Too much time in between games always leads to too much talk.
In the case of the time between seasons in the NFL that can’t be controlled of course, but with nothing tangible to discuss it does lead to the tendency to blow up and exaggerate the story lines that do exist.
Some of those story lines in regards to the Texans this offseason were about discipline and tempo under new coach Bill O’Brien. With that in mind I kept a close eye on things like number of penalties, number of huddles and other areas I was interested in like personnel groupings and third-down success to see if this team really did take a step forward during the offseason.
As we all saw against Arizona in the first preseason game, talk is cheap, only performance on the field matters. It’s only one game and it’s just the preseason—that is important to remember—but limited time remains before the real games start, so it’s important to see their progress in the areas of the game that were stressed and worked on during offseason practices.
Number of Huddles:
10/10 qualifying plays in the first-half.
Only time the Texans ran what I would classify as a no-huddle was with Case Keenum in the game early in the third quarter.
4/4 qualifying plays in the second-half outside of the first possession of the third quarter as mentioned above.
Please note that I did not include the first play after a change of possession, timeouts, penalties or incompletions since even in a hurry-up offense teams will still huddle in those situations. I also didn't include obvious scenarios like the two-minute warning where every team runs the hurry-up since it wouldn't distinguish a difference in philosophy.
The point of counting huddles was to see if there was a change in the mindset and strategy of the offense, so counting plays where every team in the league either would or would not huddle won’t identify any changes.
One last note, there were also a few times when the TV broadcast cut away to a full-screen graphic or replay and didn’t go back to a live-look until they were already lined up, so it was impossible to count those plays.
11 Personnel (3 WR or more) – 29
12 Personnel (1 RB/2 TE) - 10
21 Personnel (2 RB/1 TE) - 2
22 Personnel (2 RB/2 TE) - 0
Some of this I have to say was a product of who was available for the game. When Jay Prosch—the fullback they selected out of Auburn with one of their sixth-round picks—is ready to play you will see more two back sets. It is interesting to also note that the first time the Texans used the 21 personnel with a fullback on the field, Alfred Blue ripped off a 15 yard gain.
Number of Penalties:
13 for 126 yards and that’s just the damage from the penalties that were accepted. O’Brien preached and coached and taught discipline all offseason, so you have to ask the question of why and how this happened.
It was just the first preseason game so some sloppiness and errors are to be expected, but by any measure the 13 flagged on the Texans against Arizona was excessive and inexcusable.
For a comparison, the 2013 Texans were also flagged frequently with 112 penalties on the year which was tied for the sixth-most in the league. Even with that big number the average last season was just seven penalties per game. 13 penalties speaks to an extreme lack of preparedness and overall awful discipline.
Quarterback third-down Numbers:
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 1/4 1 yard, 0 TD/1 INT
First third down pass was a near interception thrown towards Mike Thomas. Fitzpatrick was late with the pass and his accuracy was off with the pass thrown too far inside which enabled the defensive back to make a play. Had the pass been on the outside shoulder as it should have been, the defensive back would have had no chance at the football.
Second third down pass from Fitzpatrick was a short pass to the flats that was dropped by Alfred Blue on a third and five; though I don’t think Blue would have got the first down even if he had caught it.
Fitzpatrick’s third pass on third-down resulted in just a one-yard gain from Mike Thomas on a quick-screen. Not Fitzpatrick’s fault; thought that was a bad play call for third and eight.
The last third-down pass from Fitzpatrick ended with an interception by Marcus Bernard of the Cardinals. Fitzpatrick faced pressure and threw one up for grabs into coverage to a receiver—Mike Thomas—who wasn’t open. Remember all the times I mentioned how turnover prone Fitzpatrick was and the 39 interceptions he threw combined over the 2011 and 2012 seasons? Passes like that are why he turns it over so much.
Also worth noting on Fitzpatrick, his pass on the first interception was intended for C.J. Fiedorowicz who was wide open, but Fitzpatrick stared down his target which allowed the defensive lineman to identify the passing window, get his hand up and deflect the ball which caused the interception. Good read from Fitzpatrick on who to throw to, but he still caused the turnover. Anyone who has attended practice this offseason will tell you that batted passes have been a problem.
0/1 (Was only in for two possessions and his first play on third down was a draw).
Keenum’s first third down pass attempt was intended for Alfred Blue, but the pass was way too high causing Blue to have to jump for it and the pass was incomplete. Play probably would have resulted in a first down if the pass was on target and Blue held on to the pass. Throwing high and into a charging defensive back is also a good way to get your skill position players injured. Bad job in multiple ways from Keenum on that play.
Worth noting also that on the very first would be play when Keenum was in the game; the Texans were flagged for a delay of game coming off the kickoff to start the second half; inexcusable. Validates what we’ve been hearing all camp about Keenum struggling to get organized and make his pre-snap reads.
Another mistake that Keenum makes too often is attempting throws with poor or sloppy mechanics like throwing across his body, or falling back, or without his feet set. On his third pass attempt of the game he stared down his first read before coming back to the running back—Alfred Blue—to dump it off.
Didn't have a problem with the decision, but his mechanics on the throw were awful. Keenum snapped back to the other side to start his throw and then threw across his body while falling back and without having his feet set; the trifecta of bad quarterback play. Not surprisingly the pass was low and incomplete. The play didn't end up counting because of an offensive penalty, but Keenum can’t make those types of decisions and mistakes and expect to thrive or even survive in this league.
Tom Savage: 0/1
First pass attempt on third down was on third and seven, rolled out right after facing a little pressure and threw a pass too low for his intended target (Keshawn Martin) for an incompletion.
The second third-down play from Savage resulted in a sack and safety with him taking a big shot after running back Dennis Johnson blew his blocking assignment by helping outside at the snap and reacting too slowly to the defender running free between the left tackle and left guard. Good news for Texans fans however, Johnson has no prayer of making this team unless several other backs go on IR.
So what should we make of these numbers? Should we dismiss them because it was the first preseason game or should we start reaching for the panic button?
As with everything the answer is likely found somewhere in between.
I don’t take preseason success as a firm indicator of regular season success because the 2006 Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts went 1-3 in the preseason while the 2013 Texans went 3-1 during preseason play before finishing the regular season at 2-14. Generally speaking the two are not related.
However, there does need to be signs of overall improvement and progress in specific areas of the game that were stressed and worked on during offseason workouts and training camp. Whether it is tempo, discipline, execution or whatever taught trait you want to pick out, the Texans failed miserably in every one.
I’m not saying the Texans are going to go 2-14 again—my prediction is a 6-10 record—but those optimistic fans who thought the Texans could turn it around this year like the Kansas City Chiefs did in 2013 should go ahead and curb that enthusiasm.