Dom Capers strives for consistency. It's the lifeblood of his detail-oriented approach.
But Capers knew the potential job hazards when he assumed the reins of his second expansion team. The system saddles you with a young team. Your depth can be exposed because you don't have a handful of drafts to fall back on. And no matter how hard you work, those factors can ultimately lead to inconsistent performances.
The Texans couldn't stop Cincinnati in the fourth quarter.
Houston's past two games reflect a second-year team still trying to find its sea legs. In the Texans' upset win over Carolina, Houston dominated the fourth quarter and made the plays when the game was on the line. But against the Bengals, the roles were reversed.
"When I look back, it was very similar to our game with Carolina where we were the most efficient and executed the best in crunch time when we needed to," Capers said. "We went out and started the second half and were seven-for-seven on third down conversions. We had touchdown, touchdown and ran out the clock. And basically that's what the Bengals did against us. They converted their situation to the fourth quarter and we did nothing."
The stats are mind-boggling. The Texans ran four plays for minus-nine yards in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati, holding the ball for just 1:32, or eight percent of the quarter.
The Bengals, meanwhile, ran 27 plays for 97 yards. They had eight first downs, driving 65 yards for a touchdown, 56 yards for a field goal and running out the clock at the end of the game to erase a three-point deficit entering the final stanza.
"We made the plays to win the week before against a good football team and the Bengals made the plays to come back from a 27-24 deficit starting the fourth quarter," Capers said. "There wasn't anything wrong with the effort, it was the execution."
Indeed, you can rarely say a team coached by Capers won't give maximum effort. Houston's defense has been hampered by a string of injuries, especially up front. But the collective fight is still there, it's just a matter of executing.
"Some guys haven't been in positions very long," Capers said. "When you're playing this type of game, again, two and three-yard runs can sometimes turn into five and six-yard runs. We just have to be a little sharper and sounder in our gap control up front, get off of blocks a little quicker."
Capers indicated that the Texans actually played the run better in the fourth quarter. But the Bengals still converted crucial third downs to keep the clock moving and Houston's offense on the sidelines.
And speaking of the offense, third down was a big issue for that unit as well. One week after setting a team record by converting 62 percent of its third downs against the Panthers, the Texans' offense converted just 3 of 11 at Cincinnati. That's a big reason why Houston's defense lined up for 83 snaps -- 37 more than the offense -- and why the Texans are still searching for their first two-game win streak.
"It was a back-and-forth game," quarterback David Carr said. "And when you get in a game like this, those are the ones you want to win because it brings the whole team together if we could have pulled this one out.
"It was a winnable game. We just fell a little short."
That can get frustrating, for the players, coaches (and fans) who invest so much emotionally. But the past two weeks have provided a clear blueprint to this team on how it can win games in this league.
"From one week to the next in the National Football League, these games are going to come down to that," Capers said. "It might come down to the last series or two and who makes the plays and who doesn't."
And rest assured, if the Texans continue to follow Capers' lead, the post-game locker room emotion will reflect the first Sunday of November more than the second.