Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13607549bn) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) avoids a sack by Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Houston, . The Eagles won 29-17 Eagles Texans Football, Houston, United States – 03 Nov 2022
Considering the caliber of the competition, a hostile crowd of 93,843, and nothing to play for other than bragging rights for another four years, the Texans played their best game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys.
And until the last five minutes, 20 seconds, Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton coached their best game until the Texans collapsed and blew a game they know they could have won.
A victory over Dallas at AT&T Stadium would have been the biggest upset of the season and would have left the embarrassed Cowboys sucking Philadelphia’s tailpipe – down three games in the race to win the NFC East title.
The Texans’ 27-23 loss extended their losing streak to eight games and left them with a 1-11-1 record with Kansas City coming to NRG Stadium. Players and coaches aren’t in the habit of taking anything positive from defeat, but the Texans will look back on what might have been on Sunday afternoon in Arlington.
Hamilton, who gets a lot of well-deserved criticism, should be commended for building a game plan around two quarterbacks, Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel. The rotation caught the Cowboys off guard, and coupled with a terrific defensive performance that included two interceptions by cornerback Tremon Smith; the Texans scared the bejabbers out of Dallas.
This is how close the Texans came to shocking the Metroplex and the NFL. With 5:20 remaining, the Texans had a 23-20 lead and first-and-goal at the Dallas 4 after Smith’s second interception. Hamilton, who’d done a splendid job until that point, had Driskel at quarterback over Mills because of his running ability. And he had Rex Burkhead at running back because Dameon Pierce was sidelined with an ankle injury.
Hamilton’s fascination with Burkhead dates back to the opening tie with the Colts when Burkhead carried the ball more than Pierce.
Hamilton had the Texans in their jumbo formation. That means he thought the Texans could knock the Cowboys back into the end zone and score. The Texans couldn’t because the Cowboys have better linemen and linebackers who don’t get pushed around.
On first down, Driskel handed to Burkhead, who lost a yard. On second down, Driskel threw a 4-yard pass to Chris Moore. He was stopped short of the goal line, and Smith didn’t challenge the call.
“I think he was down,” Smith said. “When plays are close, we have eyes in the sky looking. We thought we had a look, and that’s why we didn’t challenge. We think Chris was down, and we’ll go with that.”
On third-and-goal at the 1, Burkhead lost 2 yards. On fourth down at the 3, there was a mix-up between Driskel and Burkhead, so Driskel kept the ball and gained 1 yard. The play was supposed to give Driskel the option to run or pitch to Burkhead, who’d lost 3 yards on his first two carries. Hamilton put the game in the hands of a third-string quarterback and a running back fortunate to be third string.
“It’s supposed to cross the goal line,” Smith said about the play. “Any quarterback option, quarterback keeps it, or he pitches it to Rex, and one of them scores. We had a breakdown on how we really wanted to block that. The initial formation wasn’t correct. We had some things that didn’t lead us to scoring on really the last couple plays.”
And you know the rest of this sad Christmas story. The Cowboys went 98 yards to win the game after a Mills Hail Mary into the end zone failed with no time left.
Memo to Hamilton: Start Chris Moore over Brandin Cooks, even if he’s healthy and wants to play again. Moore had 10 catches for 124 yards, including an outstanding one-handed, 36-yard reception. When Nico Collins returns, he should start with Moore and have Amari Rodgers (four catches, 57 yards, and a touchdown) and Phillip Dorsett as the backups.
Now, let’s move on. What everyone has been asking since the game ended is will Smith and Hamilton continue to use Mills and Driskel? Smith won’t say, of course, but listening to him praise his offense, it makes sense they’ll stick with the rotation. What have the Texans got to lose? Absolutely nothing.
“Offensively, we were more productive,” Smith said. “Our quarterbacks played good football. I thought it (strategy) was effective. Two different flavors, and that’s always tough for a defense to prepare (for) with what we were doing. As far as what we’re going to do, we’ll see how that goes.”
The Texans’ 23 points were the second-most they’d scored this season, the most since their 34-24 loss to the Chargers on Oct. 2. The Texans have shown time and again that they have a terrible offense, so terrible they scored two touchdowns, and some are acting like it’s a big deal.
Well, it is for them.
The Texans generated 327 yards, their fifth-best output of the season. They were last in total offense before the Dallas game. Now they’re tied for last. Their scoring outburst increased their average per game to 16.2 points ahead of Indianapolis (16) and Denver (14.9).
“Offensively, we haven’t been able to do an awful lot lately,” Smith said. “We made a change (and) we looked for a spark. I thought Davis made some good throws (and) made some good decisions. I liked things he did. And the combination with Jeff, early in the week, we decided to go with this plan to use Jeff. He did some good things, too. Look at the offensive plan we had. There’s a lot we would like to duplicate from what we did.”
So, Lovie, are you going with the same rotation for the Chiefs and see how it goes?
“You know the answer,” he said. “You can ask it, and then you can answer it. We’ll evaluate it. If we like what we were able to do with it, we’ll keep it. What helps us is to wait until the end (of the week) and use the best options we have.”
Based on the Dallas game, the best option is to keep the Mills-Driskel rotation. They’ve got nothing to lose.
(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).