If Mike Zimmer’s mentor, Bill Parcells, were in charge this week, he might be hanging mouse traps from the ceilings over at Winter Park.
Parcells did that at least once in his Hall of Fame career to remind his players not to fall into the trap of looking past a game that everyone assumes will end in a W.
Overview: In this particular case, the Vikings are 4-0 and favored by 6 1/2 points at home, where they’re 2-0. The Texans are 3-1, but all three wins are at home, two of them came against the Bears and Titans, and they no longer have their best player, J.J. Watt, who was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 28. And their only road game ended with them losing to Bill Belichick’s third-string quarterback 27-0 in New England. Throw in next week’s bye for the players to look ahead to and the pressure is on for Zimmer to keep his players from assuming they’ll bag another AFC South lightweight.
To the tape: …
Top 8 thoughts while watching the Texans’ 27-20 win over the Titans at NRG Stadium:
—Quarterback Brock Osweiler definitely has a $72 million arm and 6-foot-8 stature that allows him to see the field beautifully. But he sometimes looks like a guy who has had only 11 NFL starts to train that big arm. He started the Tennessee game by completing 12 of his first 13 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. But he completed only 13 of his final 24 passes for 96 yards and two interceptions.
—Osweiler’s first touchdown pass was a good throw from 14 yards out, but a better catch by C.J. Fiedorowicz. When I saw the 6-6 tight end’s full vertical extension between two defenders to grab Osweiler’s high pass in the end zone, I immediately thought, “Who the heck is C.J. Fiedorowicz?” A 2014 third-round pick from Iowa, he has 27 career catches. But keep an eye on this No. 87. And the other tight end, No. 84 Ryan Griffin, as well. They combined for seven catches for 102 yards against the Titans.
—Watching Sunday’s game, it’s hard to believe DeAndre Hopkins was a 100-catch, 1,500-yard receiver a year ago. The Titans eliminated him from the game. And when Osweiler and the Texans grew impatient and forced the ball to Hopkins, bad things happened. Two of the first three throws to a tightly-covered Hopkins resulted in both of Osweiler’s interceptions. The DBs were just more physical and the throws never should have been made. Hopkins isn’t clicking with the new QB. A year ago, there were only two games in which Hopkins was targeted fewer than nine times. This year, he’s had that happen three times in four games. He caught one ball for 4 yards in the fourth quarter of the Titans game.
—While the Vikings continue waiting for the Laquon Treadwell pick to pay off, Houston has gotten an immediate return on the receiver they picked in the first round. On Sunday, Will Fuller became the first player in Texans history with a receiving touchdown and a punt return touchdown in the same game. Fuller also is the third receiver in NFL history and the first from the first round to start his career with back-to-back 100-yard games. If you remember, the Texans traded two spots ahead of the Vikings to select Fuller 21st overall. Against Tennessee, Fuller had seven catches for 81 yards. He’s on the small side, but look out for that quickness. He caught one pass four yards behind the line of scrimmage. It was a bubble screen that looked pretty well defended. And Fuller slithered up field for a 28-yard gain.
—The offensive line isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special. Left tackle Chris Clark was beaten badly for a sack on a speed rush by Brian Orakpo. He’ll need help stopping Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. But what the Texans did very well against Houston was stay balanced with a solid running game with lead back Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, who should have gotten more than the three carries he got. Fuller’s touchdown was a 5-yard pass in which the entire defense fell for the play-action run fake to Miller. There wasn’t a defender within five yards of Fuller when he made the catch over the middle.
—The Texans lead the league in pass defense (162.5) and opponents’ completion percentage (52.6). But you have to wonder how long they’ll maintain that status now the Watt was placed on injured reserve before the Titans game. Watt came back from back surgery too soon and wasn’t his usual dominating self. But, like Adrian Peterson with the Vikings, he caused opponents to build entire game plans around shutting him down. Without Watt on Sunday, the Texans had one sack. And that sack, by Jadeveon Clowney, was a coverage sack. Without Watt, there is no quick-twitch pass rusher up front to be overly concerned about.
—Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is still a very, very large dude in the middle of Houston’s run defense. But against the Titans, there were times when the calls ended up with him stunting himself right out of the play. Going straight ahead, the big fella is a rock. But when starts going sideways, it’s a lot easier to use his weight against him and keep taking him sideways. Houston ranks 27th in run defense and was vulnerable against DeMarco Murray and the Titans. Murray had 95 yards and two short-range touchdowns in which the Texans were overpowered up front.
—After watching Sunday’s game, it’s not surprising Tennessee fired special teams coach Bobby April. The Titans had struggled in that phase of the game since Cordarrelle Patterson broke the second-half kickoff 61 yards to set up a field goal with the Vikings trailing 10-0. On Fuller’s 67-yard punt return touchdown, there wasn’t a Titan within 10 yards of Fuller when he caught the ball and went untouched around the left side. The Texans also had no trouble blocking a punt that they were trotting into the end zone when the whistle blew late in the game. An official out of position threw a flag for 12 men on the field. The referee corrected the mistake, saying the 12th man had gotten off the field in time. But because the whistle had blown (after the block), the play didn’t count and the Titans got to re-kick.
Key stat: Minus-3.
The Texans’ turnover differential. Fifteen teams are on the negative side of the turnover differential. Houston, Baltimore (minus-1) and Seattle (minus-1) are the only teams in the league with a winning record and a negative turnover differential.