The Houston Texans went on a legendary 9 game winning streak in 2018 and had made the playoffs, but none of that mattered if we couldn't defeat the Indianapolis Colts. I hate the Colts, I'm sure you hate the Colts, so let's see what went right and what went wrong for us in this AFC Wildcard game through the eyes of Quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson Watch Volume 7: 2018 AFC Wildcard Playoff Game vs Indianapolis Colts
On the first drive of the game the Colts marched down the field thanks to pure dominance from T.Y. Hilton, and Andrew Luck threw a TD to Eric Ebron, setting the tone of the game. 7-0 Colts. The Texans knew they had to respond and tried to be aggressive right from the start (a rare occurrence). They came out in their patented Yankee concept: Heavy formation, play action fake, two deep crossing routes. Hopkins was covered pretty well but Watson decided to trust in the star WR and throw it up anyways. He actually gave him a good ball - inside and away from the CB with outside leverage. Hop couldn't bring it down and Kenny Moore was credited with a PBU (god I hate Kenny Moore) and that would be far from the end of the Moore show.
Two plays later we were faced with the first 3rd down of the day. The Colts showed heavy pressure, lining 6 defenders on the LOS, but only rushed 3, dropping 8 in coverage. With no one open past the sticks, Watson checks it down to Lamar Miller in the flat, with room to work. It looks promising at first, but Colts safety Mike Mitchell comes flying downhill and stops Miller 1 yard short. With only a 3 man rush, Watson could've taken more time to wait for someone to get open down the field. But then he would've been criticized for playing hero ball and not just taking his check down... you see where I'm going with this.
This led to a 4th and 1, and while the Texans started out aggressive, BOB decided to pass on the chance to keep the drive moving. We were on our own 34 and it was still extremely early in the game, so I get the call, he's playing it safe. I just think the playoffs are the last place you want to play it safe. Take a risk, trust in your franchise QB to get just one yard. Instead, punting it back to the Colts kept the momentum with them. They marched down the field yet again and Marlon Mack ran into the end zone. 14-0 Colts.
Down two scores it was time to put up or shut up. This didn't feel as bad as that Chiefs game in 2016 just yet, but it definitely had shades of it. Luckily we had Deshaun Watson, and with him, anything is possible. We tried to take the top off the defense yet again, going to WR Vyncint Smith deep. He had a step on the Safety but had a really tough time tracking the ball, turning around multiple times and getting lost. This was almost a walk in touchdown and changed the entire game, but it wasn't. "Almosts" don't count for anything, and we had to recover.
The Texans moved to midfield and were tasked with a 3rd and 10. The Colts drop into their patented Cover 2 and Watson looks to Hop first, but finds him covered. He works to the right of the field and fires it to Keke Coutee who gets only 6 yards before being tackled. If Watson held onto the ball a split second longer, he would've had Ryan Griffen wide open up the seam. But he's got to get the ball out quicker right.
This set the Texans up on the Colts 45 yard line, with a 4th and 4. This time BOB wanted to go for it, the better field position certainly playing a factor. They were in that dreaded range where you can't kick a Field Goal, but a punt just seems so disheartening. So BOB put on his big boy pants and went for it (YES!).
The Colts play Cover 2, rush 3 and spy up Watson, who tries to work the middle of the field, but gets too locked on to Ryan Griffen. Did he know he missed him on the last play and was trying to force it to him to make up for it? We'll never know, but he never sees Kenny Moore (ugh) reading his eyes and jumping the route for the INT. I HATE KENNY MOORE!
So when BOB doesn't go for it on 4th, the Colts keep momentum and the defense can't execute, leading to another touchdown. But when BOB does go for it on 4th, the offense can't execute and it's a turnover anyways. So if he can't trust either side of the ball, how does that impact his 4th down decision making for the rest of the game? We shall see.
The Colts drove down to our 17 yard line, and a 21-0 deficit looked guaranteed, but then J.J. Watt swatted an Andrew Luck throw, and Brandon Dunn brought down the INT. I'm a big proponent on the power of momentum, and so getting that INT was huge for swaying the pendulum of momentum in our favour. It was exactly what we needed to spark the team and bring a new level of energy, to turn the game around.
But the offense did none of that. They started off with an illegal formation, then a run for no gain, a pass for 5 yards and then Watson scrambled for 4 yards, finding themselves in another 4th down situation. 4th and 6 on our own 19, of course we had to punt, but it really sucked any energy away that we had just gained. The Colts would go down and score yet again, 21-0 and nothing felt good. The offense couldn't move the ball, the defense was helpless, being pushed around by an elite OL and our CBs getting torched.
With 6:20 left in the 2nd quarter, there was still enough time in the game for us to make a run. If we scored on this drive, then scored when we got the ball back to start the second half it would be an entirely different game. And there's never any writing off Deshaun Watson. One of his best throws of the day came on this drive and he showed off great ball placement. Keke Coutee is running a post against Kenny Moore (ugh) and gets open nicely. With pressure from LB Darius Leonard in his face, Watson can't step into the throw. But he throws it up and doesn't lead Coutee forward, as there is a defender who could've picked it off. Putting the ball slightly behind Coutee was the only spot Watson could place the ball and still get a completion. That precise accuracy with pressure right in his face is crazy.
The Texans marched down the field and seemed to have all the momentum in the world. But when they got into the red zone, the problems they had faced all year long persisted. They couldn't finish. Everyone knows 7 points are better than 3, but it was a serious issue that prevented them from hitting their true ceiling as an offense. Down on the 10, we completed a pass for 5 yards, Deshaun took a sack, and on 3rd and 14 we got 13 yards to Coutee. BOB was tasked with yet another tough 4th down situation. 4th and 1 on the Colts 9 yard line. We were so close to 6 that they could smell it. But what happened on the last 4th down? Watson threw a pick, which would not only take away 6 points here, but even 3. So the safe play would be to kick the guaranteed field goal. But down by 3 scores, BOB knew this would do nothing for the team. So he trusted in Deshaun to get it done, and he was just inches away.
Colts are in Cover 2, rush 3 and spy Watson, what they've been doing on crucial downs all game long. The Texans move Hop into the slot to get him matched up with a LB, and he finds the soft spot in the zone. Watson sees him but has the spy standing right in his way, so he has to try and bend the ball around him. He's not able to and the ball is just inches out of Hop's reach.
This had to be extremely demoralizing for the offense, and only more fuel to the Colts fire. As we are seeing, there were so many crucial moments that, if they went our way, could've completely changed the game. Credit to the Colts for executing, we simply couldn't. But it wasn't like they were doing anything crazy. We saw that they were coming out in the same defense on every 3rd/4th down, and we schemed someone open, but just couldn't execute.
Starting the second half, both teams had two drives each where they couldn't get anything going and were forced to punt. The Texans started to build some momentum by finding Coutee a couple times and getting to midfield. Watson completed a 3rd and 5 by scrambling for 8 yards, but it was called back due to a Nick Martin holding penalty. Another pivotal play that we couldn't execute. This led us to a 3rd and 15 on our own 44 and Kenny Moore would strike again. Throughout this series we've seen that the nickel blitz is arguably Watson's biggest struggle. The Colts hadn't even exposed that, yet they were up 21-0 without fully releasing the beast that is Kenny Moore. But with the longest 3rd down of the game, it was finally time.
You can see Moore cant even hide his excitement, getting antsy at the LOS and revealing his blitz. He bursts off the snap and comes unblocked. The Colts send 6, and we block 6, so this could've been picked up if Watson slid the protection to the right (Kenny's side). But he never sees it coming and it completely blows up this play. Recognizing the blitz and setting up the proper protection is one thing, but you can still survive the blitz if you find the hole in the defense. The hole will always come from the side the blitz came from, and you can see the Texans have two receivers, to just one Colts defender. Coutee gets covered by a LB, but Akins is wide open, with no one in sight, and a first down probable. But Watson looks to the other side, hoping Lamar Miller will be open. He's not, and Watson has no where to go but down into the ground.
That sack seemed like it would be the final straw, and that all the life was sucked out of the Texans. But the defense did well to continue to get stops, and forced the Colts into another punt. Getting the ball back with 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, this was a must score drive. Crazier things have happened and there was still an entire quarter of football left. If the defense could keep playing at a high level, Watson could orchestrate one of the greatest playoff comebacks ever, and if anyone were to do it, it would be him. Watson ripped off a 16 play drive, and only threw 3 incompletions. It was a bit more methodical than you would've liked, but he got the job done. Let's look at some of the most important plays of this drive.
On 4th down and 3 at the Houston 40, BOB could've played it safe and trusted a hot defense, but he knew that Watson needed this confidence booster, and that keeping the momentum was the only way to turn this around. The Colts look like they are in man coverage, as Kenny Moore motions over with Keke Coutee, but they are actually still in Cover 2. No problem though, we've been getting open looks against that call all day, but this one would finally be completed. Coutee finds a hole in the middle of the defense and Watson connects.
The two were on fire and Coutee is really the Colts killer, he finished with 11 catches for 110 yards and a TD. I really hope he gets a fair chance because his potential has always been crazy. He had two more catches on this drive and finished it off with us finally getting into the end zone. I cant be the only one in saying that whenever I saw Coutee run this orbit motion (run across the formation and around the backfield) I just knew something good was coming. Watson doesn't like Jordan Akins over the middle, and so he looks left and fires it to Keke. Luckily he's got enough juice to win the edge and get into the end zone 21-7. Filling the team and fans with a sliver of hope, that there was still a chance we could steal this W.
That sense of hope was fuelled even more when the defense got yet another stop. We had really figured out their offense in the 2nd half, and were shutting them out. We got the ball back with 8 minutes left in the 4th, down two scores, we had to play against the clock too. My main complaint is that we took too long and didn't play with a sense of urgency. We needed to go no-huddle, up tempo, but instead took 4 minutes off the clock when the drive ended. There's two plays I really want to look at this drive, and you guessed it, it's two 4th downs.
On our own 43 yard line, 4th and 4, this was a no brainer, and a must attempt to convert. Watson drops back and has Coutee open underneath but with Kenny Moore in hot pursuit. So he decides to scramble instead and after showing off his wheels and getting the first, Watson isn't satisfied, he squeaks through two more defenders and rips off a huge 21 yard scramble. It was a much needed chunk play at a perfect time for our clutch QB to step up.
That play was huge in keeping the Texans hopes alive, and we got down to the Colts 24 yard line, but then Watson got sacked, and threw two incompletions, leading to a 4th and 10. This was it, this was likely game if we couldn't complete it. The entire season came down to this one play, that legendary 9 game win streak couldn't all be for nothing, right?
The Texans try and spread out the Colts, giving Watson space to read the defense and make the right call. The Colts crowd the LOS and send 5 on a blitz. The dreaded nickel blitz yet again and yup, Kenny Moore gets the hit on Watson, causing the errant throw. Coutee was open underneath, and Griffen had some space over the middle, but it didn't matter. Lamar Miller tried his best to stop Moore, but he would not be denied. He just out-muscled Miller and wanted to make the play more.
The offense left the field defeated, and the defense knew it was over too. They couldn't get a stop but it didn't really matter. The Colts finished the game in victory formation, but the season was a failure for the Texans. Regular season wins mean nothing. Division titles mean nothing. What did home field advantage do for the Texans? Nothing. All that matters is playoff success and winning a ring, as much as BOB likes to harp on his 4 division titles in 6 years, he's never seen the AFC Championship game, whereas the Colts, Titans and Jaguars all have. The funny thing is I'm not even putting this loss on BOB, he put the team in a good enough position to win, but we couldn't execute. He made good calls on the 4th downs, and even had good play calling to scheme people open. The Colts just out played us. Deshaun Watson finished 29/49 for 235 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, which is a pretty lack luster stat line. The season was over, with nothing to show for it. The 9 game winning streak was cool to look back on, but after reliving this Colts loss, I have such a sour taste left in my mouth. I'll always hate the Colts, but losing to them in the playoffs like this was really hurtful. However, we still had reason for promise, mainly because of Deshaun Watson. With him, this franchise will always have the potential for deep playoff success. And having his first true playoff game experience will certainly make him all the better. Come back next week for the next volume of Watson Watch, where we review the first four games of the 2019 season through the eyes of Deshaun Watson.