The trip over the pond, as they say, loomed large for the Texans following a come-from-behind 27-24 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 8. A nine-hour flight. First time in London. Banged-up team with at least five starters left at home. Hot opponent that makes annual trips to London. It was all set up for the Texans to struggle in a big way, but they didn't. Not only did the Texans not struggle, they dominated. Three phase, complementary football at its finest all day long. I can't even begin to tell you how great a trip this has been but THAT win on top of everything makes it one of the most fun trips I've taken with the Texans. Here are my Harris hits from the 26-3 win over Jacksonville in fabled Wembley Stadium.
I love being able to say this, yet again, but I don't even know where to begin because there are so many stars, ballers and heroes in this win. But, I'll start at the top with Bill O'Brien. He'll give me grief for doing so, but I don't care. The past two weeks have really been masterful stuff from him, his coaching staff and these players. Think about what the team has been up against for the past few weeks. Take a second because to write it all down would take all day. Yet in two "gotta have it" games/situations, O'Brien and his squad stepped up to get wins five and six on the season. Since the Raiders took a 21-13 lead early in the second half, the defense has not given up a touchdown. From that same point, the offense has scored 40 points. Over the past six quarters (without J.J. Watt, Laremy Tunsil, Bradley Roby, Will Fuller V, Lonnie Johnson, Tashaun Gipson among others) the Texans outscored the Raiders/Jaguars 43-13. That's a team that is not only finding a way to win but is taking over games at the right time, finding its sea legs, literally, this week behind O'Brien's leadership. These have been two outstanding wins, in all three phases.
I saw someone tweet about how the London fans might have a new favorite player after watching Deshaun Watson. I don't know that I could disagree in the slightest with that sentiment. He was at his wizard-like best with escapes that just defied description. The offensive line did a solid job protecting him, but when there was the rare leakage, Watson took care of it. I still don't know how he found Carlos Hyde for the "pass" late in the second quarter. I mean, how could he see him?
Then, he made a throw down the sideline to Duke Johnson just under the two minute warning that was amazing. He knew that he had Johnson open but Yannick Ngakoue seemingly had him wrapped up at his feet. Instead of hitting his knee, like mere mortals, before he threw, he catapulted himself in the air so that he could throw the ball and not hit his knee. I saw it live, then on replay and it was still astonishing that he had such keen awareness to make that 17-yard completion and not go down. Just speechless.
The real key to this day was a complete physical takeover on both sides of the ball. I mean, both lines just took over the game. From the first play of the game to the last, the Texans dominated up front. The offense ran for 216 yards on 34 attempts. Leonard Fournette, one of the league's leading rushers, had just 40 yards on 11 carries. Those two stats might tell the story but it was more than that. It was the gaping holes in the front in the run game. Jaguar defenders just moved right out of the way. The Texans defensive front was the exact opposite. They didn't budge. The interior didn't get knocked off the ball and, as a result, created a wall for Fournette to have to pound on repeatedly. The Lunch Pail Crew, D.J. Reader and his boys, got after it all day on the ground.
The most interesting development, though, was the increased pressure on quarterback Gardner Minshew II. He ran for his life most of the day and when he wasn't fleeing, he had to throw the ball with a pocket collapsing on him. That pocket enveloping forced high throws that resulted in two fourth quarter interceptions.
Safety Jahleel Addae started the turnover train with a pick on one of those high throws. He told me after the game that he saw the receiver and was initially thinking about laying the lumber and making a big hit. Then, he saw the ball was a little high and prime to be picked. So, he then made a play on it. Addae's interception is just one of a handful of tremendous plays made by the secondary on this day.
On the next series after a Texans fumble at the goal line, a nearly identical situation arose for the Texans, but this time it was Justin Reid who came up with the pick and a winding return that set up the last Texans touchdown. It wasn't identical but the theme was to collapse the pocket intelligently on Minshew and make him have to throw over the front. When he was forced to do it, Minshew Mania ended poorly, at least on this day, for the Jaguars.
One of my favorite sacks was Carlos Watkins' sack of Minshew. I don't know the exact foursome that rushed on that play, but they worked so well together. They got push up the field, but no one left a rush lane. That gave Minshew a huge problem. Then, when he needed to strike, Watkins knifed through when Minshew had nowhere to go and sacked him. It was a patient and violent, controlled aggression and intelligence and an excellent play by everyone on that defensive front.
Y'all know how much I love the drive chart and this defensive one is glorious, especially in the second half. For the Jaguars, it went: downs, punt, downs, pick, pick, fumble, fumble. That's domination.
That reminds me… the past four games vs. the Jaguars, the Texans defense has yielded seven points, three points, 12 points and three points - an average of 6.3 per game.
Cornerback Gareon Conley, one could argue and I will do so here, made the biggest play of the game with the pass breakup on 4th-and-10 with the Texans ahead 19-3. Minshew found Chris Conley on a dig route and made perhaps his best throw of the day. But, as Jaguars Conley tried to bring the ball into his body, Texans Conley ripped at the ball and dislodged it as the two man most pit hit the ground. The Jaguars asked for a review but that was a Hail Mary really because they knew that was probably the best option for a score of any kind. The call stood and that was the closest the Jaguars got to the end zone for the rest of the game.
Receiver Kenny Stills kept the offense rolling early in the game with some clutch catches. He finished as the leading yardage receiver on the day with 68 yards on five catches. He was absolute nails and fought through some ailments to stay on the field throughout the day.
DeAndre Hopkins may have made one of his best catches ever and that's no joke. On a crossing route early in the game, Watson threw one low to Hop between two defenders. Hop snatched it an inch from the ground with two defenders crossing over in front of him to shield him. I mean, when I saw it live, I knew it was a tremendous catch, but seeing the replay confirmed it. Just incredible.
The 2018 Cleveland Browns were dominated by Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb. But, three members of that Browns offense have been invaluable to this Texans offense. Darren Fells, Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde were on that team for a stretch and eventually found their way to the Texans… thankfully.
I have so much more to talk about, but I wanted to give you some thoughts from London before we left Heathrow airport. Chris Clark and Rod Johnson rotating at left tackle. Darren Fells tying the tight end single season touchdown catch record. Duke Johnson hammering Tre Herndon at the goal line. Tytus Howard returning at right tackle mashing dudes. The Texans pass rush combinations. The Texans special team stars firing up the Texans in the crowd in the second half.
Like I said, there's so much more to hit, but that's all for now. See ya soon, everyone!