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14 observations from Texans vs. Titans

Flying back from Nashville, it’s a bitter pill to swallow as the Texans fell to 0-2 on the season after a 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Missed opportunities. A penalty-laden first half. Mistakes at inopportune times. Again, a win was there for the taking, alas, the Texans face an uphill climb at this point.

Here are my observations from a muggy afternoon in the Music City.

1. Let’s start with the Kevin Byard to Dane Cruikshank touchdown on the punt. What was supposed to happen was that two guys were supposed to peel out prior to the punt and make sure those gunners were covered. One guy did it - A.J. Moore - I saw him sprint out to the gunner on my side. The other side didn’t. I don’t know who was responsible, but being slow on the trigger cost the Texans dearly.

2. Again, starting the game in a 7-0 hole after a three and out, seemingly, was brutal, especially the way it happened. Two weeks in a row, think about it. Week one, after a three and out, fumble on opening offensive play, Gronk touchdown three plays later, 7-0 Patriots. Week two, after another three and out, a defensive back throws a 66-yard touchdown to another defensive back for a 7-0 Titans lead. Climbing out of a hole, on the road, again, was just too much.

3. Will Fuller V was superb. He scored his fifth touchdown against the Titans in three seasons, his first in Nashville, on a 39-yard bomb from quarterback Deshaun Watson. Throughout the game, he did it in a number of different ways and routes. Quick routes. Deep comebacks. Go routes. That’s the guy we desperately missed in New England. He must stay healthy for this offense to go to another level.

4. So was DeAndre Hopkins. He was not 100% at all, listed as questionable on the injury report all week. The two of them together are one of, if not, the top tandem in the league. He was initially not open on his touchdown catch and run, but he worked his way into an open area and Deshaun Watson found him for a key touchdown before the half.

5.What will keep Bill O’Brien awake at night, unfortunately, is how the offense bogged down on the other side of the 50-yard line, in Titans territory. Here’s how it went…

-- 2nd possession got to Tennessee 36 - Missed a field goal
-- 3rd possession, got to Tennessee 37 - Interception
-- 5th possession, got to Tennessee 28 - Touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins
-- 6th possession, got to Tennessee 38 - Punt
-- 7th possession, got to Tennessee 16 - Field goal
-- 8th possession, got to Tennessee 38 - Touchdown pass to Will Fuller V
-- 9th possession, got to Tennessee 37 - Punt (went into end zone)

Furthermore, the Texans had only one three and out all day long. Seven of nine possessions (not counting last one) got into Titans territory; suffice to say, turn those possessions into points, any points, the Texans win this game. 

6. Had Kaimi Fairbairn nailed the first field goal (trust me, not an easy feat from 54 yards) he probably gets one other shot, or maybe two later in the game. That’s three to six points, at a minimum, left out on the field. Not to mention, after he came up just short, the Titans had prime field possession at the Tennessee 44-yard line. So, instead of the game being 7-3 and the Titans probably starting the next drive at the 25-yard line after a touchback, the Titans led 7-0 and had the ball at their own 44-yard line. That was the story of the day - the Titans capitalized on each opportunity and the Texans did not.

7. Yet, the defense was exceptional most of the day. After the Titans only touchdown drive of the day made the score 14-0, they forced four three and outs and five punts. Over those five drives, the Texans gave up two first downs and 22 net yards.

8. When Will Fuller V caught the touchdown pass to take the lead, our radio broadcast crew was convinced that the Texans had found the right groove and this one was going to be a W. The defense had shut the Titans down for the past two quarters and more. The offense had caught fire. They had fought back and had finally taken the lead. Then, Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert made his best play of the day on a bootleg throw to tight end Luke Stocker. Gabbert barely avoided J.J. Watt, who sniffed out the play beautifully, and threw a strike to Stocker. The Texans were also assessed a 15-yard penalty on the play (making it a +26 yard gain) which moved the ball into Texans territory for the first time since the first quarter. It felt like some starch came out of the defense at that point. Yet, it still held the Titans to two field goals on those drives.

9. The big play on the final drive could’ve been a game changer. Gabbert found receiver Corey Davis on a screen play and he ran through the Texans, traversing the field to the other side. J.J. Watt was hustling down field and grabbed Davis by the lower body and lodged the ball out of Davis’ hands. The ball stayed on the ground for seemingly ever and it looked like Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham would fall on it. Give a ton of credit to Titans running back Dion Lewis. He knew he couldn’t recover it, but he could save the game by just getting it away from Cunningham. So, he punched at the ball to spin it out of bounds, which gave possession back to Tennessee. Game of inches.

10. Gabbert made another brilliant play on the Titans final drive. After Brennan Scarlett batted a pass in the air, Gabbert caught it and started running with it. He eventually threw the thing left handed to get rid of it. It’s a 5-yard penalty but its not a loss of downs. He said after the game that as a rookie that had happened so he knew how to react. Why was that important? The play took place at the Texans 35-yard line and if it’s a spot foul, the ball would’ve moved all the way back to the Texans 44-yard line (where Gabbert was when he threw the second time) and perhaps out of field goal range. Unfortunately, it’s not a spot foul AND it’s not loss of downs, so the Texans were forced to take either take the penalty to move them back to the Texans 40-yard line or leave Tennessee at the 35-yard line for third down. A spot foul and loss of downs, like it is for intentional grounding, and it would’ve been a 3rd and long and potentially out of field goal range

(Rule update: Illegal forward pass is a loss of down but only when the pass crosses the line of scrimmage)

11. Outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor had the first sack of his career and I have a feeling it’s going to be the first of many. He also had a pressure in the first half that forced a bad throw. He’s a handful for any tackle or tight end, no question about it, and should continue to get even better.

12. The run game continued its ascent for a second straight week. Lamar Miller averaged nearly five yards a pop and Alfred Blue averaged 5.1 yards per carry. They combined for 104 yards on only 21 carries, where as Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combined for 98 on 32 carries. 

13. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader continues to take strides forward, my gosh. His ability to sniff out screens and make tackles in pursuit is so impressive. I’m telling you, he ran right through Dion Lewis as Lewis attempted to weave his way back through traffic. He never saw the truck wearing number 98.

14. His counterpart Brandon Dunn is following up on what I thought was an excellent 2017 season with a strong start to 2018. He hardly ever gets mentioned with the star names on this team, but he’s played well and did on Sunday. He had five tackles and one tackle for a loss and was an important reason why the Texans had such success in quarters two and three against the run, in particular.

There’s probably more to mention but it’s time to move on to the Giants in week three. See ya then, everyone.

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