Aside from inserting J.J. Watt as an offensive weapon on a few plays, it's not a particularly innovative offense from forward-thinker Bill O'Brien. But can you blame him? He has a stud running back at full strength, a quarterback who's better safe than trying to be spectacular, and has simply reliable receivers. It's a far cry from the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez offense he compiled in New England, but it's simply efficient.
Safe has been the way to go for a mostly middle-of-the-road crew that averages two offensive touchdowns a game, and has enjoyed the spoils of what Watt can do as a defensive leviathan. Year One of O'Brien's vision isn't spectacular, but he's getting a decent crew to do some really good things, and that's promising going forward.
He hasn't thrown a pick-six yet, automatically making him more beloved than his successor Matt Schaub, who may still have torch-burn marks from being chased out of town. Fitzpatrick embodies the safeness of the offense, mostly because that's where he's most effective. In six of eight games, Fitzpatrick has thrown either one pick or none at all, so mistakes are cut back on. He's also completed 63.4 percent of his throws, which is good enough to keep the flow going.
KEY STAT: Fitzpatrick has only thrown 26 passes beyond 20 yards in eight games, completing 15. Three have gone for touchdowns, and three have been intercepted.
When a running back suffers one of those lingering, non-freak injuries, you think he's begun the slope toward oblivion. Not Foster. After shaking off the back issues of a year ago, he's averaging nearly 110 yards a game on the ground. It'd be closer to 127 if a bad day against the Bills (eight carries, six yards) is excluded. In the other six games he's played, Foster's cleared 100 yards in each, and has topped 150 twice, en route to seven rushing touchdowns.
KEY STAT: Foster is also dangerous in the passing game, catching 24 passes in seven games, and four or more catches in three games.
Andre Johnson still produces, but Hopkins is blossoming into a reliable downfield target. At just under 16 yards a catch, Hopkins accounts for three touchdowns and 569 yards halfway through the season. While Johnson remains a sure-handed veteran that moves the sticks and plays through pain (Johnson does have 551 yards), he averages four less yards a catch than the speedier, and healthier, Hopkins.
KEY STAT: Hopkins has only dropped one pass on 52 targets, compared to Johnson's three drops on 69 throws his way.
Pass protection in Houston has come at a premium, with the five general starting linemen conceding 65 hurries, none more than Derek Newton's 23. None particularly grade well as pass blockers, but Myers makes up for it by being Foster's guiding light. The running back takes his best runs behind center Myers, and hitting the hole through the middle, no east/west nonsense, puts Houston's running game as one of the best in the league. Myers deserves much credit for his efforts.
KEY STAT: Despite allowing 13 hurries, Myers has not given up a sack or a hit on Fitzpatrick since Week 1, when he allowed one sack.
You can't really blame Chip Kelly. Taking the field goal instead of trying for a touchdown on fourth and goal put the faith in the defense. They'd come through against the Redskins and the Rams with the chips down, holding less than a seven point lead, so why not? Then John Brown caught the ball and beelined his way toward the lead, trampling that faith under muddy feet. Nate Allen's forced fumble an hour earlier was now a forgotten incident.
The two long touchdowns wiped out the good efforts made to force Carson Palmer below 50 percent completions, and hem in Andre Ellington. So many woulda-couldas, like with the offense's red zone turnovers, but the defense had their own heads to shake after the game. Quite the opposite feeling after blanking the Giants two weeks ago.
Thornton deserves plenty of credit for keeping Ellington in a box, as he did with Andre Williams two weeks ago. The fumble-scooping southern boy has been a quiet storm along a line that does the dirty work so that linebackers can rack up the sacks, but Thornton's an important element of the defense. Interestingly enough, his snaps have decreased in the last two games, making room for Vinny Curry to blitz heavily.
KEY STAT: In the first five games, Thornton averaged 50.6 snaps a game. That number drops to 26.5 snaps a game across the last two outings.
The calf-ailed Kendricks was worked in slowly on Sunday, playing 23 snaps in all (down from playing all 76 opening day vs. the Jaguars). Palmer managed to nullify much of the Eagles pass rush, and Kendricks recorded only two tackles, so it wasn't a grand return for the linebacker, nor were the Eagles expecting it to be. Kendricks was nearly inactive for the game, but getting some snaps is a good sign that he's rejoining the team full time.
KEY STAT: Despite limited action, Kendricks still played more snaps (23) than official starter Emmanuel Acho (20).
A tale of two plays. The forced fumble on Ellington, complete with sadistic ripping motion, was a masterful play. Biting on the fake that led to Brown's long touchdown brought back memories of when Allen and Cary Williams let DeSean Jackson slip away in Week 3. Difference was, the defense got to make up for it against the Redskins. The Brown touchdown *was* the defense's opportunity to clamp down and win the game.
KEY STAT: Allen has allowed 13 of 17 passes to be completed when thrown his way.
Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.
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