The 57-14 win was led by Deshaun Watson’s five total touchdowns while the defense forced five turnovers in a dominant all-around performance. Strong play in all phases helped the Texans score 50 points for the first time in franchise history.
The Texans undoubtedly will be buoyed by such a dismissive dismantling of a divisional rival and take huge confidence forward. Here are four quick takeaways from the awesome victory:
Deshaun Watson looked like a franchise quarterback
Deshaun Watson’s strong performance against the Patriots last week got many an analyst talking, but he followed it up with an even more impressive performance against the Titans, equaling a record in the process. Accounting for five total touchdowns, the rookie threw the football with accuracy and timing and moved the Texans down the field efficiently and consistently throughout the game, with the Texans punting just once while Watson was at quarterback.
His athleticism shone through once again, with the Texans using play-action and some option elements to utilize his dual-threat abilities. He also displayed his pre-snap prowess, managing protection particularly well and being sacked just once. Watson looked like a top NFL signal-caller in just his third start and it appears Houston may have finally solved their quarterback problems.
Dylan Cole is an undrafted gem
Cole was rated as a draftable prospect by a number of analysts prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, and it was a surprise to see lesser players go ahead of him late on Day 3. The Texans won the race to sign him as an undrafted free agent and will be counting their blessing that they managed to do so.
Brian Cushing’s suspension opened up opportunities for Cole to get more playing time and he has responded with strong play. In this game, he was in early in a rotational role but got more playing time as the game went on and the Texans lead expanded.
In the fourth quarter, Cole was in coverage over the middle when an errant Matt Cassel pass went right to him. Cole returned the pick for a touchdown and added his first career sack on the next drive to cap an excellent performance. The Texans have often found impactful UDFAs after the draft during Rick Smith’s tenure as General Manager (A.J. Bouye and Arian Foster, for example) and they may have found another star in Cole.
Safety swap pays dividends
The Texans safeties disappointed last week, with both Corey Moore and Andre Hal struggling in coverage. Marcus Gilchrist was introduced to the starting lineup to replace Moore, who dropped an interception and gave up the winning touchdown on New England’s final drive.
Gilchrist and Hal both had good games. Neither excels against the run but both battled hard in that area, collecting a combined seven tackles. However, the pair showed their ball-hawking skills, sharing three picks.
Hal had two impressive leaping interceptions on high Marcus Mariota throws in the first half, while Gilchrist snagged a Matt Cassel pass in the fourth quarter, returning it for 17 yards. The pair should start in tandem again next week and will look to build on a very good outing.
Chris Thompson has an impact on special teams
Chris Thompson’s promotion from the practice squad would have drawn little more than a cursory glance, but the undrafted rookie provided an immediate impact in his first career NFL game. A special teams ace at Florida, Thompson is capable in many facets but particularly excelled as a gunner on the punt unit during the preseason.
In this game, he was rarely tested with the Texans punting just twice. On both occasions Thompson was the first man downfield, slowing one return for a minimal game and downing the second punt at the nine-yard line. He was also active on the kickoff coverage unit, noticeably quicker to the end zone on the numerous touchbacks forced by Ka’imi Fairbairn than any other Texans player.
To add to that, Tyler Ervin’s injury opened up an opportunity to field a kick and Thompson showed speed and quickness alongside vision for the lane on a 42-yard return. It set the Texans up for another touchdown. The promotion of Chris Thompson proved a shrewd midweek move for the Texans staff.