HOUSTON: Hyde thrives for Texans in wake of injury to Miller
HOUSTON — After Lamar Miller went out with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason the Houston Texans needed someone to step in immediately to carry the running game.
Carlos Hyde has filled that role in the first two games, despite being with the team only two weeks after a trade from Kansas City on Aug. 31. Hyde ran for 90 yards on Sunday to help Houston to a 13-12 win over the Jaguars. That performance came after he had 83 yards rushing in the opener.
"I'm hungry," he said. "I'm out there on a mission. I've got a chip on my shoulder coming into this year. So I'm running angry, running mad, and it's been paying off for me."
He's one of two running backs the Texans acquired in August trades after they got Duke Johnson from Cleveland early in the month following D'Onta Foreman's release. Johnson added 31 yards rushing on Sunday after running for 57 yards against the Saints.
"(Hyde) runs hard, he's a smart guy," coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's learned the offense. He's learned his role in the offense. We want to continue to build with him and Duke. Both of those guys, they do a good job."
Hyde is thrilled to be contributing in Houston and believes he'll be able to do even more once he gets more comfortable with the offense.
"I'm still learning the offense, but it's definitely coming together for me," he said. "Each week, I've just got to keep getting better. I definitely feel like I'm starting to get into a groove, especially after this game. Things are starting to be a little easier for me."
On a day when Deshaun Watson wasn't able to complete many passes downfield, the running game kept the offense afloat. The Texans finished with 126 yards rushing against Jacksonville after running for 180 yards last week. Houston should only get stronger in this area as Hyde and Johnson have more time to work on things in practice.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Houston needs to find a way to better protect Watson after he has been sacked 10 times combined in the first two games. The Texans traded for left tackle Laremy Tunsil on Aug. 31 to help improve their line after Watson was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season, but so far his presence hasn't led to Watson being hit less.
OLB Whitney Mercilus. He had two tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits and forced two fumbles against Jacksonville. His second forced fumble on Sunday was recovered by J.J. Watt and led to Houston's only touchdown. It's the second straight big game for the eight-year veteran after he had five tackles, including one for a loss, a sack, a quarterback hit and an interception against New Orleans.
RT Seantrel Henderson. The sixth-year player started the opener but was benched on Sunday for Roderick Johnson. Henderson was expected to help improve the line his return this season after sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in Houston's opener last season. Instead O'Brien had seen enough of him after just one game and moved on to Johnson, who appeared in one game last year after being signed from Houston's practice squad.
Tunsil briefly left the game in the second half after rolling his ankle, but he returned and finished and should be OK this week.
15 — The Texans have gotten at least one turnover in 15 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Houston's run blocking has been good through the first two games, with the team averaging 153 yards, but the pass protection needs to improve. It should as Tunsil gets more acclimated to working with his new teammates.
"Laremy's a great player and he learns very well," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of carry-over for him from Miami for him here. I think it's just a matter of getting used to who he's playing next to and the tempo at which we play and all of those different things. But Laremy's been a great addition to our football team."
- By Kristie Rieken, AP
JACKSONVILLE: Bench argument, failed 2-point try, another loss for Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's been a rough couple of weeks for Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone.
He lost quarterback Nick Foles for at least two months in the season opener, allowed his defensive staff to get "too cute" against high-powered Kansas City, was involved in a sideline argument with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey at Houston and then called for a run up the middle on a 2-point conversion attempt that likely would have avoided a 12th loss in 14 games had it succeeded.
Now he's 0-2 for the first time in three seasons in Jacksonville.
It could get worse, too.
The Jaguars host rival Tennessee (1-1) on Thursday night and have dropped four straight and six of seven in the AFC South series.
And Ramsey wants out. The disgruntled defender's agent, David Mulugheta, requested a trade following Ramsey's heated exchange with Marrone, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Monday. ESPN and NFL Network first reported the trade request.
Marrone said Monday that Ramsey would not be punished for the outburst.
Still, it was the latest incident for Ramsey, whose four-year NFL career has included publicly questioning defensive coordinator Todd Wash; roundly ripping several NFL quarterbacks; and getting suspended for a week in the 2018 preseason for threatening a reporter.
Ramsey was upset that Marrone didn't challenge DeAndre Hopkins' first-down catch late in the first quarter of the 13-12 loss . The Texans moved the chains and ended the drive with a field goal. Ramsey clearly said something to Marrone as he walked off the field and appeared to put his hands on the head coach as he made his way to the bench. Marrone responded by getting in Ramsey's face and yelling.
Marrone offered few explanations for the intense altercation.
"There are a lot of emotions in the game," he said. "I don't know. I can't recall."
Gardner Minshew looks nothing like an overwhelmed rookie. A week after setting records for completion percentage, Minshew flashed again in his first NFL start.
He completed 23 of 33 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown at Houston. He also ran for a team-high 56 yards. He was at his best in the fourth quarter, directing drives of 61 and 68 yards to get Jacksonville out of a 13-3 hole.
Marrone probably should have let Minshew throw for the 2-point conversion. After all, Leonard Fournette's six carries in the second half totaled 9 yards and Minshew had just made a nice play to find DJ Chark for a short touchdown.
"You could see the poise the kid has," Marrone said of Minshew. "He's not a guy that gets rattled. He's fine on the sideline. He understands what we're trying to get accomplished, what we want to do. I couldn't be happier with him."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville's offensive line had issues for the second straight week.
Fournette was hit behind the line of scrimmage often, finishing with 47 yards on 15 carries. Minshew was sacked four times and lost one of his three fumbles. The line was flagged three times for holding and twice for false starts — all in the second half.
Most glaring, center Brandon Linder and guard A.J. Cann got no push on Fournette's 2-point run.
Chark had seven receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, giving him 11 catches for 201 yards and two scores in two games. He's already topped his yardage total (174) from his rookie year and is showing the kind of consistency coaches have craved from the 2018 second-round draft pick.
Former All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract in 2018 to join Jacksonville. He's yet to prove his worth.
Jaguars hope to get two defensive starters — pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback A.J. Bouye — back against the Titans. It will be interesting to see what happens along the offensive line: Left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) has been cleared to play, and assuming he returns to his usual spot, Richardson likely could slide back to guard.
41 — total points the Jags have scored in their last four games against Tennessee.
Be more creative on offense, especially in the run game.
-- By Mark Long, AP
INDIANAPOLIS: Colts find old-school philosophy still works in new-look NFL
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich made one thing perfectly clear during the offseason.
He expected the Colts to finish among the league's top-five rushing offenses. At this rate, they might even exceed Reich's expectations.
Two games into the season, the Colts have the NFL's No. 2 ground game, the No. 3 rusher and a play caller committed to sticking with the game plan under any circumstances. It's making an impact.
"The second half we came out more physical and downhill, trying to move the ball," Jordan Wilkins said after rushing for a career-high 82 yards on five carries in Sunday's victory at Tennessee. "Everybody knows the strength of our offense is the offensive line and they kind of took it upon themselves."
No, this is not the sometimes pass-happy Colts (1-1) team fans remember from the Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck eras. Heck, it hardly resembles the team that started last season 1-5.
When Reich arrived last year, he installed a new-look offense full of the trendy run-pass options that have become a league-wide rage. But after watching the Colts allow just 11 sacks over their final 12 games including two playoff games, Reich figured the old-school, smash-mouth philosophy might help Indy take the next step.
So long before Luck's surprise retirement announcement, Reich planned to give Marlon Mack and the other running backs more touches.
The result: Indy rushed for 203 yards, led by Mack's career-high 174, in a season-opening loss to the Chargers, and 34 times for 167 yards against the Titans. And the play that might typify just how much Reich has bought into the run-first approach came on Jacoby Brissett's quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Colts 35-yard line with 2:23 left and Indy clinging to a two-point lead.
Reich never considered punting.
"I'm not trying to sound like a tough guy, but it really didn't cross my mind," he said. "We have a lot of confidence in our offensive line. There was no other thought."
Brissett's 1-yard gain forced the Titans to burn their final two timeouts and left them with only 67 seconds to move into position for a potentially winning field goal when they did get the ball. Tennessee drove to the Colts 45 turning it over on downs with 13 seconds left.
And as the players' confidence in the ground game continues to build, they're more convinced than ever they could be built for bigger and better things than they achieved last season.
"We've got some tough guys. We actually have a team in every phase of the game," said Brissett, Luck's successor. "There's no quit in this group. You saw that last week, this week, and, you know, we practice hard, we prepare hard for 60-minute games. We go over situations like this every day."
The pass rush. Indy bet big that free agent defensive end Justin Houston could help improve one of last season's weaknesses. He has. But the Colts are finding other ways to pressure quarterbacks. They're tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks after producing 38 in 2018.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Placekicking. For most of Adam Vinatieri's career, he's been money. This season, he's already missed five kicks — two field goals and three extra points — costing the Colts seven points in the overtime loss to the Chargers and two more points in Sunday's victory.
DT Denico Autry. The six-year veteran has thrived since moving inside. He's made 9½ sacks in his last 11 games, with two Sunday.
Vinatieri. At age 46, speculation has been swirling about the NFL's career scoring leader, with many wondering if he may retire. Reich said Vinatieri would take reporters' questions Tuesday.
CB Pierre Desir and LB Darius Leonard. Indy's top cornerback left Sunday's game in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Reich said Desir would continue to get evaluated this week. Leonard, Reich said, developed concussion-like symptoms following the game and has been put in the concussion protocol. Leonard led the league in tackles last season and was an All-Pro.
Eight. Indy overcame eight penalties Sunday after being called for only three against the Chargers.
Indianapolis needs to give Brissett enough time to make throws down the field. He's been sacked five times in two games and was under duress much of Sunday, forcing him to throw shorter, quicker passes instead of being able to take advantage of the Colts' playmaking deep threats.
-- By Michael Marot, AP
TENNESSEE: Mariota needs strong bounce back after Titans QB struggles
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota finds himself needing a strong performance on a short week to help erase a struggling performance in the Titans' home opener.
The No. 2 overall pick in 2015 may be with his fourth offensive coordinator and fifth play caller, but he too often looked indecisive. He held the ball too long in being sacked four times. He missed check-down options with receivers wide open. He got lucky a Colts defender couldn't catch an interception thrown to him.
The costliest mistakes came in the fourth quarter of a 19-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Mariota was sacked early, costing 7 yards before Cairo Santos missed a 45-yard field goal wide left.
Then the quarterback being paid $20.9 million on the option of his rookie contract had the ball with 67 seconds left needing a field goal. Yet Mariota spiked the ball on third down with 15 seconds left, and he couldn't connect with rookie A.J. Brown on fourth down, sealing the loss.
"Looking back on it, should have had a different play instead of clocking it, and that's totally on me," Mariota said.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that a lot of things go into negative plays on offense, which they will try to fix as quickly as possible. The Titans (1-1) visit Jacksonville on Thursday night, so Mariota and team have a quick opportunity to bounce back.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge, and we've got to get one back," Mariota said.
Pass defense. The Titans, who ranked sixth against the pass in 2018, held the Colts to 121 net passing yards for the fewest yards allowed through the air since a loss in Buffalo last season. They gave up 79 net yards passing on Oct. 7, 2018, to the Bills in another game they also lost.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Titans have converted 3 of 20 on third downs on offense through two games; 13 have been at least 10 yards or longer.
"That's tough sledding," Vrabel said.
Better production on first and second downs would give the Titans more options on third down. Yet Adam Humphries, their big free agent signee in March, has only three catches for 4 yards so far. He was signed to give them another slot option for underneath throws.
Derrick Henry. The big question about the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner was whether the running back could start this season as he finished 2018, piling up 625 yards rushing in December for the best month by anyone in the NFL last season. He's doing that, ranked sixth in the NFL for most yards from scrimmage. He's also averaging 4.9 yards per carry with 165 yards rushing.
Mariota. There's a reason the Titans haven't signed him to a new deal yet, needing to see their quarterback take control of the offense. Mariota was a perfect 6 of 6 in the second half of the Titans' opening win in Cleveland, with two TD passes in the fourth quarter. In the final 15 minutes against the Colts, Mariota was 4 of 10 for 32 yards.
RG Kevin Pamphile now has missed the first two games with an injured knee after winning the job. Center Ben Jones was added to the injury report hours before kickoff with an unspecified illness. Monday's injury report featured 11 Titans, including Mariota (quad), for a walk-through after the franchise's hottest game since 1999.
8 — How many times Mariota already has been sacked through two games after being sacked a career-worst 42 times last season. He missed three starts due to injuries.
Hello Jacksonville? The Titans have won four straight and six of their last seven against the Jaguars, who will have rookie Gardner Minshew at quarterback.
-- By Teresa M. Walker, AP