Quicker out of the gate

Two yards.

Two little yards and the entire makeup of the Texans game against the Vikings could have been completely different.

With 6:51 left in the first quarter Houston faced third-and-two at the Minnesota 42-yard line. The team did not convert and punted.

The offense didn't touch the ball again for 6:40. No one looked at a watch to gage the real time, but it seemed like an eternity.

The Texans failed to convert a third-and-two on the next possession too.

By halftime Houston was down 14-0 and had touched the ball a mere 5:22 seconds.

"We get that (first down) and that's a guaranteed six more plays at least," quarterback David Carr said. "So that was tough – we only had 17 plays at halftime and that's our own fault. In the second half we kind of pulled it together a little bit."

Yes, the Texans pulled it together, rallying from what was a 21-0 deficit to tie the game at 28 but lose in overtime.

There has been plenty of game planning for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, but the offense knows it will mean very little if it can't get two yards in a pinch. The Packers got off to a slow start against the Titans Monday night and ended up suffering an embarrassing 48-27 loss.

"Why we were starting off slow? I really don't know that answer," Texans tight end Mark Bruener said. "Guys are prepared, guys are not making mistakes, guys are making plays. It just seems like we have to make a few more plays to keep those drive alive."

The team has had little trouble keeping drives alive in the second half. It may seem bizarre, but the Texans are outscoring opponents 79 to 66 in the second half, but falling into a 55-29 hole in the first 30 minutes.

Slow starts haven't gone unnoticed in the offensive meeting rooms. Missing on third downs puts the defense on the field more. A tired defense gives up more yards and more points.

It's the slippery slope every team wants to avoid.

"Every play's important and every game is a little different and the one constant is you have to be efficient with your execution," Texans head coach Dom Capers said. "We've been more efficient with our execution in the second half. I'd like to think that we're playing with the same sense of urgency in the first half as the second half but if you look we've outscored our opponent 41-14 the last two weeks in the second half and we've been outscored 17-31 in the first half.


You can't deny that. A year ago we were a fast starter and a slow finisher. This year's we've been a slow starter and a fast finisher so we have to find that happy medium in between."

The team has been balanced in the first half (76 running plays, 73 pass plays).

Because of slow offensive starts the Texans have been forced to play from behind at half time in all but one game. Carr has thrown the ball 92 passes in the second half to 69 rushing plays.

The Texans have thrown for 220 more yards in the second half using successful and creative passing formations. Out of 245 plays this season, 177 have used one or no tight end. Only four have been three tight end sets.

Maybe that's part of the passing game's success.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson had a career high 170 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. All but one of Derick Armstrong's 13 catches have come in the second half.

But in terms of controlling the clock there are few things more important than a solid running game, especially facing a team like the Titans, who lead the league in time of possession (34:22).

Then again, finding the balance Capers speaks of doesn't necessarily mean airing it out.

"You try never to abandon the run game," offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. "The clock will dictate to you when you have to abandon the run game because you need so many scores you have to play to the clock and then you abandon the run game. The score and the clock will dictate that."

In short, answering the enigma of slow starts comes with adjusting to the opponents' defense. Bruener says the team has done a good job adjusting at half time, as proven by last week's big turnaround.

But he and the rest of the team would love for the Titans and future teams' defenses to adjust to the Texans success.

That means doing whatever it takes to avoid early slumps.

"I think it's establishing what you think with that week's game plan is going to be effective," Bruener said when asked about choosing run or pass. "The thing about an NFL game on Sunday, it's a game of adjustments. You can come in with a great game plan and if the plan is successful you want to continue with it but the defense is going to adjust to try to stop your effective plays and you have to continually adjust as an offense."

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