Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans: Week 2 Winners and Losers
The Texans looked like they were down for the count after Matt Schaub threw a pick-six to the Titans’ Alterraun Verner to make it a 24-16 Houston deficit with just under five minutes remaining.
After trading three-and-outs with the Titans, the Texans took possession of the ball with 3:07 to go in the game and stormed back with an eight-play, 87-yard scoring drive that left them needing a two-point conversion to pull even. Arian Foster poked the ball over the plane of the goal line to tie it.
After two field-goal attempts by the Texans’ Randy Bullock failed to end the game in regulation, Houston took the opening kickoff of the extra session and finally finished off Tennessee with a three-yard TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins.
Both teams recorded touchdowns on their first possession of the game then spent the rest of the day trying to duplicate that level of efficiency. For the second week in a row, it took falling behind for the Texans to play with an appropriate sense of urgency on offense.
The Texans' company line after another squeaker was something along the lines of “any win is a good one.” As they travel to meet the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, the question should be “What will it take for our team to play a complete game from beginning to end?”
For the rest of us, we can reflect on the favorable aspects and those aspects that fell short in another remarkable Texans' comeback.
Winner: DeAndre Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins, the first-round selection from Clemson went from goat to savior in a dazzling turnaround of heroic proportions.
The goat part was made possible by Alterraun Verner's interception return for the Titans that was almost entirely the fault of the Texans' rookie receiver.
Hopkins kept going when he was supposed to stop and gather in the throw from Schaub on a simple sideline route. Instead, the cornerback was in perfect position to pick off the pass and romp into the end zone.
The ensuing series was not much better, as two passes intended for Hopkins fell incomplete. Despite that and his blunder on the pick, Schaub and head coach Gary Kubiak still went back to Hopkins on the next possession when he caught three straight passes for 64 yards of the 87-yard drive that set up the game-tying touchdown and conversion.
During that series, Andre Johnson was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a hit by Bernard Pollard. The newbie was thrust into the role of the No. 1 receiver for the rest of the contest.
Hopkins did not disappoint during overtime when he put the Texans in a goal-to-go at the one-yard line on a 25-yard catch. The final dagger in the Titans’ heart was his three-yard scoring reception on a fade route, which he neatly secured while falling backwards.
After Hopkins was drafted, everyone wondered if he could ever replace Johnson. While that possibility can only be addressed over time, consider the question answered for now.
Loser: Matt Schaub
Quarterbacks always gets too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when they lose. In Matt Schaub’s case, he should get a measure of both for Sunday's outing.
His passing put the Texans behind and then brought them back. There were some throws that were short when they should have been long and vice versa. On at least four third-down situations, he hit his receiver on the wrong side of the sticks, forcing the player to turn nothing into something.
These shortcomings can be overlooked when the results are part of the equation. It’s just that when you have repeatedly seen this behavior from Schaub, the repetition establishes it as the norm.
To his credit, Schaub did not panic when DeAndre Hopkins turned an easy reception into a turnover. When his security blanket, Andre Johnson, left the game, Hopkins became his go-to guy. The Tennessee pass rush was in his face on most downs, but Schaub did not flinch, earning a black eye in the process.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
Until injury or circumstance removes Schaub from the lineup, Texans fans must follow the quarterback they have, wherever, or however, he may lead them.
Winner: Kubiak’s Challenges
Whenever Gary Kubiak throws the red flag to signal a challenge, chances are that the Texans will lose a timeout.
When the replay official in the booth fails to overturn a call by the officials on the field, it costs the team that made the challenge one of three timeouts per half.
Kubiak's record by the end of last season was 14-29 on challenges. That kind of mark makes challenges problematic, but in the win over the Titans, Kubiak went 2-0.
Both of his challenges were upheld, with one leading directly to a safety and the other contributing to a touchdown. The safety occurred when Chris Johnson was tackled in the end zone, but the officials placed to ball just outside the goal line. Kubiak had that one reversed, then was also successful on the non-catch called on the play that Andre Johnson was knocked out of the game.
The reversal resulted in a completion on the Tennessee two-yard line. Two plays later, Arian Foster scored, then snuck in on the two-point conversion attempt.
The next time that Kubiak throws the flag, perhaps Houston fans can exhale instead of holding their breath.
Loser: Derek Newton
Whatever signs of progress that Texans tackle Derek Newton showed during Week 1 were eradicated by the Titans in general, and Derrick Morgan in particular.
The image above illustrates the pressure being applied by Morgan that clearly affected Matt Schaub on the interception by Alterraun Verner. What it doesn't show are the two sacks of Schaub by Morgan on two of the three previous plays.
In the box score, Morgan also had three pressures of the quarterback and two tackles for loss against Newton, who was not facing a Pro-Bowl caliber player. He was just up against an average defensive end who was able to push the right tackle into the backfield most of the game.
If Newton does not stop the pass-rusher with his punch and is forced to backpedal more than a couple of steps, he’s toast. Houston drafted Brennan Williams and David Quessenberry in 2013 because they were not satisfied with Newton's development.
Now, both rookies are on injured reserve and Ryan Harris is the only experienced reserve. Let's hope this was just a bad game on the road to better things for Newton.
Winners: Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray
Jerry Gray is listed as the defensive coordinator and Gregg Williams is listed as the senior assistant of the defense on the Tennessee Titans' website.
However, Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com insists that Gray is the one calling the plays with Williams more of a consultant. Whatever their duties, this duo is working out pretty well for the Titans so far. They played just enough defense at just the right time against Houston to give the Texans fits for most of the afternoon.
While Houston's offense awoke from time to time, Tennessee was able to get enough pressure with its four down linemen so that the linebackers could clean things up behind them.
Take away the 60-yard run by Ben Tate on the opening series and the Texans’ rushing average was a middling 4.1 yards per carry. Matt Schaub, meanwhile, averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt.
It is true the Titans folded at just the right time for another Texans' comeback, as Houston outgained Tennessee, 459-248 in total yards. But the Titans' defense kept them in the game and it took an all-out effort for Houston to win.
Loser: Drafting Kickers
When Randy Bullock finally had the opportunity to kick a potential game-winning field goal with seconds remaining in regulation, he hit the uprights.
It was his fourth attempt to end the game in regulation, due to a penalty and two timeouts called by the Titans. Bullock made only one of his four tries in that sequence.
That is better than his 1-for-5 stat line for the season. He missed all three attempts against Tennessee. That kind of execution would have most general managers on the phone right after the final whistle.
But the Texans have invested a draft choice in Bullock and are so enamored with him that no competition was brought in during training camp. The likelihood they would do such a thing now does not reflect the culture of this team.
Eventually, either Bullock starts making some kicks or the tryouts will commence. How many games are lost in the meantime remains to be seen.
Winner: Shane Lechler
Shane Lechler is a punter who is worth his weight in iPhones. His right foot is a weapon that is unequaled in the NFL.
He punted seven times in this game and five ended up inside the 20-yard line. The average placement for his kicks was just short of the six-yard line and one of his punts, combined with a delay-of-game penalty, help set up a safety.
Another ended up on the one-yard line, although the Titans promptly marched 99 yards downfield to score anyway. If Lechler could play defense with two feet at the same skill level he kicks with one, J.J. Watt would have more than just the exploits of Brian Cushing to contend with.
By the way, if you were wondering just Lechler is worth in iPhones, the four-ounce, 64 GB model 5s lists at $399. Lechler weighs 237 pounds, so that would be $378,252. According to Spotrac (subscription required for Premium Stats), Lechler's average salary with the Texans is $1,833,333.
Maybe he is worth his weight in Rolexes instead.
Loser: Total Yardage and Turnover Differential
If your team outgains the opposition by an average of 193 yards over two games, they must have both been laughers.
Since our subject is the 2013 Texans, we know that assumption is false. So what is keeping these games so close?
One factor is the turnovers. Houston has handed the ball over three times this season and each has led to a score. Another is scoring percentage in the red zone. The Texans have only allowed six possessions in the red zone, but each has led to a touchdown. That puts the Texans just above the bottom of the league.
Basically, the Texans have shot themselves in the foot and still been able to limp over the finish line. The tail end of last season in Houston was marked by an inability to generate turnovers. In 2013, all the Texans have to show is Brian Cushing’s interception return for a TD.
Teams with a negative turnover differential rarely make the playoffs, although the 2012 Indianapolis Colts were an exception with a minus-12 margin. The Colts were also one-and-done in the postseason last year.
The Texans' comeback magic will not last forever. Based on talent and recent success, the Ravens were supposed to be the first real test for the 2013 Texans.
Now, Baltimore is an opportunity for Houston to stop shooting itself and put a few holes in the other guy.