HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's offense is searching for a way to get back on track after managing a season-low 10 points in a loss to the Panthers.
To do that the Texans will have to eliminate penalties and figure out a way to keep Deshaun Watson from taking so many sacks.
They forced three turnovers on Sunday but were only able to convert those mistakes into seven points in the loss, leaving coach Bill O'Brien adamant that the problem isn't limited to a few players.
"Everybody's got to do better," O'Brien said. "I think collectively on offense we've got to do better."
Watson was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season and through four games this season he's been hit more than almost any quarterback in the league with the Texans allowing 18 sacks, which is tied for second most in the league.
The Texans got left tackle Laremy Tunsil in a trade with Miami just before the season in an attempt to fix the problem and O'Brien has been complimentary of Tunsil's work. But on Sunday, Watson was sacked six times and hit 10 other times playing behind a line that had Greg Mancz filling in at right guard for Zach Fulton, who sat out with a back problem.
When asked about the performance of Mancz, O'Brien didn't comment on his play specifically but rather went back to talking about how everyone needs to improve if the Texans hope to bounce back on Sunday against Atlanta. But he did acknowledge that they've got to keep Watson from taking so many hits.
"I'm always concerned when anybody gets hit," he said. "So we're going to work hard to improve."
Watson took a lot of the blame for the lackluster performance of the offense on Sunday and said they need to focus on taking care of the little things if they want to improve.
"We have to finish drives," he said. "We were moving the ball but ... the false starts, the illegal formation, things like that put us behind the sticks. That's where we got in trouble. It wasn't so much of them containing us."
Watson stayed at the stadium hours after Sunday's loss and was seen on the field working long after most everyone else was gone. O'Brien wasn't surprised to learn that his quarterback was putting in overtime after a tough day for Houston's offense.
"He cares," O'Brien said. "He cares deeply about trying to help us win."
The Texans have done a great job of forcing fumbles and are tied with Arizona for most in the league with eight. They've recovered five of those fumbles which is tied for second behind Detroit's six. Many of Houston's forced fumbles, including all three on Sunday came on strip sacks. O'Brien said the Texans work on those kinds of plays a lot in practice.
"They spend a lot of time on technique when they approach the quarterback," he said. "We do a lot of those type drills."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Texans are searching for consistency on offense after Watson threw for a season-high 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Chargers before being limited to 160 yards passing without a TD throw in Sunday's loss. If Fulton can return this week his presence should improve the pass protection to give Watson more time to run the offense. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson combined for 114 yards rushing against Carolina and should continue to improve as they get more comfortable with the offense after both were traded to Houston in August.
Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has starred for the Texans this season. Mercilus had a sack, a quarterback hit and forced a fumble on Sunday. He is tied for the NFL lead with four forced fumbles, has five sacks, three tackles for losses, six quarterback hits and an interception this season.
"He's just doing a really good job," O'Brien said. "He does a lot of things well. He plays the run well, he's instinctive. He rushes the passer well. He does whatever the team needs."
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has made just three of his five field-goal attempts this season after missing from 52 yards on Sunday. It's the second straight game where he's missed a field goal after missing a 56-yard attempt last week in a game where he also missed an extra point.
WR Kenny Stills injured his hamstring on Sunday and O'Brien said he would know more about the injury after he sees a doctor on Monday. Fulton's back locked up before Sunday's game and they were able to loosen it up but thought it would be better to hold him out against the Panthers. It's unclear if he'll be available this week.
17 — The Texans have forced a turnover in 17 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL and the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Watson has shown his ability to be a dynamic playmaker throughout his short NFL career and there's no reason to think that he won't bounce back against the Falcons. If his protection improves and the running game continues to be effective, Houston should be able to shake off Sunday's woes and put up bigger numbers this week.