Founder’s Day 2019 is one we'll remember for a long time.
What an afternoon it was at NRG Stadium as the Texans honored founder Bob McNair. He went into the Ring of Honor next to Andre Johnson. Mr. McNair would’ve loved seeing his Texans put 53 points on the board to take home win number three on the year. Here are my Harris hits from Sunday’s 53-32 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
There are so many different options to start but I'll begin with the Texans offensive line. Zach Fulton was back at right guard, and the Texans starting five went back to work as it did in Los Angeles against the Chargers. In that game, they gave up just two sacks on 36 dropbacks against stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. On Sunday, the offensive line gave up zero sacks on 33 dropbacks and just one quarterback hit. Zero and one. Those are impressive numbers.
Let’s dive in a little further. The run game averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 34 carries to pile up 166 yards on the ground. So, zero sacks. One quarterback hit. 166 yards on the ground. There’s not much more to ask that group to do. The tempo seemed to put Atlanta back on its heels and those five guys up front - Laremy Tunsil, Max Scharping, Nick Martin, Fulton and Tytus Howard - turned in a masterful day. It’s going to be a bar-setting performance for this quintet for the rest of this season (as in, that’s the way it can be every week).
I remember last year when Will Fuller V made a touchdown catch against the Titans in Week 2. Marc Vandermeer exclaimed, “WELCOME BACK, WILL!” Well, Will’s been here but it really felt like Sunday’s performance was Fuller’s true return in 2019. All he did was register career highs with 14 receptions for 217 yards and three touchdowns. There was a ton of discussion this week as to Kenny Stills’ availability and who would step truly into that big play void if/when he couldn’t play. Honestly, all the receivers stepped up to make big plays, but Fuller took it to a different level.
Fuller's first touchdown was a little bit of a juggling act in the north end zone. The Falcons were in a cover two shell and quarterback Deshaun Watson threaded the needle to Fuller. He juggled it a bit before he reeled it in for the touchdown. Once he did that, I knew he would have a big day. I didn’t see 14-for-217 and three scores big, but he’ll/we’ll take it every single week!
I loved the concept vs. man coverage that got Fuller open on a key 3rd-and-3 in the first half. Fuller was all alone in the flat and secured the catch for the first down. That’s really when the fun started. When he has the rock in his hands, there’s nothing I like more than to see him hit the gas. I always wished I could be THAT fast. The play went for 36 yards and led to a Ka'imi Fairbairn 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. Fuller's had big days before, but today he went to a different level for sure.
Watson spent the early evening last Sunday working on some stuff at NRG Stadium after the tough loss to Carolina. That seemed to pay off in a HUGE way. Watson had as many passing touchdowns as he did incompletions and I believe that’s the second time he’s done that in his career. He set a career high with 426 yards passing against a defense that was giving up just 212 yards per game through the air. He threw five touchdowns: three to Fuller and two to Darren Fells. Just sublime!
To put his day in perspective, he threw for five touchdowns for the third time in his three-year career. Since 2017, no quarterback in the NFL has done it three times. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has done it twice and a few others have done it once. If Chiefs fans want to nitpick, Watson has started 27 regular season games while Mahomes has started 23 games. The point? They’re both really good and both cities are VERY happy that Watson and Mahomes are crushing it in Houston and Kansas City, respectively.
Watson’s numbers are obscene, of course, but the way he managed the offense and the way he executed all day long is what stood out to me. He played with a hop in his step. I watched him and the whole team in pregame and I saw what I wanted to see. They appeared loose, were dancing around and had some juice, ready to unleash. Watson had the tempo cranked up and really put the Falcons in a ton of trouble after first downs, in particular.
This day almost started horribly. After the Falcons scored on their second drive and had a 7-0 lead, the lack of any points on the next drive would’ve been the start of a potential bad day. A turnover? That would’ve been tragic (football speaking). Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good and that happened when Watson went back to throw on a 3rd-and-7. As he started to scramble, the ball was knocked loose. But the ball skipped back into Watson’s arms and he ran for a first down. He found Fuller a few plays later to tie the game at seven. Sometimes a little bit of luck can really be what gets a player and/or a team going in the positive direction. It seemed that was definitely the case after Watson dribbled that one to himself for the first down.
The defense didn’t love seeing 32 points on the board, but overall I thought it was really good. J.J. Watt was a menace all day long. He had one sack but racked up five quarterback hits, leaving an impression on Matt Ryan and company. I think he drew two or three holding penalties as well. Now, he did have two 15-yard penalties, but I think I’m picking nits with that on this day. He was brilliant.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel never allowed Ryan to get comfortable or get in any type of rhythm with the way he spun the dial. Heat came from everywhere and from everyone, which was really fun to watch. Ryan put up some yards (330), but it felt like empty calories, as play-by-play voice Marc Vandermeer likes to say. It took Ryan 46 attempts and 48 total dropbacks to put up that many yards.
The two things I wanted to see from the Texans defense in this game: a complete elimination of the Falcons run game and to not let star receiver Julio Jones to wreck the game. Mission accomplished and mission accomplished. The Falcons ran for just 57 yards on 20 carries, less than three yards a pop. The front seven clogged running lanes for most of the day. Furthermore, Jones finished with just three catches for 42 yards. Those had to be two of the major keys on the defensive white board this week and they definitely answered the bell.
There were many who benefitted from the play of the Lunch Pail Crew and the defensive front. Jahleel Addae had 10 tackles, while Benardrick McKinney finished with nine stops as well.
Oh, by the way, Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley did step out of bounds on his touchdown catch. I saw it clearly right in front of me. The replay was inconclusive, but I know what I saw and he stepped out of bounds. It was a tremendous catch but should’ve never counted.
Defensive lineman D.J. Reader has rushed the passer well enough to have a few more sacks to his name over the past few weeks. As such, I was glad to see him get one after Watt pushed Ryan off his spot. Reader and his Lunch Pail Crew homies were decked out in their original T-shirts for arrival on Sunday. He represented the group very well, not only rushing the passer, but also dominating the Falcons offensive front in the run game. There were no holes in the run defense, in large part due to the LPC, led by Reader.
I love reading the drive chart after every game but this one was, uh, special. Here’s how the Texans drive chart went after a punt on the initial drive: Touchdown, touchdown, field goal, end of half, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown and touchdown. That’s four touchdowns on five drives in the second half and five scores on all five drives in the second half. Of the nine drives after that punt, six touchdowns and two field goals. That’s, uh, efficient and explosive.
Furthermore, the Texans generated six plays of 30 or more yards and 10 of 20 or more yards. On the flip side, the Falcons had one play of 30 or more yards and five or 20 or more yards.
As soon as Tashaun Gipson Sr. picked off that pass, I knew he was thinking house call no matter what. He looked up and saw nothing but 300+ lb. heavies in front of him and a quarterback. He would never hear the end of it from his fellow defensive backs if one of those guys tackled him short of the end zone. Luckily, he didn’t let anyone catch him as he traversed his way into the north end zone. That was the capper on a wonderful day.
On Founder’s Day, the Texans scored the second-most points in team history. That will do for sure. I leave it right there and start getting ready for Kansas City next week. See ya then, everyone!
Houston Texans take on the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium for the fifth game of the 2019 NFL season.