Houston Texans week 7: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With the Saints on a bye, I chose to focus my viewing attention on the Texans this week, for many reasons. Primarily, of course, I was interested to see game one of The Case Keenum Experiment and how that change affected the team. A brief writeup on the Texans’ last 24 hours, after the jump…

The Good

Case Keenum was, more or less, what I hoped he would be when I picked the Texans to cover this weekend. Subjectively, he seems to carry himself like someone who believes in himself as the leader of men a quarterback needs to be– that sense of confidence, warranted or not, is a valuable and important thing for a QB to have. A quarterback who lacks confidence will be too risk-averse, hold onto the ball too long, and not attack downfield. Objectively, Keenum showed good mobility and mostly good awareness of the rush while also showing arm strength he supposedly didn’t have (and that Matt Schaub definitely doesn’t have anymore). His touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins was one of the best passes I saw all day, in any game.

Gary Kubiak deserves some propers here as well. I didn’t catch this on first watch, so thanks to Bill Barnwell for calling it to my attention (and Chris Brown of Smart Football for recognizing it): Keenum’s catch-and-run pass to DeVier Posey that went a long way was part of a package play, with options to run or throw a pass depending on the quarterback’s read of a player. It’s a concept the Texans have never ran before, but it’s based on a play Kevin Sumlin, Keenum’s old coach at the University of Houston (and now Texas A&M’s head coach) designed and ran there. Keenum executed it perfectly, but I want to give Kubiak credit for thinking outside the box and installing offensive elements that would play to his new QB’s strengths. With the bye week, he should have even more time to do so.

The Bad

The right side of the offensive line still stinks. Derek Newton got his shit pushed in by Justin Houston on multiple occasions. The defense is surprisingly not as good as we expected it to be (and with Brian Cushing out for the season, it’s not going to look better anytime soon). More importantly, Keenum and the offensive protection scheme didn’t seem to know how to handle an overload blitz, so Kansas City kept them coming late in the game, and were very successful in disrupting and sacking Keenum. They’ll have two weeks to figure out how to account for that, and they’ll need to, because every team in the league has tape of this game now.

The Ugly

Oh, Gary Kubiak. As much as you did to put your team in position to win, you also did so much to help them lose.

Let’s start with your abysmal offensive series after a turnover gave you the ball on the Chiefs 28 early in the third quarter. Immediately, a Garrett Graham reception takes it to the 1. Great. Now let’s look at what you did with the series of downs starting at first and goal.

  • First and goal from the 1: Hurry to the line and run a sneak with Keenum. Not the worst play call– it can work fine if the Chiefs aren’t prepared and back at the line. It didn’t this time, but again, not the worst thing in the world.
  • Second and goal from the 1: Handoff up the middle to FB Greg Jones, who is in a single-back formation. Lose two yards. Well, this is what you get when you only dress two running backs when you know one has been working through injuries lately. Arian Foster’s hamstring injury returned and he left the game early. Ben Tate was also nicked up at this point and couldn’t play. The Texans had no third tailback. Well, if you don’t have a tailback, don’t run a handoff. Jones is a lead blocker, not a short-yardage bruiser. His two carries of the game were his first two carries of the entire season. This play call makes no sense at any point in the decision-making process.
  • Third and goal from the 3: Quick fade to DeAndre Hopkins; incomplete. Again, not necessarily a terrible play call in a vacuum– Hopkins nearly makes the play on a well-defended pass– but consider what the team has to work with: Two good outside receivers and several smaller, speedy inside targets. A quarterback with good mobility and ability to run. Why not call a play that gives him multiple options? Why not call a roll-out pass that might give Keenum a chance to run it in if nobody is open, or a play-action pass that might get the defenders out of position long enough for someone to get open? In particular, I think a roll-out pass would have been a good decision at some point in the drive.
  • Fourth and goal from the 3: Field goal. You are too close to the end zone to settle for three points here, period. But they’ll put that on Gary Kubiak’s tombstone: “Settled for three when he should have gone for seven.”

So you have two play calls that were okay, if not necessarily optimal, one play call that was terrible, and one fourth-down decision that was gutless. Houston was trailing by four at the time, so you can’t even say this was decision was made to secure the lead. It was made because “taking the points is what you do,” because the concept of risk/reward is so skewed in so many NFL coaches’ minds, and perhaps none more so than you, Gary Kubiak.

We can look at your peculiar end-of-half drive, where you got the ball with 56 seconds left, decided to run it twice, then chose to call timeouts with 13 seconds left and start throwing downfield to attempt a Hail Mary. What on Earth? Why wouldn’t you start throwing immediately, try to move the ball downfield legitimately, and if you fail on your first couple of attempts, then let the clock run and kick it deep? This was another chance for the Texans to score points, and you squandered it– a theme that has come up entirely too often in your tenure.

Once more with feeling: Down four again, late in the third, facing fourth-and-one at Kansas City’s 29, and you kick a field goal. Never mind that Keenum had moved the ball fairly well on this series. Never mind that 47 yards is far from automatic, and Randy Bullock has been shaky from long distance this year. Never mind that it’s one yard. Never mind that you’re down four and a field goal is worth three. So you kick the field goal to make the score 17-16, and neither team scores again, and you lose. You play it safe, because losing closely makes it easy to feel, and seem, like you were right there, and if only the players had just executed a little better, you would have won.

The truth is, you didn’t win because of your aversion to scoring points. You’ve always had it; I’m stunned that you’re in your eighth year as Houston’s head coach, because your in-game decision-making has been so consistently poor. I’m stunned that you never seem to learn from these mistakes. And that is why I expect you to be relieved of your duties before long.

One more ugly bit of news for the team comes this morning: Three players, DE Sam Montgomery, RB Cierre Wood, and OLB Willie Jefferson were sent home Sunday morning before the game “because they violated unspecified team rules at their Kansas City hotel on Saturday“, and all three were cut today.

I don’t know anything about Montgomery beyond what’s in that link. Wood looked decent in limited action, and it sure would have been useful to have him dressed on Sunday, so that the team would have had a third-string running back. Montgomery is a guy I wanted to see succeed; I thought his size and general lack of upfield burst made him a better fit as a DE than an OLB in the Texans’ defense (as I wrote on this blog around draft time, and as the Texans eventually agreed), but I thought he could carve out a career as a power rusher, maybe even mirroring what J.J. Watt could do on the other side (although obviously not as well). Instead, it seems his lack of work ethic and motivation has caught up to him before his rookie season is even halfway through.

The question I have is, what were those team rules, and were they really serious enough to warrant out-and-out cutting? It seems possible that these cuts were made to send a message. If so, what’s the message? That if the team is losing… we’ll start cutting people who aren’t playing? The beatings will continue until morale improves? Or, as a commenter on Pro Football Talk put it, “Just like in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, when you lose a battle, you find three scrubs to execute for cowardice.”

We’ll probably never know what fully happened, but it seems like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic to me.

(UPDATE: The word is that the players were smoking marijuana in the hotel room, though Jefferson’s agent insist it was just cigars. I think we know better. Anyway: they were using a plant that twenty states and Washington D.C. have recognized has a valid medical use. Clutch the pearls!)

Hopefully the Texans use the bye to install more offensive elements that play to Case Keenum’s strengths. And hopefully next offseason they’re looking for a new head coach and a new franchise QB in the draft.

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