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Texans’ game plan against Packers showed when not to run the football

Houston isn’t good at running the ball, but their timing is even worse.

Green Bay Packers v Houston Texans Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

The signature move of the offseason saw the Houston Texans trade DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson. The only thing worse than making this trade is to then go out there and run David Johnson a whole bunch, between the tackles, and in inappropriate situations. As it was with Bill O’Brien, so it is with Romeo Crennel.

Running the ball is fine, and you need to run some amount. It’s especially valuable when attempting to protect a lead, but Houston hasn’t been in that situation much, and certainly were never in it on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. There are far, far more situations where it’s incredibly damaging to run the ball, and the Texans ran in most of them on Sunday. Despite that incredibly bad offseason move, the Texans have good offensive talent, especially at the skill positions, and a decent coach would have this offense humming in no time.

Prior to scoring their first touchdown in the 3rd quarter to cut the deficit to 21-7, Deshaun Watson was 15/18 for 178 yards. How does one go for more than a half of football with only three incompletions and not score any points? Already down 7-0, Watson started off the drive with a decent gain to Will Fuller, only to see this happen.

Longtime readers will know I’m not a fan of running between the tackles on 3rd and 1, but if there is any play that might be worse, it’s a straight hand-off out of shotgun. Houston runs this play a LOT.

On their next drive they ran the most inefficient play in football — the 2nd and 10 run:

Here, we should pause to mention that 82 of Johnson’s 101 carries this year have gained five yards or less. On any given 2nd-and-long play, this means that any run to Johnson is very likely to put you in a 3rd-and-medium or 3rd-and-long situation. Moreover, letting Watson throw would give him two chances to convert instead of one. It’s a literal waste of a play, and Houston does it all the time.

Green Bay would get another score followed by a 3-and-out for Houston. After the Texans forced another Packer punt, they had a chance to get back into this thing and put together what should have been a scoring drive. They ended up missing a field goal, but moved the ball for the first time all day. It looked like this.

The only thing that really stopped Watson all day was penalties, which slowed the drive here. The Houston line isn’t very good because Houston’s GM wasn’t very good, and so they hold a lot, but passing is also the only way they ever move the ball on offense.

The Packers took advantage of the missed field goal and put the game away with another touchdown. After that, the Houston offense remained fairly open for a while, and they amounted a small comeback. In the 4th and trailing 28-13, Houston took over with good field position at their own 38. They went and did this.

Just look at the body language on Deshaun Watson after this handoff.

Running the ball against Green Bay isn’t even that bad of an idea, but Houston just isn’t very good at it, and they are tied to this old-fashioned concept of setting up reasonable third downs. The modern take is that because third downs are so important, and can end your drive, it’s best to avoid them completely. Their insistence on running the ball (in such strange and ridiculous ways!) made things very easy for a Packers team with an outstanding offense. This was clearly going to be a shootout, and Houston took far too long to figure this out.

The Packers almost never fall into traps like this, and the distinction between advanced and backward playcallers seems to grow more and more distinct each week. Thank goodness for Matt LaFleur.