HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans still have plenty of breathing room in the AFC South after their 24-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but the team showed it needs to improve on offense if it wants to do more than just win the division.
"We didn't play well as an offense," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "We were never able to get into a rhythm. Our first-down offense was terrible. I mean, it was awful."
Although Houston scored 21 points, the offense wasn't consistent, failing to move the ball well on the ground and going just 5-of-15 on third down. The Texans not only saw their nine-game winning streak end, they missed their chance to jump the Patriots for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
Throughout their winning streak, the Texans had success with a balanced attack, leaning heavily on their running game. After running back Lamar Miller rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, he and backup Alfred Blue combined for 54 yards on 20 carries against the Colts, although each had a short touchdown run. Miller had negative yardage at halftime and said he thought that was because the Colts "did a good job of twisting up front" and that the offense came out slow to start the game.
"Having a balance and establishing the run game slows down the offensive line, slows down the secondary coming up in the run, [and it] just kind of opens up the pass game," quarterback Deshaun Watson said. "If you don't establish the run game, get the other team’s defensive line going, they get momentum, juice and confidence, and the secondary can play a little bit tighter because they feel like their defensive line is geared up."
Without that balance, the Texans' offensive line had trouble in pass protection, and Indianapolis finished the game with five sacks and seven quarterback hits. Watson completed 27 of 38 passes for 267 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He was under pressure and forced to move around a lot, and O'Brien said Houston needs to find the balance of letting Watson hold on to the ball to have a chance to make big plays and taking those negative plays.
"We have to find that balance, no doubt about it," O'Brien said. "Obviously, got a little out of whack today. Some of it's the blocking, some of it's the route-running. It's not just one thing. There were times where he needs to get rid of the ball. We've got to continue to work on that."
Watson did spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers. The team was already without slot receiver Keke Coutee, who was inactive with a hamstring injury, and lost receiver DeAndre Carter in the first half with a concussion. The injury forced Houston to get creative at wide receiver, including getting third-string quarterback Joe Webb involved in the passing game. It also led to a higher usage than normal of tight ends for the Texans, including Ryan Griffin, who led the team with five catches for 80 yards. Hopkins was targeted 10 times and had four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.
"Everyone in our offense could have played better," Watson said. "But, I mean, games like that happen. It's a good learning lesson for us today, [and we've got to] watch the film and correct it."