Manufacturing a crisper offense that regularly scores touchdowns and has better chemistry and flow is the Texans’ primary goal two weeks before the launch of the regular season.
It won’t be an easy task for an overhauled offense that has lacked timing and efficiency, especially on third downs, so far this preseason.
Squaring off against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneer and a talented defenseon Saturday nightat NRG Stadium represents the most difficult test so far for an offense in transition that has struggled mightily in practice against defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s aggressive defense.
The Texans’ quarterbacks, including starter Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills, have yet to throw a touchdown pass during two preseason games. And the offense went 0-for-10 overall on third down during a 20-14 victory last Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys as the offensive line struggled to slow down blitz packages.
“Handling the blitz better, and also the third downs,” Texans coach David Culley said of fixing the breakdowns on offense that transpired against Dallas. “Basically, as we went back and looked at the video on that, I mean, it was mental errors that we had. It had nothing to do with them blitzing us more than what we had seen. Again, on the third downs, it wasn't always the blitz that got us. It was the fact that we had some mental errors, which we've worked on this week to make sure that doesn’t happen. And it was more us than it was them.”
“We can be better in all phases. Communication is where it starts. Of course, executing. We were in third and manageable. It's just about executing and we watch the film and seeing what we can be better at that, and we just got to take the right steps in cleaning that up and getting on the right track this week as we go into the season.”
The Texans rushed for 89 yards on 23 carries against the Cowboys, but running backs Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead combined for just 30 yards and one touchdown (an Ingram score off of a short field created by a Jacob Martin forced fumble) on a dozen carries.
“We don’t want to be a team that has pre-snap penalties,” Ingram said. “We don’t want to be a team that lets our quarterback get hit. We want to take care of the football. We want to be able to convert 4th-and-1 to sustain drives. We want to be able to convert third downs to sustain drives. We want to be able to stay in front of the chains so we’re not playing behind the chains.
“We want to limit big plays. We want to have big plays. All those things. We want to be able to execute offensively, defensively, special teams. We’ll be able to play complementary football, winning football. Those are the things we’ll be focused on, will be analyzed and things we’ll be able to improve upon.”
The Texans generated 220 yards of total offense and Taylor completed 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards while Mills completed 10 of 16 passes for 115 yards.
Making improvements against the Buccaneers is critical as the Texans prepare for their season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Absolutely, it's very important,” Taylor said. “Every ttime we step on the field it's important that first and foremost, we go out and do our job, but then we finish it as well. Execution is something that we preach each and every day, and that's what you step on the field, you practice throughout the week on different looks. But more importantly, when it comes to gameday it's about going out and executing and we need that in all phases.”
The Texans are going to extensively play the starters with the majority of them playing into the third quarter. That means that Taylor will get a chance to operate the offense, which will be playing without Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil as he remains on the reserve-COVID-19 list, for an extended amount of time after limited action in the first two preseason games.
Under offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, the Texans are planning to have a more run-centric offense this season after signing Ingram, Lindsay, Burkhead and retaining David Johnson. Brandin Cooks is the Texans’ most dangerous wide receiver.
“Coach Kelly has mentioned to us and reiterated to us that we’re definitely going to be a physical group,” Taylor said. “Of course, we have the speed and the playmakers outside on the edge, but our identity comes up front and in the backfield. I think that opens up our playbook as we get the front five playing physical and the running backs getting downhill. I think it just opens up the rest of our playbook.”
Just because the Texans are going to play the starters more doesn’t mean they’ll be showing a lot of the wrinkles in their playbook. It will still be a scaled-down offense since it’s only a preseason game.
“No, we’re just going to continue to do to this point what we've put in and what we've installed, basically as our training camp installation has always gone through the end of training camp,” Culley said. “And we're just going to go as we've started.”
For Kelly, it’s about seeing better execution more than orchestrating a concerted game plan that focuses on matchups and tendencies. He’ll want to see Taylor make quick reads and accurate throws, some crisper running from the backs and better hands and routes from the receivers and tight ends. Offensive tackle Geron Christian, starting his third game in a row with Tunsil sidelined, had a rough game against the Cowboys and gets another shot.
“First and foremost, want to see our guys come out there and play hard,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be good to come out and play in front of our home fans and go out there and execute and really just let the offense work for them. In the preseason, it’s a little bit different than the regular season obviously, so we want to make sure our guys are able to come out here execute, play fast and go out and make plays.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.