Welcome back to another exciting season of film study, Texans fans. If you're unaware of what these posts are about, I chart football games for Football Outsiders, and all that work goes into the stats you find in the book, such as how many rushers and passers a team sends, who was covering who, and so on. Last season I ran these at my own site, this season we're bumping up to BRB and I'm making .gifs and diagrams of the plays. If you're not yet used to these posts, you better start getting that way, because I'm bumping us up to two of them a week. One for each half.
Because I already know right now that I'm likely to spend the second half post talking almost exclusively about the run game, I am going to focus on the defense in this post. I talked about how Frank Bush tried to stop Peyton Manning last year earlier, and overall that game plan didn't change much. Bush did end up doing two of the things I suggested in that post in this half: Using the third-down line more often (until Connor Barwin hurt himself) and coming up with some creative formations. I was absolutely stunned that Bush actually ended up having guys stand up and going without the traditional four man front. This was the sort of creativity that people around here had been asking of him for awhile, and he finally delivered on it. In the Monday presser, Gary Kubiak (in reference to how having Barwin out hurt them) alluded to the fact that this specific package was actually solely made for this game. We've come a long way from vanilla, baby.
Behind the jump: The meaning of Amobi Okoye, the baptism (by speed) of Kareem Jackson, a look at the two and three down linemen packages, and a quick note about the passing offense. 56 K Warning in effect.
This was the best half Amobi Okoye has played since 2007.
Most Texans fans expected Mario Williams and Antonio Smith to get pressure, especially after hearing how banged up the Colts' offensive line was coming into the game. I don't think many people expected Amobi Okoye to also be leading that charge. I know one person who explicitly didn't, in fact.
But Okoye showed up on the film as a big difference maker. I'm skipping the broken record joke, but Okoye has a history of showing up when the competition is at its lowest. Colts guard Jamey Richard, making his first start, would appear to be another example of that. Here's an example of a play that makes you think that was the case:
On the other hand, there is this play, where he draws a holding call by Jeff Saturday (assuming this is actually on Brown, since he's the holder) by being EXTREMELY quick off the snap count. This is something new.
It wasn't just him beating the inside guys either; he shed a Ryan Diem block on a draw to tackle Joseph Addai on a draw. He chased down someone who went beyond the line of scrimmage from behind. Not once did you think that he'd disappeared from this half. And that's a huge key behind the Texans revving and holding the Colts to just ten first half points and forcing three early punts. Last year? The Texans had the Colts punt just five total times. Between both games.
It's way too early in the season (and Richard was bad, too) to say if this is the start of something really good, but it sure was nice to see a disruptive interior presence on this team while Shaun Cody continues to do little but require a blocker to keep him honest.
Ice Kareem melts if you leave him out too long.
I was pretty high on Jackson coming into this game, as he'd really gone untested in the preseason and came away with a pick. I left this half thinking that charting the preseason was a waste of my time.
A lot of people would use the phrase "picking on" here. As in, "The Colts picked on Jackson," but I don't think that accurately tells the story. The Colts' entire gameplan seemed to be based on exploiting Jackson early and often. Brice McCain's man was targeted twice, Glover Quin's was targeted four times, and Jackson's was targeted eleven times. Fortunately for both Jackson and the Texans, Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon seemed hell-bent on not catching anything thrown his way, no matter how easy of a catch it should've been. For example:
Add it all up, and Jackson was the recipient of three gift drops by Garcon, a miscommunication by Manning and Garcon on the route to run, and the Anthony Gonzalez sideline catch that he had his foot on the line for. If you're looking for the lone silver lining in the first half, here it is:
Of course, facing the Colts and Peyton Manning isn't exactly easy pickings for a rookie, and I'm not about to bury him in the junkheap next to DeMarcus Faggins or anything, but this was a pretty inauspicious start.
One-two....two? That's all?
I don't want to get too hyperbolic in praising Frank Bush here. Basically he took this:
And turned it into this:
The game hadn't changed, so to speak. The same players were on the field, the same basic tenets applied to the vanilla. There were no corner blitzes, there were no six man blitzes, no safeties came. It was just a different look for Manning. I liked the design, and I thought it was a pretty nifty trick to put something else into Manning's head. It worked really well on one play, but it worked because Williams and Smith both beat their men, not specifically because of the design of the blitz:
They used this set for six plays--this sack, a 8 yard dumpoff pass to Addai when Mario beat Charlie Johnson on the edge, the 19 yard TD pass to Wayne that is the kind of throw only Manning would be able to make, the 22 yard pass to Wayne in the middle of a zone, the Bernard Pollard pick thrown out of bounds, and a seven yard pass that happened because Glover Quin got picked off his defender by Dallas Clark. Overall, the results seemed pretty consistent with the regular plays they ran, but they got a pressure and a sack out of it in the first half. Hard to call that anything but a success.
Jakespeare and the ancient art of motorcycle maintenance.
Certain blogosphere types might have you believe that the Texans passing game "played scared" or some other form of bullshit. Let me put that notion to rest: When a team completes three straight 20+ yard passes down the field to get its first touchdown, it didn't play poorly at all. Matt Schaub wound up with pedestrian final numbers, but that was the result of three factors:
1) The Texans' offensive line looked flat out ugly pass blocking. Duane Brown got beat multiple times, Eric Winston got beat once by Mathis, Clint Session came on a gut blitz unblocked and forced a terrible throw.
2) Matt Schaub, for all his strengths as a quarterback, doesn't have the best deep ball in the world. If he gets a little more air on his play-action bomb to Kevin Walter or the go-route to Andre Johnson in the fourth quarter, that's two TDs. Instead, he got a pass interference penalty (which doesn't help his stats) and an incompletion (although Johnson probably should've still caught the ball.)
3) Drops. Hate to give fuel to the few individuals here that dislike Jacoby Jones, but dropping that perfectly placed touchdown in the end zone was a killer. He had another drop on 3rd and 10 to end the Texans' second drive. Of course, he added a good punt return and a nice sideline catch as well, but those miscues were both killers and cost the Texans at least four points.
I certainly thought the Texans would do more passing yesterday, but that was because I didn't anticipate that they'd jump out to that same early lead again. The defense was amazing in the first half (and especially the first quarter). I did advocate before the game that I thought the Texans would need to be even in the turnover battle to have a chance, and between Schaub's interception and the poor pass blocking of the offensive line, I'm not surprised at all that the run game was prominently involved to keep turnovers down. I don't think any of us expected THAT much success though.
We'll delve into the running game's success and more, next time on
Sick Sad World Tape Study.