ENTER TODAY FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN AND HEAR A LIVE VERSION OF EVALUATE AND EDUCATEBill O'Brien sat across from me and Marc Vandermeer during his Monday radio show last week. With the stinging loss to New England still raw in all of our minds, I asked him how important it was to turn the page and move on to Tennessee. He didn't quite see it that way.
"We need for that to be our jumping off point. There's no such thing as a moral victory, but we need to build off of that performance, especially offensively, this week and beyond." He was 1,000% right. We came back from New England all saying the same thing - "Man, if the offense can play like that…" It didn't play like that.
It was better. WAY better.
All three phases were outstanding in a 57-14 win over the Tennessee Titans. Yes, 57 points, an all-time high for the Texans. Look at it this way, the Texans won three straight to clinch the division in December 2016 and scored a combined 55 points. With that as a backdrop, here are my observations from the day.
- I don't even know where to start, but…oh, yes, I know EXACTLY where to start. When the Titans came out of the tunnel, they didn't go to their sideline. They went to meet directly on the bull head logo at the 50-yard line. I've never seen an opponent do that. They were trying to make some sort of statement before the Texans came out of the tunnel…I guess. Well, that statement fell on deaf ears.
- After that show, the Titans offense gathered on the sideline and left tackle Taylor Lewan was pacing like a man possessed. I guess that's how he gets himself psyched up, but it didn't quite work. Jadeveon Clowney worked him over for a sack fumble in the fourth quarter as the Texans defense throughout the day.
- I loved how Clowney got himself free for that sack. He used his hands and strength in tandem to get himself free from the Pro Bowl star tackle and hammer quarterback Matt Cassel.
- The defense forced three consecutive three and outs to start the game. They gave up two drives for a touchdown in the second quarter, but after that, the Titans picked up one, yes ONE, first down the rest of the game. The defense held Tennessee to 23 yards after those two touchdown drives. It forced four turnovers. It scored again when Dylan Cole registered the first pick six of his career. It held the Titans to nine first downs. Over the past two weeks, the defense has scored two touchdowns, registered seven sacks, forced four fumbles (recovered only one, unfortunately) and picked off four passes.
- Yet, the offense stole the show. Here's how it's day went. 12 drives, six touchdowns, three field goals and two punts. I saw Shane Lechler in the locker room and asked if he even showered (although his two punts were bombs - he was storing it up all afternoon). It was a beautiful plan, executed pristinely, outside of one bad interception to end the first half. Other than that? It was the best performance I've ever seen a Texans offense have.
- Over the past two weeks, the Texans have had 24 offensive drives. They've scored on 15 of them - eight touchdowns and seven field goals. They've scored 90 points in two weeks. The numbers are outrageous to think about, especially considering how week one went against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- Andre Hal's interception to start the game was the spark that everyone needed. Even more importantly, the Texans offense made the Titans pay with a touchdown at the end of four plays and 43 yards. After a tough week for Hal and the secondary against Tom Brady and the Patriots, he responded with two interceptions, three in total (Marcus Gilchrist had one as well). On the second one, Hal was FIRED up when he came over to the sideline.
- Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has only played six quarters in three years against the Texans. In that game and a half, Mariota has thrown three interceptions and no touchdowns. Now, he ran his guts out in the first half, registered the longest run of the day, a 34-yard touchdown for the first Titans score of the day. He beat feet to the end zone for his second score a few minutes later. He then had to leave with a hamstring injury. In the passing game though, he has struggled against this Texans defense the two times he's faced them.
- I'm not sure the last time that Bill O'Brien called a true, non-zone read option play, but that was a brilliant call on the team's first touchdown after the Hal interception. Quarterback Deshaun Watson read it perfectly on the speed option and that did my heart good to see that. I'm an option guy at heart.
- Speaking of Watson, he was flat out brilliant. 22 of 33 for 301 yards and two touchdowns last week. 25 of 34 for 283 yards, four touchdowns this week. There was much talk this week about Dick LeBeau's tricky, confusing defense and Watson didn't bat an eye. He'd like to have the interception back but outside of that bad decision and throw, he was a true baller all day long.
- His throw to Bruce Ellington on the first drive of the game was a sign of things to come on the day. Then, he challenged deep down the field, especially with Will Fuller. He was accurate at nearly every level on the field. He was quick to find the open receiver, no matter who or where he was on the field. As with many tweets that I saw after the game "that was FUN." Yes, yes it was.
- I talked to DeAndre Hopkins after the game and told him how much fun it's been to see that man ball out like he has to start this season. If my math is correct, he leads the NFL in catches with 31 through four weeks, but today, it was more about how he just went to work on the Titans defensive backs. Ten catches for 107 yards and his second touchdown of the season. Logan Ryan always got help over the top when he was playing in New England, but today, that help wasn't plentiful for him or LeShaun Sims or Adoree Jackson. It didn't really matter either.
- Running back Lamar Miller was the team's second leading receiver (four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown) and leading ball carrier (19 carries for 75 yards). The Titans seemed to forget about him in coverage throughout the day. There wasn't a Titan on the same side of the field when he caught Watson's final touchdown pass of the day. Miller was used the way the Texans envisioned when they signed him in 2016.
- Will Fuller's return was a significant B-12 shot for this offense, to say the least. First off, he can fly and that speed resulted in a massive pass interference call on Titans rookie Adoree Jackson near the end of the first half. He just flat ran past him and Jackson reacted by interfering. He finished with two touchdown catches - one on a slot fade which was a brilliant throw and catch and one on a crossing route from the other side of the field. I loved the design of the play, yet it took a long time to develop, but Fuller ate up some of that time with his speed across the formation.
- The offensive line...oh man, the offensive line. Three weeks ago, I couldn't even complete that sentence after a brutal afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then, the front five has been a different unit. Against Tennessee, the O-Line gave up only one sack and helped register 173 yards on 42 carries on the ground and 445 yards of total offense.
- Up 21-7 with 11:44 in the second quarter, the Texans offensive line established the line of scrimmage with authority. Miller for five. Miller for six. Fuller for four on the reverse. Miller for nine. Miller for three. Miller for five after a Hopkins catch. Foreman for 12. The offensive line helped Miller and company rip off chunks of yards that led to a Kai'mi Fairbairn 50-yard field goal for a 24-7 lead.
- Dollars to donuts, the Kansas City Chiefs took note of Marcus Mariota's first touchdown run. There were a million things going on, but the Titans had both tackles on the right side of the formation, while both guards were on the left side of the formation. Left guard Quinton Spain shifted over to the right side next to center Ben Jones. That left only right guard Josh Kline and tight end Delanie Walker on the left side. They faked a gap play to the right behind Kline who pulled from left to right and Mariota kept the ball when the Texans defense collapsed on Demarco Murray. 34 yards later Mariota was in the end zone. Unique alignment and play design that was executed perfectly.
- When we were at the Greenbrier, rookie undrafted wide receiver Chris Thompson kept showing up on offense and special teams. For me, one name came to mind: Matthew Slater. Why? Well, Slater was drafted late by the Patriots as a receiver prospect out of UCLA but he made his mark as one of the best special teams players in the NFL and a valuable member of championship teams in New England. Thompson struck me as the one guy who could emulate Slater for the Texans. I surmised that he would make the 53-man roster and was wrong...until week four. He's one heck of a gunner and then after Tyler Ervin left the game with a knee injury, Thompson stepped in and returned a kickoff 42-yards near the end of the first half to set up the team's final touchdown of the half. Look, he's not Slater; that's a mouthful but, like Slater, Thompson can make a significant impact on the special teams, at a minimum, going forward.
- Dylan Cole's interception was fabulous. First, he disrupted the underneath route from his side, nearly knocked him back into the line of scrimmage. Then, he dropped right into the path of Delanie Walker and snatched the ball right off Walker's head. He then sprinted to the end zone with his first touchdown. Andre Ware saw the whole thing unfold and said as much on the broadcast. Cole's been making plays since the first day of rookie minicamp and he's now doing it in for this star-studded defense.
It was a tremendous day but now it's time to flip the page and get ready for the NFL's only undefeated team for next Sunday night - the Kansas City Chiefs.
See ya then, everyone!
Check out the best photos as the Texans took on the Titans at NRG Stadium.