Houston Texans: Houston Texans

HOUSTON -- Don't get too carried away with the Houston Texans' impressive statistics on third downs.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien isn't.

"I think it’s important to note that it’s only two games into the season and we need to keep that going, keep that trend going," O'Brien said.

Indeed, it's been a good trend for Houston so far. In their first two games, they've converted 55.2 percent of their third downs offensively, fourth-best in the league. Their opponents, meanwhile, have only converted 23.8 percent of their third downs, the second-lowest percentage in the league behind only the Philadelphia Eagles.

How a team plays on third down has a lot to do with whether or not they win games. It's no coincidence that this week the Texans are facing an 0-2 team whose defense struggles to get off the field on third downs, allowing conversions 53.6 percent of the time.

"It makes the drives longer; it wears the defense down over time," Texans receiver Andre Johnson said. "Hopefully we can keep that going. ... Probably later on during the game you can see it. You know, when you have those long drives, defenses are trying to get off the field, they always preach that. We just try to convert.”

Prediction: Texans will beat Giants

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
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HOUSTON -- You can call it luck, but there's more than that happening with the Houston Texans' defense and their habit of creating turnovers lately.

Houston has six turnovers -- four forced fumbles and two interceptions. That's more than half their total from all of last season, when they only forced 11 turnovers in 16 games. Combine that with having only one giveaway and the Texans have the second-best turnover margin in the NFL.

It's the perfect storm. They're facing a team that has struggled in that department. The New York Giants have given up a league-high six turnovers, a major factor in their 0-2 record. Continuing the trends they've thus far displayed, the Texans will beat the Giants, 17-10.
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Texans coach Bill O'Brien talks a lot about tailoring the game plan to each opponent. He mentioned on Thursday that the Texans would like their offense to be a little more balanced, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Of course, part of the reason they've run the ball so disproportionately is that they've played with leads.

Outside linebacker Ricky Sapp returned to the Texans' roster this week. The Texans hope he adds to their pass rush, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. “I just felt like if I could just get back healthy and let them know that, I thought I would have a chance to come back,” Sapp said. “I just kept the faith and I’m thankful to be back.”

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has no concerns about the Texans' offense, writes Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. "Uh, nothing," said Pierre-Paul, who was credited with 1.5 sacks in a loss to Arizona last week. "Yeah, I think we should be able to handle that offense. Nothing concerns me." He added: "Make them put it in the air. We have to make them want to throw the ball. Stop the run. And we're going to stop the run, I promise you that."

Andre Johnson almost feels like he's back in college, writes Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com.

Missed this one yesterday, but here it is in case you did, also. Texans owner Bob McNair did a segment on CNBC in which he spoke about the NFL's latest problems with their handling of domestic violence committed by players. McNair supports a hard-line stance on domestic violence. He also supports NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Joseph, Fiedorowicz practice fully

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
7:30
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HOUSTON -- Two Houston Texans moved from the limited participation list to the Texans' lengthy full participation list on today's injury report -- cornerback Johnathan Joseph (foot) and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot).

Fiedorowicz missed last week's game in Oakland. Earlier this week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said it looked like Fiedorowicz would probably be ok to play, but they haven't made any final determinations yet.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), guard Ben Jones (ankle/knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (elbow) were limited today, as they were yesterday.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) and safety Shiloh Keo (calf) did not practice. Clowney actually made a brief appearance in the locker room during the open period today. He had a sleeve on his surgically repaired knee, but no brace, and didn't appear to have a limp. Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. Hopkins caught a bug, but is expected to play Sunday.

For the New York Giants, punter Steve Weatherford, who didn't practice yesterday, returned to practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) did not practice. In addition to Weatherford, offensive tackles James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited.

Eli Manning poses different challenge

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
11:50
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Giants quarterback Eli Manning has thrown a league-high four interceptions in this year's first two games, and his total QBR has been a middling 59.9, ranking 14th in the NFL.

The Texans, though, know that a veteran quarterback, especially one who's had the success Manning has in his career, can't be overlooked because of his early statistics.

"I’ve been watching him for a long time," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I’ve got a great deal of respect for him. Accurate passer, very smart guy, knows his system; he’s been doing this for a long time. He’s a championship quarterback, obviously, which says a lot. Playing quarterback in this league at the end of the day is about winning, and he’s a winning quarterback. A very difficult guy to go against because he understands what he sees pre-snap and post-snap and he’s got a plan for it, so it’s a big challenge for our defense."

Houston faced a rookie with only one game of experience last week in Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. The Texans talked a lot about showing him looks defensively that he hadn't seen before. Carr was particularly bad against extra pressure. His total QBR this season is a measly 4.2 against five or more rushers with a passer rating of 45.2.

Manning's passer rating against five or more rushers has been 104.2 and his total QBR has been 55.5. He's thrown three touchdowns and only one interceptions on such plays.

"He’s seen a lot more," Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "You’re not going to fool him too many by showing him looks he hasn’t seen before. He’s played a lot of football and gotten a lot of different looks. Nothing that we’re going to do is really going to surprise him. At the end you just have to play hard and on top of it and just try to force him into some bad situations."
J.J. Watt's touchdown on Sunday sparked a lot of fan interest on social media.

Watt
Watt
 According to Twitter, Watt's touchdown sparked the fourth most tweets per minute during live games this week, as measured by Nielsen Social.

The other four moments in the top five were:
  • Eagles kicker Cody Parkey's game-winning field goal to beat the Colts.
  • Bears receiver Brandon Marshall's one-handed touchdown catch to bring the Bears within 10 points of the 49ers.
  • Browns kicker Billy Cundiff's game-winner over the Saints.
  • The Patriots' Chandler Jones' touchdown after blocking a field goal to give the Patriots a 24-7 lead over the Vikings in the first half.

 

RTC: The offensive line edition

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:03
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They don't like to be talked about much, especially not as individuals. But the Texans' offensive line deserves attention right now for all the right reasons. The group made up of left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Ben Jones, center Chris Myers, right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Derek Newton came together in the team's Week 2 win over the Oakland Raiders.

We'll start with right tackle in this RTC. Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press delves into Derek Newton's improvement. While some talked about replacing him last season, the Texans' new coaching staff believed in him and helped him get better. His teammate, left tackle Duane Brown, also helped his development.

Houston's offensive line has paved the way for its 2-0 start, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. He writes: "If the linemen hadn't been protecting Fitzpatrick like the president, he wouldn't rank second in the NFL to Peyton Manning with a 118.4 rating entering Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Running back Arian Foster wouldn't rank second with 241 yards rushing without a line that's provided him with the kind of convoy that's usually reserved for heads of state."

Patrick D. Starr of StateoftheTexans.com gathers a series of Vines from Sunday's All-22 film. There's a lot of left guard Ben Jones (number 60) doing his job really well.

One non-offensive line story for you before we wrap up here. Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com takes a look at just how important the Texans' turnovers have been. "They’re just the 12th team in the last 44 years to outscore opponents by at least 25 points and be out-gained by 40 yards in the first two weeks of the season."

Arian Foster limited in practice

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
6:23
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HOUSTON -- With all the carries running back Arian Foster is getting (a league-high 55 already), Texans coach Bill O'Brien knows he has to manage Foster's weeks a little differently than perhaps with some other players.

Foster
Foster
"I love Bill," Foster said today. "He’s a great coach in my opinion. He knows how to handle somebody getting a lot of touches and he knows how to handle players in this league. He’s going to do a good job of that."

That could be what's happening on the injury report today. Foster appeared as limited, listed as having a hamstring injury. Foster had 28 carries in Oakland and rushed for 138 yards.

"We'll watch him on a day-to-day basis and see how things are going," O'Brien said. "When you carry the ball in this league that many times, or even for instance, Andre Johnson, when you run that many routes, we're going to watch him. Johnathan Joseph, here's a guy i think in the Washington Redskins game had 11 or 12 tackles. We've gotta watch him. the most important thing is to try the best you can to have the healthiest team on Sunday. There's a lot of guys that fall under that category of hey, let's get them some good quality reps, but not in there every single play. "

Safety Shiloh Keo (calf) and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, did not practice today. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot), Foster (hamstring), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (foot), guard Ben Jones (ankle/knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger were all limited.

For the Giants, linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and punter Steve Weatherford (ankle) all missed practice. Tackles James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited.

Texans' secondary doesn't give up

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
4:00
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HOUSTON -- Something struck me in listening to J.J. Watt talk about the Texans' secondary's superlative performances lately.

What they've been doing sounded a lot like what has made Watt who he is.

"A couple of the turnovers were just pure effort plays, which is awesome to see," Watt said. "Two of them especially, down the field, after a big play, and our guys just hustling to get the ball out and create something that’s a big deal. I think Romeo [Crennel]’s defense has done some different things for our team, but I think on a couple of occasions it’s personal individual effort by some of our guys, which is outstanding."

The Texans' secondary is playing like it never feels truly beat. That's one of Watt's hallmarks. His mind is always working to figure out what else he can do. His batted balls often happen when he has been blocked but then figures out how to impact the play anyway.

Swearinger
That's exactly what happened when Kendrick Lewis and Johnathan Joseph stripped Oakland receiver James Jones, Lewis first, then Joseph, for two fumbles on the same play. That's also what happened when D.J. Swearinger stripped Washington tight end Niles Paul in Week 1. Swearinger noted Paul wasn't supposed to make that catch, acknowledging he got beat, but the end result worked just fine for the Texans.

Swearinger's growth has been evident this season. Some of his teammates predicted it based on what they saw in training camp.

"He’s always been confident in his skills and what he can do as a player," Watt said. "One of the biggest things for him is knowing when to take his shots and knowing when to play within the defense. He’s continued to grow as a player, he’ll continue to grow as a player. It’s good to see."

Knowing when to play within the defense and when to freelance is something Watt does very well. So far this season, Swearinger has made important plays by taking the right chances. He garnered his sack that way in Week 1, striking at quarterback Robert Griffin III rather than dropping back as the play called him to do.
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Texans' running back Arian Foster drew notice for his performance on the field on Sunday, and then for his performance on Twitter on Tuesday.

We'll start with the field. John Harris of HoustonTexans.com takes a look at what it means that Foster is one of the league's best one-cut runners.

Meanwhile, Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press declared Foster's fantasy owners to be one of the four winners from the weekend. He says: "So how did Bill O'Brien follow up Arian Foster's high traffic, 29-touch work fest in the season opener? Well, by having Foster touch the ball 30 times, of course. Hey, if Arian's up for the bruising, then I'm all for him sustaining it in the name of winning football."

And Foster took to Twitter to mock Anheuser-Busch's statement chastising the NFL for it's handling of "behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code." Foster apparently believes domestic violence and alcohol are nearly synonymous.

The Texans signed outside linebacker Ricky Sapp and released outside linebacker Jason Ankrah on Tuesday, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. Sapp was with the Texans during training camp and last season. Ankrah was the only undrafted rookie who made the Texans' initial 53-man roster.

Texans could spread out RB carries

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:27
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Texans running back Arian Foster has 55 carries already this season -- the highest total any running back has had since 2006.

Foster
Foster
Texans coach Bill O'Brien steadfastly maintains the team will give Foster as many carries as is necessary for the team to win, whether that's 10 carries a game or 35. On Monday he admitted the Texans will probably spread out carries among the rest of the Texans' running backs later in the season.

"Certainly when you look at one player getting a ton of carries, that’s something that you have to pay attention to as a staff," O'Brien said. "We do that. But also we do what’s necessary to win a game."

If you go back to 2001, LaDainian Tomlinson is the player with the most carries in the first two games with 63. In the past 10 years, running backs have had 50 or more carries in the first two games of the season 21 times. Three of those occurrences were by Foster. In 2010, Foster's first full year as the Texans' featured back, Foster had 52 carries in his first two games. He had 54 in 2012.

In his career, Foster has more than 1,200 carries. He's eclipsed 300 carries (including the playoffs) in three different seasons and had more than 400 carries in 2012.

That's a running back with a lot of mileage.

There's no doubting Foster's talent, which is a big part of why his coaches have used him so much. His patience behind an offensive line, that joined him in getting game balls from O'Brien today, has meant great things for the Texans' offense.

Spreading around the carries, when possible, would likely extend his time during which he'll be able to help the Texans.

The Film Don't Lie: Texans

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Houston Texans must fix.

The Texans will face the New York Giants in Week 3 after convincing wins against Washington and Oakland. Their plus-five turnover margin is tied with the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals for second in the NFL. Those forced turnovers have helped the Texans win despite being outgained in both games.

On the way to a 30-14 win in Oakland, Houston allowed Raiders receiver James Jones 112 receiving yards -- 77 in the first half as the Texans built a 17-0 lead. He averaged 12.4 yards per catch and averaged 15.4 yards per catch in the first half.

To declare anything a "must fix" after that game seems nitpicky. The Texans had a 27-0 lead and gave up the second touchdown in garbage time as the Raiders ran a two-minute drill to get their rookie quarterback that experience. But the Texans are in the bottom 10 in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up 252 per game, and that could bite them against teams with better ball security.

RTC: Ryan Fitzpatrick delivers again

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:34
AM ET
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...
  • Something is "definitely, initially working" for the Texans and Ryan Fitzpatrick, writes Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Fitzpatrick has not thrown an interception yet with the Texans and done everything the team has asked of him in the first two games. He's also thrown three touchdown passes. Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders was one of the better games of his career.

  • Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com parses some numbers from the Texans' win. He notes that running back Arian Foster averages 113 yards per game against the Raiders. Also interesting: The Texans have been outgained in their past two games, despite winning by double digits in both. Ahhh the power of turnovers.

  • Speaking of Foster, the Chronicle's Smith chronicles Foster's postgame and then his game. He focuses on whether the running back position has truly been devalued. If it is, it's still valuable to the Texans. Foster had 28 carries this game, and made the most of them. We'll look more in depth at Foster's performance later this week.

  • Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson was embarrassed by his team's performance, writes Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. "We suck," he said. "That's as blunt as I can put it."

  • Derek Carr showed promise, writes Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle. The younger brother of former Texans quarterback David Carr, now the Raiders' starting quarterback, had a mixture of strong and not-so-strong moments. But you can take that from a rookie.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- There was a gleam in J.J. Watt's eye as he talked about the touchdown pass he caught from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders.

Watt
Watt
He rather enjoyed being on offense, and he knows many of his teammates would like it, too. And while the play was a lot of fun for Watt, for his teammates to see, while it made Watt feel "like a kid," he, his teammates and his coaches all know this wasn't some sort of gimmick.

"That's not a trick play at all," Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think it's good, sound football. I thought we called that play at the right time. They had stuffed us [on the play before]. ... We ran it on first down and didn't get anything, I think we lost half a yard. And then with that call on second down, it was good. It was good timing of the call and J.J. made a nice play."

It speaks to the creativity of this coaching staff and their willingness to depart from the mundane.

Last year after Watt ran a goal-line offensive play during training camp, former coach Gary Kubiak laughed off the thought of using Watt on offense. Watt lobbied then, and it didn't work. But he still put time in on the Jugs machines, joining receivers after training camp practices, working on his hands just in case.

Watt's long arms and sure hands, combined with his size, make him an easy target for a quarterback.

The ball took a while to get to him. Some of his teammates didn't even realize Watt was in, until they saw an arm with an elbow brace raised in the air.

"I saw the little brace go up and I said ‘Oh, that’s J.J.,'" safety Danieal Manning said.

They might see it again some time. After all, Mike Vrabel became a goal-line specialist as a linebacker in his playing days. He caught 10 passes, all of them for touchdowns. It's a switch that can work, and few teams have someone better to try.

Turnovers going Texans' way again

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:00
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- No moments were more indicative of the renewed attitude of the Houston Texans' defense than what followed a deep pass from Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to receiver James Jones.

Jones initially picked up 26 yards with the catch, then safety Kendrick Lewis knocked the ball from his hands. Jones picked the ball back up off the ground and kept running, this time meeting cornerback Johnathan Joseph near the end zone. The ball was knocked out of Jones' grasp again. D.J. Swearinger picked it up that time and the Texans had the ball back at their own 3-yard line.

Swearinger
Joseph was initially defending Jones then got back up and chased him down to the goal line. Swearinger was ready to pounce on the opportunity.

"Everyone’s excited to play," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Not giving up on plays. Even when they get a big play, we’re chasing after balls, getting it out."

Shortly after halftime, Swearinger returned the favor for Joseph, knocking the ball from tight end Mychal Rivera for Joseph to recover. Joseph returned that recovery 49 yards, hoping to get a score there, too.

Already this season, the Texans have forced six turnovers, more than half of what they had in all of the 2013 season. They notched two interceptions (by Kareem Jackson and Brooks Reed) and two forced fumbles to add to Week 1's two forced fumbles.

"Games in the NFL, they come down to third-down conversions, they come down to red-area percentage and then obviously, probably most importantly, they come down to turnovers," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "So if you're the team that doesn't turn it over and the other team does turn it over, then you've got a heck of a shot to win and our team is doing a pretty good job of that right now."

It's a dramatic difference from last season when turnovers were a massive issue for the Texans on both sides of the ball. Houston's minus-20 turnover margin in 2013 was the worst in the NFL. Their offensive struggles there were well documented, and happened in part due to the quarterback who was shipped to Oakland after the season. Their defensive turnover struggles meant only 11 forced turnovers in 16 games.

Their goal on Sunday against the Raiders was to give up no more than seven points. Swearinger lamented that they didn't, but the Raiders' extra touchdown was a meaningless garbage-time touchdown.

They met one goal, though, one that mattered even more.

"We can’t be the defense we want to be if we don’t force turnovers," Swearinger said. "So we have to."

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