“Look at the score”. That’s what Texans’ safety Justin Reid had to say after the team’s statement victory over the Jaguars on Sunday. That’s right. After an offseason of turmoil and countless “0-17” predictions, Houston not only won but did so by the largest margin of any AFC team.
Here are my biggest takeaways from a dominant Week One:
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It Was Over Before It Started
The preparation of each team entering this game could not have been more different. Starting with Jacksonville, they had issues right from the jump with miscommunication squandering their opening drive. And, things did not improve from there as Urban Meyer burned through his timeouts well before the end of the first half.
On the day, the Jaguars committed ten penalties for a loss of 82 yards. Most of these penalties were for “illegal formation” of all things, and Jacksonville’s inability to even set up at the line of scrimmage summarizes their afternoon. The lack of preparation was also still apparent during plays, with the biggest issue being dropped balls by nearly every Jaguar receiver.
On the other hand, the Texans’ coaching staff did an amazing job prepping their guys for battle. This was surprising, not only after seeing how Jacksonville came into the game but also because of the chaos this franchise has endured throughout the year. Between the Deshaun Watson saga and the after-effects of the Bill OBrien era, Houston could have easily given up this season.
But, for David Culley and crew, giving in was never an option. The Texans have relied on high energy from both coaches and veteran players to change team culture. They embraced the underdog mentality and came into this game with an unmatched edge. In turn, this led to just five Houston penalties on the day and zero turnovers.
The Three-Headed Monster
One of my keys to this game for Houston on offense was running the ball effectively. The Texans executed that plan to perfection gaining 160 yards on the ground. This comes after a season in which Houston averaged 92 rush yards per game, second to last in the league.
A surprising part of the Texans’ rushing attack was the volume Mark Ingram received. He carried the ball 26 times for 85 yards and a score. Ingram was expected to contribute, but he ended up taking on a workhorse role in what was supposed to be a committee. It remains to be seen whether this trend continues, but Ingram did prove that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Although Ingram carried the load, he, David Johnson, and Philip Lindsay, all got in the endzone on Sunday. Johnson got out of the backfield and helped the receiving game, especially in the red zone. Lindsay attempted to make the most of his limited touches. But no matter what the stats say, it’s clear that each running back on Houston’s roster has a unique set of skills. This will make their ground game unpredictable and hard to stop all season long.
Deshaun Watson Who?
Contrary to what many Texans fans (including myself) thought, the passing game doesn’t appear to be in shambles without Deshaun Watson. In fact, it’s statistically better. In the last four years, Houston has never put up as many first-half points as they did on Sunday. This is all thanks to the heroics of Tyrod Taylor.
Taylor was magical against the Jaguars’ defense as he threw for nearly 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, and finished with a 112.1 passer rating. He continually launched the ball downfield off of play-action (set up by the run game) and made accurate throws into coverage. After a preseason of unimpressive, conservative play, Taylor proved everyone wrong.
The most impressive part of Tyrod’s game was his pocket awareness. Instead of 32, he looked 22, dancing around the pocket and extending plays. He knew where the pressure was coming from without looking and used his mobility to keep gaining positive yardage. He even took off on a 30-yard dash to close out the game. The only comparison to it would be none other than Deshaun Watson himself.
Additionally, for every great Tyrod Taylor throw, there was an even better Brandin Cooks catch. Cooks hauled in five catches for 132 yards. He torched the Jacksonville secondary with his blazing speed and made some of the most improbable catches of his career. These included a grab over two defenders which led to the team’s first score and a bomb right before halftime that set up for another touchdown. Game after game, Cooks continues to establish himself as a top NFL deep threat and it’s time people start respecting him for it.
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Bring The Heat, Take The Ball Away
Bring the heat, take the ball away. Exactly what I said the Texans’ defense needed to do to neutralize Trevor Lawrence. Exactly what the Texans’ defense did. Houston generated the pressure out of the gate as Lovie Smith threw every blitz he had in Lawrence’s face. Key pass rushers included Charles Omenihu, Kamu-Grugier Hill, Zach Cunningham, and Whitney Mercilus, who recorded the team’s lone sack. But just because there weren’t many sacks, doesn’t mean Trevor Larence wasn’t miserable.
Once Lawrence began to feel uncomfortable in the pocket, the mistakes started happening. He threw three interceptions, and by the final one to Christian Kirksey, it seemed like Lawrence was throwing right to the defenders. Despite concerns in the secondary, which were exposed at times, Houston’s zone defense held up. Lawrence was confused, particularly by the linebackers, and never ended up deciphering what coverage the Texans were coming out in.
Regardless of who it was against, the Texans’ defense was able to continue their outstanding preseason play. This unit is establishing itself as one of the best in the NFL. Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense centered around forcing turnovers appears to be exactly what the team needs. They’ll have some tough contests and mismatches ahead, but this group did everything right against Jacksonville, and that’s something to celebrate.
Overall, Texans fans couldn’t have imagined things going any better. And now, after Tennessee and Indianapolis suffered embarrassing home losses, Houston actually sits atop the division. Yes, it was only the Jaguars, but the Texans were one of the few teams across the league to play a near-perfect game. There is always something to be said for that and a team with something to prove. Remember, anything can happen, on any given Sunday.