Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mark Black/UPI/Shutterstock (13419638p) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith on the sidelines during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday, September 25, 2022. NFL Texans Bears, Chicago, Illinois, United States – 25 Sep 2022
The Texans continue to be so dreadful they’re sucking the spirit out of Christmas.
Sunday’s game against Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns was another example of just how hopeless the Texans are as they stumble and bumble their way to the worst record in franchise history and the first pick in the draft.
As laughable as it sounds – but is worth mentioning as a reflection of their futility — the Texans are the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention.
Their 24-17 defeat at NRG Stadium was interesting for several reasons.
First, fans who bothered to attend booed Watson when he came on the field for the first time, and each time he approached the line of scrimmage to take the snap. Second, quarterback Kyle Allen was intercepted on the Texans’ first play and later threw a pick-six and had a fumble returned for a touchdown. And, finally, the Texans lost for the first time in team history when the defense didn’t surrender a touchdown.
It added up to a 1-10-1 record and a seven-game losing streak going into what should be another embarrassing beatdown at Dallas. Lovie Smith’s team – specifically Pep Hamilton’s offense – isn’t playing well enough to win another game.
The Texans had three turnovers on offense and one on special teams that offset two takeaways by the defense.
“Offensively, we can’t win many games playing like that,” coach Lovie Smith said. “One statistic that tells the story of a game is the turnover ratio. Whenever you talk about non-offensive touchdowns, you give up three; that’s going to be tough to win. Offensively, got to protect the ball better.”
The Texans’ offense has to do a lot of things better, and that’s not going to happen this season. If the Texans lose out, which should lead to a house cleaning of the coaching staff, they’ll finish with one victory. The franchise record for fewest victories is two in 2005 and 2013.
Fans who showed up came to see Watson’s first appearance in 700 days. Watson was rusty after the long layoff created by the legal issues that caused the Texans to keep him off the field last season and the NFL to suspend him for 11 games this season.
Watson was off target, throwing low and into the turf and missing receivers right and left. He finished with 12-of-22 for 131 yards, one interception, and a 53.4 rating. He was sacked once.
Allen was even worse. The two interceptions and fumble return for a touchdown couldn’t be blamed on his linemen. He wasn’t sacked, and he was knocked down twice. He connected on 20-of-39 for 201 yards and a 53.5 rating.
“Most interceptions, it’s about decisions you make at quarterback – holding it, not throwing it,” Smith said. “Sometimes, the best play you can make is just not throw it. We (were) in striking distance, a touchdown away most of the game, so you’re hoping a couple of those passes would go to our guys.”
Allen has been so bad in his two starts it’s time for Smith and Hamilton to return Mills to the lineup for the Dallas game. Allen’s going to get somebody hurt.
“I’m just disappointed in how we played offensively,” Smith said. “We, as coaches, have to do a better job — could never get the passing game going. Even if you can’t get it going, you can’t turn it over, and those situations really hurt us a lot.”
With Hamilton as the coordinator building game plans and calling plays, it might not matter who plays quarterback. The Texans were 1-of-12 (8%) on third down and 1-of-4 (25%) in the red zone.
The epitome of Hamilton’s failure as a play caller came in the second quarter.
The Texans led 3-0. Safety Jalen Pitre’s end zone interception of Watson and 29-yard return started a drive that put them in a first-and-goal situation at the Cleveland 3.
Rather than have Dameon Pierce, who rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries, in the backfield after he ran for 55 yards in the first quarter, Hamilton used backup Dare Ogunbowale. Rex Burkhead wasn’t available because of a concussion.
Rather than play Pierce and try to run the ball, Hamilton called pass plays to rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano on first down and Nico Collins on second down. Allen threw incomplete both times. On third down, Hamilton called a handoff to Ogunbowale, who couldn’t buy playing time early in the season, and he reached the 1.
Nobody complained when Smith went for it on fourth-and-goal. Pierce returned to the game, but for some reason, Hamilton called for a pass to rookie fullback Troy Hairston, who played linebacker in college a year ago, and it was incomplete.
It may have been Hamilton’s worst four plays of the season, and that’s saying something because he’s had a lot of bad ones.
“Hindsight, I wish we had done something different,” Smith said about Pierce not touching the ball on the last four plays of that possession. “That didn’t work. I felt like we needed a touchdown in that situation.
“In hindsight, everything we did didn’t work.”
The best chance would have been to utilize Pierce, their most effective offensive weapon. At least the Texans got points out of it when defensive tackle Roy Lopez stopped running back Nick Chubb in the end zone for a safety and a 5-0 lead.
That lead didn’t last long, and it disappeared in an unusual manner. The Texans’ usually reliable coverage teams allowed receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones to return Cam Johnston’s 60-yard punt 76 yards for a touchdown. There were guilty parties who missed tackles on the return.
The Browns led 7-5, and this game was still close early in the fourth quarter when the Texans trailed 14-8. They didn’t stay in striking distance for long. Cade York’s 43-yard field goal and linebacker Tony Fields’ 16-yard interception return on a tipped pass secured Cleveland’s second victory in a row and elevated its record to 5-7.
As for the Texans, they’re now minus-99 in point differential, a league worst. They also average only 15.6 points, including 14.6 in the seven-game losing streak. Only Denver has scored fewer points.
And to make matters even worse, the Texans are now 9-35-1 over their last three seasons, including 4-35-1 against every team but Jacksonville.
Asked if he worries about his job security, Smith said, “No, I don’t. I have never worried about job security. What I’m worried about is doing the best job I can getting ready for the Cowboys.”
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).