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17 observations from Texans vs. Colts

How…HOW did that happen? I’m still a bit dazed, shaking my head after the Texans 37-34 win and for good reason, I got jacked in the head after a Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal in the third quarter. I kid, I kid, but not really, I did get hit, but the dazed feeling is more about the amazing game we saw on Sunday afternoon. What happened at Lucas Oil Stadium was astonishing, weird, frustrating, wild and in the end, exhilarating.

Yes, it’s just one win, but one that this team needed in the worst way. Here’s what I saw from Indianapolis.

1. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was brilliant on a day when the Texans needed every last yard. He’ll tell you that he left a few yards out on the field, missing a couple of receivers with throws over their heads. But, that’s nitpicking a bit, because the Texans found a way behind his throws and leadership. The execution on the final play before the game winning field goal was outstanding, finding DeAndre Hopkins and letting Hop sprint down into field goal territory.

2. Then, one thing that we mentioned on the radio broadcast was key. When Hopkins was tackled, there were maybe 12 seconds or so left. Instead of spiking the ball immediately, Watson got everyone calm, waited until there was about four seconds left, then took the snap and spiked it. That way, there would be no “Stanford band play” after the field goal if Ka’imi Fairbairn had missed. This way, the kick would be the final play, no matter what. Very, VERY smart.

3. People have been asking me about receiver Keke Coutee because no one has seen him play in a game. The last that we had seen on him on the field was in week two at the Greenbrier. Man, he’s so exciting to watch and I couldn’t wait for Texans fans to finally see him. But, I didn’t have a clue when he was going to play and certainly didn’t know how much he could or would impact the game when he did finally get on the field. Well, he caught more passes in his first NFL game than any player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. There’s one play, though, that stands out most of all. After DeAndre Hopkins nearly ended the game on the deep throw down the sideline, the Texans needed to convert on a third and nine. Watson launched one a bit high, near the sideline. It’s not a ball that’s typically caught by a 5-9 wide receiver. Coutee skied and snatched the ball out of the air for the key first down. Yes, he can fly. He’s quick as a hiccup. He can make a play in space. But, in my opinion, his best asset is his hands. He snatches the ball out of the air, which is why I was surprised when he dropped the crossing route in the first quarter. After that, though, Lufkin’s finest put on a show. A record-setting show.

4. The defensive performance was the tale of two halves. In the first half, the pass rush was completely dominant. The second half not so much. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went into desperation mode and flipped the switch, throwing the ball 62 (!!) times on the day. However, the reason he had to do that was because of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, especially in the first half. On the day, the trio registered four sacks, six tackles for a loss, eight quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a partridge in a pear tree. It was the first time that Luck had faced both Watt AND Clowney in the same game and those two, in particular, found their way to Luck throughout the day.

5.Clowney did some things that I don’t think are captured in its true form on television. Just ask first round Colts quarterback Quenton Nelson who has never been moved the way he was when Clowney announced his presence with authority on the “Snow Angel Sack” in overtime. The quickness with which he knifes into the backfield on a regular basis is so impressive for a guy his size. The strength he displays fighting through multiple blockers defies description. Now, he did jump offsides three times (and Watt did once) so that has to improve, especially in the second halves of games when teams change their snap counts. But, I can live with it if the production stays at that level.

6.During the week, I had mentioned that to break a losing streak, it might take some help from the other team. Down 7-0, the Texans got that break when center Ryan Kelly botched a snap to Luck. With the ball on the ground, Clowney saw the pigskin and dove on it, knocking a few Colts off the ball in the process. That play might single-handedly have been the one that kick started this team in the proper direction.

7.The stat sheet showed that Deshaun Watson was sacked seven times, but a couple of those listed as sacks came on option runs or QB draws. Either way, four or five is still too many, but BUT, the Texans offensive line showed some progress in this one. Watson dropped back nearly 50 times and the Colts have some dudes up front. As a result, heading into this one, I was scared out of my mind, but I thought the offensive line held up much better than I expected against a stout Colts front.

8. Offensive tackle Kendall Lamm took over at right tackle and although I haven’t completely finished re-watching the game, I got the sense that he held his own on that side. He did give up a sack and had one holding call, but with the number of drop backs that Deshaun had during the day, I thought he did some really good things in his first start in 2018.

9. Many people ask me what complementary football is after Bill O’Brien mentions it during press conferences or on his radio show. It’s easier when I can point to it, for example, the Texans’ first touchdown of the day. The offense bogged down at the Indy 49-yard line and was forced to punt. Rookie punter Trevor Daniel then dropped a dime on the Colts two yard line. Two plays later, Jadeveon Clowney fell on a Colts fumble for the touchdown. One unit complementing the other unit to put points on the board.

10. The first drive out of the chute in the second half was such a statement by this offense. 15 plays for 79 yards which took EIGHT minutes off the game clock. Most importantly, it ended in a touchdown. We’ve seen the Texans have drives like that in prior years, long clock killing type drives that ended in threes, but that one ending in a touchdown was hugely important, given how the game ended.

11. I asked Bill O’Brien after the game whether he had given any thought to going for the win in overtime when the Texans had the ball at the Colts 11-yard line. He told me that was the plan. But, when they didn’t pick up any yardage on third and ten, he felt like it was going to be tough to pick up a first down, at a minimum, so he reluctantly chose to kick the field goal.

12. One drive that won’t be talked about a ton, but was absolutely vital for this defense was the one right after the Texans only turnover of the day. The Colts cut the lead to 28-17 and on the ensuing drive Colts cornerback Pierre Desir picked off a Deshaun Watson pass at the Texans 45. Momentum’s arrow was clearly in Indy’s favor. A first down there and, at a minimum, the Colts would’ve been in Adam Vinatieri’s field goal range. The Texans gave up nine yards on first down and, on the play, inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney was injured. Staring at second and one with a defensive leader hurt, the Texans defense rallied. Whitney Mercilus shot through to tackle Jordan Wilkins for a three yard loss. Then, Jadeveon Clowney blasted through to tackle Wilkins for another three yard loss. The Colts were now in no-man’s land and decided to go for it on 4th and seven. Then, tight end Eric Ebron false started, which made it 4th and 12. Head coach Frank Reich then decided to punt and the defense came up HUGE in a sudden change situation. By the way, when the defense came on the field for that set of downs, McKinney was the one rallying the troops, getting everyone in the proper sudden change mindset. It must have worked.

13. I’ve been covering NFL games since 2007 and been on the sidelines since 2014, I don’t know that I can remember a more grueling game. Players from both sides just sat in the end zone after a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The roof and windows were open and it was just steamy inside the bowl. Throw in ten extra minutes and there were some exhausted dudes in the locker room at the end of this one.

14. Essentially, the defense played 19 extra plays on Sunday due to the overtime, while the offense played 14. I know that it’s happened, but I don’t remember many teams scoring two field goals in overtime to win a game. The Texans beat the Colts in 2016 in overtime, but that was after stopping the Colts and driving for one field goal.

15. Speaking of overtime, when referee Carl Cheffers said “it’s tails, Indianapolis you have won the toss”, my heart sank. I knew the groove that Luck had been in to that point and how tired the Texans defense was. Furthermore, that secondary was depleted a bit in with an injury to Aaron Colvin (already without Kevin Johnson on IR). But, a drop on the Colts first drive forced a field goal and a timely stop on fourth down were the tonic the defense needed.

16. DeAndre Hopkins is the absolute truth. He’s playing with a handful of banged up items on his person. Yet, YET, he goes for ten receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown in a MUST win situation. After the game, though, what bothered him more than anything? That he couldn’t hang to the throw from Watson in overtime that would’ve won it. That man is amazing and fun to watch compete on every down.

17. Oh, have I not mentioned that J.J. Watt had two sacks, giving him five in two games? He’s now tied for second in the league behind the man that the Texans face next Sunday night Demarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys (5.5 for him this season).

That’ll do it from Indianapolis, everyone. Win number one was sweet but it just gets tougher with Dallas coming to town on Sunday night. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild week, to say the least.

See ya then, everyone.

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