A few months ago, I was moved to a different role at work. My role now is to pretty much be the interface between engineering and customers. Essentially, I went from being one of the Bobs to being Tom Smykowski. Actually, no, that's incorrect. The powers that be at my company decided that I was to retain my previous responsibilities as well as taking the new ones, so I am essentially one of the Bobs AND Tom Smykowski.
As a result, I've spent a good number of my nights and weekends working, thus leaving virtually no time for film study or other football analysis.
The whole thing has made me a bitter, bitter man (more so than usual), and my professional analysis on most projects can be summarized quite accurately by Homer Simpson.
Yet, sometimes life will be kind and present you with a six-pack of opportunity.
In this case, it comes from DirecTV in the form of the Short Cut. The Short Cut is where they edit a game into a half hour show by taking out all the commercials and time between plays. The advantage is that you can relive a game in a short period of time, but the disadvantage is that you only get one look at a play and that I don't get replays of night games (so, no Jets or Packers game).
Through the magic of DVR, I can rewatch each play a number of times, but I lose out on the multiple camera angles or slow motion that are often shown in replays.
Still, the compact version of football provided me the opportunity to rewatch five of the Texans' fiirst seven games of the season, and I'm here to share some observations that I didn't quite notice during the first viewings.
- Matt Schaub has shown a mobility and accuracy under pressure that I don't recall ever seeing from him before. I'm not talking about running the ball (obviously), but he's done a tremendous job of shifting around the pocket to avoid pressure and to make good reads to his hot receivers. More importantly, he's making very accurate passes to those receivers.
- Keshawn Martin seems to be running very smart and tight routes by evidence of the fact that he's getting open. The problem is that he can't catch the ball for crap. If he can figure out that whole "catch the ball" thing, he could have a big second half.
- Owen Daniels has just owned the middle of the field. He has some of the best hands in the league and his ability to exploit the soft middle areas of the field are making him absolutely deadly this year.
- The death of Andre Johnson has been greatly exaggerated. He's still got the ability to get open and make big plays. It seems to me that the apparent decline is more of a result of the different offensive options -- Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, Kevin Walter -- that didn't exist on this team in AJ's younger years. I would look for him to have a pretty good second half.
- Speaking of premature obituaries, while it's already been well documented, Kevin Walter has been absolutely stellar so far. And it's not just in the passing game. Watch him closely on running plays. He's often the reason a small gain becomes a first down.
- I didn't see very many running back screens called so far, and the few that were called were not particularly effective. The team has seen much more success on TE screens and has called them with more regularity.
- The running game was not having the success we'd hoped for so far (though it hasn't been that bad). I tried to focus on a lot of the less successful plays and in many of those cases, I found that the defenses were playing the run hard with eight men in the box and the Texans were struggling to handle the extra defenders. On the plus side, it may be one of the reasons for the aforementioned success in the passing game. Perhaps as the season rolls on, defenses will have to adjust to the successful passing game and the running game will open up. Or perhaps things will continue as is. Or perhaps the Texans will figure out a way to adjust to that extra defender and then everybody's screwed. Yeah... I like that last one.
- One area that has been fantastic so far this year has been tackling. The first guy to the ball has often made the play.
- The most impressive thing about J.J. Watt hasn't been the sack or pass defensed numbers... ok, I guess that is the most impressive thing, but what really jumped out at me is his array of moves. He's explosive off the ball, but he's also got a great swim move.
- Another incredible aspect of Watt's game is his ability to shed the block and make the tackle on a running back trying to run by him. It's unbelievable how quickly he can make that adjustment and tackle.
- Also on the defensive line, Brooks Reed and Antonio Smith have been very disruptive. They haven't put up impressive sack numbers, but that may partially be because they're actually human (unlike Watt), and human quarterbacks can occasionally get away from human pass rushers. I'm not suggesting that they are candidates for the All-Pro team, but they have played very, very well, and were they not in the massive Watt shadow, we would all be talking highly about them.
- Connor Barwin has also been playing well, but he's bgetting far more grief than the others. This was mainly because of his higher profile, but also because he had worse statistics. He was, however, doing a very good job of rushing the passer, even if he didn't always get there. He finally made it happen against Baltimore, but if sacks are a function of effort and opportunity, it wouldn't be out of the question to see him have a big second half as the effort is there.
- Staying on the defensive line, even before the Baltimore game, Whitney Mercilus was showing signs of good play in some of his limited snaps. Specifically, against Jacksonville, I noticed him really getting some good rushes.
- The Texans have had a lot of success rushing the passer with four or fewer, which has allowed them to drop extra guys in coverage. Yet they have not hesitated to bring the extra rusher. This combination is allowing them to stay completely unpredictable and being a nightmare for offenses.
- They're also doing a good job of shifting guys around on the line. I noticed Watt, for example, playing all over the place from left end to tackle to right end. This adds to the unpredictability I just talked about.
- I haven't talked much about the secondary and that's primarily because you don't get a good view of them during the replays, but obviously they're also playing very well. They're definitely being helped by the pass rush, but they're also helping the pass rush. I remember only a few years ago when the pass rush was negligible because receivers were getting open nearly instantly, so teams didn't need to neutralize the rushers. That is no longer the case.
- Shayne Graham's kickoffs make me Flacco.
- While we (rightfully) bemoan the special teams play, it should be noted that Bryan Braman and Alan Ball have really played well. I know it has been noted already, but they really jumped out at me. Braman has been especially effective in kickoff coverage and Ball on punt coverage.
- I'm going to miss replacement referee Don King and his Elmer Fudd penalties. I think CBS should replace Dan Dierdorff with King.
I realize that this entire post was kind of sunshine and puppy dogs. When your season has gone the way the Texans' season has, and when you consider that the two weakest games (@ NYJ and vs GB) were not part of my set, it's kind of hard not to paint a very pretty picture.
Still, the takeaway is that the key individual contributors on the team are really playing up to their potential. The work ethic instilled by the coaches and leaders of the team is likely a major contributor to this and, lucky for us, something that is sustainable.
The biggest thing I really got from this exercise, though, is how awesome those first few games really were and how exciting the prospects for this team really are.