You know the saying "I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out"? Well, I went to a football stadium, a fight broke out, and there wasn't much of a game to accompany it.
It would be really easy to just marvel at how bad Rusty Smith was rather than what actually happened on the field. When two of your 15 completed passes looked like they were thrown to other receivers, and you throw at least five balls that were nowhere near their intended targets, it's pretty clear that you're getting bussed back down to the practice squad as soon as Jeff Fisher (or his replacement, should that scenario play out) can find a quarterback worthy of gracing an NFL roster. But the real story of this game, to me, was how the Texans' defensive line absolutely dominated the Titans' offensive line. I thought I saw a lot of stacked box runs, but the tape showed that even when the Texans were throwing seven in the box, the Titans were still having problems running the football because of blocking miscues. Amobi Okoye had the game of his life, and while Jake Scott and Eugene Amano aren't the cream of the crop when it comes to NFL guards, I think it's clear that he's been playing better this year and would go as far as to say that his decreased weight has been extremely helpful.
Behind the jump, a look at what Chris Johnson was treated to all day, how Kareem Jackson still is the weak link in pass coverage, and Arian Foster, backfield receiving threat.
Properly utilizing your pterodactyl
One of the sets the Texans run that drives me absolutely nuts is when they send Matt Schaub out in the shotgun, then split Arian Foster out wide. It's by no means a common play, as they've done it only nine times through this game, but it drives me nuts to see the NFL's leading rusher sent wide, removing the threat of the run. Nine times the Texans have done this, and it's given them a first down via QB Sneak, then the following Schaub numbers: 2-7, 14 yards, and a sack.
The thing is, most of those plays have started out with Foster in, and then had him motion out wide. The Texans tried a different spin in this game, where they started Foster out pre-snap outside, then motioned him inside. I loved this playcall:
Watch Stephen Tulloch try and shadow him in obvious man-to-man coverage pre-snap. He's behind Foster and out of position before the ball is even snapped. Once the ball is snapped:
The throw is perfect, and Foster has a great angle. The missed tackle is just gravy. One of the things i was dismayed about in the Ravens game was how the Texans didn't seem to focus on Foster at all in the swing pass/short game after how good he looked at it in this game and the Eagles game. This is a set/play combination I'd like to see more often.
"Most NFL ready corner in the draft" picked on by Rusty Venture, film at eleven
It's pretty telling when you start splitting snaps with a midseason waiver wire pickup that you're just not a good football player at the present time. While there's no reason to pull him off the field now that the Texans are all but mathematically eliminated, utilizing Kareem Jackson so often in the first place is one of the main reasons they got to where they are today. He did manage to avoid being the target of any balls over his head this week, although I'm guessing that's more Rusty then him. He also managed to put a good lick on Justin Gage for a drop in this zone:
But the one that really struck me was his play on this short pass in the third quarter. It's fairly obvious where this ball is going, Rusty Smith had shown no signs of deceptiveness in this game. Look at how slow Jackson is to react to this route despite being in fairly good position:
It's man-to-man, this is his man the whole way. It's obvious to me that the deep balls are completely in his head at this point. He'd much rather react to a completed underneath pass then gamble on anything.
Whoever takes over as the next defensive coordinator of the Texans has an awful lot of work to do with Jackson just to be able to get him onto the field. I don't want to call him a bust, and I don't want to turn this into Part 398 of the long-running debate as to whether he'll be a good player in the future because him starting means he's ahead of certain All-Pro players' career paths. The decision to start him as a rookie was a colossal blunder, and just as people who argue for Kubiak's firing can point to his employment of (and continued belief in) Frank Bush as reason alone that he should be canned, people who argue for Rick Smith's dismissal can squarely point at this as their one true reason. Except the lack of any attention to any free agent safety or nose tackle who demands more than the minimum is probably just as damning, if not moreso.
Any notion that his play is "improving," I don't buy. People don't see him on the field as often, and him not being on the field as often means he gets burned less. Keeping him off the field has been like cutting down from five packs of cigarettes to two: You're still not healthy yet.
Front seven seven seven
Coming into this game, Chris Johnson had played 4 games against the Texans' run defense that has been the er, best point, of the defense in the past few years. In those 4 games, he carried the ball 74 times and accumulated 487 yards for his trouble. Roughly 6.5 yards per carry.
This time, he left the game with five yards. On seven carries. Just three of which were positive gains. The culprit? A defensive line that had probably the best total team game I can remember any Texans' defensive line having. How about this play, wherein Titans blockers are thrown right into Chris Johnson's path?
Or if you're more into the penetrating plays that make Bill Kollar happy, here is Amobi Okoye eating Jake Scott's soul:
Notice those fronts? The Texans creeped Pollard up on the first play, but didn't have him right down on the line. On the second one, it was just a base 4-3 set. In fact, on the Okoye stop, the Titans are actually using six offensive linemen against just seven men in the box. This wasn't a matter of Johnson playing poorly, this was a matter of the Titan offensive line getting ravaged.
Texans vs Titans coverage