The Houston Texans have been concerned about their slow starts all season. After they fell behind 24-0 in the first quarter in a loss to Indianapolis, coach Bill O'Brien is putting it on his team to change things.
"I think the players need to make up their minds that they're going to start well," O'Brien said.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't sure why they've struggled so much early in games, but knows they have to figure out a way to turn it around.
"Just got to come out more focused I think," he said. "More focused and ready to go. Just continue to make it a point of emphasis."
Houston has scored just 14 points in the first quarter this season and all of those points came in a win over Oakland in Week 2. Since then they've been incapable of doing anything on offense in the opening frame.
O'Brien said it might be as simple having one good thing happen early so they'll have something to build on.
"If we start the game with a positive play — first down, gain four, gain five; second-and-5, then gain three (and) then it's a positive or manageable third down," O'Brien said. "We get that first first-down, we're able to get into a good tempo, a good rhythm and we're going."
Many have blamed Houston's tough starts on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 0 for 4 in a first quarter against the Colts where the team gained just two yards. But O'Brien took up for his quarterback on Friday.
"When you look at the film, the film never lies," O'Brien said. "What the film shows us is that everybody on offense has to play better. Everybody. The line has to play better, the backs have to play better, the tight ends, the receivers and we have to coach better."
Still, Fitzpatrick is quick to point out that he needs to do more early in games.
"There is still a lot of room for improvement," he said. "We've talked about getting off to better starts, but when we get in our groove you see what this offense can be. It's just a matter of doing it all the time."
Perhaps more troubling than the slow start by the offense Thursday night was that the defense and special teams were also terrible in the first quarter. The defense allowed three touchdowns and a field goal in the first quarter and the special teams unit was surprised by an onside kick which the Colts recovered. O'Brien said that when he watched the game film on Friday he saw that his team made an error on each of the game's first 32 plays.
"We've got to tackle better," he said. "We gave up too many hit-and-yardage type plays because we didn't tackle, the first guy didn't make the tackle. Special teams, we just can't allow that to happen, that onside kick. That's not good."
The good news for the Texans is that they've got a few extra days to prepare for their next game since they don't play again until a Monday night matchup at Pittsburgh on Oct. 20. There's also a strong possibility they could get top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney back for that game, which would provide a boost to a defense that has been led by a stellar six games by defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt had two sacks on Thursday night and returned a fumble for a touchdown for his third score this season.
Clowney has been out since having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after injuring it in Houston's opener on Sept. 7.
"He's progressing," O'Brien said. "I would say that's still 50-50 whether he plays in that game or not, but he's getting better. He's working at it."
Clowney is eager to get back, but he's leaving it to the medical staff to decide when he's ready to play.
"I talked to the trainers the other day about how I'm responding to the drills and everything they've got me doing," he said. "Just time will tell. It's the healing process right now."
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