By Sam McPherson
It was a short playoff life for the 2015 Houston Texans, champions of the much-maligned AFC South Division this year. The Texans didn’t play a tough schedule and they didn’t dominate their opponents either, going just 9-7 this season. The reward was a home game for the Houston organization, but the Kansas City Chiefs put a quick end to any Super Bowl dreams at NRG Stadium with a 30-0 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Four first-half turnovers by Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer put the home team in a 13-0 hole at halftime, but it could have been worse. However, Houston Head Coach Bill O’Brien was unable to come up with any answers at halftime in terms of adjustments and the Chiefs just systematically put the Texans away in the second half to advance to next weekend’s AFC Divisional Playoff round.
Hoyer fumbled and threw an interception in the first quarter. In the second, he threw two more INTs, one in the red zone which cost Houston at least three points and one that was basically a punt late in the half. Either way, the Texans offense didn’t have much going for it against the Kansas City defense. Running back Alfred Blue had a big 49-yard run before Hoyer’s red-zone pick, and that was pretty much the biggest play all day for Houston on offense.
The team failed to make any second-half adjustments, coming out of halftime and punting on its first possession. The Chiefs did a good job holding wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to just 52 yards through the first three quarters as the Texans fell behind 20-0. Houston had just 163 yards of offense at that point, finishing with 226 for the game. Hoyer threw another INT in the fourth quarter to complete his disastrous day.
It’s hard to blame the Texans defense in this game as it held the Kansas City offense to just field goals in the first half. Eventually, Houston broke down, especially when defensive end J.J. Watt broke down in the third quarter with an injury. With Watt off the field, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on their first two second-half possessions to put the game out of reach by the first play of the fourth quarter.
There were a lot of missed tackles on defense that cannot be excused. Maybe some of it was fatigue, but some of it really was just focus. Kansas City has a lot of offensive weapons, but the Chiefs lost star WR Jeremy Maclin to injury at the same time the Texans lost Watt. Mentally, it just seemed like the Houston defense was checked out as soon as Watt went down with injury in the middle of the third quarter.
Special Teams: D
Perhaps the tone for the game was set right away when the Texans kickoff unit allowed a 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. That gave Kansas City an early seven-point lead and Houston never recovered from the big moment. The special teams unit is not the reason that the Texans lost, but that opening sequence was simply foreshadowing what was to come over the next three-plus hours. If the Houston kick coverage can make a tackle there, maybe the game is a little different.
O’Brien was out-coached and outmanned in this game for sure. It was curious to see him put Watt in the backfield for a goal-line rushing attempt in the first half; and when that failed, Hoyer eventually turned the ball over. But why give Watt a carry when you have three solid RBs on the roster? Blue had the big run earlier on the same drive to set up the scoring chance, but O’Brien gave Watt the ball instead on the goal line.
Also, O’Brien didn’t have any second-half answers for the Chiefs, and for better or for worse, he stuck with Hoyer for the entire game instead of giving backup QB Brandon Weeden a chance. Perhaps this is a sign O’Brien is committed to Hoyer long-term, although that will be a hard sell to the fans and the front office after the QB’s terrible game.
Season Not A Failure In Spite Of Loss
A 9-7 season and the division title seemed way out of the realm of possibility after the Week 7 loss to the Miami Dolphins. The defense gave up over 500 yards that day, but it recovered to be tough as nails over the final nine games of the season. The Texans went 7-2 in those contests to win their third division title in five seasons; that kind of season is never a disappointment. For O’Brien, he’s going to have to solve the offensive challenges in the offseason, which starts with the QB position. Even when QB Andrew Luck returns to the Indianapolis Colts lineup in 2016, Houston should still be favored to repeat in the division, although the schedule will be much tougher next year.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.