Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers: First half observations
Against the Carolina Panthers, the Houston Texans had several opportunities to take advantage of game-changing plays.
The Houston Texans’ inability to capitalize on their turnovers on defense and big-play opportunities on offense would prove to be their undoing in a tough Week 4 loss.
On the Panthers’ first drive of the game, they gained 36 yards on a Lonnie Johnson pass interference penalty to get them just outside of the red zone at the 24-yard line. With J.J. Watt off the field, the Texans rushed four on the next play and were able to get to quarterback Kyle Allen.
D.J. Reader was able to beat the right guard inside which left Brennan Scarlett all alone with the right tackle. Allen stepped up in the pocket as the left side of the pocket started to collapse on him, and Scarlett was able to wrap him up before he could gain any yards with his feet.
The ball came free, and Benardrick McKinney was able to scoop it up. The pass rush was able to get to Allen through the game, even forcing and recovering two more fumbles. The ability to get to the quarterback and be disruptive was the major bright spot for the Texans in the loss.
McCaffrey touched the ball 37 times against the Texans. He had been the focal point of their offense coming into the game with 80 touches, and it was no surprise to see that he had a heavy workload. This play would result in one of nine first downs for McCaffrey. All of the running backs damage occurred after the catch.
McCaffrey ended with 99 yards after the catch while netting 86 receiving yards. He is a matchup nightmare that has to be guarded similar to a great shooter in basketball. Zach Cunningham was responsible for chasing the Stanford product all over the field. Unfortunately, in this play, Cunningham lost track of him as it appeared that he was staying in for pass protection. McCaffrey slipped out, and Allen got the ball out to him with no one down the sideline to prevent a significant gain.
After two big running plays that resulted in 65 total yards, the Texans were finally driving for an opportunity to score in the second quarter. On the next snap from the edge of the red zone, Deshaun Watson tried to fit in a throw to Will Fuller that almost resulted in a touchdown.
Carolina cornerback Ross Cockrell was able to make a play and nearly intercepted the pass and ended the drive. Watson has shown the ability to make tight-window throws like this, but he didn’t need to make a tough play here.
DeAndre Hopkins would come open underneath as Fuller pulled linebacker Luke Kuechly up out of the middle of the field. Had Watson taken the short-throw underneath, it would’ve left a manageable second down situation. And with Hopkins’ ability after the catch, he may have been able to stretch for a first down. Instead, the drive faltered, and the Texans settled for a field goal.
This play left many scratching their heads. After a huge momentum-changing turnover forced by Whitney Mercilus, the Texans had the ball in scoring position immediately. The first three plays of the drive gained 28 yards and put the offense in the red zone. With the game score at 3-3, it looked like the Texans would take their first lead of the day.
On second down and four, the play called for Hopkins to throw across the field to Carlos Hyde with the idea that the cornerback would stray over too far into the middle of the field. Cockrell didn’t bite on the first throw and waited for the pass to sail right into his arms.
Instead of the Texans taking the lead with at least a field goal, the Panthers would drive down the field and score their only touchdown to swing the momentum of the game completely. Despite the Texans later tying the game, this play seemed to be the beginning of the end for the good guys chance at a win.
At the end of the first half, the Texans were down 10-3 and even further behind on the momentum scoreboard.