Tape Study: Houston Texans 20 @ New Orleans Saints 38--Beating The Bush

There are a lot of off-handed ways to cleverly make fun of Frank Bush, but I've done enough of that on this blog, so let me just be blunt:  This game was a masterpiece of what happens when simplicity is breached.

Now don't get me wrong, the defensive line was embarrassingly bad for the majority of this game, particularly starters against starters. There were missed tackles. It's a preseason game, and they clearly weren't going to throw the whole playbook out there against the Saints. The excuses are lined up there if you want them. But the story of this game comes down to adjustments and the lack thereof.

Bush's defense scurries around the field to cover people, but for the most part, there are two sets: 4-3 and Nickel. The two tenets are simplicity and aggression. What that essentially means is: it's read-and-react. Because it's also aggressive, the Texans are prone to over-pursuing when they happen to wander across the wrong first read.

Sean Payton saw this on film, I'm assuming, and created a game plan based around deception. The Saints ran counter plays, they ran draw plays, they ran late-developing screens so that once DeMeco Ryans came down to rush upon seeing his assignment engaged in blocking, there was nothing but wide open space. They did this again, and again, and again. In fact, they did it so well that the Texans began biting on play fakes and downfield space opened up, which made things even worse. Now of course, like I said, it was a preseason game, and you don't want to expose the whole playbook. But this was very consistent with both what I saw last year (anyone else have the memory of a scrambling Vince Young waltzing out uncovered burned into their skull?) and what empirically was factual last year about the Texans. 

I dropped a few Deep Blue analogies on Twitter and during the JMWL draft chat, but upon further reflection, nothing that Payton did was all that complicated. It didn't take a series of adjustments on Payton's side, because Bush made hardly any adjustments of his own. To keep with the chess theme, Bush comes out defensively using a Scholar's Mate. It's one of the simplest and most aggressive kinds of checkmates you can have, and one that is blatantly obvious by move two to anyone who has played more than a day of chess in their life. Well, Payton just blocked that off easily and continued on his way, and Bush started moving his queen around aimlessly while trying to re-establish that same failed plan.

Did the defense play well? Absolutely not. But it would have taken a superhuman effort to overcome the exposure of the Bush scheme. That they played poorly in addition to this was a recipe for, well, giving up 38 points to mostly backup skill position players. And if you think 198 yards on 4.3 YPC is bad, think about how bad it would've been if Saints' backup Chris Ivory had stopped dancing behind the piles and made some real cuts. Maybe then the Saints would've notched, I dunno, 6.4 yards a carry?

Proof, the bloody mess, and silver linings are behind the jump. Massive 56K warning is in effect.

RUNNING PLAYS THAT MAKE ME SAD

(Editor's note: Please avoid this section if you have a sensitive stomach.)

Check out how Connor Barwin basically goes on vacation here. By the way, the player doing the pushing here, Zach Strief, is their backup tackle. They created a hole so big that Reggie Bush was actually able to run through it.

Your first thought on this play is going to be looking at the double missed tackle, but stay away from that for a second and look at the weakside of the play, where Frank Okam and Zac Diles manage to helpfully run into each other, then get pushed out of the way before the cutback happens. Over-pursuit is fun!

This doesn't seem so bad, right? But I mainly left this in because I wanted you to see Earl Mitchell meet Jahri Evans, then exit stage left out of the play. Is that what it's like to have a dominant guard? I think I'm a little aroused.

Again, even with the backups in on both sides, look at these guys over-commit to the first read, then watch Adrian Arrington ride the sideline and break a few tackles to take this play from "good" to "extra crispy".

As I said on Twitter, this wasn't Antonio Smith not containing the run, this is Antonio Smith not containing his mind. Where exactly is he going? It looks like at first it might be the quarterback, but then he stops even going for him. Is he just flat out quitting on the play?

The Saints cobbled together 11(!) runs of eight yards or more in this game. A plurality of them are draws, end-arounds, counters, and other plays that start off with an initial read that is deceptive. Are you sad yet? Yes? Well, too bad, because we still have some other plays that will make you sad.

PASSING PLAYS THAT MAKE ME SAD

So again, at first you're going to see Wilson stumble in coverage a bit and flub this route and be a bit mad at him. But take a deeper look up front when the playaction happens, and notice how badly Glover Quin and DeMeco Ryans bite on it, then scramble to get back. Of course, we have no way of knowing for sure who is covering who without the playcall, but it sure seems to me like this is a case of spots in the zone being vacated because of the PA, then Wilson trying to clean up a mess he's not suited to picking up.

Look at how Ryans starts off, reads the play, and then rushes the quarterback when Thomas is blocking. Then watch the Saints offensive line go to work on a devastating and well-planned screen play. They get great blocks at every level and Glover Quin is too far away to catch Pierre Thomas here.

Of the five Saints passes on the night that led to 15+ yard gains, every last one of them was either a RB screen or a play-action pass. 

Now, is this a reason to change what we think about what the defense will do this year? I don't think so. For one thing, not many coordinators are as adjustment-minded as Payton. Paradoxically, we're probably better off facing the Colts because you know the rules in that matchup on the first read. I'm certainly not comfortable in the knowledge that beating the Texans defense is this easy and the blueprint is out there, but the NFL is full of coaches who try to win things on the terms of what their team is best at, and the Texans should be fine in that matchup. Scholar's Bush is still going to have his great games when the Texans run into coaches like that. I do have an ulcer about the idea of him trying to stop a sophisticated offense, but I'm not ready to hurl myself into Buffalo Bayou just yet.

My two (and only two) things I saw in this game that were a positive for the defense: Kareem Jackson was mostly untargeted, but looked excellent deep on the one play that he was. I think he'll struggle inside early, but he looks like he has the deep speed to keep up with people already. 

Lastly, the final blitz by Frank Bush to sack Chase Daniel with the third stringers. Troy Nolan comes as a safety, but if you watch the tape, he lines up, WAITS A SECOND so that the blockers commit, then goes. It was gorgeous. It was also a rare case of six men coming on a Frank Bush blitz. I'll be saving this play in the archives for future generations to gasp at. 

OFFENSE

This was a vintage 2009 Texans performance: move the ball around well and do horrible things on a quarter of your plays. There were sacks, there were questionable fumbles, there were drive-killing penalties, and there were third-down sideline passes gone awry. If Schaub had just hit a defender covering Andre Johnson deep for an interception, somebody would have won Texans Fuckup Bingo.

I continue to be more impressed by the Texans offensive skill players than I do Dan Orlovsky, but I think Orlovsky had a better game than he had last week. Not good enough to make me think he's a good backup quarterback, but good enough to make me think he's better than Rex Grossman. Any one of our four tight ends could start on most teams and do well in the passing game, and James Casey is showing that he's a much-improved blocker, as evidenced below:

That is a terrific blind-side chop for a tight end on a defensive lineman. Led to a great break in the New Orleans zone as well. Casey even lined up as slot receiver on the last drive, something that was probably fueled by the injuries at the position, but still, his versatility is a pretty great asset to have on game day.

The offensive line played alright, but not anything special. This wasn't the Arizona game. The biggest problem was free agent acquisition Wade Smith, who had a holding penalty, two blown blocks, and a couple of ugly plays out front. Let me show you a couple of those:

Sad, ain't it? At least it probably wasn't worse than ABC-13's brilliant camerawork on the play. I can't express to you in words how thankful I am that CBS is doing the Cowboys game. I will never mock them again. At least until Week Six.

Smith gets out in front to block on the screen here, and uhh...yeah. I don't know if that's a turf issue or not, but it brings to mind Barney from The Simpsons impersonating an NFL guard.

I am not ready to go chicken little on the season watching this tape. I think as long as the offense can stay relatively turnover-free and Schaub is on the field, the Texans will be in games no matter how poorly the defense plays. Additionally, you probably couldn't pick a matchup worse for the Texans defense than the Saints offensively. But let's be honest with ourselves: this should worry us. And the fact that there were almost no adjustments defensively, preseason or not, is scary. Scholar's Bush continues to have a lot to live up to in my eyes, Best Defense In Franchise History (TM) or not.

Texans vs Saints coverage | Texans vs Saints recap | Texans vs Saints boxscore | Canal Street Chronicles

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