Since he’s been the head coach in Houston, Bill O’Brien has preached the concept of “complementary football.” For those that don’t quite understand, Coach can just point to this win over Jacksonville as Exhibit A. It was a dominant performance by the defense, timely execution by the offense and another strong day for the special teams. It all worked together to get the Texans win number four in a row. It’s a quick turnaround for Thursday night’s game, but we’ve got plenty to talk about before we leave this 20-7 win in the rear view mirror.
As such, here are my observations from the win in Jacksonville.
1. Let me start with my dude Dre Hal. He was back on the field for the first time since being diagnosed in May with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He started the game at safety as the Texans started in nickel and it provided a ton of inspiration. Unfortunately, we found out after the game that he lost his father during the week, so he was playing with a heavy heart and his emotions had to be all over the place. His football family picked him up as he’s picked them up so many times in his career. Prior to the game, I was just about to do my pregame interview with our pregame show and he walked up. The guys were asking me a question and I wasn’t even listening as I hugged him and told him how awesome it was to see him ready to go again. Thoughts with you and your family, 29.
2.Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus was outstanding. Now, he’s been playing well, doing a little bit of everything for this defense and today was more of the same. But, when people don’t see sack numbers, most immediately think an edge player isn’t playing well. Quite the contrary. He had a sack but most importantly, he forced two fumbles. He nearly got the triple play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery in the second half, but wasn’t able to wrestle the ball away from the offensive tackle he beat. He finished with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit and TWO forced fumbles.
3.The first forced fumble, though, was an instant game changer. You can see the video above. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles scrambled up the field and appeared to have enough for a first down. Then, Mercilus chopped at the ball and knocked it loose. Jadeveon Clowney fell on it and the Texans defense was on its way to an impressive afternoon. People have been asking me “what’s wrong with Whitney?” I’ve told them nothing; he’s playing well, but today he took it to another level.
4. Defensive menace Jadeveon Clowney called his shot this week. After I finished my interview with Johnathan Joseph in the locker room last week after the win over Buffalo, I was walking around the locker room, congratulating players. I got to JD’s locker and he said “hey, I’ll be seeing you next week.” I told him that I’d take him up on it and he proved prophetic. He was just flat out dominant. They couldn’t block him in the run game. They couldn’t protect against him. They used double teams and he beat those. His stat line: seven tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. Yeah, he knew.
5.DeAndre Hopkins only had three catches, but two of them were just sublime. The first one when he was matched up with Jags star cornerback Jalen Ramsey was perhaps his best ever one hander. I mean, it was ridiculous. I saw it happen live and I still can’t believe he made that catch with his left hand as his right hand/arm was being held. The second one was a little easier, if that’s possible, against Ramsey. The way he got separation with some physical work at the line of scrimmage was impressive. Once free, he skied to haul in the touchdown to give the Texans an insurmountable 20-0 lead.
6.Oh, yeah, I can’t forget DeAndre Hopkins, defensive back, either. Hop should get credit for a pass breakup on a HUGE play in the game. The Texans had first and goal at the Jaguars five-yard line and Deshaun Watson looked for Hop in the back of the end zone. Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson stepped in front and appeared to have an interception in his hands. Hopkins knocked it out of his hands to prevent the INT. Lamar Miller punched it in on the next play. How does the game change if Gipson prevents a TD? 6-0 with the ball vs. 13-0 after the kickoff? Massive play.
7. Wide receiver Will Fuller V had another big day on the road. In five halves of football against division opponents this year, he’s been a destroyer. If my math is correct, he’s had 18 of his 27 catches against division opponents (all on the road). He led the team with six catches for 68 yards. But, his best play may have been late in the game as the Texans were looking to run clock on a late fourth quarter drive. The Texans called a quick screen, but the snap was low for quarterback Deshaun Watson. He literally sidearmed it to Fuller who was hit three yards short of a first down. Fuller powered through, with some help from his big fellas to get a key first down that helped chew up even more clock in the fourth.
8. Fuller doesn’t have to do that often, but Lamar Miller does. He was one of the Dudes of the Day. I mean, he reeled off chunks all day, but didn’t have a long run to pad his numbers. He finished with 22 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. When it was 6-0, the Texans started a drive at their 40-yard line after a poor Jacksonville punt. Miller carried three straight, picking up 13 key yards and an important first down. Then, he capped the drive with a five yard touchdown. He just wasn’t going to go down on first contact all day long. He was excellent and he got plenty of help from his guys up front.
9. Okay, I’ve gone way too long without mentioning the unsung heroes today - the five fellows up front on the offensive line and the two rookie tight ends. Against the menacing Jacksonville front, the offensive line gave up NO sacks after 11:30 in the first quarter. They opened up holes all day and helped Lamar Miller get to 100 yards. The Texans ran for 141 yards on the number two defense in the NFL. No one, anywhere, expected the Texans offensive line to be the bullies against the Jaguars defense but they out-bullied the big, bad bullies all day long, doing so without starting guard Zach Fulton.
10. My favorite play of the day was Miller’s touchdown run. He aligned to Deshaun Watson’s left side and took a handoff heading to the right side. Center Nick Martin and right guard Greg Mancz (starting in place of Fulton) drove defensive lineman Abry Jones seven yard downfield, right into the end zone. Jones was on skates and cut off the inside linebacker. Miller roared into the end zone for his first rushing touchdown of the season.
11.Also, the Texans were perfect on goal to go situations, again on the road. Against Indianapolis, they were 3-for-3. In wins over division opponents on the road - perfect the last two road trips.
12. The Texans finished 2-1 on the road against division opponents with all three remaining division games to be played at home.
13. Safety Tyrann Mathieu came up with his second pick of the season, reeling in a dropped T.J. Yeldon pass. It couldn’t have come at a more important time either. Heading back on the field at halftime, Mathieu was so excited to get the defense back out on the field and said as such to me as I strolled in his vicinity. His pressure on Blake Bortles off the edge also forced the Jaguars quarterback to scramble from his own end zone, which turned disastrous as linebacker Zach Cunningham forced the third fumble of the day (two of which the Texans got).
14. Speaking of Cunningham, he was brilliant again. He led the team with ten tackles and combined with his inside linebacker partner Benardrick McKinney for 17 tackles, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble.
15. One important play that won’t get mentioned much because it didn’t lead directly to a score was Tyler Ervin’s only catch of the day. Ervin stepped in when Keke Coutee injured his hamstring and made a 19 yard catch on 3rd and 11. A three and out on that initial drive of the third quarter and perhaps Jacksonville gets some life. But, Ervin snagged that first down catch near midfield, allowing for a field flipping opportunity when the Texans didn’t get the first down. Trevor Daniel pinned the Jaguars inside their one, Zach Cunningham forced a fumble on third down and two plays later Deshaun Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins to make it 20-0. That Ervin catch was hugely important in that sequence of events.
16. Okay, let’s discuss the man on the bus. NFL insider Jay Glazer reported the story just before kickoff that Deshaun Watson had taken the bus to Jacksonville due to potential lingering issues with his chest injury. Now, listen, that bus isn’t like the old yellow school buses we used to ride to games back in junior high and high school, but it’s still 12 hours on the road. I’ve taken that drive a million times from Houston to Jacksonville and back and it’s just straight down I-10 so it’s not horrible, but I digress. It seemingly became an amusing talking point for guys after the game, but when you think about what Watson did for his organization, his teammates and his football family, it’s wildly impressive. How many players do you see each week miss games due to nagging injuries? How many players would’ve said, “nah, I’m good, I need to heal up for later in the year” and missed the Buffalo and Jacksonville games, at a minimum? Plenty. Again, Watson didn’t have a massive statistical day but his timely throws on third down, in particular, were incredibly important. Mainly, though, it was just his presence that mattered and he was there thanks to the big, yell….well, okay, not the big yellow bus, but you get my point.
What a day it was in Northeast Florida! Now, it’s a short week and time to get ready for Miami! See you on Thursday, everyone.