Texans show blueprint for 2021 success but not everything is perfect

HOUSTON -- When David Culley sat down for his postgame interview after the Houston Texans' season-opening victory, he had one thing on his mind.

“First of all, before I get started, I just want you all to know my feet are killing me right now,” Culley said. “And my feet are killing me from running up and down that sideline. … So many good things were happening, I didn't know which way to go.”

All those “good things” were what Culley has been chasing since he took over as head coach. During training camp, Culley preached the importance of what he simply calls, “playing winning football,” showing the blueprint for the Texans winning games this season.

“Don't turn the ball over,” Culley said after the Texans’ 37-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. “Get turnovers. Be able to run the ball, and be able to make plays in the passing game, and we were able to do that [Sunday].”

The Texans, who won their season opener for the first time since 2016, were able to win the turnover battle against the Jaguars. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has emphasized takeaways every time the defense takes the field, and after it showed up in the preseason (10 takeaways in three games), it paid off against Jacksonville.

On Sunday, Houston matched its 2020 total for interceptions by picking off Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence three times.

“I just want to keep preaching about our defense and how they played,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “They played fast, physical, and they played relentless.”

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, did not turn the ball over. The offense took advantage of several explosive plays, including a 52-yard pass from Taylor to wide receiver Brandin Cooks on third down with 25 seconds left in the first half that helped put the Texans up 27-7.

“He's a guy that's not going to make mistakes,” Culley said. “He's going to take care of the football. That's part of who we are. As long as he's doing that and running the offense and us being able to run the ball the way we were able to run the ball [Sunday], we'll have a chance to do what we need to do.”

The Texans ran the ball 41 times on Sunday, including four carries for 40 yards for Taylor. Houston, which has five running backs on its 53-man roster, had four active on Sunday. Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson each scored touchdowns against the Jaguars.

However, without Taylor’s 10-yards per carry, the four backs averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Culley said the running back usage is based on the personnel groups the offense has for each back, but Ingram led the way with 26 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The 26 attempts were Ingram’s most since 2014 and his third most ever in a game.

“Running the ball is definitely something that we have to establish each and every week,” Taylor said. “It's just the physicality that imposes on the defense, and if you can set that tone early, the better off you are, you can open up the rest of your playbook.”

And for all the good things the Texans did in the win, Culley was quick to point out one of the areas he feels his team needs to correct if they want to continue to build on their 1-0 start.

“Penalties,” Culley said. “I’ve said this all along. ... The penalties is the one thing that I think we have to get better at because it kept us from keeping them out of the end zone one time and getting us into the end zone one time. And those things are critical.”