Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock (13581891ah) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith watches as players warm up before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, in Houston Titans Texans Football, Houston, United States – 30 Oct 2022
Smith hoping to replicate what Texans did well in Dallas against Kansas City
Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith addressed the media Monday regarding what he thought were many positives to take away from the team’s last-minute loss to the Cowboys in Dallas Week 14.
Even though the Texans came up just short, it is not hard to argue that Sunday was the best overall performance by the team this season. Houston played their best game of the season, as they were consistent in all three phases of the game for the first time this year.
The Texans deployed a two-quarterback system that was efficient and effective. Unlike most quarterback-share programs, that seem to arbitrarily determine which drive which quarterback may get, the Texans deployed their quarterbacks with purpose, playing to each of their respective strengths.
Davis Mills was sharp, completing 16-of-21 passes for 175 yards. His decision-making was the best it has been all season, fast and purposeful. Jeff Driskel added an additional threat in the running game, had seven carries for 36 yards (5.1 YPC), and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers. The Texans’ head coach was, for the first time this season, happy with the performance of the quarterback position:
“I thought it was effective yesterday. Two different flavors, and that’s always tough for a defense to prepare with what we were doing with them. As far as what we’re going to do this week going forward, we start evaluating, see what we need to do against another good division-leading Kansas City football team. We’ll see how that goes, but both quarterbacks were productive yesterday. Davis Mills, second time in that starting role. I thought he played well, made some good throws. I know you’re looking you’ll see an interception, but that last one, we can’t really put that all on him. Just trying to make a play. We’ll need that type of play to have a chance against Kansas City.”
For Driskel, it was his third elevation from the practice squad this season, so the team must either sign him to the active roster or release him. Considering how well Driskel played and the dual-threat option he gives them, it is a decision the Texans will have to consider carefully:
“We’re going to do what we have to do to get the best players on the active roster. We feel like we need to have a chance to beat them. We know that he’s out of elevations, but we can’t let that stop us from getting our best 48 players ready to go this week.”
Considering what Driskel brings to the table, the different look he gives this offense, and the challenge that poses to defenses, along with his overall toughness, I would expect the Texans will sign Driskel to the active roster. I also believe it’s unlikely the team will carry three quarterbacks. Kyle Allen is very much in the doghouse, having gone from starter to inactive, and I believe his roster spot to be in jeopardy.
Smith’s reasoning for why the team chose to elevate Driskel for the Dallas game seems to underline my suspicions:
“We just thought that’s what we need to do that week. Yeah, he had one more elevation, but we’re going to do whatever we need to do to get the guys to the game that we feel like we need to win. It’s kind of as simple as that. For us, it’s not later. What gives us the best chance this week, yesterday, for Dallas? What do we need to get these guys? We practice throughout the week with some of the quarterback things that we wanted to do. I’m talking about the plan at the quarterback position that we had all along. We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and then we can always get the guys to the game that we need to some kind of way.”
Considering that Dallas is a 10-win team, and they thought Driskel gave them a better opportunity to win than Allen in that game absolutely leads me to believe Allen could be released and Driskel signed for the rest of the season.
Lovie was also happy with the forced turnovers by his team. Smith is always preaching about the turnover battle and how important it is for them to both win the turnover battle and convert turnovers to points. He hopes to see the team carry their recent string of forced turnovers through the rest of the season:
“We have to continue that. I just think nowadays; offenses are so good. Need to be able to steal a couple of possessions. It’s about takeaways. In an ideal world, takeaways – we had one inside the 5 (yard line). One inside the 25 (yard line). Just put the offense in a favorable position to score, and the one with the special teams too; it’s a must. We say it’s a good football game for us if we can get three takeaways. We were able to get that yesterday if you count fourth down stop gives us a chance, but it takes those types of things, especially against good offenses. We played a great offense yesterday. Of course, we’re playing another one this week. It seems like that will be the storyline as we finish up the season.”
Houston did many things well against Dallas, and the reality is they were the better football team Sunday for approximately 56 minutes and 40 seconds. The margin of victory against a strong football team in the NFL is razor-thin, and Houston just couldn’t hold that line for another three minutes. That doesn’t change the fact that the team showed significantly improved play in many facets, and that was not lost on the head coach:
“There’s quite a bit. I thought offensive; just look at the offensive plan that we had. We missed the fourth down. Had a fourth down stop, possibly get more points then. We missed inside the five, so that could’ve been over a 30-point game offensively. I’m going to say most of the things we did yesterday. I thought passing game-wise when Chris Moore has over 100 yards receiving. I thought Dameon (Pierce) played well. For the most part, we got some of what we wanted to do with the running game going. There’s a lot we would like to duplicate from what we did yesterday. We’ll need to.”
The Texans head man also praised his much-maligned starting quarterback, Davis Mills. However, the praise this week was different. It wasn’t along the lines of how he did a few things well but made a critical mistake here or there that they need to try to correct, or that breakdowns in communication faulted them up. This week, for the first time this season, it was just praise with no caveats:
“When I say Davis Mills played well, yeah, there were a couple of tight-window throws, balls being thrown on time, scrambling around in the pocket. All of the things that we want to see from our quarterback that was required of the quarterback position yesterday is what Davis did. I’m going to also add that Jeff (Driskel) threw the ball. It’s one thing when you say you know what we’re going to do when Jeff’s out there. Well, Jeff threw a couple of passes too. It’s not just one thing. There’s a lot of different ways we can go with this game plan, and we’re excited to get deeper into it.”
Lovie also made it a point to praise Driskel, who earned that praise. Driskel is always a threat to run and is legitimately the one quarterback on the roster capable of running RPOs. The defense must always be aware of Driskel keeping the ball himself, and at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he isn’t easy to bring down. Considering how well the two-quarterback system worked, it would not make sense for the team to get away from it now.
Houston also finally got Amari Rodgers involved in the game plan. Rodgers played very well, and his play essentially made him the team’s number two receiver on Sunday. While some fans are likely to be frustrated that it took Houston so long to get Rodgers involved after claiming him on waivers from Green Bay, his coach appreciated his efforts:
“As I said last week, we all sometimes need a second chance, a change in area code; however, you want to look at it. I know since he came into the building, he’s been a pro about everything. He’s picked everything up quickly. He’s smart. He’s bright. He’s got ability. For the first couple of weeks, he was inactive. Now his number was called, and I thought he stepped up to the plate and looked comfortable in the role that we had him in yesterday. Hopefully, we can continue to grow that, and we get Brandin (Cooks) back, and we get Nico (Collins) back too. Putting him into the mix with the rest of the receivers, I’m going to say Phillip Dorsett too, that seem to continue to step up.”
While Lovie won’t say it publicly, Rodgers clearly outplayed Dorsett. Chris Moore, usually the third receiver, was asked to be the lead dog against the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL and showed out big. Moore had 10 catches for 124 yards and has certainly earned the opportunity to be a starting receiver on this team, regardless of who is healthy.
While the team doesn’t know how long all injured players will take to return, Moore should be getting elevated over Brandin Cooks, whether Cooks is healthy or not. Moore will be on this team going forward; Cooks is basically guaranteed to be somewhere else next season.
For the second game in a row, the Houston Texans offensive line played well. They did not give up a sack for the second straight week, shutting out the league’s best pass rush. Laremy Tunsil completely neutralized Micah Parsons in the pass rush, continuing to play at an All-Pro level this season. Tytus Howard has also played well, certainly to a Pro Bowl level. The interior of the line has been the weak spot for the team this season, but they held strong there as well.
Kenyon Green has rebounded from a rough two months of struggles and playing through injury to play well in two straight games. Scott Quessenberry and A.J. Cann have also shown improved play the past couple of weeks. Coach Smith is looking for that growing confidence to continue in his offensive line:
“Yeah, I think so, and you just mentioned the group that we played yesterday. They didn’t get a sack, right? They’ve sacked just about everybody. They are leading the league. To be able to hold them down like that, I’ve talked about some of the games where we didn’t block as well as we needed to on the offensive line, but I thought they gave us a chance yesterday in a hostile environment. Things like that have to give you confidence going forward.”
Houston will look to build on all of these positives Sunday when the host Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.