Well, that didn't quite go the way that the good guys wanted as the Texans finished on the wrong end of a 16-9 matchup with the Denver Broncos. Here are my Harris Hits from the Texans first loss of the 2022 season.
Head Coach Lovie Smith mentioned many times how much better he wants the Texans to be at running the football. 80 total yards rushing won't set records or make anyone jump for absolute joy. However, the average per carry was 4.4 yards on 18 carries. That's a step in the right direction. The Texans just didn't have enough carries to really put them in position to take over the game, if you will.
Rookie Dameon Pierce running behind rookie fullback Troy Hairston running behind rookie Kenyon Green (and the entire OL) gives me joy. There were a handful of Pierce runs that gave me THAT feeling. You know the one - you can't stop us, no matter what. Pierce ran for 69 of those 80 yards on 15 carries. He had a few negative carries or stuffs in the low red zone, but he reeled off a chunk of runs - these were his first ten runs on the day.
1st run - eight yards
2nd run - minus four yards
3rd run - 12 yards
4th run - seven yards
5th run - four yards
6th run - seven yards
7th run - five yards
8th run - minus two yards
9th run - 11 yards
10th run - 11 yards
Outside of a couple of negative runs (one in which he slipped - 2nd run & one in which he was engulfed inside the ten yard line), Pierce picked up a good amount of yards through his first ten runs.
One thing I noted during the game was how Pierce "blocks" linebackers at the second level. If a linebacker doesn't get blocked, Pierce can handle that work running through those tackles, which he did often in this contest. He is the epitome of running angry. I mean, he got the sideline JACKED with some of the runs that he had.
Now, the last five runs he had? Five carries, six yards. Nowhere near as successful and that's got to improve, starting next week.
At halftime, Texans Head Coach Lovie Smith noted in his halftime interview with me how impressed he was with the defense's ability to keep Denver out of the end zone TWICE inside the five yard line. However, he also noted that he wasn't completely happy with one thing - the lack of stealing a possession, i.e. a takeaway. So, at the start of the third quarter, Marc threw it down to me and the very next play after I finished my report about stealing a possession, LB Christian Kirksey literally stole the ball from WR Courtland Sutton down the seam for the only takeaway from either side in the game. Following that takeaway, the Texans marched down the four yard line and had first and goal from the four, but had to settle for a third Kai'mi Fairbairn field goal. How does the world change if the Texans stick one into the end zone? Who knows? They didn't and the Broncos took the lead a few drives later with an Eric Saubert touchdown catch.
Back in OTAs getting a first look at DL Rasheem Green, I was thoroughly excited just seeing him in the flesh. He's a physical marvel with the longest arms I've seen on a football player. At the end of the preseason, Green was injured and missed the first game against the Colts. Seeing what he did on Sunday against the Broncos, it was clear we missed him against the Colts. He finished the game with 1.5 sacks, a TFL and two QB hurries. His length was on display coming off the edge with his first sack as he ripped right on by Broncos RT Cameron Fleming to get to his former Seahawks teammate Russell Wilson. The Texans will need him plenty in 2022.
The defensive stops down in the red zone were game savers. This game wouldn't have been a one score game if the defense didn't come up with those two massive stops. On the first drive, the Broncos had gone through the whole TD celebration for what they thought was a Courtland Sutton TD catch but he was forced just out of bounds by Derek Stingley Jr. On the second play, Stingley Jr. played the fade route about as well as could be to knock it away. On third down, the Texans tipped the ball out of the back of the end zone to set up the first FG attempt. On the second drive near the end of the half, the Broncos moved to the Texans five yard line. On first down, Jalen Pitre and Kamu Grugier-Hill put clamps on Javonte Williams and the TE to that side to force an incompletion. Williams then moved the Broncos to the one yard line but on third down, the Texans forced a Wilson throwaway on third down. The Broncos settled for a field goal to tie the game 6-6. Those drives saved eight points. Then again, the Texans had it within the four yard line and the Broncos saved four points on that drive.
If there's one thing that Lovie Smith will harp on throughout the week heading into the matchup with the Bears - FINISH. The Texans led both the Broncos (9-6) and Colts (20-3) heading into the fourth quarter and left with a tie and a loss.
Derek Stingley Jr. was given a major challenge today and it's a tough day spending most of the day tracking a star WR like Courtland Sutton. Stingley Jr. never backed down and when he went out of the game at one point in the second half, he was forcefully yearning to get back in the game. He's going to get better every time he goes back on the field because of days like this one. He made two beautiful plays on fade routes. He sent Sutton backside over tea kettle on a shallow route. Stingley is going to be THAT guy; give it time.
It was good to see WR Nico Collins get a bit more involved in the receiving game today. He finished with four catches (tied for team lead) for 58 yards which led the team as well. I thought his catch and run for 20 yards with 3:36 in the fourth quarter was going to be the start of a game-tying drive. But, it wasn't to be. That said, here's hoping Collins continues to get more and more involved in the passing game going forward.
After Collins catch, WR Brandin Cooks snatched a 23 yarder to put the Texans at the Denver 32-yard line with right at three minutes left. 1st and ten, Denver 32-yard line with all three timeouts - couldn't have asked for a better situation…until Randy Gregory's sack fumble that essentially stunted that drive and essentially ended the game.
Great to see rookie Kurt Hinish come up with a TFL early in this game. He and fellow rookie Thomas Booker gave the defense some quality snaps on the interior.
That said, the offside penalties - four of them in total - are killers and have to be eliminated in the future.
Alright, plane is about to land, so I'll shut it down and start getting ready for next week in Chicago. See ya then, everyone!