By Brien O’Donal
Without Deshaun Watson, the Texans are forced to plan hard for all the games they have a realistic shot at winning. Sunday’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals presented such a game. On a day where Texans legend Andre Johnson would be honored at halftime, two teams that look evenly matched on paper and were only one game apart in their record and ready to battle for an important win. The Texans’ defense looked to contain Adrian Peterson and take advantage of Arizona’s third starting quarterback of the season, the much-maligned Blaine Gabbert; while the Cardinals were hoping to force the Texans offense to rely on Tom Savage. The Texans got their desired result while the Cardinals did not.
Early on it went the Texans way. Bill O’Brien leaned heavily on his running game and their second drive went for 12 plays and 7 minutes on the way to a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tom Savage to Lamar Miller. The Texans ran the ball 10 times in their first 16 plays and now had an early lead. The Cardinals came back with a good drive but after crossing mid-field they stalled and punted the ball to pin the Texans deep for the third time. A 10-yard penalty would break the Texans’ way and they started their next drive on their own 19-yard line. It would take only 2 plays for the momentum to swing.
One of Tom Savage’s weaknesses is his inability to get the ball out of his hand when the pressure is on. After a 5-yard run on first down by Miller, Tom Savage was stripped of the football on second down and the Cardinals recovered at the 17-yard line. Blaine Gabbert to threw a quick 20-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald for a tie game, 7-7.
Punts were traded and then Tom Savage did it again for the Texans. After a good start to a drive that began on their own 16-yard line he threw an off target ball into coverage that was tipped and intercepted by Patrick Peterson who returned it to the Houston 15-yard line. 2 more plays and Gabbert had his second touchdown of the day and a 14-7 lead. This time Ricky Seals-Jones caught his first career touchdown pass.
The Texans came right back just before the half and managed to eat up the rest of the clock, finishing with an important field goal and a 14-10 halftime score. They would get the ball after the break and they put together a quick, 7-play effort to go up 17-14 on a 28-yard pass from Savage to DeAndre Hopkins. His 9th such reception on the year, the leader for the Texans.
After punts were traded, the Cardinals had the ball at their own 49-yard line. They managed to get a first down but a chop block penalty forced them into a 1st and 25. The Cardinals offense managed to get out of that tough situation. Then, on their next first down, Gabbert threw his career high third touchdown of the game and his second to Seals-Jones. This time it was a 28-yard score to put them back on top 21-17.
Not to be outdone, the Texans offense came to life and Savage made some throws that made him look competent. Methodical passes and one good 22-yard throw to tight end Stephen Anderson gave them the ball at the Arizona 3-yard line. After a timeout D’Onta Foreman ran it in for a 24-21 Texans lead with just over 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
After more punts, the Cardinals took over with 8:36 left in the game and an important score needed to stay in the game. After a 13-yard play on first down the Texans defense settled in and forced them into fourth down. Arizona decided to go for it needing only 1-yard to keep the drive alive. The defensive hero for the Texans this season, Jadeveon Clowney, blew up the tight end on a run by Adrian Peterson and he and Zach Cunningham were able to make the tackle for negative yards and a turnover on downs.
With great field position on the Cardinals 34-yard line Bill O’Brien called a run over the right side to D’Onta foreman that went for a 34-yard touchdown and a 31-21 Texans lead. It wasn’t all great though. After crossing the goal line, Foreman was seen immediately grabbing his lower leg in obvious pain. He was carted off the field and into the locker room.
Down by 10 points with 5 minutes left in the game the Cardinals were forced to press. The Texans could play with soft coverage on defense to make Blaine Gabbert win the game with his arm. The drive ended with Eddie Pleasant’s first interception of the season and the Texans could now run the ball and the clock making it less likely the Cardinals could come back. After they went 3-and-out the punt coverage unit failed to down the ball near the goal line despite two players in the area. The touchback helped Arizona and were quickly moving the ball down field.
Their effort would come up short and Gabbert wouldn’t get Arizona back into it. A 1st down throw on the Houston 40-yard line would be intercepted by Andre Hal and Houston would have the ball back at the two-minute warning up by ten points. Even though they punted one more time, it was enough to get the home win.
The Texans defense came up big today with interceptions and turnovers at the right time. The offense did their part by scoring 30 points for the first time since Deshaun Watson was lost for the season. Tom Savage–despite his two turnovers–finished the day 22 of 32 for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. D’Onta Foreman led the way on the ground with 10 carries for 65 yards and 2 scores.
The Texans will look to keep up the good defensive effort on the road next week against the Baltimore Ravens. They have another chance to show up against a beatable team and try to get one more game closer to a .500 record. After today’s win, they sit at 4-6 in 3rd place in the AFC South Division.