There is an adage referencing how wins and losses often mask the truth about team performances, and that axiom applied to both the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
While the Texans were justified in celebrating their 17-6 victory, a win that snapped their 14-game losing skid, their offensive warts should not go unnoticed. And while Redskins rookie coach Jay Gruden was peppered with postgame questions seeking explanation for an offense that generated only six points, the truth is that had Robert Griffin III and Niles Paul not fumbled inside the Texans' 10-yard line on successive third-down possessions, the Redskins likely leave town feeling much better about the direction of a first-team offense that sputtered throughout the preseason.
What Gruden and the Texans' Bill O'Brien have in common aside from their novice status as NFL head coaches was a past history of developing quarterbacks. Much of the excitement focusing on Gruden and his pairing with Griffin was the resume Gruden carried to Washington D.C., from his relationship with his older brother (and mentor) Jon to his molding Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into a game manager dangerous enough to earn a lucrative contract extension this offseason.
"Stats don't win you games but if you look at the total yards (372), time of possession (30:54) and the amount of first downs (20) we were getting, it was building up to where you would think we had 28-35 points."
O'Brien is held in high regard for his past work with quarterbacks, and while the Texans' depth chart at that position isn't as promising as the Redskins', there was reason to believe O'Brien could make the most of a motley crew featuring Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage.
To an extent, Sunday curbed enthusiasm on both fronts. Although Gruden and Griffin faced an inquisition over the lack of a downfield passing attack, the fact is Griffin averaged 7.2 yards per attempt on Sunday, a figure better than the 7.0 yards per attempt he produced during his miserable sophomore season. Few expect Griffin to approach his league-leading 8.1 yards per attempt from his rookie year, especially given the coaching change.
But his 267 passing yards and 78.4 completion percentage were reasonable starting points. Those two critical turnovers marred a solid start.
"Stats don't win you games but if you look at the total yards (372), time of possession (30:54) and the amount of first downs (20) we were getting, it was building up to where you would think we had 28-35 points, and we just gotta score those points," Griffin says.
"We can't hurt ourselves in those situations (the third-quarter turnovers) and we will go back and watch the tape and figure out what exactly it was. We all know what happened on the fumbles, but what exactly it was throughout the rest of the game to where we can consistently move the ball and score points and be the offense that we know we can be."
Beyond the turnovers, Griffin can't afford to absorb hits like he did on Sunday, 14 to be precise. He was hesitant to run from the pocket yet was far too deliberate in holding on to the ball, taking blow after blow from Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (five quarterback hits) and linebackers Brooks Reed (three quarterback hits) and Whitney Mercilus (two). Griffin was sacked three times: once each by Watt and Reed and once by strong safety D.J. Swearinger, who also recorded two hits on Griffin.
"The thing is when you're trailing, every pass rusher in the NFL becomes a problem," Gruden says. "It's a lot of third downs and you're trying to catch up. Third down and long is a terrible situation, but we've got to do a better job of protecting (Griffin). No question about it.
"We decided to do a play-action pass and take a shot and we've got to do a better job protecting. The quarterback has to do a better job of throwing it away if it's not there."
Beyond the turnovers, Griffin can't afford to absorb hits like he did on Sunday, 14 to be precise.
The Redskins converted just 3-of-12 third downs; the Texans were decidedly better at 7-of-14. However, the Texans managed just 316 total yards, averaged 5.6 yards per play (compared to the Redskins' 5.9 yards per play) and recorded only 16 first downs.
Fitzpatrick passed for 206 yards and a touchdown, with that score being a 76-yard pass play to DeAndre Hopkins that appeared to capitalize on a coverage bust. Otherwise, the Texans relied upon an offense that punted to conclude six of its first seven possessions and produced just two drives of 10-plus plays and five-plus minutes.
Excluding his strike to Hopkins, Fitzpatrick averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, roughly the league average last season. The Texans are owed some slack considering their first-team offense was fractured throughout the preseason. Their start wasn't inauspicious, but it left something to be desired.
"It was good to get everybody out there on the field and we need to continue to just get better and improve all season long," Fitzpatrick says. "Andre (Johnson) did some great things as he always does. DeAndre on the deep ball. I thought Arian (Foster) ran really hard. But we'll just look at it and continue to get better."
What O'Brien has in his favor is the veteran status of his quarterback. Fitzpatrick has his limitations and a checkered history of turnovers, but his experience enables the Texans to approach things cautiously offensively and lean heavily on a defense that has the potential to dominate weekly.
That formula played out perfectly against the Redskins, with the Texans turning turnovers, a special teams score and one lone offensive touchdown into victory. Parlaying such a mixture into something palatable might seem risky, but O'Brien knows quarterbacks and he know what he has in his.
"He did exactly what we asked him to do," O'Brien says of Fitzpatrick. "He played a smart game. (Quarterbacks coach) George (Godsey) has done a great job with him. Fitzy's really followed what we've asked him to do as a quarterback and as a leader and as a teammate.
"That was a good example of it today."