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Justin Chasteen

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@jchasteenwriter
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The Bit: Spoiled Fans and Media Declare Sky Falling

The Texans sit astride the AFC South at 10-4 with a two-game lead over the Titans (8-6) and Colts (8-6), having split a game each with the foes. Not only do the Texans hold the reins of their division, they have a chance to obtain a rare gem not ever held by the organization before: a bye week with at least one guaranteed home game to follow.

How do the Texans accomplish such a feat? They simply win two more football games against two teams who do not have winning records.

Sadly, it’s not the simple, but before we look into the future, let’s take an embarrassing dive into Texans-past…

As I watched the Texans and Jets battle, I could not help but check Twitter to see what was being said. After all, Twitter is the home to absolute experts and unemployed NFL GMs, so why not gather their input?

Instead of support, I read what seemed to be a millennial protest.

Dread spewed forth from the Twitter outlets of fans and media alike, and I get it. It’s acceptable to expect your team to play at a high level. But who the hell says the Texans should have beaten the brakes off the Jets? The Jets average around 20 points per game and 23 points over the past 3 games, and the Texans have beaten the brakes off few teams this year; they aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. They are an offense with a limited run game—due to talent at the position and the offensive line—the quarterback often holds on to the ball too long when given plenty of time to throw, and too often do the Texans settle for 3 points instead of 6.

Even before the Jets took the lead, I witnessed complete jackassary from many. The fans have been spoiled by 10 wins, mostly due to the 9-game win streak, and have forgotten that a good team can *gulp* not hold the lead the entire game. It was no surprise that “the Texans were overrated” or “same old O’Brien” was diarrhea’d all over my timeline when the Jets went up 22-19 with 5 minutes left in the game. Let’s not forget “the secondary sucks.”

These same fans quickly kissed the buttocks of one Deshaun Watson when he engineered a brilliant end-game drive to retake the lead.

What stood out most to me was a tweet from the Bengal Killer himself, T.J. Yates:

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The Texans have played their butts off, and the fans/media completely disrespected and undervalued a Jets team that has put up 48, 34, 42, and 27 points in their four wins. The Jets have also beaten three teams that gifted wins to the Texans.

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(What kind of handsome egomaniac would quote their own tweet in their own article?)

The Jets, while inconsistent, will often put points on the board. (Sound familiar?) Yet, the fans and media expect a shutout, on the road, on a short week, after an exhausting division loss at home.

What happens this week when the Texans go on the road to face the red-hot, defending Super Bowl champs? I do not expect the Texans to be favored, nor should they be, as the Eagles just smacked the Rams in the mouth in LA. Will the sky also be falling if the Texans have to, dare I say, fight to Week 17 to secure the division, in a division where three of the four teams have winning records?

Or what happens if the Texans blow the #2 seed and give it back to the Patriots? Will fans stop cheering in protest? Hell no. The same crying fans will fill every damn seat at NRG Stadium on December 30th to watch the Texans try and secure the AFC South.

If they play for 60 minutes, then wait 60-damn-minutes before you start crying on social media. As the Bengal Killer said: find a real problem.

Leave the game to the athletes and coaches.

The Bit: Best Texans Squad Ever?

At 9-3, the Texans are one win away from surpassing the highest number of regular season wins in the O’Brien era. (Yeah, the guy has managed to take them to the playoffs twice with 9 wins.) With Indianapolis, New York Jets, Philadelphia, and Jacksonville left on the schedule, and two of those games at home, it’s looking like the Texans should finish anywhere from 13-3 to 11-5.

I find myself constantly comparing this team to the 2012 Texans that went 12-4 under Gary Kubiak, a man who I still wish was the head coach of this team. The two squads could not be more different on offense, but both defenses ran highly talented 3-4 defenses. The 2012 offense could put up points with Matt Schaub under center, Arian Foster at running back (with Ben Tate raising hell behind him) and all-pro Andre Johnson, rookie Deandre Hopkins, pro-bowl tight end Owen Daniels, and an offensive line that was considered the best in franchise history, but the offense struggled during late season and the defense was worthless against elite quarterbacks.

The only elite quarterbacks Houston has faced this year are Tom Brady (26-39, 277 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Andrew Luck (40-62, 464 yards, 4 touchdowns)—two of the better quarterback performances allowed this season by the Texans defense.

Are the Texans set up for the same fate in the playoffs? It seems many elite quarterbacks could be waiting—Roethlisberger, Mahomes, Brady, Rivers, and maybe Luck—with Lamar Jackson/Joe Flacco and Marcus “literally awful” Mariota as the only outside-looking-in prospects.

That fact that the Texans won’t truly be tested—outside of Luck—since week 1 leaves me more curious than concerned. Many, including myself, say the Texans haven’t been tested yet, but the other night I heard an excellent point made on the ESPN postgame recap after the Texans beat the Titans: The Texans will hold up because they’ve already been tested. They were tested when they lost their first three games and refused to give up. They banded together, fixed the issues, and started winning games by any means necessary.

This point is hard to argue. To take three straight losses (two as the betting favorites) and come back to win nine games in a row is incredible in any professional sport. This was a team that had high expectations from their fans and owner, and when they were 0-3, many had given up on them. Luckily, they never gave up on themselves, and they only looked ahead—never back.

When I ponder if this is the best Texans squad of all time, the answer will be blank until the playoffs roll around and this Texans unit, from the coaching to the players, is tested. I know for sure that this is the best Texans defense of all time—maybe not statistically, but the defensive unit has an it factor and confidence that I’ve never seen before. I trust this defense much more than the defense that was embarrassed by Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady (twice) on national television in 2012.

So what about the offense? Can they bail this team out of a hole if the defense is tested? We haven’t really seen the offense under pressure during this nine-game win streak. I know they run the two-minute drill before halftime successfully, and Watson seems to have a good grip on where his other options are aside from Hopkins. But the Texans’ offensive success relies heavily on Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue running the ball well. What happens if the Texans find themselves down 21-0 in the first half and unable to move the ball on the ground? Only then will we know if this is the best Texans team to date, or if their shadow is bigger than their heart.

All stats from nflgsis.com

Game Balls: Texans over Browns

Who stood out in the 29-13 victory?

Ka'imi Fairbairn

5 for 5 field goals:

35 yards

38 yards

42 yards

48 yards

53 yards

2/2 extra points

3 touchbacks

Fairbairn has settled back in now that holder, rookie Trevor Daniel, has been holding the snap a little more effectively. Fairbairn accounted for 17 of the Texans 29 points and has proven that he can be counted on.

Justin Reid

1 forced fumble

3 solo tackles

1 assisted tackle

4 total tackles

2 passes defensed

Not enough can be said about the rookie safety out of Stanford. Time and time again, Reid makes plays to prevent touchdowns. He has an eye for where the ball is going to go, and also has the will to tackle hard. In boxing, there’s guys who point-fight and guys who try to finish fights. Reid is a guy who tries to finish every drive on his own accord. Justin Reid always goes for the knockout.

Jordan Thomas

3 targets

3 catches

32 yards

1 touchdown

While the stats may not be as attractive as a Deandre Hopkins, the Texans have found another rookie play-maker. For too long they have lacked in not only a play-making tight end, but they have badly needed someone who can block and find space in coverage. Thomas runs good routes and has a knack for picking up critical first downs and putting points on the boards.

Game Balls: Texans over Titans

Deshaun Watson:

19/24 (75%) completions

210 passing yards

2 passing touchdowns

0 turnovers

130.9 passer rating

9 rushes

70 yards

1 rushing touchdown

Watson played clean and smart football, hitting newly acquired Demaryius Thomas twice in the red zone for touchdowns. If you take into account the spiked ball to stop the clock and two dropped passes, Watson only had two inconsistent throws and a 90% completion rating.

Lamar Miller:

12 carries

162 yards

1 touchdown

13.5 yard average

1 catch for 5 yards

Miller looked like the man Houston wanted when they signed him as a free agent. On limited carries, Miller racked up 162 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown run and 25 yarder that was called back on a holding call. Even without the long touchdown run, Miller still averaged nearly 6 yards per carry.

J.J. Watt:

6 solo tackles

3 assisted tackles

9 total tackles

1.5 sacks for a loss of 12 yards

1 forced fumble

Watt is playing like Watt. Two years of injuries may have kept him down, but he has healed and is playing at an extremely high level. The man is held on nearly every play (penalties which are rarely called), and he still puts constant pressure on opposing QBs. QB pressures should be a NFL statistic, because it affects the game more than most realize.

The Bit: Okay, so the Texans might be good…

I, the ultimate realist when it comes to my one and only sports team (possibly even a pessimist to avoid disappointment), have finally seen enough from the 8-3 Houston Texans to admit they just might be as good as their record shows.

The realization of this legitimacy has not come easily, especially since the season started (0-3) much like the last season ended (1-9.) The difference, and likely fuel to my Fire O’Brien now attitude, was not the fact that the Texans were losing, it was the fact that their young and medically unproven QB was getting hit way too much.

—And he still is, as Houston has given up 83 QB hits (about half Watson’s fault because of the way he plays the game.) Lately, however, it seems the QB hits have come from making plays and less from being hurried, as the offensive line has improved with Davenport back at left tackle and Lamm at right tackle, the middle anchored by the improving—but at times inconsistent—Martin, and Kelemete/Fulton playing solid football at guard. Has anyone else noticed just how well Lamar Miller has been running between the tackles lately? This was something the Texans have struggled with since Arian Foster left the team.

So, with praise comes concern, yet, I have found myself a bit less skeptical and a bit more confident in the 2018 streaking Texans.

The Texans had to win eight games in a row to earn my trust, and as I watched Deshaun Watson—seemingly back to his old physical form post-ACL injury—throw his second touchdown of the night to newly acquired Demaryius Thomas, I thought just maybe I was ready to put my trust into O’Brien and this offense.

The defense is solid, as it has been under O’Brien and Romeo Crennel. The Texans have the best safety group—and more importantly, best safety performances—with Tyrann Mathieu, rookie Justin Reid, and Andre Hal than ever before. Mathieu seems worthy of a three-year extension, Reid (how the hell did this man fall to the third round?) seems destined to be the play-making future at the position, and Hal has bounced back incredibly from a very serious illness to provide quality coverage. This unit has played so well, in fact, that Kareem Jackson, who looked like an all-pro at safety the first two games, was able to move back to corner where he is having the best stretch of his nine-year career.

Alongside Jonathan Joseph, Aaron Colvin, and a surprisingly solid Shareece Wright, the Texans not only have the best safety group in history, they also sport their best corner group since losing A. J. Bouye. Put these men behind second-year standout Zach Cunningham and veteran Benardrick McKinney in the middle, with Clowney and Mercilus rushing the passer behind JJ Watt, Brandon Dunn, Christian Covington, and D.J. Reader, and Houston may have the stingiest defense in the NFL.

It’s no secret the defense won games while the offense worked out its wrinkles, but now that Watson is back to form, the Texans are putting up 373.1 yards a game (just 13 yards behind Green Bay) and have the 14th scoring offense. But all credit cannot go to just Watson. Lamar Miller, whom I have been critical of his entire Texans career, is averaging 6.3 YPC over the last five games, with 502 rushing yards over that span.

What’s been the difference outside of solid offensive line play? The addition of Alfred Blue as a secondary back. Splitting carries between Blue (near 4.0 YPC over the last 5 games) and Miller has done wonders for Miller’s vision and big-play ability, and Miller now looks like the man who once ran all over the place for the Dolphins.

So why now? Why did it take eight games to put my faith into my beloved Texans?

  1. O’Brien had to prove he had taken the next step along with the rest of the team.

The first few games, which ended in close losses, seemed to be buried by a lack of general coaching fundamentals from O’Brien. Clock issues, wasted timeouts, not-used timeouts, bad play calls in the red zone, and predictable play-calling did not help the Texans as they struggled early in the season. But O'Brien has shown (maybe it’s the glasses he’s wearing on the sideline) over the last 8 games that he has the mind and guts to put pressure on opposing defenses with the playmakers on his team.

2. Not “settling” for the next man up. When Fuller went down, the Texans went out and got all-pro Demaryius Thomas from the Denver Broncos. While he does not possess the speed Fuller has, Thomas runs great routes and is a big-bodied receiver that can make plays. His two touchdowns against the Titans were both red zone out routes. The Texans were awful in the red zone earlier in the year. They took a weakness and made it a strength.

3. Consistency. The Texans are no longer only playing 30 minutes on offense. They’re coming out and scoring points, and they’re moving the ball on each drive. Punter Trevor Daniel is only averaging 4.6 punts a game over the last 5, and he’s averaging nearly 45 yards for the season. Field position has been critical in these close games.

The biggest battle I had with accepting the Texans legitimacy as contenders was their lack of opponents. Aside from New England, Dallas, Washington, and Indianapolis, none of their opponents have an above .500 record. Add the fact that new England beat Houston, and Indianapolis practically gave them a win, and Houston has only beaten two teams with a winning record (one on a missed field goal.)

How does this realistically affect the measurement of the Texans? Just because they’re not playing Kansas City or the L.A. Rams each week doesn’t mean they’re good? When you look at the grit and competitive nature of their opponents, the majority fight to the absolute end and possess close-to-some-qualities that produce a competitive team.

The real test is how will Houston handle themselves against an unpredictably-good Cleveland team that is hungry to prove that their coach held them back—not their playmakers. And if the Texans want 9-straight wins, they’re going to have to be perfect against a red-hot Baker Mayfield this Sunday in Houston.

All statistics from http://www.nfl.com/stats/

The Bit: Texans at Redskins

The Texans rolled into FedExField (what the hell…it’s actually one word…), home of the Washington Redskins, on a six-game win streak. It’s no secret to Texans fans that Houston has gotten a few lucky breaks along the way, but nonetheless, 6-3 is 6-3.

The Redskins are the best team Houston has played yet this season. Yes, I know they played New England, but even New England doesn’t look like themselves at times this year. Washington, also 6-3, has beaten far more impressive teams than Houston—okay, the Panthers are it—so maybe Washington has a padded record like Houston.

So, there was a battle: two good defenses, and two offenses that have just as many strengths as weaknesses. It was no secret to the Texans that if they lost, and the Titans beat the Colts, they would no longer be the only team in first place in the division. Both the Colts and Titans have improved greatly with each game, along with Houston, and this division was going to be won by the team that could piece together the unit that continued to improve each week.

Gametime:

The Texans kicked off, deferring to the second half. I expected Washington to come out and work the field in chunks: consistent runs and short passes. The first play of the game was just that, a screen that went incomplete due to Kareem Jackson laying out the receiver before he could control the ball. Jackson is having a career year in coverage and tackling, and I expected him to have a strong game against Washington’s short game.

After a Redskins three-and-out, a punt delivered the ball to the Texan offense for the first time. Rookie Keke Coutee returned to action for the first time since Buffalo, and I expected him to play a heavy role in the early downs if Houston was unable to run with the underwhelming Lamar Miller.

On a third and short, rookie Jordan Akins picked up 28 yards on a well-designed play to get him open along the sidelines. I’m extremely impressed with how the rookie tight end and wide receivers have been able to contribute to the offense on third down and in the red zone. Houston has options as far as Watson’s vision allows.

A strike to Coutee picked up a first down after a run that netted -3 yards, followed by another first down run that went for -2 yards. The Houston run game was getting blown up at the line.

On a 3rd and 3 near the goal line, Watson overthrew Deandre Hopkins (good coverage by Josh Norman), and the Texans settled for a 23-yard field goal by shaky kicker, Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'aKa'imi” Fairbairn.

Texans 3 Reskins 0

The Texans lost guard Zach Fulton on the drive with a shoulder injury, replaced by Greg Mancz.

The second Houston drive started well: a 16-yard pass to Hopkins over the middle off play-action (why anyone would ever bite on a Houston play-action is beyond me.)

Something I noticed during this drive was Watson’s ability to quickly read the field and make a decision. The ball was leaving his hands quickly, often to his second or third read, and connecting with the target in stride. With each completed pass, backs Miller and Alfred Blue continued to rip off more yards. Everything Houston wanted to do was being done on this drive.

On first down and 10 from the 16, Watson connected with Hopkins who plucked the ball from the hands of a defender for the touchdown.

Texans 10 Redskins 0

The Redskins started to move the ball through the air on their third drive, which ended at the beginning of the second quarter with an Adrian Peterson touchdown.

In 10 plays, the Redskins went 75 yards in a little over four minutes.

Texans 10 Redskins 7

The following drive ended quickly with a tipped Watson interception, and Washington took over at mid-field but were unable to get the ball in scoring range thanks to a sack on third down by Tyrann Mathieu.

After a Texans punt, a combination of foolish defensive penalties and blown coverage had Washington looking to take the lead. But rookie safety Justin Reid picked off the third down pass in the end zone and ran it back 101 yards for a Houston touchdown and his first touchdown as a professional.

Texans 17 Redskins 7

On the following drive, linebacker Brennan Scarlett, who had a very solid game, intercepted Alex Smith. Houston took over with a little under 30 yards to score, but only moved back, and elected to kick, AND MISS, a field goal.

Washington did very little to get into field goal range, and the score remained 17 to 7 at halftime.

The third quarter started with the same game plan: quick passes and runs up the gut while Watson continued to use the pool of talented rookies at his disposal to pick up first downs. Blue continued his all-or-nothing consistency, ripping off runs for 0, 10, and, again, 0. Watson hit Hopkins over the middle, which Hopkins fumbled (horrible call—he never had possession of the ball to fumble it.)

Washington did little on their next drive, which ended with a sack by Kareem Jackson and JJ Watt. Alex Smith injured his leg on the sack and would be carted off, replaced on the next drive by Colt McCoy.

Washington intercepted Watson (another tipped pass) on the next drive and took over on the Texans 13-yard line, resulting in a Jordan Reed touchdown.

Texans 17 Redskins 14

On the next drive, Miller ran the ball to start, followed by an impressive 40-yard catch and run from Coutee. The Texans stalled later, but a roughing the passer call allowed Houston to keep moving the chains instead of settling for a field goal.

Miller was wide open for a touchdown but elected to let the ball hit him in back of the head instead of catching it. Washington really turned up the pressure, sacking Watson on the next play and forcing him to throw it away on third down. The Texans had to settle for a field goal.

Watson has been off in the second half. Losing both starting guards could have a lot to do with it, as he is constantly under pressure, but after the first drive of the third quarter, Watson has been inaccurate and making awful reads.

Texans 20 Redskins 14

McCoy continued to move the offense, even converting a 4th down with his own legs. The drive, which the Texans defense never really looked like to be on the same page, ended with Peterson’s second touchdown run of the day.

Texans 20 Redskins 21

The Texans seemed to wake up after giving Washington the lead, moving the ball via air and ground into Washington territory. Alas, the drive stalled just outside of field goal range, but the Texans attempted a 54-yard field goal and Fairbarin put just enough leg into it.

Texans 23 Redskins 21

Thanks to sacks from Watt and Clowney, McCoy was able to do nothing on the next drive, and the Redskins were forced to punt.

Houston moved the chains on a key third down when Watson found Miller on a crossing route to put the ball into Washington territory.

At the two-minute warning, I found myself wondering what conservative nonsense O’Brien was going to dial up that would result in a Houston punt with the lead by two, with two minutes left. Instead, Josh Norman held Deshaun Watson and gave Houston a free first down. While the call was questionable, I didn’t care. 7-3 is 7-3, but the Texans would need to flex on the Redskins and finish them.

Again, I found myself wondering how O’Brien was going to put this in the hands of his defense. Washington had three timeouts, so we ALL knew O’Brien was going to dial up 3 timeout-eating plays and elect for a long field goal. While this is not the worst idea—putting your team up by 5 with under a minute left in the game—it is also the safe idea. Why not run a play action, pick up the first down if it’s there, and end the game?

O’Brien did exactly what O’Brien does and ran the ball with his worst running back, Miller, for a gain of three.

Fairbarin shanked the field goal so badly, it nearly went lateral with his body. It may possibly have been the worst field goal attempt I’ve ever seen. This is why you don’t play it safe, BILL, you go for the win.

Washington moved the ball easily into Texans territory and spiked the ball with 19 seconds left—enough time for a play, maybe two.

The first play: incomplete. 16 seconds left in the game. The second play, which is third down due to the spike: an incomplete pass.

4th and 10 on the Houston 45, the Redskins either had to get a first down and get out of bounds or throw the ball to the end zone. Instead, the Redskins let their kicker attempt a 63-yard field goal, which came up short.

This is interesting, as O’Brien called the timeout that had the Redskins reconsider going for the win, and possibly forced them into attempting the long field goal. Props to O’Brien if that is what he intended.

FINAL: Texans 23 Redskins 21

Looking back on the game, I guarantee two things: reading this article was more exciting than watching the game, and Demaryius Thomas is still wondering when he’s going to get his first catch.

It seems week after week, the Texans find a way to win…or luck-out by one play, ten yards, two points, one turnover, just enough not to lose. I’m not sure if it’s making them stronger as a team, or if it is leaving them in for a rude awakening when they have to play the Titans and Colts (hah, the best two teams they play this year.)

Up next, the Titans on Monday night. Made of Glass Mariota was injured this week, so the Texans may have their chance for revenge on…gulp…Blaine Gabbert.

The Bit: What to Think of These Texans?

The Bit: Bye Week Edition

@jchasteenwriter

So here we, as fans, sit with a team that is 6-3. This is a Texans team that is honestly a play or two away from being 9-0. This is a team seated two games atop the AFC South, a team who’s never been out of a loss, a team who’s won SIX straight games, and a team who now displays a record that, on paper, they should have.

To go on further, this is the same team that is also a play or two away from being 2-7. This Texans team underperformed on offense (and maybe even defense) their first five games, was out-coached for five of the six first games, and was down to one offensive threat until they traded for Demaryius Thomas to replace often-injured Will Fuller.

I am one torn Texans fan because I can’t tell if the Texans are a fraud, or if they are what they should be. Looking back to OTAs, I would have pegged the Texans as having a 6-3 record at their bye week with losses to New England, Dallas, and Jacksonville.

As week 10 of the NFL approaches, the Texans are ranked 14th in total yards and scoring offense per game and defensively are ranked 9th in total yards and 7th in points allowed.

I’d say the defense is right on schedule, but the offense has some slack to pick up, as most of us expected a top-five offense based on the sample Watson previewed last year. In their defense, if you take away the first three abysmal loses and the awful offensive showing against Buffalo, they are playing better in all phases of their game, and that offense (yes, credit to Lamar Miller for showing up for two whole games) is what is expected, no matter the opponent.

The optimist viewpoint of the first half of the 2018 Houston Texans is this: they control their own destiny. Offensive kinks seem to have been ironed out, starters have been lost, and some gems have been found. The offensive line is playing like a gelled unit now. Watt is BACK. Watson has worked on his turnovers and limited the number of unnecessary hits taken.

This is a team that has eight games to keep improving, because let’s face it—the only good team they’ve played is New England, and that may be the BEST team they play until the playoffs. Washington, Indianapolis (yes, they’re improving each week as well), and Philadelphia will all be tests to show us how our team stacks up against talented squads. So pay close attention to those games.

The realist in me wonders: how would Houston stack up against New England (again), Kansas City, or any of the NFC juggernauts? If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, then let me know which happy pills you’re taking, so I can partake and chug the entire bottle.