As Coach O'Brien says all the time, winning in this league is extremely difficult so you take the W when you get it. 1-0 is the best place to be each and every weekend and the Texans went 1-0 this weekend with a 23-14 win over the Chicago Bears. Here are my observations from the day.
- The first drive of the game was plenty of running back Lamar Miller and for good reason. The Bears remained in nickel throughout much of that drive. So, the Texans were able to get a hat on a hat. That meant, Miller got his hands on the rock repeatedly. The offensive line did an excellent job working off of double teams off to the second level, especially in the first half.
- C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson combined for six catches, so "On Pace" guy would tell you that the tight ends are on pace to catch 96 passes in 2016. Now, that would be a surprise, no? Griffin's catch on third down late in the game was a major key. Anderson had a 3rd and five catch for a first down on a crossing route that led to the team's first field goal.
- Quarterback Brock Osweiler's scramble early in the game showed the toughness and athleticism that the 6-8 gunslinger possesses. He fought off the sack attempt of Mitch Unrein and then Leonard Floyd and Danny Trevathan ran into each other which allowed Osweiler to break free for one of the Texans longest runs of the day. Yes, Brock Osweiler. Longest run of the day.
4. Osweiler's interception was the worst decision of the day and if he could have it back, I'm assuming he'd snatch it back in a heartbeat. He'll learn with DeAndre Hopkins that he has to throw the ball outside, almost out of bounds, and let Hop work his magic on the sideline as he did later in the half. Bears cornerback Tracy Porter made a whale of a play, so I need to give credit, but a more accurate throw from Brock and that's a first down catch. Like I said, there was a ton more good than bad, but I'm sure Brock wants that one back.
- I'm not sure how Brian Cushing finished the first drive of the game. On the first play of the game, John Simon whipped around on a tackle attempt and rolled right into Cushing's leg. I saw it happened right in front of me and I saw Cush immediately grab his leg. He proceeded to play the rest of the drive before leaving the game after that drive. I hate it so much for him, it makes me ill to think about him going through a possible extended period off the field.
- I've been asked a ton about whether Jadeveon Clowney should play the defensive end spot opposite J.J. Watt and, lately, I've played it coy, answering most of your questions with the same answer no way. But, I had seen Clowney working with the defensive linemen one day in practice and wondered whether that meant he could get on the field at that position. He did and played it pretty well.
- How strong is JD? On a run away from Clowney, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was trying to wall Clowney off from backside pursuit. But, JD was screaming down the line of scrimmage and just swatted running back Jeremy Langford with one arm for the tackle. I'm not sure what other player on the field, on this day, or any other makes quite that play. Clowney finished with a sack, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries.
- I can't even begin to tell you how much Whitney Mercilus has improved as an all-around menace on defense. He beat the Bears tackles repeatedly. His two sacks may not even have been his best rushes on the day either. He now has three straight games of multiple sacks - 3.5 sacks v. Jacksonville, 3.0 sacks v. Kansas City and 2.0 sacks v. Chicago. 8.5 sacks in three games. At that pace, wait, no, I'm not going on pace guy this early in the season (okay, so I did earlier in this article, sorry about that). Trust me, it's a big number over 16 games, I'll leave it at that. But, a more true number is 17. Whitney has 17 sacks in his last 13 games. Project THAT over 16 games (I did and it's over 20 sacks).
- A guy that quietly had a solid ball game on Sunday was cornerback A.J. Bouye. He had a pass breakup on great coverage in the second half. He had a sack on a late blitz. He had a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a loss. From the first day of conditioning/minicamp/OTA, he has been a different player. Healthy for the first time in a while, he shined throughout the offseason and carried that into the season. That's paying off for him in a big way.
- The second drive for the Texans, the one right after the Bears touchdown, might have been one of the worst drive I've seen a Texans team have. I mean, it was bad. However, the light went on shortly after this drive and the offense found its footing for pretty much the rest of the day. That one bad drive was the anomaly on a day when it executed fairly well all game long.
- The biggest moment of the game, in my estimation, was just after that drive. Eddie Royal returned a Shane Lechler punt to the Texans 40-yard line and it appeared that the Bears were about to land a serious haymaker. The Texans started well, turned it over, gave up a 75-yard drive for a touchdown, went backwards on the next drive and gave up a 31-yard punt return, This team was on the ropes, but luckily, the defense answered.
- After Bears receiver Kevin White was stopped short on 3rd and six, the Bears went for it on 4th and one. Fortunately, Jay Cutler dribbled the snap and got a late start on the sneak. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork knocked center Cody Whitehair backwards, which pushed Cutler back behind the line of scrimmage. That one play changed the complexion of this game from that point forward.
- Charles James and Alfred Blue both had two tackles on special teams and James, in particular, made a pair of outstanding plays in space on punt returns deep down the field.
- Wow, Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan combined for 28 tackles against the Texans. Just wow. I knew they were going to be tremendous additions for this team, but maybe more so than ever. Glad the Texans don't see them again for a while.
- Rookie receiver Will Fuller will be, and has been, the talking point of this entire game. His drop late in the first half led to a 14 point swing. He'd have sprinted to the end zone and embarrassed the Bears secondary as it tried to chase him down. It didn't happen and the Bears went down at the end of the half for the go-ahead touchdown just after that drive. That said…
- ...The rookie made up for that unfortunate drop as best as any rookie could. The next throw to him was on a deep in route and Brock Osweiler threw the ball well out in front of him. Fuller had to get low and snatch it with his hands before he hit the turf. That was a tremendous catch and it helped to get his confidence back, that's for sure.
- Throughout last season, I heard from all of you many times. Marc, Andre and I talked about it all last year. We all had the same thoughts. Ditch the screens. Quick, bubble, tunnel, slip, whatever screen, they just didn't work. Throw in dynamic pieces like Fuller and Braxton Miller and magically the screens now work. The tunnel screen for a touchdown to Fuller was exactly the way offensive coordinator George Godsey drew it up. The offensive line picked up some excellent blocks, especially Derek Newton's two for one block on Bears defenders. Fuller channeled his 2014 Notre Dame self and hit the X button for the end zone.
- Why do I bring up 2014 Notre Dame? Well, when I studied Fuller after the 2014 season, he thrived in the screen game. He did so to the point that I thought that was his speciality, so to speak. Then, in 2015, he became a true down field threat for the Irish. But, in 2014, I can't tell you how many times, I saw that same exact tunnel screen to Fuller. Ask LSU fans. He scored on nearly the exact play against the Tigers in the 2014 Music City Bowl game to kick off the scoring in that game.
- How much confidence does Osweiler have in the rookie first round selection? On 3rd and three in a got to have it situation only up by six, Osweiler threw deep to Fuller on the left sideline and Fuller beat fellow rookie Deiondre Hall for a 35-yard catch.
- J.J. Watt didn't post any sacks or TFLs but I've said a million times if I've said it once - it's the pressure that matters. Watt tied with Jadeveon Clowney for the team lead with three quarterback hurries and seemed to be knocking off the rust each and every play over the course of the game. I know the staff wanted to keep him off the field for a time, but he played a majority of the defensive snaps. If that's what he's able to do after not hitting anyone for nine months, imagine what he'll be as the rust comes completely off in the future.
- Nose tackle D.J. Reader didn't get a ton of snaps, but in the fourth quarter, he did a wonderful job playing a zone stretch. He played off the block of center Cody Whitehair and assisted on the tackle.
- Inside linebacker Max Bullough played well in Brian Cushing's stead, recording five tackles, tied for second on the team on the day. He seemed to get so much more comfortable as the game wore on and had his TFL on a play where he made an excellent read and tore off for the ball carrier. He blasted through a potential blocker and tackled Jeremy Langford for the loss. It helped that Whitney Mercilus set the edge like a champ, but Bullough took off like a shot.
- With the score 20-14, Kevin Johnson made a play that not many will talk about throughout the day but a hugely important one. The Bears had a 2nd and 11 and called a tight end screen to Zach Miller. Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton was the lead blocker on the play and his responsibility was the first man outside. Sitton is well over 300 pounds and Johnson is, well, not. But, Johnson took on Sitton so his teammates could get to Miller. Had Johnson just let Sitton knock him into the Texans bench, Miller would've run for a while. That didn't happen. It resulted in a five yard gain which set up 3rd and six. Whitney Mercilus forced a sack fumble on the next play. Without Johnson taking on that block, it wouldn't have happened.
- DeAndre Hopkins touchdown catch was consummate Nuk. 50/50 ball. Outstanding body control. Feet in bounds. But, I'm sure he'd like the other one back. The one he knows he catches in his sleep. It's a rough and difficult catch for 99% of the receivers at any level, but I could tell, even from the other side of the field, in his body language, that he was upset at himself for not securing that over the shoulder catch. Trust me, he's making the next one for sure. The Bears were completely and totally locked in on him with their game plan; that was clear yet he still had five catches and a touchdown.
- What I loved about Hopkins, though, was when Fuller sprinted into the end zone, Hopkins might have been the happiest player on the field celebrating the go-ahead touchdown. As a former coach, I love seeing teammates celebrating other teammates successes. Nuk did that for the rookie as Fuller did for Hopkins earlier in the game.
- Rookie punt returner Tyler Ervin averaged nearly 10 yards a return. He did just enough to give the Texans excellent field position throughout the game. The Texans had an average drive start of their own 33-yard line. The Bears? Their own 25. Huge difference. Ervin contributed to that on both punt and kickoff returns.
- Leading tackler on the day? John Simon. He had six tackles, a sack, a TFL and two quarterback hurries. Solid day for Simon who played a bunch of snaps in this game.
- Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had two of the best plays back to back in this game. He had a TFL on the first play where he fought off a double team. Then, he had a pass break out on a play where he just laid out for a would-be pick. He almost came up with it. I asked him after the game about it and he said the ball got on him a little faster than he expected but are you kidding me? Had Vince laid out to pick that off, gotten up and sprinted for the end zone?? NRG would've fallen to the ground from the explosion of noise.
Check out the best photos throughout the Texans first regular season game vs. the Bears.