The Texans ended a three-game losing streak with a dominating 30-16 win over Tennessee on Sunday. At the halfway point of the season, they are dead even at 4-4.
The optimist will say it could have been much better after close losses to Dallas, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. The pessimist will say the simply weren’t good enough to finish with games on the line. The reality is they are exactly what their record says.
Sunday, they did all the things they needed to do to win football games. Run the ball with Arian Foster (20 carries, 151 yards, 2 TDs rushing and one receiving, plus 22 receiving yards). Don’t turn the ball over. (No picks from Ryan Fitzpatrick, although it wasn’t from a lack of effort on his part). Force turnovers on defense (a pick by D.J. Swearinger and a sack/forced fumble from J.J. Watt. Those led to 10 points).
The frustrating thing is the Texans are good enough to do what they did Sunday. They just aren’t good enough to do it against the better (or even mediocre) teams in the league.
The starting quarterbacks they have faced in their four wins? A diminished Robert Griffin III, E.J. Manuel (benched), rookie Derek Carr in his second career start, and rookie Zach Mettenberger in his first career start.
The losses? Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Texans offense is limited. It is basically Arian Foster. If he is playing well, it opens up other opportunities. And it is hard to picture him running the football much better than he is at the moment.
As usual, Fitzpatrick’s numbers — 19 of 35, 227 yards, one TD, no picks — won’t look awful. But he had several poor decisions that the Titans simply weren’t good enough to take advantage of and turn them into turnovers. He was also sacked five times, and could have thrown the ball away on at least three.
Essentially, the Texans have come to define themselves. They are good enough to beat bad teams. They aren’t good enough to take down teams with quality QB play.
There were plenty of big performances on Sunday:
*Foster scored three TDs, broke some good long runs and continued to show why he is so important to the offense. For all the Watt for MVP talk, Foster deserves to be in that conversation as well, IF this team can manage a winning record.
*That said, Watt continues to amaze. He had two sacks, forced a fumble and made a big stop on a two-point conversion. Without Foster and Watt, this team is winless.
*Swearinger had a big interception that helped turn the game around and looked much better wrapping up tackles.
*Jadeveon Clowney returned to the field for the first time since Week 1. He had little impact, but it will help the team later on if he can keep getting reps and get up to speed.
*DeAndre Hopkins continues to improve. He had five catches on 11 targets for 95 yards.
So what does it all mean? With eight games left, the Texans have three (Tennessee again Jacksonville twice) against the kind of quarterbacks they have beaten. They have three against the type that have beaten them (Luck again, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Nick Foles, who brings the Eagles to town next week).
The others are borderline — Cleveland with Brian Hoyer and Cincinnati with Andy Dalton.
They can still improve on defense. Clowney should get better. Brian Cushing should benefit from some rest. But the offense is probably at its ceiling with Fitzpatrick. It’s basically all about Arian Foster and not turning the ball over.
They did that Sunday against a lesser team — again — and it worked. They will get another chance to break that trend next Sunday against the Eagles. If form holds, they will hang around and lose a close one. If the Texans hope to be more than what we have seen through eight games, they need to end that trend. Otherwise, we know exactly what they are.