The Texans moved to 3-1 on Sunday, for the second time in three years after a 27-20 win over the Tennessee Titans. The game was the first division game of the 2016 campaign and the first win in the division. With the Jacksonville Jaguars win over the Indianapolis Colts in London, all three teams not named the Houston Texans moved to 1-3. That said, the Texans were 1-3 last year at this point and won the division in 2015, so there's plenty of football to play. As such, the focus is on the next one, well, after my observations from yesterday.
- Will Fuller is fast. How about that one to start?
- Here's another one, Will Fuller is really good, rookie or otherwise. I'm off to a good start, huh?
- Fuller had two punt returns in his college career. TWO. One as a junior in 2015 for ten yards and one as a sophomore in 2014 for zero yards. I said on the broadcast he had one, because I forgot the one he had in 2015. Either way, that's not a huge body of work, but from day one of rookie minicamp, he worked on catching punts. He had a return against San Francisco and got hammered. I remember thinking, well that experiment is over. Glad I was wrong. That return was the first for a touchdown since 2013 and it had a FINALLY sort of feel. Furthermore, I'm not sure that anyone touched him on that return. It set the building into hysterics which was amazing to see, feel and experience. It even lit up head coach Bill O'Brien as he ran down and hugged Fuller right after the return once the rookie returned to the sideline. It was clear how much that play meant to everyone wearing deep steel blue on Sunday.
- Fuller showed his toughness on his one hand catch across the middle for a first down in the first half. He got drilled by Rashad Johnson who must've said a little something to the Texans rookie receiver. Fuller stood up and gave the first down sign as if to say "nah, not today, fellas." It wasn't a demonstrative reaction, but for the reserved Fuller it spoke volumes.
- The other player that had a career game was C.J. Fiedorowicz. The touchdown catch over the top of a safety was impressive as he snatched Brock Osweiler's throw out of the air in the back of the end zone for the first touchdown of the day. He snatched that thing out of the air like a rebound in basketball. He said after the game that there was no way he wasn't going to catch that throw. He finished with four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown....
- ...and one really big spike. C.J. may have punctured that football after he blasted it into the turf.
- Having seen nearly every single practice, training camp or otherwise, I can't tell you how many times I've seen C.J. run that exact route. The very same one. It finally came through during a game when the offense needed to get rolling early in the game.
- Ryan Griffin also had a big catch on the deep over route for 45 yards to set up the team's second touchdown. The tight ends combined for seven catches and that's with pass catching weapon Stephen Anderson unable to play with an injured hamstring.
- Furthermore, the running backs and tight ends combined for 13 catches on Sunday in the win.
- Man, that throw that Brock Osweiler dropped on Ryan Griffin was a GEM. Just a beautiful throw.
- Although he didn't play 100% of the defensive snaps, it was such a relief to see Brian Cushing back on the field. This was one of those days when Cushing's presence was desperately needed, in spirit and play on the field. He came off the field in long situations, but he was quick to the football and didn't look as if he'd lost a step or was slowed in any way. That was the Brian Cushing we all anticipated seeing after the training camp he had in 2016.
- His counterpart at the inside linebacker position Benardrick McKinney was just as good. He led the Texans defense again with nine tackles.
- Quintin Demps just always seems to be in the right spot. He was in the perfect spot when Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota started to scramble to his left on a throw in the first half. He nearly had another interception off an errant, rushed throw by Mariota in the first half as well.
- Antonio Smith's first snap in 2016, his first as a Texan, was really impressive. He aligned over the nose and jumped off the ball as soon as center Ben Jones moved it. He immediately got up into Jones and the right guard Josh Kline. Marcus Mariota dropped the ball off to Demarco Murray on a short screen that Benardrick McKinney stopped short of the first down. He was able to make that play because the Ninja occupied those two offensive linemen with his burst upfield. He added a pressure later in the game.
- The Titans showed a myriad of coverages against the Texans, but Brock Osweiler's ability to get to attack at all three levels was absolutely a key throughout the first half, in particular.
- On the second scoring drive on third down, Fiedorowicz caught a route in the flat about four yards from the first down marker. Avery Williamson was closing fast, but Fiedorowicz gave him a straight arm to get just beyond the marker for the first down.
- The Texans got a break at the end of the third scoring drive of the day. The Titans finally slowed the Texans offense and forced an intentional grounding. The Texans decided to punt but the Titans were caught with 12 players on the field. The five yard penalty allowed Nick Novak the opportunity at a 53-yard field goal. He nailed it.
- 12 guys on the field later in the game later cost the Texans, but not by their mistake. The officiating crew didn't realize that the 12th Texan got off the field well before the ball was snapped on a Titans punt attempt. I saw that Texan get off the field and then turned back to see the ball snapped, so he was clearly off the field. When the ball was snapped, Corey Moore shot through and blocked the punt...unfortunately, the whistle was blown erroneously. The refs got that first one right and it benefitted the Texans. They got the second one wrong and it cost the Texans.
- The punt return for a touchdown. The blocked punt that unfortunately got overturned. The special teams were much better. The coverage units still have to improve on kickoffs, but the punt return units on coverage were decent, not great. Those cover units still need a little more work but special teams coordinator Larry Izzo had to feel good about his group this weekend for sure.
- The offensive line work yesterday was solid. They ran zone plays really well, especially in the first half, and the pass protection was stellar early in the game. The Texans offense averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 24 carries and only one sack on Brock Osweiler. That seemed to be a blown assignment, but overall, the front five guys, with Fiedorowicz and Griffin, did yeoman's work and displayed definite improvement over last week.
- I absolutely LOVED the pop pass touchdown to Will Fuller. I've seen a number of college offenses use that exact type of play and it was brilliant use of play action off a zone run fake. Coach O'Brien has talked about Brock's ball handling and use of fakes being a definite asset and that touchdown throw to Fuller was about his ability to show the ball, pull it from Lamar Miller's belly and hit Fuller with a dart for the score.
- Vince Wilfork continued his fine play at the nose tackle position. He nearly came up with his first sack as he ragdolled the Titans center but as he was about to tackle Marcus Mariota, Ben Jones yanked him down to draw the holding penalty. He held up against the run well as always. He's been the rock in the middle of the defense.
- There was one play that not many people will talk about today but it was key in the second half. The Titans had been making some hay running the ball and just after stopping the Texans early in the fourth quarter, got the ball back. After a six yard gain on first down, the Titans ran a lead zone at Whitney Mercilus and he stoned the lead blocker and drilled Demarco Murray for a four yard loss. If there's something Whitney has done so much better the past two seasons, it's play the run and that was Exhibit A.
- Coach O'Brien said that he should've challenged Jaelen Strong's third down catch late in the fourth quarter. It was clear on replay that Strong had stayed in bounds and well beyond the marker. Again, it was another miss by Clete Blakeman's crew, but O'Brien had three time outs and all his challenges remaining. He clearly noted after the game in his post game press conference that he should've thrown his challenge flag. It was a definite talking point for media types and the sort afterwards and he owned up to that nearly immediately.
- A.J. Bouye had another solid ball game, leading the team with three pass breakups. He locked up Titans star tight end Delanie Walker (when someone was covering him, of course, unlike in the first half when he ran wide open down the field for a big gain on the Titans first scoring drive). Bouye has done an excellent job on the star tight ends that the Texans have faced and is a key figure for this defense, even though he doesn't start in the base unit.
- The run defense is 27th in the league which is something that I wouldn't in my life had guessed at the outset of the season. That must improve but the defense did hold the Titans under four yards a carry and no run longer than 14 yards.
- Jadeveon Clowney racked up his second sack of the season and has continued to flash against both the run and pass. He had two quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss as well. He did work throughout the day, some that wasn't always seen by the naked eye and definitely a number of plays that were.
A win is a good win, no matter what, but it's on to Minnesota. See ya next week, everyone.
Check out the best game photos as the Texans took on the Titans at NRG Stadium.