Houston Texans: Is there really a QB controversy?

The season opener for the Houston Texans yesterday was anything but optimistic.  The team did not look ready to start the season, on any front.  In fact, the 3rd game of the preseason with a mixture of starters and players trying out for the squad looked like a more intact, complete team on field than we did yesterday against the Kansas City Chiefs.  It didn’t start that way, though.

Texans won the coin toss, and in what has become routine fashion, deferred.  The opening drive for Chiefs offense was shut down, and Hoyer and co hit the field.  First play and first pass of the 2015, and Hoyer throws an interception.  In the red zone.  Commence the flashbacks of the Schaub era, and the disaster of the 2013 season.  In almost an instant, the Chiefs were up by 7, and were the first team in the NFL to score on Sunday.

What a way to start.

The next series had the KC offense and Travis Kelce (who seemed to go uncovered a majority of the game) putting up another 7 on board, and the Chiefs led 14-0 in the first quarter.  Defense looked terrible on this run, and KC quickly learned out to immobilize our front 3 and put them out of the game with a very well-executed quick release passing game, led by Alex Smith.  One would begin to wonder whether it was Crennel who knew more about his former team’s coaching, or his former team knew a little more about his.

However, it is worthy to note that this would be the only touchdown drive KC had without explicit help from the Texans offense.  As much as our defense left people wide open and helped Smith build up a stellar QB rating, KC scored on only 2 more full drives, and were held to field goals both times.  You could give some props to defense for making adjustments along the way, but leaving key players open and and having a number of missed tackles shows a need for improvement in one of the supposed top-rated defenses of 2015.  They certainly did not earn that distinction yesterday.

I am somewhat loathe to credit the 14 points off turnovers in the red zone to defensive points allowed, because that type of turnover is a momentum killer for both offense and defense.  However, outside of a pick-6, defense still has at least a single opportunity to stall a touchdown drive on a turnover in the red zone, and hold the opposing team to a field goal.  This isn’t an easy task for even the best defense, when the opposing team gets amped up and ready to take quick advantage of such a scoring opportunity, but it can be done.  This is where some of our rookies will need to simply learn from experience, shake it off and keep playing.

After a quick 14 by the Chiefs, the Hoyer-led Texans offense finally seemed to wake up and start playing by executing an almost perfect 80 yard, 10 play touchdown drive.  Almost perfect because the passing game opened up, pass protection was solid, and the team effectively and efficiently marched down field with the confidence we were waiting for.  That drive made the Texans offense look outstanding.  Then we had another first of the game – the first extra point missed with the new extra point rule of moving the extra point back to the 15 yard line.

Interestingly enough, in a league where only 8 extra points were missed in the entire 2014 season, there were a total of 4 extra points missed on Sunday.  Bullock was the first, but her certainly wasn’t the only victim.  So lay off the kid.  He was likely one of the best Special Team performers on field yesterday. And Special Teams yesterday was almost a new level of disastrous for the Texans – Marciano level disastrous.  But that’s another story.

That successful drive by the offense was followed by a pitiful return to the running game, after defense held KC to a field goal.  Three and out, and a punt, and another series held to a field goal by KC.  From this vantage point, I began to worry about offense and defense collectively, as offense was no longer producing and defense was allowing points with every KC drive.  Adjustments were not coming quick enough for the Texans, and KC was taking full advantage.  The next drive by the Texans offense made it perfectly clear, however, why we switched back to the running game.

Hoyer started the series with a pass attempt.  Well, he was in the process of a pass attempt, and was sacked, fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by KC.  Another turnover in the red zone that turned into a touchdown.  It wasn’t until this fumble that I saw just how long Hoyer was holding onto the ball during pass plays.  In the first half, Hoyer had the pass protection needed to remain comfortable in the pocket and make plays.  However, he wasn’t quick enough with the release.  A few times it was due to coverage on the field, but more often than not he simply wasn’t quick enough to zero in on eligible receivers during the play.

Our O-line protection has been an issue for a few years.  This is how you get record sacks and injured QBs.  It has improved this year, but a quick way to deplete your O-lines effectiveness in a game is to make them work longer than they need to.  The protection was there in the first half.  It began to fall apart in the second, and I’m confident enough to state that one reason for this was Hoyer veritably setting up camp in the pocket with every passing play he made.  This is the only reason that I can see for going back to the run, run, pass every other series.

After the 2nd touchdown due to turnover, defense seemed to catch on with the game plan, for the most part, and effectively neutralized the KC offense.  That last touchdown was the last scoring drive KC would see in the entire game.  So, we can give a few props to defense for turning it around on their side.  What we wouldn’t see from Hoyer again, save 1 last drive in the half for a field goal, was another successful scoring drive.

The second half, offensively, was mired by incomplete passes, three-and-outs, and a bevy of sacks.  Hoyer’s head was no longer in the game, the O-line was rendered useless to protect him in the pocket, and it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a second half of defensive production that kept KC from scoring.  I understand the choice to let Hoyer continue and give him the opportunity to get himself and the offense out of the hold they dug in the first half.  It never happened, though, and in the final 6 minutes of the 4th quarter (after a sizable percentage of people switched to the Astros game) Mallett was put in under center.

Part of me really wonders if that move was done to get people to switch back to the Texans game, as the change was literally made 10 minutes into the first pitch of the Astros game.  I’d like to see the ratings chart on that.  Seriously, though, this was a chance to see how Mallett performed in a clutch situation.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it seems pretty apparent that Mallett is being conditioned to be the potential long-term starter.  Whether it be consistency issues since his injury, personnel issues, or a combination of both, one cannot seriously take stock in the idea that we’d bring in a QB in the off season who has been on 4 team rosters in 5 years to be a legitimate contender for the starting job in the long term.

That makes no sense.  Nobody would consider a veritable journeyman/back-up for such a role, long term.

I personally feel that Hoyer was brought in to boost competition, and to be the placeholder for Mallett while the coaching staff did the work with Mallett behind the scenes.  Work on his consistency, and let Hoyer cover until he’s ready.  In theory, this idea works.  In application, I think it’s the wrong plan.  I think O’Brien made a mistake by starting Hoyer, because it’s clear he’s not the long-term solution.  He never was.  The best experience is gained on field in the season, and that’s precisely why Mallet should have started the season.

I could be wrong about why Hoyer was brought in, but I really doubt this is the case.  it’s not logical to consider a QB that has jumped from roster to roster so many times as a legit contender for the starting role, in the long term, and I think our Head Coach is smarter than that.   For this reason, I don’t really think we have a QB controversy in Houston.  I think we have a plan that failed, and now we have to look at plan B.  Plan B is to end this whole Brian Hoyer experiment, and continue with Mallett for the rest of the season.  If he’s going to be our potential starter in the long run, we need to let him make or break his future with this team.

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