Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Alfred Blue (28) runs with the ball during the second half against the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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At the break the Texans are 5-3 and leading the AFC South. Strangely, it doesn’t feel like a successful start. Three drubbings on the road and the sputtering offense are reasons why.
In the first half the Texans played the toughest schedule of all the division leaders in terms of opponents’ won/loss record . However, the nature of the losses obscures that. The Texans got blown-out in their only road games albeit against arguably their three toughest opponents, the Patriots, Vikings, and Broncos.
Their only impressive victory is a low scoring win over the Chiefs. That was at home with J. J. Watt in the line-up. Unfortunately, Watt’s season is over and five out of the remaining eight games are on the road. What follows is an analysis of the Texans first half position group performances and what must improve.
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) attempts a pass as Detroit Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder (61) applies pressure during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Texans Quarterback Position Group –
Quarterback – The quarterback analysis is the Brock Osweiler analysis. No other Texans quarterback has seen the field, nor will they if Osweiler remains healthy. Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith staked their future employment and the Texans’ future on signing Osweiler. To bench him, no matter how poorly he plays, is to admit failure.
In truth, Osweiler is not yet a failure. However, the inexperienced quarterback is underperforming by almost every measure. To shed the “bust” label he must improve across the board – from recognizing defenses to setting protections, from dinks and dunks to hitting the bomb, from timing to accuracy. Each element of his performance must improve.
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Lions outside linebacker Armonty Bryant (97) sacks Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Offensive Line
Offensive Line – Offensive line performance is improving, but nowhere near “good”. Duane Brown’s return, even considering the loss of Derek Newton, provides some stability, but overall play remains inconsistent.
When the Texans had the ball in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Colts game and again in the fourth quarter of the Lions game the scrum took place on the opponents’ side of the line of scrimmage. That didn’t happen earlier in the year and must become the norm in the second half.
Xavier Su’a-Filo still has too many busts, but with Brown back in the line-up he is increasing his dominant plays. Su’a-Filo must cut the whiffs for the left side of the line to excel. Some of his good plays are really good. “Good” unless one considers the Texans could have drafted Derek Carr instead of Su’a-Filo and spent all that Osweiler money on offensive line and defensive end help. Hindsight is 20/20.
Greg Mancz, forced into play because of an injury and a bad free agent signing, is becoming adequate at center. Jeff Allen has disappointed and Chris Clark is the swing tackle starting because of Derek Newton’s season ending injury. This is not the worst offensive line in the NFL, but they are often overpowered by good defensive front sevens.
Each of the linemen are gradually improving and the second half doesn’t include as many dominant defenses. This line isn’t talented enough to excel, but the question is whether they can improve enough for the Texans to limp into the playoffs.
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (87) celebrates after making a touchdown reception during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Texans are supposedly all about speed at the skill positions. Yet, the speed is seldom on display in the dink and dunk offense the Texans ran in the first half.
Running Backs – When the line gives them a chance the backs do well. Lamar Miller started showing speed and quickness before injuring his shoulder. Hopefully he will be full speed after the break. Alfred Blue started slowly, but is now having his best season as a Texan. Jonathon Grimes is finally healthy.
When there is daylight the backs take advantage. What is missing is the home run. Until opponents fear the run the passing game must carry the team. Despite the 5-3 record the Texans passing game struggled in the first half.
Receivers – Texans wide receivers are not creating separation. Small passing windows and an inaccurate quarterback are a deadly combination. When a receiver can’t get open, when the quarterback stares him down and then forces an inaccurate pass the foreseeable result is nine interceptions in 8 games, no downfield threat and a discouraged, although still saying the right things, #1 receiver.
The only thing that partially salvaged the receiver position group was the play of the tight ends. C. J. Fiedorowicz is blossoming into a legitimate receiving threat, complementing his blocking skill. Ryan Griffin returned to form as a receiver. Stephen Anderson shows promise.
The tight ends must build on their first half performance and the wide receivers must play to their potential for the Texans to win their division.
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Detroit Lions defensive back Johnson Bademosi (29) intercepts a pass in front of Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Texans offense was an anchor in the first half, and not in the good sense. It was a drag that limited the team’s potential and disappointed Texans fans.
The Texans offense, to date, is an example of the whole being worse than the sum of its parts. In the second half some group must show significant improvement to take pressure off the others so they, in turn, can reach their potential. I have two candidates for that.
The most logical is quarterback. Brock Osweiler must improve all the skills mentioned earlier in this post. Can so many shortcomings be improved so quickly? Probably not, but recognizing defenses and putting the Texans into the right play would be a good start.
However, if the quarterback position is not the first to improve all is not lost. The receivers can get the ball rolling by getting open. If receivers are consistently open Osweiler can worry less about accuracy and the pass rush and focus on other aspects of playing quarterback.
If the Texans are in the right play…not the safest play…but the play with the most potential and the receivers get open everything improves. The offensive line plays better because they are blocking the right people, the ball is getting out faster and the play is attacking the defense’s weak point. The running backs exploit the pass conscious defense.
That sounds so easy. Recognize the defense, be in the right play, set the protections, get open, block the right guy, run to daylight. The really good quarterbacks and the really good teams make it look easy. For Brock Osweiler and the Texans at best it’s a work in progress.
The good news is that in the first half the Texans won every game they projected to win. If they do the same in the second half they will win the AFC South. However, there’s bad news, too. The Titans are improving, the Colts just beat the Packers, and surely Jacksonville can get all that talent pointed in the right direction at least once, hopefully not against the Texans.
Repeating the first half offensive performance won’t get the job done. The offense must get better or be ready to watch the Titans in the play-offs. Yes, those Titans. The Titans with the punishing running game matched against the weakest part of the Texans defense. But analyzing the first half defense is for the next post. Stand by.