Texans vs. Seahawks: Takeaways from Houston's 23-20 Loss Against Seattle
After what started off as an impressive bounce-back performance against a Seattle Seahawks team that is regarded as one of the best in the league, the Texans faltered in the second half—failing to hold on to a 14-point lead and eventually losing in overtime.
When it all came undone, the Texans simply couldn't score a point in the second half to put the game out of reach. Matt Schaub only further fed his critics more reasons to hate him, and even though the Texans now stand at 2-2, there was a lot to take out of this game aside from just a heartbreaking loss.
Here's what to make of it.
No Concerns for Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson entered Sunday's game with a bruised shin.
For much of the first half, Johnson was Schaub's main target, and even though he disappeared a little in the second, his main job was working over cornerback Richard Sherman and separating himself from any tight coverage.
Johnson did more than just that, winding up with 110 yards on just nine receptions—making him the game's leading receiver. Unfortunately, though, Sherman didn't stay quiet for long as he intercepted Matt Schaub for a pick-six on a lazy pass intended for no one.
Containing Russell Wilson Was Easier Said Than Done
The Texans defense must have thought it was opposite day, because for once, the secondary was hardly exposed at all, and instead, getting after the quarterback became a whole different mission.
On paper it probably looks as if Wade Phillips' defense did a good job of keeping Wilson wrapped up. Overall the Texans wound up with four sacks and certainly managed to put enough hits on Wilson to keep his passing attack short and steady.
But unfortunately, when it counted, Houston couldn't keep Wilson in the pocket—and he made them pay with his feet.
For all of J.J. Watt's pressure, once Brian Cushing left the game with a concussion, Wilson turned on the afterburners in the fourth quarter and made scrambling look easy. The Seahawks had 179 yards rushing compared to just 123 in the air, and if wasn't Wilson making plays, it was Marshawn Lynch bouncing around blockers near the line of scrimmage.
Really, this has to be pretty disappointing for the Texans, who still rank in the top-10 rush defenses among the league, just like last year.
The Texans Lost Thanks to Turnovers
Early in the third quarter, Ben Tate fumbled deep inside the Texans' own territory, but fortunately Houston's defense held Seattle to just a field goal, and everything looked okay.
The same could be said for Matt Schaub's unlucky interception in the first half, but as for his pick-six in the second, those kinds of plays are always going to lose ball games.
It's fair now for fans to be calling out Schaub, as this is the second straight week that he's struggled in the dying stages. As a team, though, costly drops from the likes of Arian Foster also painted the bigger picture in this one, and against a team like the Seahawks who continue to attack, the Texans were lucky that they didn't lose in regulation.
The final piece of the problem here was also the Texans offensive line. It collapsed when Schaub was trying to engage with Andre Johnson late in the fourth quarter, and only a week after being embarrassed by Terrell Suggs, Seattle's defensive playmakers began to have their own way too.
Secret Agent Whitney Mercilus
There were some positives to come out of this overtime loss, believe it or not. And even though Wilson torched Houston on the ground, Whitney Mercilus was by far the most outstanding defensive player of the game.
Credit here belongs to Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips for using Mercilus as the quarterback spy, because it worked incredibly well. Finishing the game with 2.5 sacks, Mercilus made short work of any Seattle blocking and pushed through the line of scrimmage to chase down Wilson when the Seahawks were threatening the most.
Aside from Mercilus' sack count, the other big stat of the day was this: The Seahawks failed to convert a third-down conversion during the first half. In the end, Seattle wound up converting only three, and that's in large part thanks to Mercilus (and Watt's) ability to go inside or outside on the Seahawks guards and drive them straight back towards Wilson's pocket.
The Texans Running Backs Are Serious Receivers
The Texans have been trying to keep things balanced on offense, and they've done a good job of that through four weeks.
What's been a big work in progress, though, has been the inclusion of running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the passing game, something we saw much more of against Seattle this week.
One of the big combinations of plays happened on Sunday, as Schaub showed some good timing to find Foster wide open on a short screen pass out right, where he made some defenders miss to make a sizeable gain. That play was followed up immediately by Tate's 22-yard run, which showed how lethal the one-two punch of Houston's running backs can be.
Later on in the game Schaub also found Foster on another screen pass that resulted in a touchdown. As he now shows more and more signs of being 100 percent healthy, the Texans clearly realize that the running backs need to be more involved in the receiving game, especially if guys like DeAndre Hopkins are going to have a quiet game like he did on Sunday.
Fortunately, both Tate and Foster have the speed to make this game plan work, and Schaub's execution has been just fine.
As a whole the Texans defense played pretty well, but a costly personal foul penalty in overtime that gifted the Seahawks 15 yards only made things tougher for the team.
Overall the Texans committed nine penalties, which equalled 62 yards. It's not as bad as weeks gone past, but still, there are more and more signs that certain players on defense are uneasy when the game is on the line.
Ed Reed once again had a quiet day, failing to register a single tackle. Most of the coverage was left up to cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who again looked outstanding in coverage, bringing in his first interception of the year on Russell Wilson's first pick in a road game of his career.
But still, it was free yards that placed the Seahawks in game-winning field-goal position. Every team is guilty of bad mistakes when it counts, but it seems the Texans have had a lot of them early this season.
Targeting Tight Ends in the Red Zone
You'd think teams would be wise to the Texans' game plan by now, but after four weeks, Houston are still happy to target tight ends in the red zone.
Again on Sunday Schaub looked his most comfortable when sighting Garrett Graham or Owen Daniels deep inside the Seahawks' territory. Graham reeled in a touchdown pass early on, but he was also the target of Schaub on his first interception pass—a ball that should probably never have been thrown into double coverage.
There's no doubt that targeting tight ends when a touchdown is hands length away is still a good plan. Both Daniels and Graham are perhaps the most reliable receivers on the team, and with 141 yards between them, who can complain?
Perhaps this is more a matter of teams overcompensating for Andre Johnson's presence in the red zone, therefore leaving guys like Graham wide open like he was over the middle in the first half.
Whatever it is, it works.
Reliant Stadium Gets Loud
Reliant Stadium has never been known for a really loud crowd, or at least not in comparison to Seattle's home games or the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
On Sunday, however, the speakers were turned up, and the noise was clearly affecting the Seahawks communication in the first half on play calls and timing.
At one point, the Seahawks were backed up inside their own end zone, and then gave up a false start penalty to reverse their drive even more. The crowd went nuts, but so did Marshawn Lynch, who later broke a 43-yard run and a bunch of tackles.
For whatever reason, the Texans fans have yet to be this loud in recent years, but it needs to happen again. There's something about nearly 72,000 fans getting inside a quarterback's head that throws the balance of the game off a little, and with a Super Bowl approaching in the coming years, it's a good look to have.