Bijani: Missed opportunities, tackles continue to plague Texans

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(SportsRadio 610) - The missed opportunities the Texans have whiffed on within each of the last three weeks have been mind-numbing, frustrating and down-right perplexing.

That they even had them, makes you think.

Their record of 0-2-1 doesn’t raise eyebrows, it’s the way the games have unfolded that leave you scratching your head or flat-out losing it and throwing things.

To witness a team that was supposed to be bad again, and yet, have so many chances to win games in the fourth quarter is quite remarkable.

Furthermore, it’s quite astonishing, that every year, football fans get amnesia and forget that the first month of an NFL season is generally pretty wild and wacky as numerous teams struggle to find an identity.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio, usually very general in his response to questions, doesn’t like to get too deep in the weeds and into specifics, hit the nail on the head back in August when discussing his expectations for his team this season.

“Ultimately it's going to come down to probably eight or 10 plays in each game, and those are going to be situational plays,” Caserio said. “If we handle those the right way, we'll win. If we don't, we'll lose. That's just the way the NFL works.”

While it was a very general and safe way to describe many NFL games, the Texans second year GM summed things up perfectly less than a month ago.

In first three weeks of the season, they’ve had a handful of opportunities each week, to make plays in crunch time and have fallen short.

While the defense has held up its end of the bargain and kept the team close, the run defense has been virtually non-existent.

The Texans have surrendered a league worst 203-yards per game on the ground, including 281 yards during Sundays 23-20 loss at Soldier Field, even after David Montgomery exited with an apparent leg injury in the first quarter.

They’re second worst in rushing yards allowed per play, fourth worst at allowing first-downs, and lead the league with the most missed tackles, 17 of which have come in the secondary.

The latter, is all the more concerning, given the fact that guys like Jalen Pitre, Steven Nelson and the league leader in tackles, with 36, safety Jonathan Owens have had so many chances.

Head coach Lovie Smith told the media Monday afternoon, that the poor tackling is something that he believes can be easily rectified.

“Eventually, you’re going to get in position where you have to make a tackle. Simple as that. You have to wrap up. That’s what we didn’t do,” Smith said. “Are there ways to improve it? Yeah, get in a little bit better positions and wrap up once you get to the point of attack. That’s what it was. It’s one thing to miss one tackle but we should be talking about missed tackles with a 10-yard gain, not those explosive plays like we’ve been giving up.”

Those explosive plays, including a 52-yard run from Bears backup running back Khalil Herbert, which rookie Derek Stingley Jr. saved a would be touchdown with a tackle at the Houston 23-yard line, certainly hurt.

Herbert, 24, finished with 157 yards on just 20 carries.

Lovie Smith said limiting those big plays, starts up front and this far, the Texan linebackers have left much to be desired.

“I don’t think our play has been good. The linebackers just as a whole, it hasn’t been good enough. I’m going to start up front first. Going into this game (Sunday), it was about the offensive line blocking them. It was about our defensive line controlling theirs. We didn’t do a good job of that,” Smith said. “Whenever you get a running back to the second wave, it’s going to start with the d-line, and from there, linebackers are going to be a big part of any plays that are able to break. Whether it be the run or pass, the linebackers are always involved. When we talk about not playing our best defense right now, of course the linebackers have a big say in that.”

Veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes, who has been a bright spot for the defense through the first three games, leading the team in sacks (4), missed a tackle along with Jonathan Greenard on a 29-yard scramble from Justin Fields in the first quarter on a third-and-nine, which eventually led to three-points for the Bears.

When it was all said and done Sunday afternoon, the Texans had allowed the third-most rushing yards in history, mostly to a second-string running back due to a lack of gap integrity up front, shoddy linebacker play and poor tackling all around.

“We're going to learn a lot about our football team probably in the first month,” Caserio said. “We are where we are after about six weeks. We're going to learn a lot more.”

As the Texans prepare to move on from their latest loss and look ahead to a week four matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, it’s hard to ignore the missed opportunities they’ve had thus far.

From the missed tackles, inability to convert on third-and-short situations, the failure to make tackles and contain explosive plays, to Davis Mills and the offense looking helpless in the fourth quarter, having been out scored 30-0 through their first three games in the final period combined.

There’s an old saying, ‘All too often, missed opportunities are in plain sight.’

What will the Texans do with the next one?

Shaun Bijani has spent the last 16 years covering the Houston sports scene for SportsRadio 610. Follow him on Twitter @ShaunBijani.

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