack has recorded double-digit sacks twice and has 30 for his career. Clowney on the other hand has just 10.5, with more than half coming this season.

Injuries have played a huge part in that for the athletically gifted Clowney, who had microfracture knee surgery during his rookie season. Now with the spotlight brightest, he can make a name for himself by outplaying Mack. Doing so would also go a long way towards helping the Texans move to the Divisional Round.

Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders fullback Jamize Olawale (49) scores on a 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans during a NFL International Series game at Estadio Azteca. The Raiders defeated the Texans 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Cover the Backs

In late November, the Texans and Raiders met for a Monday Night Football game at Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico. It was a fun game to watch, especially given the crowds excitement at an NFL event coming to their city. The Texans nearly made a statement win in that one, as they entered the game famous for struggling on the road, especially against good teams. They did, however, hold their own. But in the end, they dropped a close one, 27-20.

Most Texans fans remember the awful calls by the referees, one of which cost the Texans a first down (which they clearly had) as they tried to take the lead late in the fourth. While that hurt them, its not what lost them the game. That blame can be placed on the shoulders of their defenses inability to cover the players leaking out of the backfield.

Latavius Murray had five receptions for 59 yards in this game, including a 39-yard reception as his long of the night. His backup, Jalen Richard, added three receptions for 50 yards including a 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

It wasn’t just the tailbacks though as fullback Jamize Olawale torched the Texans for 90 yards receiving, most of which came on a 75-yard touchdown catch and run. Without surrendering such huge chunks of yards to the running backs in the receiving game, Houston may have pulled the Monday Night Football game out.

So if Houston plans on winning this weekend, that memory needs to burn in their mind, especially with a rookie quarterback who may be looking to dump off to the backs. If Houston cleans up their defense in this one area, as well as protects the ball and gets their best out of Clowney, they will win their first playoff game under head coach Bill O’Brien.

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