NFL football was played last night. There was only a smattering of fans — 17,000 to be exact — but it was otherwise startlingly… normal.
Patrick Mahomes did Patrick Mahomes things, throwing for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns (and he could have had more if Demarcus Robinson hadn’t left his hands in the locker room for the first half).
J.J. Watt kept one eye on Mahomes and the other eye squarely on NBC television cameras all night (J.J. loves him some J.J.).
The Texans let an early lead turn into a Chiefs blowout.
NFL Twitter was completely overreacting to everything.
Andy Reid’s face shield fogged up like a bag of steamed broccoli.
Okay, maybe not everything was normal about last night, but it did feel like regular season NFL football and that’s pretty exciting.
Before we get into what we learned specifically about the Texans, let’s hit on three quick general takeaways from the opener.
- The tackling from both teams was pretty atrocious. This isn’t surprising given the lack of preseason action and a shortened camp, but expect this to be a struggle across the league in the first few weeks.
- The atmosphere of having some fans in stadiums is going to be significantly better than empty stands with piped-in crowd noise. I thought the KC crowd came through pretty well, at least on the TV broadcast.
- The Chiefs are going to be really good. Not a newsflash obviously, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire looked like the real deal last night, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He’s already significantly better than any Chiefs running back since Kareem Hunt. And KC’s defense consistently got pressure on Deshaun Watson.
So let’s jump into the six things that we learned about the Titans division rivals last night.
1. David Johnson looked good
The biggest — only? — positive that Texans fans can take from Thursday night’s game was the performance of their starting running back. Johnson carried 11 times for 77 yards and a nice 19-yard touchdown to get the scoring started.
He also added 3 catches for 32 yards through the air. It was a good game for the former Cardinal, but new Texans playcaller Tim Kelly got away from him in the second half as the game got out of hand.
It was a reminder that, when healthy, David Johnson can be a pretty good NFL running back. He did leave the game briefly to get his wrist looked at on the sideline, but he returned to action shortly thereafter and looked fine.
The Texans will need him to stay healthy too as backup running back Duke Johnson left the game with a leg injury and did not return to action. If he misses significant time, the only other running back currently on Houston’s roster is Buddy Howell.
But overall, this was a really good start for David Johnson, even if he’ll never live up to the guy he was traded for. Speaking of that…
2. Deshaun Watson misses DeAndre Hopkins
Watson’s final stat line — 20 of 32 for 253 with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown, and an interception — looks OK, but it doesn’t tell the whole story here. With 11:19 left in the game, the Texans were down 31-7 and Watson was 12 of 20 for 139 yards, no scores, and a really ugly interception.
Most of Watson’s production came in Bortles Time as the Chiefs were more than happy to sit back and let Houston dink and dunk down the field as the clock drained.
Before that, things looked very rough for the Houston offense in general, but particularly for the post-Hopkins passing attack. Brandin Cooks, who the Texans traded a 2nd and 4th round pick for earlier this offseason, was listed as questionable entering the game with a quad injury. He played, but was pretty much invisible, collecting just 2 of 5 targets for 20 yards.
Will Fuller was far and away Watson’s favorite target on the night, seeing 10 passes and catching 8 of them for 112 yards, but he had a couple bad drops sprinkled in as well (and nearly half of his production came in Bortles Time as well).
Things just looked out of sync, and maybe that was to be expected with a first time playcaller in Tim Kelly and no preseason action to work out the kinks, but if the Texans were worried about life after Hopkins before, Thursday night certainly didn’t do much to ease those fears.
And let’s be honest here, this was not a good Chiefs secondary outside of Tyrann Mathieu, especially not after losing starting cornerback Charvarius Ward to a hand injury early in the third quarter. It’s just Week 1 and we see random results from Week 1 every year, but the inability to carve up the KC secondary is a bad sign for the Texans.
3. DeAndre Hopkins does NOT miss the Texans
This isn’t really game analysis, but the former Texans superstar dropped some shade on his old team minutes after the final whistle blew.
That’s likely sour grapes more than anything after being traded for a terrible running back contract and a second round pick this offseason, but I do think it’s kind of funny that the Texans and Jaguars seem to lead the NFL in getting publicly dunked on by their former players.
4. The right side of the Texans offensive line is a problem
Houston has struggled for years to get Deshaun Watson the protection that he needs and they’ve made some strides. Say what you want about the price they paid for Laremy Tunsil (both the draft capital and the new contract), but he’s a good NFL left tackle and Nick Martin is a decent center.
However, the right side of the Texans line got absolutely worked by Chris Jones and Frank Clark last night. To be totally fair, this won’t be the last time those two have beat up on an opposing tackle-guard combo, but Zach Fulton and Tytus Howard looked completely lost at times last night.
The Chiefs sacked Watson four times and hit him eight times, not to mention a handful of scrambles that were forced after he was flushed from the pocket. All of those weren’t on the combo of Fulton and Howard, but a lot of them were.
Fulton is what he is at this point — a replacement level guard — so seeing him struggle with Jones is no surprise. However, the Texans had high expectations for Howard, their 2019 first-round pick entering his second year and seeing him get worked by Clark last night would be unsettling to me if I was a Texans fan.
It’s just one game, but all the media sunshine pumping about the Texans “improved offensive line” looks like it was just a bunch of hot air so far.
5. Houston’s defense is officially no longer a strength
For a long time, you could always rely on the Texans defense to be one of the better units in the league. From 2011 to 2016, Houston’s defense finished 4th, 9th, 24th, 7th, 7th, and 11th in points allowed led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner J.J. Watt.
However, lots has changed for Houston’s defense over the past couple years. Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, Johnathan Joseph, and Kareem Jackson left and J.J. Watt’s injuries and age started to catch up to him. While Watt is still capable of the spectacular on occasion, he’s not the every-down gamewrecker that he once was anymore.
Most of the rest of the defensive roster is either unproven or underwhelming. Justin Reid is a nice young safety and Zach Cunningham provides some versatility, but who else really worries you on that side of the ball?
The Texans finished 22nd in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA metric last year, and while it’s dangerous to make too many judgments based off an opening night game with the Chiefs, last night did nothing to suggest that Houston would be much better in 2020.
6. The Texans are in last in the AFC South and that might not change soon
Pop open a bottle of your best malt liquor, Jaguars fans! You’re out of the basement… at least momentarily.
And if you take a peak at the Texans early season schedule, they might not be climbing out of that spot too quickly. Houston returns home to host the Ravens in Week 2 before traveling to Pittsburgh in Week 3 and then hosting the Vikings in Week 4.
By the time the Jaguars show up in Houston, the Texans could be in a 1-3 or 0-4 hole. Bill O’Brien doesn’t have much time to right the ship coming off a deflating opening night loss.