NFL Nation: Randy Bullock

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
PM ET
J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:54
PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars27-20 victory over the Houston Texans.

What it means: The Jaguars have their first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season and their first victory at home in more than a year (Nov. 25, 2012). The Jaguars had lost six consecutive games at EverBank Field. They’re also 4-1 since their bye and somehow still alive in the playoff race.

Stock watch: The Jaguars had no answer for quarterback Matt Schaub, who came in for Case Keenum in Thursday's third quarter and led the Texans to 10 points. The Jaguars couldn’t mount much of a pass rush -- they sacked him only once until the game's final play, and he had plenty of time to pick out receivers -- and Schaub was able to exploit what has been the Jaguars’ weakness all season: the middle of the field. He feasted, too, completing 17 of 29 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. He made one mistake, a pass that linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted to set up the game-clinching field goal. The secondary has been an issue all season but particularly in the four games before Thursday night, giving up an average of 291 yards per game passing in those contests.

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch continues to show his creativity. One week after having Maurice Jones-Drew throw a pass to Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown, he called a play in which receiver Ace Sanders threw a touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman. The creativity makes up for a lack of experienced receivers and an offensive line that struggles with consistency. Of course, it helps that the plays are working.

RB injuries: The Jaguars lost Jones-Drew late in the third quarter to a hamstring injury, and Todman suffered a minor injury late in the fourth quarter, which really hurt their chance to run the clock. Jones-Drew had surpassed 100 yards for the first time this season and it was the closest he has looked to the player who led the league in rushing in 2011. The Jaguars had to go to third-stringer Denard Robinson, who carried twice for minus-1 yard, to try to kill clock on their next-to-last drive. Todman did return on the final drive, which began after Hayes’ interception.

Costly penalty: The Jaguars played a pretty clean game, but they did commit one costly penalty that directly led to three points in the fourth quarter. Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt, but the Jaguars were penalized for having 12 men on the field. The Texans decided to go for it on fourth-and-5, converted the first down, and Bullock went on to kick a 31-yard field goal that cut the Jaguars’ lead to 24-20 with 11 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

What’s next: The Jaguars host Buffalo on Dec. 15 in their next-to-last home game of the season.
Sanders/WattUSA TODAY SportsAce Sanders and the Jaguars' receivers must pick up their play against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

HOUSTON -- Oddly enough, it’s the team with the worse record that enters this game with the better vibes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally won a game two weeks ago, whereas the Houston Texans are trudging through what’s now an eight-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.

For Houston, it’s been a matter of finishing. The Texans have led at halftime in each of their past three games. They regularly gain more yards than their opponents. They just can’t finish with wins, having lost by one, three, three and five points in their past four games.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: So, Mike, do you think the Jaguars have shown signs of improvement lately?

DiRocco: In certain areas, yes. They've been much better against the run since the bye week, holding the Titans to 83 yards and the Cardinals to just 14. Their special teams have improved, too, especially the kickoff-return unit. Since bobbling several kicks against the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Todman is averaging 34.7 yards on his past seven returns. Outside of those two areas, though, improvement is hard to find. The running game is still struggling. Since rushing for 90 yards against San Francisco, the Jaguars have totaled 86 in the past two games. The passing game really misses Justin Blackmon, too, because teams are concentrating on stopping receiver Cecil Shorts, and the rest of the receivers just aren't good enough right now to carry the offense. The pass rush managed three sacks against Arizona but overall has been ineffective. Couple that with a secondary that includes three rookies and you can see why they're struggling against the pass, too.

Speaking of struggling, what has been the biggest reason for the Texans' surprising stumble this season? Is it quarterback play? Injuries?

Ganguli: Special teams, turnover margin, quarterback play, injuries and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball are all to blame. The Texans' kicker, Randy Bullock has really struggled. He made a 51-yarder on Sunday -- his first field goal from 50 yards or longer this season. Overall, he’s made only 65.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The Texans currently have their starting tight end, running back, strong safety and middle linebacker on injured reserve. They might get tight end Owen Daniels back in a couple of weeks, but not having him has been bad. The Texans' offense and special teams have turned the ball over at a high rate -- and that’s not just on former starting quarterback Matt Schaub, though Schaub has been a big factor. Pick-sixes aside, Schaub wasn’t actually playing too poorly before he got benched for Case Keenum. He had one game that was top-to-bottom bad: the Texans’ loss in San Francisco. But a pick-six is such a big play that his really hurt the Texans. That’s not something anyone predicted heading into the season. Well, maybe someone did. Certainly not me.

Speaking of quarterbacks, what did it take for the Jaguars to finally give up on Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Gus Bradley says the team hasn't given up on Gabbert, but it's pretty obvious it has by the fact that Chad Henne is starting even though Gabbert has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been healthy for weeks. It was typical Gabbert when he did play earlier in the season: some really good throws, some terrible throws and a few "what the heck was he thinking?" throws. He just hasn't been consistent enough, and he's had three seasons. The other issue is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season alone he had a sprained ankle early in training camp, fractured his thumb in the preseason, missed two games because of a cut on his hand and left the Week 5 game with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. He also missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a forearm injury.

Tania, what is Schaub's future in Houston? If he's out, are Keenum or T.J. Yates viable long-term solutions or will the Texans go after a quarterback in the draft?

Ganguli: Schaub’s future in Houston is murky at best. He knows that. His teammates know that. As I said earlier, people did not see this coming. The Texans' handling of Yates indicates they don’t think he’s the future. I don’t think it’d be smart to go into next season with only Keenum as a starting option given the unknowns that remain about him. So far, he hasn’t been able to react well to defensive adjustments against him. It’s entirely possible he gets better at that, but I just don’t think you know for sure yet. I could absolutely see the Texans drafting a quarterback. It’ll be a pretty deep class, though there doesn’t seem to be a knockout like Andrew Luck.

Let’s finish up with defense. The lack of a pass rush has been a problem in Jacksonville for so long. Why has it been ineffective?

DiRocco: The bottom line is the players aren't anything but average. It dates back to 2008, when the team drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second to improve the pass rush. They were both busts, and the Jaguars have been chasing those picks ever since. They signed Aaron Kampman to a free-agent contract in 2010, but he arrived coming off a torn ACL, and he went on to suffer another tear, among more injuries. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia in 2012, and he has 4.5 sacks in 15 games with them. Andre Branch, last season's second-round pick, has just three sacks in 23 career games. Upgrading the pass rush will be one of the team's biggest tasks in free agency and the draft this offseason.

This obviously isn't the kind of season the Texans expected. How has the locker room been? Do you get the sense of any problems, and is it a case which another few losses (especially one to the Jaguars) could make things get nasty?

Ganguli: The locker room is frustrated, but right now, the Texans are closing ranks and taking an us-against-the-world mentality. We saw a bit of frustration within the team when Schaub yelled at Andre Johnson on the sideline for stopping his route near the end of the Texans' loss to the Raiders. Johnson yelled back and then walked off the field before the official end of the game. The team didn't need him anymore at that point because Oakland was simply kneeling to the finish, but it was a surprising move from a guy who doesn't normally show his frustration like that. Still, Johnson and Schaub both downplayed the argument, saying they were fine with each other. I thought Johnson's comments on Wednesday supported that. He talked about how "you hate to see" what Schaub has gone through this season, especially given their long history together. This is a pretty good locker room. I think if they were going to turn on each other, they would have had plenty of reasons to do so already.

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
11:45
PM ET
HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Houston Texan's 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: The Colts maintain their commanding lead in the AFC South. Kicker Randy Bullock missed three field goals, including the potential game-tying field goal, a 55-yarder.

Stock watch: Andre Johnson remembers well that so many people thought he was washed up last season before he had one of his best statistical years. He talked this week about how he didn't know why he wasn't a guy who caught more touchdown passes. Johnson became Keenum's favorite target early against the Colts. He caught 190 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. It was Johnson's first three-touchdown game of his long and illustrious NFL career. Keenum's ascent could be a major boon for the vet.

Phillips in for Kubiak: Halftime took a somber tone when Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed to his knees on the field. His face showed signs of being in pain. He left the stadium in an ambulance having never lost consciousness and was at the hospital with his family. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over Kubiak's role for the rest of the game.

Foster hurt again: It was heralded as great news (by me) that Arian Foster was active against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was. Great news for the Texans offense. Well, it would have been if Foster stayed on the field. The running back suffered another back injury and only played in the Texans' first series. That series included zero runs. Foster left the game for good and left the Texans with one undrafted rookie and one backup running back who was toughing through broken ribs for a second straight game.

What's next: The Texans travel to Arizona to play the Arizona Cardinals.

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Houston Texans' 30-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: On the day the Texans unveiled their 2012 division-championship banner, they took a step in their quest for a three-peat. It's a title they absolutely should keep this season, but the Titans will be pesky foes. A lot could change between now and the next meeting between these teams, in the regular-season finale.

Stock watch: Texans kicker Randy Bullock is having a rough start to his NFL career. He went 0-for-3 in regulation Sunday, and after missing what could have been the game-winning field goal in regulation he fell to 1-for-5 this season. (His one make was the game winner in San Diego.) This was an area the Texans hoped to upgrade this season, but so far that hasn't been the case.

Facing deficits: Down one, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw an easy pick-six to Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner with about five minutes left in the game. I'd argue that an eight-point deficit that late in the game is more daunting than a 21-point deficit early in the third quarter. Schaub got them out of one situation last week and into the other one this week, in part because he was constantly under duress.

Hopkins breaks out: A huge fourth-quarter drive saw Schaub go to his new toy, DeAndre Hopkins, regularly. The rookie delivered. But it was veteran Andre Johnson's catch that set up the Texans' game-tying touchdown. Johnson grabbed the pass, kept his feet inbounds, even as Bernard Pollard doled out a helmet-to-helmet hit, and hung onto the ball all the way to the ground. The catch took its toll, though. Johnson lingered on his back for a while and went to the locker room after jogging off the field. Later, the Texans got another big gain from second-year receiver Keshawn Martin, who broke a tackle and ran for a 32-yard gain that set up what could have been Bullock's game-winning field goal. Hopkins eventually played the hero, making an incredible 25-yard catch in overtime and following it a few plays later with another incredible catch -- this one for the winning touchdown.

What's next: The Texans head on the road to face Super Bowl champion Baltimore. The Ravens look a bit different than the last time the teams met. Houston won that matchup in a blowout. Safety Ed Reed won't start that game as Texans coach Gary Kubiak has said he won't start the first time he plays for the Texans. But will he play?

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
3:40
AM ET
Observed in the locker room after the Texans beat the Chargers 31-28:

Lechler
New feeling for a vet: Off in an auxiliary locker room for visitors that included specialists and some undrafted rookies, punter Shane Lechler mused about what a cool feeling this was for him. "I was thinking after we won, how long it’s been since I’ve been 1-0," the former Raider said. "It’s been a while. That was fun. Just to see the fight and the grit and grind of this team and witness it firsthand. To witness it firsthand was quite an experience."

Succinct description by Tate: "We played like crap," backup running back Ben Tate said. "It’s the NFL. You can’t play like crap." Tate refused to offer an explanation for their play. "That’s all excuses, we just played bad." What changed? "We played good the second half. That’s what good teams do."

What to do with the game ball: Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he gave the game ball to kicker Randy Bullock, who made the game-winning field goal. Bullock said he wasn't quite sure how to pack it, or if it would fit in his bag.

Patient rookie: Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins waited for a crowd of reporters who blocked his locker. Hopkins used his phone to take a picture of Andre Johnson, beside him, who was the focus of the media crowd.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 31, Chargers 28

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
1:53
AM ET

 
SAN DIEGO -- Some thoughts from the Houston Texans' 31-28 comeback victory Monday night over the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Texans showed a Monday night audience (at least those who stayed awake that late) their flaws and strengths all on one night. A disastrous first half during which Houston struggled to get pressure preceded a transcendent second half (with the exception of the Chargers' opening drive of the third quarter), which featured late-arriving but crucial contributions from defensive end J.J. Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing.

Stock Watch: The Texans' turnaround was largely thanks to quarterback Matt Schaub. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 129 yards in the third quarter and was exceptional on rollouts. Houston's first three touchdowns were passes to its tight ends.

Big-time backup: This shouldn't have been a surprise given the way he played in the preseason, but backup running back Ben Tate featured prominently throughout Monday's game. He looked crisper than starter Arian Foster, who missed all of the preseason and saw his carries limited as a result. Tate averaged 6.1 yards on nine carries, while Foster averaged 3.2 on 18.

Here's the kicker: Randy Bullock played in his first regular-season NFL game with mixed results. But at the end, the second-year kicker got to be a hero. His 41-yarder to win the game sent a large, red-clad contingent into a frenzy and sealed the Texans' first victory of the season as time expired. Bullock missed a 51-yarder early in the game, but that isn't what he'll remember.

What's next: The Tennessee Titans aren't scared, and they're waiting. They'll be in Houston on Sunday after a short week for the Texans.

Observation deck: Texans-Saints

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
9:20
PM ET

HOUSTON -- Sunday afternoon was the first view most people had of the Houston Texans' shiny new punter Shane Lechler.

Until Sunday, Lechler was sidelined as he recovered from a hamstring injury in his plant leg. He knew there would be a lot of eyes on him, wondering how he'd fare in his first game in Houston, the first of his career not as an Oakland Raider. And so, something happened to the 14-year veteran that hasn't happened to him in a while:

He got nervous for a preseason game.

"I got out there and went through the basics mentally," Lechler said. "You're like, make sure you catch the snap. There's a lot of people looking at you (to) see how you handle your first ball. That ball actually carried a little farther than I wanted it to. Luckily it checked up perfectly. I was nervous and anxious and excited at the same time."

Lechler punted twice, netting 52 yards per punt. One of those was downed at the 2-yard line, giving the Texans field position that led to their first touchdown. The New Orleans Saints never got past their own 6-yard line and went three-and-out on their next drive.

What started to become very clear in the Texans' third preseason game was that their specialists have really improved.

Second-year kicker Randy Bullock, who spent last season on injured reserve, notched touchbacks on all three of his first-half kickoffs. He also made field goals of 21 and 55 yards. It impressed Lechler, who spent most of his career with one of the best kickers of all time in Sebastian Janikowski.

"I think when you talk about Janikowski, that's probably one of the best that's ever done it, in my opinion," Lechler said. "I think at Randy's stage of his career he's probably a little bit more accurate than Janikowski was as a rookie."

Other observations from the Texans' third preseason game:
  • I haven't talked enough about undrafted rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson. That will change this week. Jefferson signed with a team that drafted two players at his position (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams) but quickly surpassed both of them. After Sunday's game, safety Danieal Manning said the most impressive thing about Jefferson is how well he is able to incorporate what he learns in the classroom to the field. "He put pressure on them ever since he got in -- he's definitely holding up," Manning said. "I'm glad he's a part of this team." An important thing to remember about Jefferson is that this is only his third year playing defense. His ceiling is higher than some of the other rookies.
  • T.J. Yates' numbers this week looked similar to his numbers last week. He completed seven of nine passes, though one of his incompletions was a drop. He had the best passer rating of the three quarterbacks at 137.5 and also threw the fewest passes of the three. I'd bet you see more of Case Keenum next week against Dallas, where Kubiak will have to make a final decision on how many quarterbacks to keep. The Texans carried two on the active roster most of last season and had Keenum on the practice squad. But Keenum is making it very hard for Kubiak to cut him.
  • Fullback Greg Jones showed why the Texans signed him on Ben Tate's one-yard touchdown run. "Me and Greg are always talking," Tate said. "He wants to know how I'm thinking, and I'm asking him what he is thinking. ... I was with him on the touchdown run. I was right there with him."
  • The Texans' defense contained the Saints offense until New Orleans got its screen game going. "You know, they resorted to going to screens and stuff like that," Texans defensive end Jared Crick said. "I think that was probably due to the pressure we were putting on." Whatever the cause, it worked. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, Drew Brees threw screen passes to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram took his catch 29 yards. Thomas nearly got tackled by Texans linebacker Joe Mays, but he escaped Mays' grasp first, then Texans safety Shiloh Keo inadvertently blocked Mays on his second effort to get to Thomas. That resulted in a 51-yard touchdown.
  • Speaking of Crick, he might have made a case for himself to start in place of Antonio Smith in the Texans' regular season opener. Crick had the Texans' only sack of the game, ending a Saints drive, and tied for the team lead with four total tackles.
  • Saints rookie Kenny Stills got the best of the Texans' starting cornerbacks on the same drive. Once with a one-handed catch on the sideline with Kareem Jackson on him. Another time, he got away from Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown catch from Saints backup Luke McCown. "It was just a double-move, work on it all the time," Stills said. "Got the corner kinda sitting on the outside and was able to get inside and the ball was there."
The Texans' first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener at Carolina on Saturday, contains no huge surprises.

Teams generally defer, at this stage, to the veteran over the rookie -- if not in the rotation or play time, at least on paper.

Here are a few items of note:

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