The Houston Texans’ quest to be the first team to play in their home stadium for the Super Bowl lives on for another week. Houston arguably played their best football of the entire season, making mincemeat of the injury-riddled Raiders. The winner of the Dolphins-Steelers game on Sunday will determine if Houston travels to Kansas City or New England next weekend. Here are four takeaways from the Texans’ win over the Raiders on Saturday:
- Houston’s defense held Connor Cook and the Raiders’ offense hostage the entire game
Making his first NFL start in the postseason on the road against the league’s top ranked defense, Connor Cook had his work cut out for him. Oakland’s goal for the season was to redshirt their rookie quarterback, but injuries to both Derek Carr and Matt McGloin ruined that plan in epic fashion. Cook’s inexperience was painfully evident the entire game, and Houston’s defense took full advantage.
On third down with 6:29 left in the first quarter, Jadeveon Clowney showed unbelievable athleticism and concentration when he tipped Cook’s pass up in the air and intercepted it, giving the Texans the ball in the red zone right off the bat. Clowney also channeled his inner J.J. Watt earlier in the game by batting away Cook’s first attempted pass as a starter.
Cook quickly learned Houston’s pass rush is ferocious and was sacked three times, with two of those takedowns being courtesy of Whitney Mercilus. Corey Moore and A.J. Bouye were both responsible for an interception apiece, with Bouye’s pick effectively putting the dagger in Oakland’s hopes at advancing to the Divisional round.
Cook finished the day completing 18 of 45 passes for 161 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. Oakland had to punt 10 times and managed only 203 total yards in the entire ballgame, with a good chunk of those yards coming in garbage time. Defense wins championships and Houston will need their defense to continue playing at a high level if they want to be seen as serious Super Bowl contenders.
- Brock Osweiler played mistake-free football, which was all he needed to do for the Texans to win
Brock Osweiler didn’t post flashy numbers against Oakland, completing 14 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t hurt his team by throwing any bone-headed picks either. During the entire course of 2016, Houston’s offense has been dreadful to watch, as turnovers and red zone failures had plagued their season. The Texans scored three touchdowns in the red zone against the Raiders and Brock Osweiler was responsible for two of them.
On Osweiler’s first score, which happened in the second quarter, he put the Texans in the red zone with a 38-yard strike to DeAndre Hopkins, and then finished off the drive with a two-yard slant to Hopkins in the end zone to cap off a four-play, 60-yard drive. On his scoring throw, Osweiler recognized a blitz from the Raiders’ secondary and threaded a needle to Hopkins to put more points on the board. Osweiler’s second touchdown occurred when he kept the ball to himself and darted across the goal line for a one-yard score, which put Houston safely ahead in the fourth quarter, 27-7.
- DeAndre Hopkins had a big impact in the Texans’ victory
Good things happen for Houston when the ball lands in Nuk’s hands. After having a stellar campaign with multiple quarterbacks in 2015, Hopkins’ production took a step back in 2016 due to sloppy play under center, which resulted in him being unable to put his talents on full display for the majority of the season. However, Houston found a way to get Hopkins involved on Saturday, as he led the Texans in receiving with five receptions for 67 yards and a score, averaging 13.4 yards a catch.
With 2:00 remaining in the first half of play, Hopkins managed to get both feet in bounds while reeling in a 38-yard pass, which gave the Texans excellent field position and an opportunity to pad their lead. If Hopkins can continue to develop chemistry with Osweiler, opposing defenses will have fits.
- Lamar Miller’s return helped Houston maintain a balanced gameplan on offense
For the vast majority of the season, Houston relied on the ground game, led by Lamar Miller, to carry their offense to victory. Without Miller in the lineup in the final two regular season games, Houston’s offense struggled to produce. With 6:20 remaining in the first quarter, Miller also turned on the jets on a five-yard dash in the end zone, assuring Clowney’s turnover from the previous drive would be capitalized off of.
Miller carried the football 31 times for 73 yards against Oakland, demonstrating power, patience, and elite speed in his return from injury. The Texans will need Miller to play top-quality football next week if they want a puncher’s chance at making it to the AFC title game.