Deep Steel Blueprint: Sunday's Electrifying Game At Reliant

Writer's Note: I'm actually not around a computer this week. I wrote this over the most recent weekend, so DVOA numbers are going to be based on prior stats since Football Outsides updates them late Tuesday. You can click here to search around the updated stats. Apologies on the outdated DVOA.

Good news for the Houston Texans: The San Diego Chargers are coming to Reliant Stadium, and they are 0-4 on the road. Bad news for the Houston Texans: They have a short week to prepare for the league's #1 offense and defense.

Sunday, your Houston Texans are up for a tough test against the talented Chargers. Despite their lofty statistical rankings, San Diego comes to Houston with a 3-5 record. It's a very puzzling circumstance as they out-gain and dominate teams, but they still manage to lose the games. How does that happen?

Well, it's a lot of turnovers and poor special teams play. Teams are able to score just enough off of the short fields to pull out the wins. As great as their statistics are, the Chargers, like every other team, have weak spots that can be exploited. Where are these weak spots for the San Diego Chargers? How can the Texans exploit these weak spots for their first-ever win against the Chargers? All of that is below the jump.


Match-Up: San Diego Defense vs. Houston Offense
Stats/Team San Diego Houston
Rushing Against/For 83.1 YAPG, 3.5 YAPC, 5 TDs; -12.7% DVOA
136.3 YPG, 5.3 YPC, 10 TDs; 31.2% DVOA
Passing Against/For 176.9 YAPG, 8 TDs, 74.0 QB Rating against; -18.0% DVOA
231 YPG, 10 TDs, 89.3 QB Rating; 38.3% DVOA
Takeaways/Turnovers 11 (7 INTs, 4 fumbles recovered) 9 (6 INTs, 3 fumbles lost)
Time of Possession 26:07 per game 28:27 per game
Points Allowed/For 21.8 PAPG 24.3 PPG


Ideal Strategy: Run the ball with Arian Foster and Derrick Ward behind Eric Winston, find Joel Dreessen and Owen Daniels in the passing game.

San Diego brings a pretty stout defense to Houston. Yardage wise, they're first in pass defense, second in rush defense, and first in total defense. Granted, they have not faced as balanced an offense as your Houston Texans, but this will be a great match-up of offensive and defensive prowess. However, no unit is unbeatable. There are holes in San Diego's armor.

Against the run, the Chargers shut sweeps down, but they're average inside. The true weakness is runs behind the right tackle, as they're among the league's worst defenses at defending this area. The Texans RBS need to run straight at the defense and, specifically, straight behind Eric Winston. San Diego's too fast outside, so the Texans can't get too cute with the running game. Gary Kubiak wanted a tougher team, and this is their test.

When Houston passes, San Diego is able to get pressure (3.33 sacks/gm) and forces interceptions. They are, according to FO, a poor defending team against the tight end. Houston has hoarded a number of talented guys at that position, so this is where Owen Daniels and Joel Dresseen need to step up and earn their keep. The Chargers will be preoccupied with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Jacoby Jones, so the tight ends need to find the open spaces and bail out Matt Schaub who could be under pressure all day.

The big play offense may not be there, but Houston should move the ball if they muscle up with inside and off-tackle runs and passes to the tight end.


Match-Up: San Diego Offense vs. Houston Defense

Stats/Team San Diego Houston
Rushing For/Against 111.6 YPG, 4.2 YPC, 9 TDs; 3.5% DVOA
104.7 YAPG, 4.1 YAPC, 6 TDs; -0.2% DVOA
Passing For/Against 315.2 YPG, 15 TDs, 98.9 QB Rating; 36.1% DVOA
299.4 YAPG, 16 TDs, 103.7 QB Rating against; 45.4% DVOA
Turnovers/Takeaways 19 (7 INTs, 12 fumbles lost) 6 (4 INTs, 2 fumbles recovered)
Time of Possession 33:43 per game 33:13 per game
Points For/Allowed 26.2 PPG 28.1 PAPG


Ideal Strategy: Pressure Phillip Rivers, double-cover Antonio Gates, and swipe at the ball.

The numbers don't tell a pretty story, as the San Diego offense should run pretty rampant against the Texans defense - especially All-Galaxy TE Antonio Gates, who is averaging five catches for ~83 yards and a touchdown per game. Related side note:  Gates is on pace to set TE records for yards and touchdowns in a season. Seeing as tight ends torch the Texans, I'm thinking he should be double-teamed at all times since he's the number one target in San Diego.

Phillip Rivers is playing some of the best football of his career as San Diego leads the league in passing offense and is on pace to set a single-season record for passing yards. Before anyone starts drinking, the Chargers have A) thrown so often because they've been behind in many games and B) also lead the league in turnovers with 19.

Ten of those turnovers can be attributed to Rivers, as he has thrown seven interceptions and lost three fumbles, with another three of his fumbles recovered. The Chargers allow 2.63 sacks/gm, so the Texans should be able and need to bring the pressure on Rivers. Not only will this help provide the secondary with some pickable balls, but Rivers is very susceptible to the strip sack.

The Chargers and Texans are in the middle of the pack in terms of rush offense and defense, but the Chargers are Houston 2009 with seven fumbles lost by running backs in eight games. When Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Mike Tolbert run, the first Texan defender needs to wrap up the running back while the others come in and swipe at the ball.

These turnovers have hurt San Diego, and it's why they're 3-5. The Texans defense needs to be aggressive in their attack to force San Diego into these mistakes, as it'll be the defense's only chance at slowing the league's #1 yards per game offense.


Match-Up: San Diego Special Teams vs. Houston Special Teams

Stats/Teams San Diego Houston
Kickoff Return Average 23.8 YPR 20.4 YPR
Punt Return Average and Fair Catches 7.9 YPR, 11 FCs 7.8 YPR, 5 FCs
Kickoff Return Average Against 23.9 YAPR, 2 TDs allowed 22.5 YAPR
Punt Return Average Against and Fair Catches 23.2 YAPR, 1 TD allowed, 2 FCs 7.4 YAPR, 6 FCs
Field Goals 9-12 (75%) 10-12 (83%)
Punts 50.1 YPP, 4 IN 20, 3 FCs, 4 blocked punts 43.3 YPP, 10 IN 20, 5 FCs


Ideal Strategy: Bring the heat on kicks and let Jacoby Jones handle all returns.

The Chargers have the worst special teams in the league, and it's not even close in a lot of areas. As I have read at the awesome SB Nation blog Bolts From The Blue, the Chargers have tied the NFL record for most points allowed by a special teams...in eight games. This is where the Texans need have to take advantage. San Diego's four blocked punts have turned into safeties, touchdowns, and short fields for the opposing offenses. Four blocked punts in eight games makes it really inviting for Joe Marciano to bring some extra men to go after the block.

When San Diego does punt, or kick for that matter, their kick coverage teams have allowed three touchdowns. Their 23.2 yards allowed per punt return is eight yards worse than 31st ranked Atlanta. The Texans will likely struggle to some degree in the other two phases of the game, so they need to use Jacoby Jones to give them great field position all game long, as the historically bad special teams play has really hurt San Diego this season.

In summation, Houston has to press the issue. They need to get physical on offense with inside runs and passes to the big tight ends. Defensively, the Texans need to bring pressure and attack the ball. Houston's special teams has a very big opportunity to make game-changing plays with blocked kicks and big returns if the speed is there. There's not a lot of thought to this blueprint: Just use the speed and muscle to press the action. If Houston can take the game to San Diego, it'll be a good Sunday for all.

As always, let the comments host your wonderful insight, banter, and ponderings.

Chargers vs Texans coverage | Bolts From The Blue

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