Houston Texans Team Analyst John Harris shares his notes from the Texans Week 9 game against the Eagles.
The Battle Red popped on the field throughout the night and it made for one outstanding spectacle on Thursday evening. Even though the Texans lost a hard fought contest to the undefeated Eagles, there were plenty of positives to emphasize on the way home or in my film study. Unfortunately, there were a few hiccups that truly cost the Texans too. As such, here are my Harris Hits: Upon Further Review version from the 29-17 loss to the Eagles.
The Texans scored on the first drive of the game for the first time all season. In the first five games of the season, the Texans didn't register a first down on a first drive. They finally strung together a drive against the Raiders but missed the field goal. As such, this was the first time the Texans scored on a first drive and got the big points too. Furthermore, It might have been the best drive the Texans had all season long. OC Pep Hamilton mixed the run and pass so very well. QB Davis Mills delivered the ball to multiple weapons. It was FUN to watch all the way down the field.
It was clear from the first play of the game that the Texans offensive front had a different mindset than what they had the previous Sunday against Tennessee. On the first play of the game, RT Tytus Howard and RG A.J. Cann walked Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox right up the field as RB Dameon Pierce sliced right behind them for nearly 11 yards. I knew it would be a different night from that first play
I love what WR Phillip Dorsett brings to this WR corps. He was effective on catch-and-run plays but the twisting catch that he made on the double move later in the first drive behind Eagles CB James Bradberry was brilliant. Dorsett absolutely roasted Bradberry and then made the adjustment to make a wonderful catch.
Third play of the game, LT Laremy Tunsil drove DE Josh Sweat into the turf with some bad intentions. LOVED seeing that from LT and it frustrated Sweat so badly that he went after Tunsil after the play. The embarrassment was a bit too much for Sweat. Tunsil was ON ONE all night long and it might have been the best I've seen him play as a Texan. He had the captain C on his chest and his play resonated with his teammates for sure.
Rookie RB Dameon Pierce was decisive, explosive and ran angrily, yet intelligently throughout the game. I'll have more on him as I go through the remainder of the game. He wasn't the only RB, though, making plays early in this game. On the first third down of the game, QB Davis Mills threw to RB Rex Burkhead who was five yards short of the first down. Rex made nickel DB Avonte Maddox miss then ran through two tackles to pick up the first down yardage. I wondered at the time whether the Texans would think fourth down territory that early in the game, but it wasn't necessary because Rex made a huge play to get the first.
Seeing Teagan Quitoriano get his first touchdown was awesome. His touchdown catch was something else! He ran a leak route from the right to the left but Eagles DB K'Von Wallace read TQ's route and was in the perfect position. However, when Mills released the ball, he put the rebound, errr, throw high in the air for his 6-6 TE. The youngster from Oregon State went up and snatched it above Wallace and Marcus Epps's heads for his first touchdown in his first ever game.
The best thing about the play that produced TQ's touchdown was OT Charlie Heck running a mesh route with TE Brevin Jordan. When I saw that back on film, I nearly doubled over in laughter. The Eagles actually covered him too. Maybe the Giants won't and Heck will get a target. Oh, a big man can dream!
Man, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts ability to buy time out of the pocket was a killer throughout the night. He was so composed on third downs finding his open receivers. The first third down for the Eagles, he just moseyed to his right side and found Quez Watkins open, firing a strike with LB Blake Cashman right in his face.
DB Steven Nelson continued his strong season, making a number of huge plays, starting with a TFL that he had on a screen to DeVonta Smith on the Eagles first drive. He knifed past TE Dallas Goedert to get to Smith and made the sure tackle for the loss.
Rookie DL Kurt Hinish played, arguably, the best game of his career. He held up well against the Eagles interior OL, which is one of the best trios in the game. He made a stop on a one yard gain for RB Kenneth Gainwell early in the game to keep him just sure of a first down. He did an excellent job riding the wave down the line of scrimmage that took him right to Gainwell. He had a sack in the fourth quarter and his improvement week after week is highly evident.
OHHH man what could've been. After a third down conversion on the first drive, Hurts threw to A.J. Brown on the Texans sideline. But, his throw was wayward and Brown could only get a hand on the ball. But, he tipped the ball right into the air as rookie DB Jalen Pitre closed on him from his half field safety position. Pitre had a sure interception in his hands but as the ball landed in his arms, Brown wheeled around and threw his body into Pitre, which caused the ball to fall to the turf. If Pitre had held onto the pick, oh man, NRG Stadium would've gone crazy as the ball went back to a hot Texans offense, keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard.
Hurts did an excellent job throwing into the cover two hole (behind CB, in front of S) throughout the game. He hit a key third down against that coverage to Dallas Goedert (more on that guy later - just a killer all night)
DB Desmond King has played extraordinary football, including a great TFL on first and goal on the Eagles first offensive drive. Hurts never saw him from behind and King got on Hurts' back and rode him to the turf for a big loss.
Man, did the Eagles get away with one down inside the low red zone! Eagles C Jason Kelce literally grabbed RB Kenneth Gainwell by the helmet and carried him forward for three yards. The NFL had just recently emphasized plays of this nature to their officiating crews, asking them to flag plays of this nature. As such, that should've been a major penalty that wasn't called. Two plays later on fourth and goal, Eagles RB Miles Sanders ran it in from the two but the Eagles never should've been in that position.
That touchdown run by Sanders set up Dallas Goedert's TD catch later in the game. This time Hurts handed it off to Sanders, but he had Goedert wide open in the flat. The Eagles offensive staff must have made a mental note of Goedert being wide open. So, later in the game, same spot on the NRG Stadium turf, they went right back to that concept in the fourth quarter. That time, though, Hurts pulled it and threw to Goedert wide open for the TD.
The Texans offensive line's continued ability to displace white jerseys was really impressive and that's what Lovie Smith has wanted all season long.
On the Texans second series, I think Davis would've made the line to gain if he just kept running on his scramble on third down. He tried to cut back on K'Von Wallace instead of sprinting for the sideline pylon. Had he done that, he might've gotten to the marker (might being the key word) Instead, the Texans had to punt back to the Eagles.
What a defensive call from Lovie Smith, calling for DB Steven Nelson to run a CB blitz that forced the first Eagles lost fumble in 2022. Perfectly timed. Perfectly executed. Hurts never accounted for Nelson off the edge and when Nelson contacted Hurts, the ball squirted out. DL Jaleel Johnson eventually recovered the fumble to end a promising Eagles drive.
Man, Texans TE O.J Howard pie faced an Eagles defensive back on the first play after the fumble recovery. He caught a pass in the flat and turned it into an Angry Run, placing his huge left hand on S Marcus Epps face mask. Howard displaced the Eagle defender into the turf with ease and drew huge OHHHHHHS from the crowd.
Eagles RB Miles Sanders returned the favor with the pie face the next time he carried the ball. He planted rookie Derek Stingley on his Angry Run. That Sanders run was the first play on another long drive that ended with a RB Kenneth Gainwell touchdown. This time, instead of being carried into the end zone, the former Memphis star RB followed the block of Pro Bowl C Jason Kelce into the end zone.
After trailing 14-7, the Texans got the ball back late in the second quarter. RB Dameon Pierce reeled off a 36-yard run that was so expertly constructed and executed. Oh man, that counter run was a thing of beauty. Here's how I saw it on Key Play Breakdown
2:38 in the 2nd quarter
Eagles ahead 14-7
1st and ten
-37 yard line
The Texans started a drive after the Eagles took the lead 14-7 on the previous drive. On a first down play, the Texans had 12 personnel on the field, aligned the two tight ends in a Y wing situation to the right side of the field. QB Davis Mills went into the gun with RB Dameon Pierce to his left. The Eagles stayed in nickel personnel on the field with nickel DB Avonte Maddox matching WR Chris Moore on the offense's left. OC Pep Hamilton called a GT counter to the Y wing (right) side. TE Brevin Jordan and O.J. Howard doubled down together to cave in that side then Brevin bumped off to block ILB T.J. Edwards. LG Kenyon Green pulled across and collided with DE Josh Sweat and LT Laremy Tunsil turned up with no one to block, honestly. Pierce tucked behind his hulking tackle and BURST up the field, running over DBs and pulling out of feeble tackle attempts. Pierce eventually bounced out to the sideline and sprinted forward until he just ran out of real estate for 36 huge yards.
That was tremendous.
A few plays later, Mills threw a gem to Chris Moore for the Texans' second touchdown of the game. What a throw he made to Moore! Like he did in Las Vegas when he was on the move, Mills threw a heater to Moore who snatched the touchdown throw away from his body. Such a great play all the way around. That tied the game at 14 heading into the half and had NRG Stadium hyped.
The first defensive drive of the second half was arguably the best defensive three and out of the season, led by DE Jerry Hughes. The veteran DE FLEW by star LT Jordan Mailata to get to Hurts for the first of his two sacks on that drive. I mean, Hughes dropped his inside shoulder and Mailata had no shot. But, a Sanders run put the Eagles in third and relatively short. Instead of giving the rock to Sanders, Hurts went back to pass on third down, which allowed Hughes to run by Mailata for a second straight pass rush. Mailata and Hurts had no chance against Hughes, who finished with two sacks, two TFL and two QB hurries in the game.
The Texans inability to move the ball effectively just after that three and out was a huge key in this game. The momentum had swung to the red clad Texans and a long drive with points would've been a major statement. Alas, it didn't happen.
After the Texans punted, Eagles RB Miles Sanders burst for what we thought was ten yards, but his knee hit the ground a yard before the first down marker. I didn't think much of it at the time, because 2nd and one with those offensive weapons and offensive line is a fait accompli.
But, on second and one, rookie LB Christian Harris shot the A gap, avoided the block carnage and hammered Sanders before he could get to the first down marker. On third and one, Sanders got the first down by about half a yard but after the Eagles started to line up for the next first down, Lovie Smith threw his challenge flag. I remember thinking that it was probably for naught, but it acts as a time out, so why not? Well, Lovie and his coaching staff had that absolutely pegged perfectly. LB Christian Kirksey shot the gap on third and one and as Sanders made his cut, his knee was actually on the ground. Kirksey had his arm around Sanders leg while his knee was down two yards short of the marker. Another three and out stop! One three and out to start the half was one thing; a second one was just incredible.
However, on the subsequent third down, Mills forced an errant throw downfield that CJ Gardner-Johnson picked off and returned to the Texans 17-yard line. I'm not sure who exactly Mills spied down the field, but he immediately hit his head in frustration. Two plays later, Hurts threw a dime to Brown for a touchdown. Brutal sequence.
The Texans couldn't have started the next drive any worse. Mills hit Chris Moore for a four yard LOSS and it was 2nd and 14. Uh oh. I thought this could be the start of the Eagles' third quarter run. But, on 2nd and 14, a screen FINALLY worked. I've seen SOOO many screens in my nine years on the sidelines go for nothing, but Moore got a great block from Brevin Jordan and Laremy Tunsil, which created a huge hole. Moore sped upfield for a 25-yard gain and a huge sigh of relief for the offense.
Then the onslaught began. Pierce for three. Pierce for ten. Pierce for four. Pierce for six. Pierce for nine. Burkhead for nine. All the way down to the Philadelphia thirteen yard line. But, this is where the game changed. The Texans gained just one more yard and had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 21-17 as we moved into the fourth quarter. The Texans inability to put up the big points allowed the Eagles the opportunity with one more touchdown to make it a two score lead. And, that's exactly what happened.
First drive of the fourth quarter might as well have been labeled the Dallas Goedert drive. Second play of the quarter - Goedert for 17 yards. Third play - Goedert for ten yards. Fifth play - Goeder for ten yards. Eighth play - Goedert for four yards, TD. Ball game. The Texans jumped offside on the extra point which allowed the Eagles to go for two from the one yard line. Hurts sneaked it into the end zone to take a 12 point lead.
The Texans moved it well on the next two drives, but a Javon Hargrave sack essentially ended one drive and a James Bradberry interception ended the last threat. And, that was that.
The bright spots were evident to say the least. Christian Harris was quick and explosive to the ball all night long. Laremy Tunsil played one of the best games I've seen him play. A.J. Cann proved how much the Texans missed him against the Titans. Tytus Howard held down the edge all night and gave up no sacks or pressures. Troy Hairston continued to pave the way for Dameon Pierce. Phillip Dorsett made impressive plays in a number of ways. Chris Moore was the Texans best WR option all night and it showed with his TD catch before the end of the half. Teagan Quitoriano snatched a TD catch on the fourth play of his career. Kurt Hinish played his best game at DT. Davis Mills made a handful of beautiful throws throughout the night. And, lest I forget, Dameon Pierce was the best player on the field, not named Jalen Hurts or Dallas Goedert…or Jerry Hughes. The veteran Houstonian found the fountain of youth with a nation watching.
The Texans played their guts out but a few mistakes kept them from taking home an improbable win over the undefeated Eagles. That's the thing, though, the Eagles capitalized on each Texans' mistake to put up 29 and fly home with a 12-point victory. It's time to get some rest this weekend to get ready for the New York Giants in New Jersey in week 10.
Browse photos from the Texans, Eagles Week 9 matchup and see the new Battle Red helmet in action.