After the first two weeks of the season, I assumed this chain-smoking, hair-graying nonsense would be over with and the Texans would start to play at their true level of talent. The first few weeks of the season are weird; there are strange games as teams figure out who they are, like an 18 year old heading off to college. Instead, Houston's season has produced and continues to produce wet and wild games. These games have all been the result of the same elephant-sized problem seeping through the first quarter of the season--the inability to play a full 60 minute game. For whatever reason, Houston has played great at times and then wet the bed at others. They have simply been unable to play from kickoff to kneel down. As a result, they are sitting at 2-2 and in third place of the AFC South.
Usually, I have utilized this time to go over the missed details and deliver a synopsis of the game like one of those Breaking Bad recaps every website seems to have. The goal is to write about how and why the game played out like it did instead of just what happened. As much fun as those are to read and write, this week there is a higher power calling me to do something different. This 60 minute game question has been bothering me since Week Two and again it has reared its insidious little head like a horde of rotting groundhogs prancing around the fuchsia and pink painted North Dakota sunset. It could very well be a case of the team culture or some other intangible, but maybe by looking at the objective numbers, there is some type of proof that can be inferred. Whether it's the defense, Matt Schaub, or the running game, there has to be some type of answer.
It's safe to say Schaub has not been as fetid as everyone made him out to be after last Sunday's game. I'm sure all week there will be concerns about what to do with Schaub. Bench him for T.J. Yates or Case Keenum? Burn my #8 jersey to gain 15 seconds of Internet notoriety? Start Arian Foster at quarterback, dig up Darrel Royal's body, and put his head in a Futurama glass jar to run the wishbone? These first two "real" questions the talking heads and radio people will discuss all week are even sillier than the third one raised. If you don't believe me, let's cleanse our ears from this nonsense and look over Schaub's numbers to see how he compares to the league leaders.
|Leader||Manning 117||Bradford 188||Manning 75%||Manning 1,470||Manning 16||E.Manning 9||
The first thing to notice is how Peyton Manning shows up everyone else. He leads the league in completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating. Denver's dink and dunk offense is mesmerizing to watch as it slowly hypnotizes one on a Sunday afternoon.
The other is that Schaub is in the top ten in completions, attempts, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns. He has been incredible this season in those categories and is on pace to play one of the best seasons of his entire career. What if I was able to borrow Hermione's Time-Turner and very dangerously go back to September 1st (instead of the three to five hours it's intended to be used for), and gave you Schaub's total stats this season? Without knowing how any of these first four games played out and only looking at Schaub's total numbers, what would you think Houston's record was? I would be ecstatic and say Houston would be 3-1 to 4-0 simply based on Schaub's production this season. Despite this, people are now calling for his head and blaming him for the 2-2 start.
The real problems are that Schaub has thrown 6 interceptions (3 were returned for touchdowns), been sacked 11 times, has a 6.7 Y/A (20th) and a rating of 85.7 (17th). First, these interceptions returned for touchdowns are one of those lucky stats; despite his poor decision-making, they will not keep arriving at a rate of .75 a game. Second, the offensive line will improve if Duane Brown is able to come back and play at his full ability.
The real problem is the conservative play-calling seen in the stats. The yards per attempt is not due to a large number of incompletions. It it is due to too many five yard passes that end up three yards short of the first down marker. It can be seen in the first halves of the San Diego and Tennessee games and in the second half against Seattle. In the first two games, Houston came out timid and tried to control the clock, play possession football, blah blah, and the offense faltered. On Sunday against Seattle, the offensive play-calling was attack, attack, attack in the first half. Then it morphed into "we have the lead, so let's sit on our fist until the game is over." Gary Kubiak has been calling two different halves in the first four weeks of the season.
|Opp||Y/A 1st Half||Y/A 2nd Half|
The drop isn't enormous, but it is substantial. If you subtract the yards per attempt and multiply it by the yards per attempt in the lesser half, it amounts to a difference of 21.6, 49, 9, and 55 yards, respectively. The first three games Houston came out timid trying to get a feel for the game, like tipping a toe in the water before leaping right in. They cannonballed in against Seattle, yet they spent the second half sunbathing instead of continuing to attack. Kubiak wanted to run the ball, hang out, and hope his defense would keep an offense averaging 28.6 points from scoring more than 20. Of course it didn't work and Houston was outscored 17-0 in the second half to lose 23-20 in overtime.
Since there is an established difference between how Houston's passing game in the second half played compared to the first half, let's take it a step further. I've broken Schaub's games down by halves, pointed out which half was better, and complied the halves to come up with a reason why Houston can't play 3,600 seconds of football.
Now there is a clearer picture regarding the splits in the passing game. In "good" halves, Schaub has thrown the ball for 1.5 yards longer a pass and his completions are going for 2.12 yards longer. Schaub's play isn't much different, except he's throwing the ball less for shorter gains and he's throwing more interceptions and less touchdowns. These numbers are a direct result of the play-calling or Schaub choosing to throw short. Instead of doing everything in their power to win, the Texans are trying to do just enough. Kubiak is so horrified that something bad might happen that he's fulfilling his own prophecy. He needs to call plays with longer routes and tell Schaub to take some chances throughout the entire game because he has two awesome receivers, one of the best tight end combinations in the league, and playing conservative does not work (and has not worked). Hopefully this week we will see Kubiak expand his mind and take some chances instead of being too petrified to leave his room like Howie from The Benchwarmers.
Before it can be said for sure that Houston's problem has been the result of being too safe in the passing game, the run game needs to be looked at as well. This year, the Texans have run the ball 114 times (11th), for 537 yards (6th), 4.7 yards a carry (6th), and 134.3 yards per game (7th). The team is top ten in every running category except for the number of times they have handed the ball off. The Texans' running and passing attack are two of the most efficient in the NFL, but they've only scored 90 points this season, which places them 16th in the league. This is in spite of the fact they have accrued 1,641 yards (3rd), their average drive has started at their 29 (12th), and they are 5th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage at 66.67%.
The running game is a weird dilemma. They run the ball super effectively like using Hydropump against a Magmar. The problem is they can't run and pass well in the same half.
|SD||16/73 4.56 Y/C (7-21)
||12/47 3.92 Y/C (24-7)
|TEN||12/107 8.92 Y/C (7-10)
||16/65 4.06 Y/C 1 TD (23-14)
|BAL||23/94 4.09 Y/C (17-9)
||7/16 2.29 Y/C (0-13)
|SEA||19/98 5.16 Y/C (20-3)
||16/53 3.31 Y/C (0-20)
Here's the passing game half by half:
|SD||12/18 (66.67)||147||1/1||8.2||22/27 (81.14)||199||2/0||7.4|
|TEN||8/14 (57.14)||52||1/1||3.7||18/34 (52.94)||246||2/1||7.2|
|BAL||13/18 (72.2)||96||0/1||5.3||12/17 (70.58)||98||0/0||5.8|
|SEA||17/27 (62.9)||226||2/1||8.4||14/22 (63.63)||129||0/1||5.9|
Every time Houston has a huge half running the ball, the passing game suffers as a result. Now this seems like a no-brainer statement, but the difference between the two is fairly substantial. The only two halves where the running and passing game gelled at similar levels was in the first halves against San Diego and Seattle. The rest of the games have situations like the second half against Baltimore, where Houston threw the ball 17 times for 98 yards and had 7 carries for 16 yards. Part of the reason is that they had to come back in the second half that game. That doesn't change situations like the first half against Tennessee, where Houston threw for 52 yards and ran for 107. It's also not a case of them doing one more than the other. In almost all of these games, the pass attempts and run attempts are separated by only 3-5 plays with the exception of two instances--tthe second half against San Diego, where they had to throw to come back, and the Baltimore game, which ended up being their most unbalanced and worst offensive performance. Houston prides themselves on their balance. The problem is that they do one well, but not the other at times.
Even though it's easy to see how Houston has been inefficient in part of their game compared to the other at times, it still doesn't answer the question of why they can accrue yards and not put points on the board. This question can be better answered by looking at Houston's scoring drives this season. Below is a chart of all of Houston's touchdown drives this season.
|# of Plays||Type of Plays||Yards Gained|
|11||7 P 5 R||78|
|11||7 P 5 R 1 Pen
|10||3 P 7 R||71|
|10||6 P 4 R||80|
|10||8 P 1 R 1 Pen||75|
|8||6 P 2 R 0 Pen||87|
|6||4 P 2 R||90|
|5||5 P 0 R||55|
|5||1 P 4 R||80|
What's interesting about their touchdown drives is that Houston doesn't take advantage of a short field when they get it. They only have one touchdown drive that was 70 yards or less and their average touchdown drive begins on their own 32 yard line. It seems likes the offense realizes at times that they must score and finally puts it all together. The problem is that this doesn't happen enough and it seems like everything has to go perfectly for it to happen at all. This can be seen by looking at third downs and penalties.
On their 10 touchdown drives, the Texans have only accumulated 11 third downs and need an average of 7.45 yards to convert (6.4 if you remove the 3rd and 18 outlier). Also on these drives Houston has had only two penalties called against them. For Houston to put the ball into the end zone, everything has to go exactly according to the script and adversity must be nowhere to be found. Of their 9 touchdown drives, we can mark four as balanced, two as run heavy, and three as pass heavy. Balance is the key to their drives which result in touchdowns, but the problem is that on most drives one succeeds at the others' expense.
When Houston does get great field position, they kick field goals. On drives where they make or miss a field goal (lead the league with 6 misses), their drives start at their own 38.1. They even had drives that started at the opponent's 29, 19 and at their own 48 and ended with Randy Bullock on the field. It's another one of those classic examples about how the team fails to convert when they have opportunities. For the team to turn things around, they are going to need to play full games, take advantage of field position, and get the run and passing game to work together, not in spite of each other. This top ten offense needs to turn their yards into points over the next twelve games.
The defense was phenomenal on Sunday again. The problem was and has been mental errors, the offense letting them down, and breaking down at inopportune times. The Seattle game was a microcosm of the problems Houston's defense has faced. They gave Seattle six points because of two huge penalties, another field goal was given because of a short field after Ben Tate's fumble, and there was that long touchdown drive. Like I did with the offense, let's look at Houston's drives where they gave up touchdowns and field goals.
|Own 20||4/5 42 Yds||7/36|
|Own 2||4/5 46 Yds||7/77|
|Own 20||4/7 37 Yds||6/27|
|Own 1||7/8 79 Yds||1/15|
|Own 20||3/5 77 Yds||4/14|
|Own 41||1/5 34 Yds||2/20|
|Own 20||5/6 75 Yds||2/5|
|Opp 14||1/1 14 Yds||0/0|
|Average Own 17.3||29/42 (69%) 404||29/194 6.68 Y/C|
Here you can already see what I mean by a defensive meltdown. When Houston gives up touchdowns, it's on long drives where they finally break down after playing great defense. All of these drives start at their opponent's own side of the field except for the first drive of the San Diego game. On average touchdown drives, the opponent starts with the ball at their own 17 and needs 83 yards to score. Furthermore, all of these drives end in Houston's red zone, which is another troubling aspect of the defense. They are last in the league in red zone touchdown percentage and have given up a touchdown in the red zone 88.89% of the time. This stat seems to be one of those luckier ones, like fumble recovery rates, and should drop in the future. It still doesn't change how atrocious the defense has been around the goal line.
Two of these drives are 98 yards or longer, where the opposing offense is able to get a big passing play and then move the ball the length of their field. This season there have only been six drives in the entire NFL where the offense scores a touchdown after starting from their own five yard line or less. Houston has given up two of them.
If we add field goals to mix, there have only been 8 drives like this and Houston has even allowed a field goal in this fashion. As a result, Houston has given up for 37.5% of all scoring drives 95 yards or longer in the NFL.
There is even more evidence to support this defensive breakdown by comparing their numbers on touchdown drives with their averages this season. In the passing game, the defense has allowed 59 completions on 106 attempts (55.6%) for 564 yards. In the running game, they have given up 453 yards on 112 attempts (3.97 Y/C). If we subtract the touchdown drive numbers from the regular season numbers, we get the following table:
|Season||59/106 (55.6%) 564 Yds (5.32 Y/A)||112/453 3.97 Y/C|
|Touchdowns||29/42 (69%) 404 Yds (9.61 Y/A)||29/194 6.68 Y/C|
|Deduction||30/64 (48.7%) 160 Yds (2.5 Y/A)||85/259 3.04 Y/C|
The differences between the two situations are staggering. When giving up a touchdown, Houston is allowing their opponents to complete 14% more of their passes, or almost 4 more yards a completion. When trying to stop the run, they give up 2.71 extra yards per carry. The deduction proves how significantly better the defense is when it plays at its top level. Whether it is the result of poor play-calling, mental lapses, offensive adjustments or conditioning, I don't know. We can take this a step further by looking at drives where the offense kicks a field goal.
|Drive Start||Plays||Important Notice|
6 P (5/6 32 Yds)
5 R (2 Yds)
|2 Offsides (10 Yds)|
6 P (3/9 37 Yds)
4 R (41 Yds)
21 Yard Pass Interference
2 Offsides=31 Yards
1 P (0/1)
7 R (8/41 Yds)
|Missed Field Goal|
8 R (26 Yds)
2 P (1/2 7 Yds)
5 R (20 Yds)
|15 Yd Personal Foul on Jackson|
2 P (1/1 2 Yds)
1 R (1 Yds)
|Ball Received from an INT|
1 P (0/1)
2 R (2/7)
|33 Yard Pass Interference|
|Opp 21||3 P (0/3)||Ball Received from Fumble|
The problems we saw when Houston gave up touchdowns are nonexistent here. When it comes to giving up field goals, Houston does not give up long drives or large chunks of yards. Instead, the problems are silly mistakes and the offense giving the other team great field position. On touchdowns, the average drive the offense starts at is their own 17 yard line; here, the mean is the 45.5 yard line. Two of these field goals occurred because of Ben Tate's fumble and Matt Schaub interception. Although the defense forced a three and out, because of the field position the opponent was sent to the line to knock down an easy free throw.
The other cause for concern is the idiotic penalties that hand the offense a large chunk of yards. Here we can account for nine points given up because of a Kareem Jackson unnecessary roughness penalty and pass interferences called on both him and Johnathan Joseph. On two of these drives, the offense only managed 7 and 27 yards on their own; the other was a Ravens drive where they had 78 yards. If we add up the Schaub pick-sixes, Baltimore's punt return for a touchdown, and these gimme field goals, we get 43 points handed to the other team. That's almost two games' worth of points handed over to the other team without them having to do anything on the offensive side of the ball. Furthermore, if you subtract the total from points allowed, it ends up with Houston giving up 62 points, which puts them at 7th in the league instead of 24th. If the Texans keep allowing these breakdowns to happen, they won't win more than half their games this season.
Despite the collapses, the defense has played incredibly well. They've forced 24 punts (7th), 15 three and outs (3rd), 8.7% passing DVOA (20th), -31.1% run defense DVOA (4th), -10.1% defense DVOA (11th), 13 sacks, and 3 turnovers. However, it still doesn't matter if they keep sputtering like they have been and handing points to the other team. Whether it's poor penalties that hand yards to the opposing team or long touchdown drives that come out of nowhere, the Texans have been plagued by mental errors. On the bright side, the red zone defense and these large number of mental mistakes probably aren't sustainable and Houston should be able to correct them. These defensive errors are another example of Houston's inability to play a full game.
Quick Thoughts from Sunday's Game
- In the first half, Russell Wilson was 3/5 for 24 yards, was sacked twice, hit five times and was knocked around every time he dropped back to pass. What changed the game was Seattle's decision to move him outside the pocket and let him run around. He ran the ball zero times in the first half and ran the ball 10 times for 77 yards, with a long of 25 yards, in the second. The defense still was able to bring pressure and sacked him three times and hit him five times, but his ability to escape the pocket and make plays changed the game.
- The problem with the Schaub Pick 6 was the process, not the outcome. I liked the play-action passing call on 3rd and 4. There was only 2:40 left in the game, Houston was up by 7, and two first downs would have suffocated the life out of a Seattle comeback. The problem was how they went for it. They ran a boot leg to the right, where Seattle was blitzing and the entire offensive line was blocking down. Schaub had to see the blitz coming from when he went to the line of scrimmage. I don't know why they don't have some type of option to audible to something else. Instead, Schaub rolled right into the blitz and fluttered one up for Owen Daniels.
- Before the Richard Sherman interception, Houston had a 99.9% chance to win. After the interception, it dropped them to 52.2%
- The defense will only get better at forcing turnovers. They have only picked off 2 passes and recovered only 1/3 fumbles they have forced.
- I have no idea what offsides or false start is anymore. It used to be if the defensive lineman jumped, they could get back on time, and the offensive line was taught to stay still no matter what. Now every time anyone on the defensive line flinches, the tackle or guard will stand up and point even if it doesn't force them to move. Additionally, if the offensive lineman flinches, the defensive lineman is told to knock him over to get the false start called. J.J Watt did this and the call went against him.
Andre Johnson can get open whenever he wants no matter who's covering him.
- Houston lost its first one possession game since 2011's playoff loss to Baltimore.
- I loved Wade's decision to have Whitney Mercilus spy on Wilson the entire game. It will be interesting to see if they do the same to Colin Kaepernick.
- Matt Schaub was sacked 0 times in the first half and 4 times in the second half.
- T.J. Yates is 82/134, 61.1%, 949 yards, for 3 TDs, 3 INTs, and 7.1 Y/A in his 5 career games started.
From the data I gathered, you could blame Houston's troubles this season on three key factors. A conservative style of play that leads to deficits and comebacks, an inability to get the running and passing game on the same level, and the defense's mental lapses. The bad news is Houston hasn't played up to their talent level and is lucky to be 2-2. The good news is that all of these problems could be corrected in the next few weeks. However, as of right now, the Texans are nothing more than the Dallas Cowboys. They seem to win out of nowhere or blow it at the end, throw untimely interceptions, will probably finish 8-8 to 9-7 and now have a polarizing figure at quarterback who you can blame losses on.