Texans Tidbits: what we learned from week 8


While the loss in Miami a week ago was embarrassing, the Houston Texans came back nicely as they defeated the Tennessee Titans 20-6 at home on Sunday. Here are the things we can take away from the victory over the division rival Titans:

1. Whitney Mercilus, not Jadaveon Clowney, is the #2 rusher to J.J. Watt

In the game Mercilus had 3.5 sacks, a career high and half of the Texans seven sacks for the game. Watt added 2.5 sacks, and now is tied for the league lead in sacks with Chandler Jones at 8.5, and actually having a better year so far than he was last year. Jared Crick racked up his second sack of the season to round out the Texans who picked up sacks.  After the game, coach Bill O’Brien had high praise for the fourth year pass rusher.

The Texans defense is predicated on one thing—turnovers. When they get turnovers, they win. With an interception and two fumbles forced, the Texans were +3 in the turnover battle on Sunday. In the win over the Jaguars, the Texans picked Blake Bortles three times and against the Buccaneers they did get an interception though the offense carried the bulk of the load with 413 yards and 30 first downs. Still, the point is forcing turnovers is what this defense has to do to win games. What is the best way to force interceptions? Get pressure on the quarterback. If Mercilus can step up and be the complimentary rusher the rest of the season, that will be a crucial boost for the defense.

2. DeAndre Hopkins is rendering just about any coverage irrelevant

Remember a few years ago when Calvin Johnson was absolutely unstoppable? I mean, the Cowboys triple covered the guy and he still came up with the ball. The Bengals also got Megatronned. Hopkins has really blossomed into the player the Texans thought he could be when they drafted him in the first round in 2013. Still, amazingly, with not much supporting cast to take the coverage off of him, Hopkins has still excelled. Yes Nate Washington had 42 yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, but Washington has less than half the catches and targets that Hopkins does. Certainly, Hopkins has sealed up his status as the breakout receiver of 2015 and quickly ascending into the realm of the top receivers in the league. Against the Jaguars Hopkins had some catches that reminded you of 2014 breakout receiver Odell Beckham and a helmet catch that might bring back memories of another Giants receiver.

3. The Texans are going to struggle on the road late in the year

Perhaps the most crucial contest left in the season for the Texans is going to be on the road, where they are 1-3 so far this season—in Indianapolis. Pending their result in Carolina on Monday night, the Texans could be tied with the Colts for the division lead going into week 9, but the Colts hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their win in Houston. The Texans have dropped road contests in Carolina, Atlanta and Miami with a win over Jacksonville. In those games the Texans have allowed 24, 48, 44 and 20 points. But in addition to the game in Indianapolis, the Texans also travel to Cincinnati to take on the undefeated Bengals after the bye week, go to Buffalo for a December clash with the Bills, then to Indianapolis in week 15 and to Nashville immediately after that. Running games travel well, which the Texans don’t have, and the defense better make those trips, because the defense has not traveled well so far this season, or there will be some long return flights in store.

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4. The running game is still a weak point for the Texans

Sorry for the pessimism, but the running game is still an overwhelming negative for the Texans. Alfred Blue managed just 39 yards on 14 carries for a paltry 2.8 yards per carry average. Chris Polk was not much better at 2.3 yards per carry, gaining 18 yards on eight carries. Blue’s long of eight yards was the longest run of the game. The Texans are still last in the league in yards per attempt with a dismal 3.3 yards per carry and 28th in yards per game with 87.9.

5. To conclude, even though the Texans have not been very good so far this season, they just have to be better than the other three lackluster squads around them

The Titans have gotten much better on defense this season and perhaps found their signal caller of the future in Marcus Mariota, but there is still a lot of work to be done with that club. The Jaguars have seen Blake Bortles step up this season, but they still have to improve their offensive line and secondary in the worst way. The Colts are so far the lead dogs in this pack, but Andrew Luck has been a colossal disappointment and held them back. If he fails to get back on track, there will be an opportunity for the Texans to take this division. The Texans are a flawed club for sure, but if you’re the best of your quartet, you’re in.