On paper, this was the worst possible matchup for the Texans' offense. The Jets had the best run defense in the league according to DVOA, a shutdown cornerback in Darrelle Revis, and a ubiquitous blitz scheme. This was bad for Houston. Nine or ten points looked like the max number this offense could score.
Although Houston's offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against the Bengals' ferocious defensive line, they would face a better one against the Jets. It was expected that the Texans would have have similar but lesser results against New York. The problem was that the Texans have the worst running backs in the NFL. Alfred Blue was the worst running back in the league last year, and this year he's 27th in DYAR and 33rd in DVOA. Chris Polk received chances, but he too was awful and even worse in the passing game. Jonathan Grimes had been successful in a small sample size, yet he never looked like a real answer. With Polk out, Blue and Grimes would be necessary for Houston to move the ball against the best run defense in the NFL.
This was because it was expected DeAndre Hopkins would have a quieter game matched up against Revis and with a third string quarterback under center for the Texans. Over the last few weeks, Hopkins had been the only outlet for the Texans to move the ball. Now it looked like he was set for a 6 catch, 60 yard game, not the 115 yards and 2 touchdowns Houston needed.
Additionally, as Rich Gannon said thirty times on Sunday, T.J. Yates was coming from the couch to a NFL field. Completing passes is difficult in this situation. Completing passes while dealing with free pass rushers coming from every direction is a difficult situation tossed inside a quandary.
This was the stage for Sunday's game.
The Texans scored 24 points.
Rather than allow their running backs to timorously sit back before attacking the hole and incessantly get brought down for three yards a carry, the Texans did something entirely different. In a wildcat package, Cecil Shorts III played quarterback with Grimes at running back. Together they ran zone reads and stretch plays that yanked the front four from the defense's mouth. It took until the fourth quarter for New York to have any idea how to stop it. The Texans averaged 6.3 yards a carry when Grimes or Shorts carried the ball, and 2.8 when Blue did.
The Texans went right after Revis as well. With 13:00 left in the first quarter, on Houston's first offensive possession of the game, Yates took a shot deep down the right sideline to Hopkins and missed him by five yards. In the second quarter, Yates didn't miss. They ran a play-action pass on 2nd and 3 from their own 39.
DeAndre Hopkins didn't just escape Revis Island. He bursted through it and left it in a dust. 61 YARD TD --> WOW! https://t.co/WVdFwsPYvO— NFL (@NFL) November 22, 2015
Later on, Revis went out with a concussion. Houston then ran a simple run play to the left; on the next play, they attacked Revis' replacement with a fade down the right sideline that put the last touchdown on the scoreboard.
DeAndre had the 5 catches for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns the Texans needed. Their best player beat the Jets' best player. Instead of not attacking Revis like most teams, the Texans went after him with Hopkins and won
Houston's other touchdown came off a play they had been setting up for nine games. During the entire 2015 season, Cecil Shorts III was thrown screens at both sides of the field and did nothing with them. Yet they continued to throw these plays to my dismay, especially on third down. At the Jets' 21 yard line, with the game tied 10-10, they threw another screen to Shorts. But instead of having Shorts scutter ahead for three yards and fall down, he looked to the right sideline. The former Mount Union backup quarterback hit Alfred Blue in stride and made everyone wonder why he can't just play quarterback for the rest of the season.
It was the exact same play the Jacksonville Jaguars ran last year against the Texans.
New York was able to get a little bit of pressure on Yates. They had 5 QB hits and blindsided Yates on a fumble forcing sack, but it was nowhere near what was expected considering the circumstances. The wildcat took the pressure off T.J. having to play a great game and led to him throwing occasionally in advantageous situations instead of often against a gruesome pass rush.
Before a game was played, O'Brien was supposed to be a master at game-planing for his opponents, changing things that didn't work, sitting guys who didn't get the job done, and making adjustments at halftime. For the first 25 games of his career, real tangible examples were scarce, and the whole thing seemed like a lot propitiation done for him to get and keep this job. Finally, against the Jets, O'Brien innovated. He implemented things into the offense that negated the Jets' strengths, and the Texans are 5-5 because of it.
I took my son to his first Texans game yesterday. While it didn't stir quite the emotion in me that his first Astros game did, it was yet another amazing experience that I'll never forget. After the game, I asked my boy how he felt about Houston teams being undefeated for games he attended. His response?
"I don't lose, Dad."
Although I feel rather certain his statement is inherently flawed, it made me laugh, much like the reality that the Texans are somehow pulling out of the nosedive that marked the first half of their season. I'm not ready to start blocking off the second weekend in January just yet, but with three games left against the AFC South, who knows?
Of all the people to ever have lived, me and you, sitting in front of your computer, or phone, or newspaper reading this blog post, live in the most exciting times known to man. We live in an accelerated culture where technology is evolving at a rate faster than our brains can comprehend. Things like exoskeletons, electric cars, manned missions to Mars, virtual reality, and other science fiction plot points are merging their way into our lives.
If that isn't enough for you, we could be living in a world where the following quarterbacks start next week:
T.J. Yates: Brian Hoyer missed Sunday because of a concussion he suffered against the Bengals. Hoyer will get the start against the New Orleans Saints if he's healthy, but no one knows if he will be by that point.
Case Keenum: After trading Sam Bradford and a 2015 5th round pick, the Rams received Nick Foles, a 2015 4th round pick, and a 2016 2nd round pick. Foles was benched this week for Keenum. Jeff Fisher didn't need to start Keenum to know what he was going to get out of him--a really bad quarterback.
Yesterday, KEEEEEENUUUUUUUUM went 12-26 for 136 yards. He also took a brain-quivering hit that left him thinking he was in Mexico. Fisher didn't take him out. The refs didn't do anything. Keenum stayed in the game rather than go through the concussion protocol. Then he fumbled the ball two plays later, leading to the Ravens kicking a game-winning field goal in overtime. Like Hoyer, it's unknown whether or not he'll get the start this week because of health.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: It took a Geno Smith punch to the face to get Fitzpatrick into the starting role. From there, the Jets started the season 4-1, but they have since gone gone 1-4. There have been grumblings for Smith to start at quarterback. It doesn't seem like something that will happen unless the Jets lose one or two more. Fitzpatrick should be grittying his way through next Sunday versus Miami.
Matt Schaub: The Ravens are enduring a 2013 Texans-esque season. Entering this year, idiots like me picked them to be the AFC's participant in the Super Bowl. Instead Baltimore is 3-7, and it took a game-winning Joe Flacco drive against the Rams to get to win number three. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Flacco did this on a torn ACL. As a result, Matt Schaub will be the starting quarterback for the Ravens the rest of this season.
The Texans' quarterback stink is a contagion that has now spread throughout the rest of the NFL. If the idea of Texans has-been quarterbacks Yates, Keenum, Fitzpatrick, and Schaub all starting on the same Sunday in 2015 doesn't get you excited to be alive in today's post-modern society, nothing else will.
Another week, and another win that has rendered me completely speechless. No rational person could have ever expected DeAndre Hopkins to not only win against Darrelle Revis, but flat out dominate him. Nobody could have predicted Chris Ivory mysteriously only getting eight carries. Nobody reasonably anticipated this Texans safety duo of Eddie Pleasant and Andre Hal getting two interceptions on back-to-back drives to seal the game. Despite some clear talent deficiencies on this roster at several key positions, these guys are somehow playing out of their damn mind. The job that this coaching staff has done to turn not only their players but themselves around after such a rough start is truly remarkable. Hell, I dare say that this midseason swing is Bill O'Brien's finest moment yet as the head coach of the Texans.
If Houston can keep this insane momentum going - and that is of course a huge "if" with the Saints' offense coming to town this week - the playoffs are still very much in reach. Holy crap...
If you would've told me the Texans would be playing ball like this after the dumpster fire of a team we saw the first six weeks, I would've called you a lying liar and mooned you. Instead, it looks like ALIENS kidnapped the team and replaced them with actual football players just to see if anybody would notice (J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins aside, of course).
What's not surprising is how well the offensive line has played the past couple weeks. Injuries hurt the team early on, but the confused, let's shuffle people with no discernible strategy in mind plan backfired. One and a half years into his career, Xavier Su'a-Filo is finally justifying his draft spot.
What is surprising is the turnaround on defense, but much of it is basic addition by subtraction. Rahim Moore is almost a forgotten memory (we'll always have Miami), Vince Wilfork is seeing far fewer snaps, and A.J. Bouye sightings are becoming rare. Instead, snaps are going to the likes of Charles James, Kevin Johnson, and a healthy Benardrick McKinney.
Most of all, the scheme looks completely different. There were several snaps in yesterday's game where only J.J. Watt was in a three or four point stance, nobody else. Quintin Demps is showing some blitzing chops, but we're simply disguising our blitzes better. Sending Watt, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon, and Jadeveon Clowney after the QB is a wee bit more effective than Watt, Clowney, Wilfork, and Jared Crick.
The Texans have gone from a laughingstock to playoff contender in two weeks...if this is the real Texans we're seeing. In that regard, the trend is certainly heading in the right direction. The offense has been creative though plodding, and nobody can stop DHop. The defense is finally playing like we thought they would. The Texans still have talent issues in places, but the schemes are covering, instead of advertising, these problem.
I think it's all because of the return of Charles James II. #karma
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