Houston Texans: Improved but far from perfect

After a diabolical Week 1 performance the Texans went up against the Cincinnati Bengals to claw back some dignity, did they achieve this?

Expectations were high heading into this season given their defensive capabilities and with weapons like DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller available on offense. However, after a truly appalling season opener against the Jaguars, the Texans had but a short week in which to prepare themselves for their Thursday night match up away to the Bengals.

Was there a marked improvement? On the whole yes. First of all, they won, and secondly, they did not concede a single TD (which is usually a good start). But, it was far from perfect and left a number of questions and queries unanswered as they head for next week’s game against the Patriots.

Offense lacked spark

With all three tight ends out injured and just three wide receivers available as they entered yesterdays game, to say the Texans options were limited would be an understatement. While they did have recently promoted TE Evan Baylis available from the practice squad, a WR corps of DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, and Jaelen Strong is hardly the epitome of thriving.

And this was an issue from the word go. With coach Bill O'Brien opting for a far more old-school, run-heavy offense, the receivers hardly got a look in for most of the game, which in and of itself shows a potential lack of faith in his receivers. Yes, both Hopkins and Miller had their moments, but Watson was frequently faced with a lack of receiving options and, particularly, a lack of deep threats other than #10. 

Injuries continue to mount

With a total of six players listed as inactive yesterday, on top of the three on IR, and starting LT Duane Brown who continues to hold out on a new deal, it is fair to say that Houston could ill afford any more injuries yesterday evening. For the most part it was, thankfully, a relatively event free evening. However, the recently questionable cornerback group did take a hit with both Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson leaving the game.

While neither injury is seen as significant, it does highlight a dangerously thin depth at corner, with Marcus Burley and rookie Treston Decoud their only available backups in Cincinnati. It has to be said that despite this the secondary continued to perform admirably, limiting Andy Dalton to 20/35 and 225 passing yards over the course of the evening. But, it is worth mentioning that as he did last week in Houston, Johnson looked a little rusty at times and in my opinion is not as game ready as the ever consistent Kareem Jackson. 

Offensive line continues to struggle

The Texans may have won, but it was far from a highlight reel filled game. With just one TD to discuss and 125 passing yards from Deshaun Watson, it was a predominantly run-heavy game. While the decision to play it so made sense given Watson's lack of experience and lack of receiving weapons, the play was, as a result, extremely predictable at times and the Bengals read this offense like a book. 

While it may be far from surprising to hear of a Texans team running a lot, the issue remained that offensive line which, as it did last week, was easily exploited and weak on both sides. 

In the first half, the left side actually seemed as if they had learned from last week's debacle and had toughened up, holding up well for the most part. However, it was the turn of Greg Mancz and Breno Giacomini on the right to falter. They frequently let the pocket collapse and allowed the Bengals defense to push past with ease. 

When it came to the second half, it was service as usual for Xavier Sua'Filo and Chris Clark on the left who were weak and simply inept. They provided little to no protection for Watson who was forced to make some very risky rookie throws which were only saved thanks to poor secondary play from the Bengals, not to mention that both Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman had a difficult game trying to find gaps to exploit in this worryingly weak O-line.

It's not all doom and gloom

Nothing can be taken away from the Texans here as, at the end of the day, they won. The defense limited the Bengals to just 82 yards rushing as they plugged the seemingly wide open gaps of last week in the middle. Despite being without veteran linebacker Brian Cushing, it has to be said that this front seven looked stronger, more compact, and simply more in sync. Benardrick McKinney's NFL career continues to impress as he took over communication duties with the defensive coaching staff, helping coordinate a solid performance in which he executed two sacks and three tackles for loss. 

Yesterday also saw the return of both Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt to something reminiscent of their regular form. Clowney's highlight of the evening was a fumble recovery which was brought to an abrupt end by a surprisingly effective tackle from QB Andy Dalton.

While Watt is yet to record his first sack of the season, he continues to show steady improvement and was a constant thorn in the Bengals side as he executed one QB hit and six total tackles, including this last minute tackle on Bengals center Russell Bodine to end the game despite his broken finger.

And not only did their defense begin their return to form, but there were some offensive sparks, with Hopkins coming up with a couple of highlight reel quality catches as usual as he totaled 73 yards on just seven receptions.

Despite the O-line play, both Miller and Foreman had good games as they totaled 61 and 40 yards respectively. However, it was another, more unexpected rusher who caught the eye. That's right, rookie QB Watson led the Texans in rushing with 67 yards on five carries, including one exceptional TD run. 

It may have been far from a perfect first start, but the fact is he came, wasn't intercepted, and they won. And most impressively was the aspect of his game that won him the job in the first place, his ability to extend plays. His capabilities as a dual threat made him that much tougher to handle as he frequently escaped the pocket in tough situations to either gain a few yards, or go for the first down. This is something that Tom Savage cannot do as well. A far more prototypical QB, Savage has a good, strong arm, but you could argue that in such a run heavy scheme he may simply not be a fit in the long run.

Other positive performances came from FB Jay Prosch, whose abilities as a blocker made him one of, if not the most effective o-lineman for the Texans yesterday, punter Shane Lechler who remains one of the leagues best punters at 41 years of age, and fellow specialist kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn who is yet to miss an extra point or field goal so far, and who's kickoffs were consistently accurate, deep, and had plenty of hang time, in what is only his debut season. 

Heading into Week 3

There is no doubting just how tough their next game will be. Despite their start to the season, the Patriots remain one of the league's best teams and the Texans will surely we fearful of a repeat of their Week 3 loss in Foxborough last season. However, as they showed in the playoffs, the Texans defense can and has stopped Tom Brady and co. in the past, and I am confident that as long as they can stay healthy, this defense can do that again. And with a steadily improving young QB, who I must say has impressed me with his confidence and relaxed nature thus far, I remain cautiously optimistic of a potential upset.

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Anthony Reinier Wood

Thanks for viewing my profile! I've been a writer with RealSport since October 2016, focusing primarily on the NFL, and occasionally Football (Or soccer for any Americans among you). I love hearing feedback and your opinions so feel free to comment, contact me via email, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook!