Sports fans were treated to a wild weekend wherein all four NFL divisional games came down to the wire.
As the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers are all one game away from the Super Bowl, for Houston Texans fans, it leaves them wondering how long the rebuild will take to at least play during divisional weekend again.
The Texans still have work to do, but there are encouraging signs from the 2021 season that show they have some winning elements. Here are four areas where the Texans were just like the four divisional winners.
Cincinnati Bengals — tackles for loss
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The Bengals’ defensive line did a masterful job limiting the Tennessee Titans’ run game to 140 yards and 5.2 yards per carry. That seems crazy to say, but given how explosive and productive Derrick Henry and D’Onta Foreman were in 2021, it actually is a win for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati was ninth in the NFL with 80 tackles for loss. Against the Titans, the Bengals generated five tackles for loss with defensive tackle D.J. Reader leading the way with two.
In 2021, the Texans were eighth in the league with 81 tackles for loss. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was tied for the 13th-most in the league with 13.
If the Texans can continue their production getting into the backfield, it should help their chances to rebound in 2022.
San Francisco 49ers — Hardly blitzing
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The 49ers did not rely on blitzes hardly at all in 2021, sending an extra rusher just 124 times, the fifth fewest in the league.
Against the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco dropped Aaron Rodgers five times, no doubt contributing to stalling the offense. The Packers were only able to produce 263 yards total offense.
The Texans have a similar philosophy under defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to rely only on four-man rushes. Houston sent the blitz 117 times, the third-fewest in the league.
What San Francisco possesses that Houston doesn’t is a war daddy. Defensive end Nick Bosa was fourth in the NFL with 15.5 sacks, and produced 2.0 against the Packers. Houston can’t have an effective pass rush if their lead sacker has only 8.0 on the season.
Los Angeles Rams — Horrendous at rushing
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The Rams struggled to run the ball in 2021 with 99.0 rushing yards per game, the eighth-fewest in the NFL. Los Angeles also had trouble with yards per carry at 4.0, tied for the seventh-worst in the league.
Houston’s run troubles are well documented at 3.4 yards per carry and 83.6 rushing yards per game, the worst in both categories.
Against the Buccaneers, it was Matthew Stafford and the passing game that got the job done. Los Angeles’ run game produced a paltry 2.4 yards per carry. Stafford went 28-of-38 for 366 yards and two touchdowns.
Rookie Davis Mills was operating without a semblance of a run game. However, when the Texans stopped establishing the run, instead using the pass to open up the run, the offense moved better. It may be the most successful strategy for 2022 as well.
Kansas City Chiefs — Yards per play surrendered
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The Chiefs gave up 5.9 yards per play in the regular season, tied with the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and the Texans for the second-most in the league. Only the Baltimore Ravens gave up more with 6.0.
Kansas City’s defense gave up 422 yards of total offense, and Buffalo was able to retake the lead twice in the fourth quarter, including with 13 seconds remaining in regulation.
Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate eraser to any defensive mistakes. The Texans’ offense may never get to the Chiefs’ video game level, but getting up from the 4.7 yards per play on offense to anywhere in the 5.5 range or above will help Houston complement their defense.