Titans-Texans: 4 Winners, 4 Losers, "Gary Kubiak, Replay Ninja" Edition
Around 8:00 Sunday night (presumably after walking several old ladies across the street and single handedly raising a million dollars in two hours to cure an obscure disease), Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted this:
Photo by Groovehouse Throw that red flag, Gary!
Nobody said it'd be easy. #FindAWay— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 16, 2013
Now, Texans fans can't be blamed for being a little cautious about a 2-0 start with seemingly so many holes in it -- uneven quarterback play, issues in the kicking game, and long periods of offensive doldrums, to name a few.
The issues were different, but the feeling kind of the same just three seasons ago when the Texans started 2010 with a 2-0 record and the happiness was tempered by some glaring issues on the defensive side of the ball.
So if the "a win's a win" mantra feels a little empty or "fool's gold"-ish after barely beating San Diego and Tennessee in the first two weeks, I get it. Just understand that the games these last two weekends were the types of games that the Texans would typically lose back in that 2010 season.
Go back and look at the box score/play-by-play for the Jacksonville (away), New York Jets, and Baltimore games from 2010. That team had no idea how to win close games (going back to 2009, when they would find ways to lose close games regularly).
This team, frankly, does know how to win.
And in a league where, through the first two weeks, I can only identify two teams that I would bet money will absolutely win five or fewer games this season (more on this in a minute), I don't think you can discount the value of finding a way to eke out a few close games, even if they weren't expecting them to be close going in.
So with that in mind, let's look at the winners and losers from Sunday...
4. Wade Phillips' pet bulls
Simply put, this team doesn't have the foundational cracks that other worrisome Texans 2-0 teams have had in the past, nor should it since it's a direct descendant of the two 2-0 Texan teams that turned into AFC South division champions (2011 and 2012). If you're worried about the narrow margins in the first two games, and the fact that the Chargers and Titans averaged 26 points scored in these first two games, just know that the Texans' defense, since allowing the first 28 points of the game to the Chargers, have done the following:
* Allowed only two touchdown drives, both to the Titans (80 and 99 yards)
* In the 17 other drives, the Chargers and Titans collectively ran 59 plays for 47 yards.
* The end result of those 17 drives have been 12 punts, one pick six, one turnover on downs, one missed field goal, one made field goal, and a safety. So the Texans' defense has actually outscored the Chargers/Titans offenses 9-3 on those 17 possessions.
This is why I'm not all that worried about this thing bottoming out like it did in 2010. Now, can it get taken to the next level where it surpasses 2011 and 2012, that's a question for Matt Schaub, who by the way, has a nice, shiny new toy he seems to like....
3. DeAndre Hopkins
You have to wonder if Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith are wondering why they didn't invest a draft pick in a wide receiver (a good wide receiver) until now. Hard to argue with their success in the first round of the draft, especially from 2008 through 2011, but I feel like the guys running the team were the only ones who were insisting the Texans were fine in the "playmaker" department. On Sunday, DeAndre Hopkins made an early statement in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, not only catching seven passes for 117 yards, but making two of the biggest plays of the game -- the catch to set up the winning touchdown, and then the touchdown itself -- with Andre Johnson out of the game, a huge positive sign for the day down the road when Andre Johnson becomes a Texans Ambassador.
2. Gary Kubiak, replay bad ass
Is it possible to get better at replay challenge decisions? Because Gary Kubiak had two huge replay challenges that wound up in reversals that directly led to points, the first on the safety to make it 16-10 Texans, and the second on the catch by Andre Johnson that set up the tying touchdown. I can't begin to tell you how odd a world it is that we live in when Gary Kubiak is helping with his replay challenges. It's like waking up and seeing highlights of Matt Schaub running the read option for 150 rushing yards in a playoff win in New England.
1. J.J. Watt (with a Mario Williams honorable mention)
For better or worse, J.J. Watt's 2013 season (and pretty much all subsequent seasons) will be assessed largely statistically and placed alongside his transcendent 2012 season. In fairness to the millions doing the assessing, Watt happily invites the comparison when he publicly sets goals of "20-20-20" (sacks, passes defended, and tackles for loss), and his performance on Sunday put him squarely back on pace to accomplish that -- 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended.
(Fair time to mention here that Mario Williams had his best game as a Buffalo Bill, since I know this interests many of you -- 6 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss for Mario against Carolina. Of course, here is where the "Mario warning label" comes out and we remind you that he rarely builds on these multiple sack games, Buffalo. Historically, they've wound up as a large clump that serves no purpose other than getting Mario paid eventually.)