Chargers @ Texans
Final Score: Texans 41, Chargers 29
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
The Texans pulled off a shocking upset against the seemingly playoff-bound Chargers, punting just one time as the Houston offense was simply too much for the Los Angeles defense to handle.
The Chargers were without Joey Bosa, Austin Ekeler, Mike Wiliams, Jalen Guyton, and center Corey Linsley due to COVID-19 protocols, while the Texans were without 16 players, including Brandin Cooks, center Justin Britt, and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn.
Both teams mostly traded scoring drives through the first half until Justin Herbert threw an interception with four minutes left. The Texans and Davis Mills promptly responded with a 7 play, 94-yard touchdown drive to put them up 17-12 at the half.
The start of the second half saw a missed field goal from Houston and a successful field goal from LA before Houston went on the march again, scoring a touchdown to take a nine-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Filling in for Ekeler, Justin Jackson committed a poor fumble at mid-field on the ensuing drive, and the Chargers found themselves in desperation mode for the remainder of the game. Herbert would eventually throw a pick-six on a miscommunication with his receiver late in the game to put it out of reach.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 26, 2021
For the game, the Texans punted once and committed no turnovers. The Chargers did not punt at all but turned the ball over three times. While the offense needs to be more secure with the ball for sure, this loss can be squarely put on the defense, as the Chargers were unable to make stops against a below-average Texans offense and rarely pressured Mills in the pocket.
Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert: 27/35, 336 yards, TD, 2 INT, 1 sack | 4 carries, 15 yards
Justin Herbert began the game on a positive note, as he completed passes to all three wide receivers on the first drive, a drive that ended with a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 7. But the drive did result in a field goal for an early lead. The drive was all short passing and rushing attempts, but there was no cause for concern early on.
The next drive saw Herbert lead the offense back into field goal range, once again with all short concepts in the passing game, and the drive ended with a high degree of difficulty attempt to Jared Cook for an incompletion on 3rd and 5. The Chargers settled for another field goal.
With four minutes left in the first half and the Chargers driving with a two-point lead, Herbert made his first mistake of the game. Los Angeles dialed up a play-action deep shot, and after looking off of his first read Herbert threw deep to a single-covered Joshua Palmer. Herbert seemed to be late on the read causing an underthrow, and the pass was undercut by Jonathan Owens for a critical interception near the goal line.
In the second half, Herbert missed Keenan Allen on a 1st and 10 play action where he led him too far, a play that could have gone for close to twenty yards. Herbert was sacked on 2nd and 8 in the red zone early on in the third quarter, followed by a false start on Rashawn Slater. That left the Chargers with a 3rd and 21 where Herbert was forced to scramble for 8, setting up a field goal to make it 17-15 Texans.
Overall, Herbert was able to establish little to no deep passing game in this one, as the loss of Williams and Guyton removed his best down-field options. Herbert lacked the protection at times to get to his downfield progressions, though it was hard to tell how many deep plays were even dialed up early on. Herbert bailed on a play that could have gone to Allen over the middle and scrambled short of the first down and seemed to be late finding Allen open over the middle a few times.
Herbert threw a pick-six to seal the game with the score out of reach where he expected Cook to keep running and Cook sat down on his route. While Herbert turned it over twice and failed to make any of his signature monster throws, he still moved the offense effectively despite being down some key offensive weapons. The blame for this loss falls on the defense, not Herbert.
Justin Jackson: 11 carries, 64 yards, 2 TD, 1 fumble | 9 targets, 8 receptions, 98 yards
Joshua Kelley: 5 carries, 7 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 14 yards
Justin Jackson got the start filling in for Austin Ekeler, though Joshua Kelley did see action as early as the first drive. Jackson was the first read on a pass early on and received a nice screen play where he looked elusive on the second drive. Jackson scored a rushing TD and showed nice burst in the second quarter to put the Chargers up five, a play where he was virtually untouched. He was also the ball carrier on a failed two-point conversion run after the touchdown. Jackson consistently broke off big chunk runs on well-blocked plays and showed off his speed.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) December 26, 2021
With the Chargers down nine early in the fourth quarter, Jackson committed a poor fumble at mid-field that was a huge play in the game. Jackson received three straight receptions and a rushing attempt in the drive immediately following the fumble, so Jackson was clearly not put in the dog house as a result, but it was a fumble that arguably swung the game for the Texans. Jackson would finish the drive untouched for a touchdown on 3rd and 2 for his second score of the game. Jackson added in two extra receptions in the depths of garbage time, but was a factor in the passing game throughout.
Kelley’s best run was called back by holding on the backup center early on in the game, and he couldn’t find much room on the ground otherwise. He did impress on a reception on 3rd and 10 to convert a first down, but Kelley was the clear number two on Sunday, racking up just 17 snaps to Jackson’s 45. Kelley was the only other running back that saw action, so for now he appears to be the next in line at the position, at least until Ekeler returns.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Keenan Allen: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 35 yards
Joshua Palmer: 6 targets, 5 receptions, 43 yards, TD
Jason Moore: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 56 yards
Jared Cook: 5 targets, 3 receptions, 44 yards, 2 PT conversion
Stephen Anderson: 2 targets, 2 reception, 34 yards
Tre’ McKitty: 1 target, 1 reception, 12 yards
Keenan Allen was the recipient of the first play of the game and seemed on track for his usual solid game. However, a combination of the Texans coverage and the lack of supporting weapons derailed Allen throughout. On a 2nd second and 10 in the second quarter the Texans were pretty clearly focused on Allen, and Herbert was forced to go elsewhere after looking his way. But on the next play on 3rd and 10, Allen got open on a crossing route for a big first down.
Allen converted a 3rd and four the play before the pick-six to seal the game and missed out on the garbage time drive as other players were wide open.
It seemed like Herbert was late seeing Allen over the middle a few times and didn’t pull the trigger, and the rest of the time Allen was subjected to heavy coverage. Allen clearly needed Ekeler, Williams, or even Guyton’s downfield ability to take some attention away from him, but he should be back to his usual production going forward.
Joshua Palmer played the most snaps and ran the most routes of all Chargers receivers, and was the target of the deep shot that resulted in an interception. Palmer’s touchdown came in the depths of garbage time, so this was a relatively modest game overall, but it was good to see Palmer on the field and developing a rapport with Herbert for dynasty purposes.
Jason Moore was the last man standing at wide receiver and saw significant action, though 24 of his 56 receiving yards came on the final drive with an 18 point deficit.
Jared Cook continues to lead the tight end group in snaps, targets, and routes run, but he looks relatively slow and uninspiring at this stage of his career. He sat down on an out-breaker late that Herbert expected for him to continue to the sideline, resulting in a pick-six. Tre’ McKitty and Stephen Anderson combined for only ten routes run in the game.
Davis Mills: 21/27, 254 yards, 2 TD, 1 sack | 1 carry, -1 yard
Many of the players on the Texans’ offense are unlikely to be a part of their future plans, as this franchise finds itself squarely in the middle of a massive rebuild. But Davis Mills is beginning to play his way into future consideration, and at this rate Mills may be the starting quarterback for the Texans next year.
On Houston’s first drive on 3rd and 7, Mills showed nice patience in a clean pocket and hit fellow rookie Nico Collins over the middle for a first down past mid-field. This would be a theme throughout, as Mills looked relaxed all game.
On the next drive Mills ate a sack on 2nd and 8, and the Texans followed that up with a give-up screen call on 3rd and long, one of the few plays where they took the ball out of Mills’ hands.
The Texans changed their tune shortly after when they trusted Mills enough to take a deep shot down the sideline with just over two minutes left in the first half backed up near their own end zone. Mills hit Phillip Dorsett II single covered down the sideline for a big play on a pass that looked easily executed. A few plays later and standing in another solid pocket, Mills connected with Chris Conley on a deep ball touchdown to cap a long drive to give the Texans the lead at the half.
Davis Mills hit a pair of long bombs on this drive — this one a long touchdown to Chris Conley — Texans take a 17-12 lead pic.twitter.com/krHWOQfyHz
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 26, 2021
Houston got the ball back at the half, and on a 3rd and 3 with an empty backfield, Mills showed nice patience and fired a completion to Conley for the first on a slant. Mills had a rare miss on 3rd and 8 when he overthrew an open Dorsett, and the Texans missed a field goal afterward.
With more good protection and more excellent patience on a 3rd and 6, Mills hit Brevin Jordan to convert and then squeezed in another 3rd and 6 to Jordan that turned into a big play, this time to the sideline. Mills looked calm and confident throughout the second half and began to lean on Jordan.
Overall it was an impressive performance considering he was without his best weapon and deep threat in Cooks. Mills only needed to make a handful of plays and was generally in favorable down and distance situations, but it was a testament to his performance that he kept the third-down opportunities under control and played mistake-free football. Mills didn’t exactly flash future All-Pro potential in this one, but he looked capable of bridging the gap during this Texans rebuild.
Rex Burkhead: 22 carries, 149 yards, 2 TD | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 0 yards
Royce Freeman: 12 carries, 34 yards
Rex Burkhead came out of the gates hot for nine yards on the first play of the game and never looked back. Burkhead ripped a touchdown run on 2nd and 16 on the opening drive to give the Texans the lead. Burkhead was the lead back in a fairly even split through the first half.
There goes Rex! #WeAreTexans
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2021
Burkhead had a big run up the gut to start the second half and continually produced positive yardage when the ball was in his hands, often squeaking out an extra yard or two at the end of runs.
The Texans got in close to the end zone and fed Burkhead, setting up a short touchdown run on 3rd and goal. Burkhead helped put the game away with a big run on a nice cutback with less than four minutes left with a four-point lead. He then followed it up with another big run on a pitch. In typical Burkhead fashion, he even recovered the onside kick to seal the game. Burkhead is the clear lead back, especially with David Johnson out with a quad injury, and Burkhead lead the way with 42 snaps.
Royce Freeman played 24 snaps on the day and was even on the field towards the end of the opening drive. Freeman had nice run for an 18 yard touchdown where he showed patience and strong running, but it was called back on holding and Burkhead broke a long run the next play for a touchdown. Freeman got some red zone work too, and mixed in with Burkhead throughout, but generally didn’t flash. There were multiple holding calls in the running game, however, and they seemed to disproportionality affect Freeman, so the production here could have been a little closer than the final box score shows.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Chris Conley: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 60 yards, TD
Phillip Dorsett II: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 55 yards
Chris Moore: 4 targets, 4 reception, 40 yards
Nico Collins: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 33 yards, TD
Brevin Jordan: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 56 yards
Pharoah Brown: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 10 yards
Jordan Akins: 1 target
Overall there probably isn’t a ton to take away from this Houston passing game that was missing Brandin Cooks. Phillip Dorsett II injured his foot in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Before that, he received a deep end zone target that he was possibly interfered with. His big catch came on a deep shot down the sideline that he caught while falling down for a big play.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 26, 2021
To end the first half, Chris Conley caught a deep shot touchdown as Mills found him outside with single coverage. Was given a free release and a one-on-one matchup, and he ran right by the defender. While Conley led the team in wide receiver snaps and routes run, this was the lone play where he made a difference.
Rookie wideout Nico Collins was second in snaps and routes run, and he drew defensive pass interference on the first drive down the sideline for 24 yards. Collins was featured on slants in big spots, catching one early for a first down. Near the end of the game, Collins was the lone receiver in a jumbo formation with under three minutes left and the Texans up four and the Chargers out of timeouts. The Texans called a slant to Collins and he responded, splitting the corner and safety for a touchdown.
Perfect timing 😏
First career TD for @lbg_nico7!
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 26, 2021
Collins’ overall usage was mostly limited to those plays, but like Palmer for the Chargers, it is encouraging for his dynasty prospects to see him on the field developing chemistry with his young QB.
Another rookie impressed for the Texans, and it was fifth-round rookie tight end Brevin Jordan. Jordan had a nice run after the catch on a first-down bootleg play-action that he caught behind the line of scrimmage and turned into a first down early on. Late in the game, Jordan caught a 3rd and 6 conversion over the middle of the field from Mills, and then shortly after caught an out-breaker on another 3rd and 6 and broke free down the sideline for a nice gain. Mills really began going Jordan’s way on crucial thrid downs, converting yet another big third down in the fourth quarter. Jordan doesn’t jump of the charts as far as his athleticism, but he did display some nice run after catch work, and looked more athletic than your typical run-blocking tight end.
Chris Moore had a swing screen reception for a first down and an excellent leaping catch downfield to help get within easy field goal range but ran just ten routes, fewer than six other Texans players.
— Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)