Behind Enemy Lines: Wherein the Texans Shiver Timbers and Buckle Swashes

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

6-3.  The Houston Texans are 6-3.  I'm not sure I can get tired of saying (okay, typing) that.  Right now, there aren't too many other things that would sound better right now.  Of course there are a couple of exceptions.  Examples include "Hi, I'm Scarlett Johannson.  My friend Mila and I were on our way to a charity jello wrestling tournament and we were wondering if you'd help us practice?" and "The Sonics are being removed from Oklahoma City and placed back in Seattle after David Stern came down with a terminal bout of sanity," or "Your 7-3 Houston Texans..."
 
Unfortunately, of those three, the last one is most likely to occur within my lifetime; maybe even as early as next Sunday after the Texans play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Jump to see what the Texans' defense can exploit in the Bucs' offense to make 7-3 a reality.
 
Sigh.  If only they could make that Scarlett Johansson thing a reality...

Josh Freeman, or Vince Young with Fewer Fanboiz.

This hasn't exactly been a good season for Josh Freeman so far.

His DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, is -2.3%, meaning that Freeman is 2.3% worse than the average quarterback in the league.  He's upside down in his TD/Int ratio (7 TDs/10 INTs), which has been a knock on him since he was drafted from Kansas State. 

From his scouting report from CBS Sports:

Prone to turnovers, makes poor decisions trying to make plays that aren't there.

Considering this, it wouldn't surprise me to see Freeman force passes to his receivers, and why I expect Johnathan Joseph to come up with at least one interception on Sunday.  That's, of course, assuming he can resist the temptation to throw it at Kareem Jackson who, for reasons that only God, Kubiak, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster know, continues to start at CB2 for this franchise.

Freeman can be very accurate...so long as he's not expected to pass for more than 10 yards.  According to ProFootballFocus, Freeman is 126/163 (77%) on passes of less than 10 yards.  His accuracy and attempt rates both drop precipitously on passes of more than 10 yards; specifically, he's 32/79 (40%) from between 11-20 yards and a measly 6/17 (35%) on deep balls. 

If he does complete passes to the Texans secondary, expect it (or them) to come between the numbers around 11-20 yards from the line of scrimmage.  So far this season, six of Freeman's 10 interceptions have come in this area of the field.

What to Expect from the Texans Vaunted Pass Rush.  Nope, Still Not Used to That Description.

Making Freeman's life difficult depends a lot on how much pressure the offensive line allows.  And from what I can tell, there's plenty of potential for pressure.  As a unit, the O-Line doesn't give up many sacks; so far, they've been credited with giving up only eight sacks this season.  Of those eight sacks, five of them were surrendered by left tackle Donald Penn.  On the other side of the line is Jeremy Trueblood, who has allowed a league-high 29 QB pressures this season.  So for the Texans' pass rush, either side of the line can be exploited.

As far as run blocking, there's an interesting dichotomy there.  On one hand, the Bucs are ranked fourth by FO on power runs (i.e., the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown) with a 77% success rate.  At the same time, FO also has them ranked as one of the worst in stuffed runs (or runs where the running back is tackled behind the line of scrimmage).

LeGarrette Blount and His Killer Left Hook.

While the Bucs' offensive line is pretty mediocre, their running game has been the biggest bright spot for their offense to date.  That's thanks in most part to LeGarrette Blount.  Blount, when he isn't busy punching the facemasks of Boise State, and now New Orleans Saints players, is the Bucs' primary running option.  Earnest Graham had factored into the mix before he went down for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. 

The key to stopping Blount is to prevent him from getting a head of steam.  When Blount gets past the line and into the second or third level, he becomes that much more difficult to tackle.  His style of play makes him best suited for running inside.  So far this season, he's had a lot of success running the ball off right guard Davin Joseph's side, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.  To that end, Shaun Cody (who has not made me want to kick the cat lately) and J.J. Watt will likely face the brunt of Blount.  I just hope he doesn't try to do something silly like punch J.J. Watt, because that will end badly and he will have no one to blame but himself for it.

Who is This Mike Williams You Speak of?

When you have a quarterback as up-and-down as Josh Freeman, the ones that suffer most are, of course, the children his receivers.  Their numbers haven't been terribly impressive, so far.  The Bucs' top receiver, Mike Williams seems to be suffering from the curse of Michael Clayton a sophomore slump, and none of the other receivers have picked up the slack.  But there are a couple of things to watch in this facet of their offense.

Keep an eye on Preston Parker.  Despite being targeted about half as many times as Mike Williams, Parker has about 80 more yards than he does.  He could pose a problem for the Texans in the secondary, especially if he's covered by Kareem Jackson.

Then there's Kellen Winslow.  Of Josh Freeman's 10 interceptions this season, half of them came on passes aimed at Winslow.  So if the Texans are going to intercept the ball, I would expect it to come off a pass to Winslow.

Okay, I've said enough here.  Now it's your turn, BRB.  What do y'all expect to see on Sunday?  Leave your comments below, and hurry, because space is limited (void where prohibited, see Tim for details).

Texans vs Buccaneers coverage

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