What if I told you the Texans would be 5-3 at the halfway mark…
...with J.J. Watt, Kevin Johnson and nine other players on IR?
...the offense had yet to hit its stride?
You would've taken it in a heartbeat, no? Sure, we'd love for this team to be 8-0 and playing outstanding football week in and week out, but it hasn't gone quite that way. That said, 5-3 with all that I mentioned above isn't a bad place to be at this point. I don't even think this team has come close to its ceiling, no matter what or where that ceiling is. With that as a backdrop, the Texans beat the Lions 20-13 to close out the first half of the season. Here are my observations from the day.
- Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue couldn't get much going early in the game on the ground, but man, did those two run with some pop in the fourth quarter. Blue wanted to atone for the fumble on Monday night against the Broncos and he did with some angry runs late in the game. He had one run right in front of me where he pie-faced a defensive back that had the audacity to try to tackle him. Miller was playing with a bad shoulder and there were some national media that didn't think he would play much and certainly wouldn't play well. Both had something to prove in the fourth quarter and they certainly proved how tough they were when this team needed it most.
- "Toss crack" still hurts this defense. The Lions best running play throughout the day was the same thing it was for the Denver Broncos. Don't tell me this isn't a copycat league. The Lions knew the Texans had trouble stopping that toss play and followed up with it the week after Denver gave the Texans issues with it. On "toss crack", the outside receivers and tight end crack down on the defensive end/edge players and the interior guys pull around to get a piece of the secondary. The Lions hurt the Texans with that play but had to get away from it after falling behind in the game.
- Jadeveon Clowney ended up with only one sack, but he was consistently in the backfield on Sunday afternoon. That sack was his third of the season and the 7.5th of his career. He moved from inside to outside seamlessly and was chipped all day long. He still did a ton of chasing throughout the day.
- Heading into the game, the Lions triumvirate of receivers Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin averaged nearly 14 total catches for 184 yards and a touchdown (or more). On Sunday, the Texans held them to 11 total catches for 79 yards and no touchdowns. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford saw early on that he wasn't going to have a ton of success going to his stout receiving trio on Sunday.
- The Lions used some interesting pass protection techniques on the Texans, especially when Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus were on the same side together. Left tackle Taylor Decker would essentially block down on Clowney and left guard Graham Glasgow would pop out and pull behind Decker to block Mercilus. The Lions tried to do this later in the game and Mercilus ran past Glasgow before he could even get out to a spot where he could block Mercilus. Decker had his issues with Clowney's strength and often needed help to effectively control him.
- Man, I really liked Kareem Jackson on the inside in nickel. He had a tackle for a loss, a pass defensed and five total tackles (all solo). He fits inside so well because of his tackling ability in space.
- C.J. Fiedorowicz had five catches on the day and that gives him 26 on the season. Keep in mind that in his first two years he had a combined 21 catches. With another eight games, he could conceivably catch 50 passes in 2016. Thing is, of those 26 catches, 24 of them have come in the last five games. He also had three touchdowns in that time frame too and it looked like he was going to be out of the game again after a vicious helmet to helmet blow from safety Tavon Wilson. However, he made his way back on the field for the second half.
- Ryan Griffin's catch on the last drive of the first quarter (and the Texans first scoring drive) was a massive one on the day. The Texans needed touchdowns, especially early, and if Griffin didn't power through a tackle and carry a Lion for a first down, they would've been forced into a field goal attempt. But, after getting a great block from Jonathan Grimes, Griffin ran through the arm tackle of Rafael Bush for the all-important first down.
- Osweiler had a free rusher in his face on that play too. He stared him down and delivered a strike to Griffin.
- But, his catch on third down prior to that might have been even more important. The Lions were in two man and Griffin gave rookie safety Miles Killebrew a little stick nod double move to get yards of separation. Osweiler had a clean pocket and delivered down the seam before the safeties could converge on Griffin. The 23-yard catch put the Texans on the edge of the
- When Brock calms his feet in the pocket, he can really make any throw on the field. I know, I know, he has to work in the pocket to get that space to be able to to do that.
- I just happened to see Bill O'Brien on the sideline when Tyler Ervin returned his second and longest punt for 15 yards. Just watching O'B's reaction on the sideline, willing Ervin down the field, was interesting. It helped set the Texans up with great field position on the team's second touchdown scoring drive.
- Stephen Anderson completed the Texans' tight end performance in the first half in the right way. He had a couple of catches that went for a first down. Well, the first one was a first down as he extended the ball out for the first down marker. It wasn't marked properly, but the second catch of the drive was, legitimately, for a first down.
- DeAndre Hopkins making one hand catches is now a matter of routine, but when he does it in traffic like he did in the second quarter, that's really impressive. He ran a shallow cross and Brock Osweiler led him just a bit too much. But, Nuk reached out his right paw and snatched the rock and got it down to the one. Lamar Miller punched it in on the very next play.
- I happened to be in the end zone for that catch and he had no business making that catch at all. But, that's the magic of DeAndre and his outstanding hands.
- On Lamar Miller's TD run, Jeff Allen and Greg Mancz completely cleared out the right side and opened a huge hole in the A gap for Miller to squeeze through for the score.
- Special teams had an up and down day. Lions return man Andre Roberts had a couple of kickoff returns for big yardage, including a 42-yarder. He also had one for over 60 yards that got called back for holding - Antwoine Williams held Jonathan Grimes. The punt return cover unit was excellent, though, holding Roberts to five yards on three returns.
- When the Texans only had ten men on the last kickoff of the first half, it forced the Texans to call their final time-out. Now, there were only two seconds left in the half and the Lions
were going to squib kick anyway. It didn't haunt them this time, but it could in the future and that was well known on the Texans sideline.
- Corey Moore has gotten the first playing time in his career over the past three or four weeks. I asked him about what should've been his first interception. It hit him right in the hands. He said the ball got "on him" so fast, even though he baited Matt Stafford into throwing into that coverage. He had a pass breakup on Theo Riddick earlier in the game as well when matched up on Riddick on the dangerous angle route that hurt the Texans at times during the day. He did get that pass interference call in the fourth quarter that led to the Lions only touchdown of the day but overall his play has been solid in Quintin Demps' stead.
- Right before Osweiler's interception, he made three straight gorgeous throws. I mean, just awesome throws. He hit C.J. Fiedorowicz on a seam route and then a quick out for the first two and threw a laser that Will Fuller couldn't hang onto on the third on the Texans sideline. That actually might have been his best throw of the entire day. The next one? His worst throw of the day.
- The Texans' first play of the second half was a definite penalty, even though Bill O'Brien was livid on the sideline. The flag was thrown VERY late and that probably was a part of the reason, but both Will Fuller and C.J. Fiedorowicz were off the ball and one of them had to be on the ball.
- I've mentioned Jonathan Grimes a few times already. He drew a holding call on Andre Roberts long kickoff return. He made a key block on Ryan Griffin's third down catch. His biggest play, though, was a five yard run on third down for a first down with 9:01 in the third quarter. Osweiler checked to a draw on that play and Grimes weaved his way for five yards and that first down.
- Will Fuller's only catch of the day was a big one. He was the only deep steel blue jersey amongst four white jerseys. He went up and snatched it out of the air, making a strong hands catch. Unfortunately, Fuller went out of the game with a leg injury later in the third quarter.
- Cornerback A.J. Bouye had another solid ball game at corner for this defense. See the numbers above for the Lions perimeter pass catching trio. But, he had a pass breakup on a deep throw to Marvin Jones late in the third quarter that helped keep the Lions out of the end zone.
- Defensive tackle D.J. Reader is getting plenty of playing time the past few weeks and had a tackle for a loss on the play in the third quarter. He's so difficult to move off the ball but he seemed to be more comfortable over the nose than anywhere else. When Vince Wilfork went out of the game with a groin issue, Reader took snaps there the rest of the game in the base defense.
- With the spate of injuries over the past few weeks, the Texans were forced to go out and add a few players, especially in the secondary. From the day that Robert Nelson and Don Jones were added to the 53-man roster, they've done nothing but make plays, especially on special teams. Nelson recovered the Lions late onside kick and led the special teams with two solo tackles and an assist. Jones had two tackles on special teams as well. Throw in Charles James and the three secondary members accounted for six of the seven special teams tackles on the day.
- The one Jones made in the fourth quarter on Roberts when he attempted to cross the entire field back to the Lions sideline was HUGE. Roberts had gotten all the way to his sideline ready to turn and burn up the field, but Jones was sprinting down the field and made the tackle one-on-one in space for little to no gain.
- It won't be talked about much, but the drive after Jones' tackle was perhaps the most important of the game for the Texans. Kareem Jackson made a tackle for a loss on a bubble screen on first down. The Lions picked up a holding penalty on second down then picked up a few yards on second down. Then, on third down, Stafford felt some pressure from Jadeveon Clowney, rolled to his right and had to dump it down to his running back with Whitney Mercilus in his face on 3rd and 18. Theo Riddick ended up well short of the first down. That three and out, combined with the next drive, sealed the win.
- The offensive line over the last 10:14 of the game was outstanding, the holding call in the red zone, notwithstanding. It took a while to get a hat on a hat and some push up front, but that happened in the fourth quarter. THAT was pretty to watch.
Well. that'll do it. The first half of the season was far from beautiful, but this team is 5-3 and one game up on the rest of the AFC South. Improvements need to be made and adjustments are necessary, but with a week off and some rest on the horizon, that can wait a week.
Check out photos of the game as the Texans took on the Lions at NRG Stadium.