Houston Texans, NFL, Darren Fells

TEXANS NOTEBOOK: TE Fells a red-zone titan for Texans

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 11/3/19

The Texans ranked as the fourth-worst team in red zone scoring percentage last season. This season, they rank seventh-best, scoring touchdowns on 65.6 percent of their red zone appearances.

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Houston Texans, NFL, Darren Fells

TEXANS NOTEBOOK: TE Fells a red-zone titan for Texans

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The Texans ranked as the fourth-worst team in red zone scoring percentage last season. This season, they rank seventh-best, scoring touchdowns on 65.6 percent of their red zone appearances.

The considerable strides within the opponent’s 20-yard line are due in large part to tight end Darren Fells. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Fells was signed by the Texans in March and has been a welcomed red zone target for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Fells scored early on a 1-yard catch from Watson in Sunday’s 26-3 dismantling of Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium in London, establishing an early lead for the Texans which they would never surrender.

Overall in nine games this season, Fells has 245 receiving yards and a team-best six touchdowns on 24 catches. All six of Fells’ touchdowns have come in the red zone, and he also has five catches for first downs in the red zone.

It’s been a career year for Fells, who did not play college football. Instead, Fells played college basketball at the University of California-Irvine.

Prior to his NFL career, when he made his first career start as an Arizona Cardinal in 2014, Fells, 33, played professional basketball in Belgium, Finland, France, Mexico and Argentina.

“He’s been great,” Watson said. “He’s been a great factor, just a basketball guy who can go up, play big. He’s still learning the game of football coming from basketball. He’s helped us out as far as just being a veteran guy, professional, coming to work each and every day, especially for that locker room, but especially for that unit, that tight end group.”

Fells’ six touchdowns equal his previous two seasons combined and have already tied a Texans record for touchdowns by a tight end in the season.

The number of catches are a season-best for the sixth-year pro (his previous high was 21). Fells has been targeted 31 times this season. Last season, with Cleveland, he was only targeted 12 times in eight games. The previous season, 2017, with Detroit, Fells was targeted 26 times in 13 games.

Houston is 4-0 when Fells scores a touchdown.

“It’s always fun to be able to help my teammates,” Fells said. “I’ve always felt that the more weapons you have on offense, the harder you are to stop. So anything I can do to help out the team, pass game, run game, I’m going to do and try to get my teammates involved as well.”

The Fullerton, California, native had a reputation as a solid blocker and presence in the locker room. This season, Fells has shown the ability to consistently catch passes and make plays in short-yardage situations, using his size and build to win matchups and provide an easy target for the improvisational Watson.

“He’s a very talented player, and his basketball background kind of gives him some unique talents,” offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “He’s doing a good job of going out there and playing well and catching the balls that Deshaun’s (Watson) throwing to him.”

Head coach Bill O’Brien and Kelly praise Fells for his maturity and professionalism. That, initially, was the attraction. O’Brien said he’s only gotten better and better in the passing game.

“He’s been a good addition since the day he walked in here,” O’Brien said. “He works very hard. He’s very smart. He’s always about the team. He just thinks about the team, what’s best for the team. I think that’s a big deal, and then he goes out there and he tries to do it the way we coach to do it. He’s had a really good year. It needs to continue. He’s become a really good player for us.”

INTERNATIONAL WIN

The Texans soundly beat Jacksonville in London to go to 6-3 overall heading into their Week 10 bye. The AFC South foe Jaguars dropped to 4-5.

Watson was more than enough for the Texans. Despite playing with a red, swollen left eye after being kicked during a game the previous week against Oakland, Watson completed 22 of 28 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, both 1-yarders to Fells and DeAndre Hopkins.

Time and time again against the Jaguars, Watson eluded trouble with his feet and wits.

“Y’all see some of things he can do, right?” Hopkins said of Watson. “I don’t think you get that many quarterbacks in this stadium that can do that. He’s an amazing player. He’s humble with a great attitude.”

The Texans outgained the Jaguars 410-318 in total yards and averaged 6.5 yards per play.

FOURNETTE HALTED

Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette entered the game as the NFL’s second-best leading rusher going up against a Texans defense that has gone 24 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Make that 25 straight games.

Behind an aggressive and fast four-man Texans defensive front that looked to make up for the absence of J.J. Watt, Fournette managed just 40 yards on 11 carries. He had just 72 scrimmage yards, his fewest in a game this season.

Texans linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham were pivotal in helping pick up some of the pass rush slack. Houston wanted to keep Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew II in the pocket. The Texans accomplished that.

In the fourth quarter, which the Texans entered leading 19-3, Houston intercepted Minshew twice and forced a fumble from the quarterback to prevent a Jaguars rally.

“We did a very good job of team defense,” O’Brien said. “There were a lot of guys that made plays out there. It was good to see. Everyone was disciplined in their pass rush, disciplined in their gap control relative to the running game. Our secondary played disciplined. They just did their jobs and did it efficiently.”

HYDE RUNS WILD

Texans running back Carlos Hyde rushed for 160 yards on 19 carries against the Jaguars.

It was his most rushing yards in a game since 2016 and the fifth-most in a game in Texans history.

On a dazzling 58-yard run in the fourth quarter, Hyde fumbled the ball before he was just about to cross the goal line. It was his only mistake all game long.

“I’m sure he’s kicking himself on that one, but he runs hard,” O’Brien said. “He does a good job getting his pads down. He’s a bull. He’s good with the ball. I coached against him at Ohio State when I was at Penn State, and he’s a guy that gets behind his pads. He’s meant a lot to our offense.”

The Texans got eight first downs via running. In all, they rushed for 216 yards on 34 carries, good for 6.4 yards per carry.

“It opens up everything. Every offense starts with the run,” Watson said. “If you run the ball and establish the line of scrimmage, it slows down the pass rush, slows down the blitz package and everything they want to do.”

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