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Texans-Saints Preview: Five Things To Watch

Here's your viewing guide for this Week Twelve matchup, including five things to keep an eye on as the Texans take on the Saints.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I'm writing this on Friday. I feel like hell. Turkey and gravy has made my blood gelatinous. Pie has crippled my stomach. Shiner Cheer has bubbled my guts.

Let's get on with it.

1.) The New Orleans Saints' Defense is the Worst in the League.

That title is longer than a Fall Out Boy song title. Anyways, the Saints recently fired their defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, for fielding the worst defense in the league. Their total defensive DVOA is 25.2% (32nd), pass defense DVOA is 47.9% (32nd, SF is 31st 37% and JAC is 30th 26.5%) run defense is -4.2% (26th). The least amount of points they have allowed in a game is 20 points to the Brandon Weeden-led Cowboys. The only thing they are mediocre at is rushing the passer. Lastly, they are allowing 31.5 points a game, which is also last in the league.

New Orleans has the worst secondary in the NFL, as seen by their pass defense DVOA. When we look closer at DVOA, we also see they are 31st in the league covering a team's #1 receiver, 24th at covering a team's #2 receiver, 32nd at covering tight ends, and 26th at covering running backs. Their secondary also can't tackle. New Orleans is 31st in the NFL in open field yards, and 32nd in second level yards.

The Saints are trapped in a corner as well. Their secondary isn't a group created from the bones of undrafted free agents or young players learning how to play the game. At cornerback, they start Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux a 26 year old rookie who came over from the Canadian League. At safety, they start Kenny Vaccaro and Jarius Byrd. Browner was signed this past offseason for 3 years/$15 million. Vaccaro was taken with the 15th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. They signed Byrd during the 2013 offseason and gave him a 6 year/$54.2 million contract.

New Orleans already have cap problems.  They are either going to have to double pay to fix this unit, or bring it back out next year and then attempt to fix everything in 2017. Whatever they end up doing, their secondary is going to be awful for the next year or two.

Brian Hoyer is back, and the worst pass defense in the NFL is going to have to cover DeAndre Hopkins. With Ryan running the defense, they played a lot of press man coverage with the idea that the safeties are quick enough to help over the top. This hasn't worked, and it probably won't again this week. Hopkins should obliterate the strong, slow Browner in this one. If there was a week for Houston to score more than 24 points, this would be it against the worst defense in the NFL.

2.) Drew's End in New Orleans?

Here's a few facts for you. The Saints are 4-6.  They won't make the playoffs this year. Drew Brees turns 37 this January. He's playing the last year of his contract next season and has a cap hit of $30 million. New Orleans saves $20 million if they cut or trade him. Also, they are already going to owe $14 million in dead money heading into next season. In last year's draft, they took Garrett Grayson, a quarterback from Colorado State, with a third round pick.

Drew Brees won't be the quarterback in New Orleans next season.

This year, Brees has been really good despite his age. He's 6th in DYAR, 8th in DVOA, and is still a top ten QB. His game should age well because it's built on quick passes and accuracy. He can do the Peyton Manning thing where he knows where to go with the ball before the snap and play point guard rather than quarterback. Some team is going to sign him or trade for him.

The Houston Texans are a team that can make a run at Brees. Bill O'Brien needs to address the QB situation sometime. I can't see O'Brien using a first round draft pick on a quarterback because Houston has yet to use one on this position; moreover, they will be at least a 7 win team after this season and pick around 15, a point where most quarterbacks will be off the board.  The pressure is going to be on O'Brien to make the playoffs next season with the talent on this roster. Houston is going to be $20 million under the cap without creating additional space by cutting veterans like Arian Foster, Vince Wilfork, Brian Hoyer or Garrett Graham.

I could see Houston completely overhauling the QB position this offseason. The could sign Brees, a Texas native, and bring in one of these young QBs like Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III to nurture under O'Brien, who has a skill at bringing the most out of quarterbacks. When Brees is done, the Texans can evaluate this mystery young QB with Tom Savage and then go from there. This would be a perfect world.

On Sunday, you may be watching the Texans' starting quarterback next year, and no, I'm not talking about Brian Hoyer.

3.) Tackling, Tackling, Tackling

The Texans' defense has turned a corner. After weeks of waiting, Houston has morphed from a bottom seven defense into a top ten one. They have done this by playing younger players on every down and benching guys like Akeem Dent, Justin Tuggle, and Rahim Moore. Most importantly, they have started tackling better.

Some of this has to do with the teams they played. Not counting the Bengals, the Titans and Jets don't have quick skill players who make defenders look foolish in the open field. Instead, those teams use players with size and strength, which is what Houston matches up well against.

The Saints are different. Brandin Cooks, C.J. Spiller, and Mark Ingram are all players who are fast and can make things happen in space. If Houston can shut down this Saints' offense, it will be the last game where being skeptical is fair when looking at this defense.

4.) Matchup I'm Watching LIVE

When I watch the game, I usually don't follow the ball anymore. I'll single out one guy or matchup to observe as the game progresses. This week on offense I'm watching Hopkins. Even though most of what he does takes place off the screen, he will be matched up against Browner, who plays on the line of scrimmage. So I can see how Browner plays him off the line before he dissipates. Also, the telecasts lately have loved to show Hopkins' entire route after he makes a catch. It may be a little sporadic, but this is what I'll be watching on offense.

On defense, I'll be watching Watt like I do every week. Last week he battered and beat Breno Giacomini, a slow-footed tackle who gets by on his strength. The Saints are solid throughout the line, and there isn't a true matchup to exploit. Watt should be moving all over the line of scrimmage like he has been lately.

5.) Playoffs?

I still can't believe it. Houston is 2-0 through the hardest part of their schedule. They've beaten the Bengals and Jets.  They still have the Saints, Bills, and Patriots remaining before they get the rest of the AFC South. Those last three games are what matter, but this run will allow them to stay neck and neck with Indy, or perhaps give the Texans a little buffer.

Last week the Colts beat the Falcons, and the Jaguars beat the Titans on Thursday Night Football. Additionally, at 5-5, the Texans are possible wild card contenders depending on how they play these next three weeks. Here are the remaining strength of schedule numbers and playoff odds from Football Outsiders for the Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Steelers, as well as who they're playing this week.

Team Playoff Odds Future Schedule Strength Week 12 Opponent
IND 50.5% -5.1% (26th) TB (5-5)
HOU 38% -1% (19th) NO (4-6)
JAC 16.3% -12% (32nd) SD (2-8)
KC 72.7% -6.7% (27th) BUF (5-5)
PIT 63.1% 5.3% (8th) SEA (5-5)

The rest of the way, I'm hoping the Jaguars continue to win and Houston plays them Week 17 for the division title. That would be so beautiful and rekindle my faith in the universe.

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