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Incompletions: Texans v. Panthers ("The Shart In Charlotte')

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With so much to write and talk about after every game, and not enough time for one man to write about it all, the masthead joins together, and breaks down the Houston Texans loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Weston:

When evaluating quarterbacks, there's a recipe of skills to look at: arm strength, pocket awareness, accuracy, ball placement, mobility, leadership, intelligence, and other intangibles. Some of these things can be below average if the player is FAN-tastic at others. For example, if a quarterback has a plasma launcher masquerading as an arm, he can get away with an inability to read the defense because the speed of the ball outweighs the defender's chance to react to it. A quarterback doesn't need that cannon if he knows how to adjust the play at the line of scrimmage to get the offense in the perfect strategic position, places the ball where a receiver can catch and run, and lets the blitz pass by like a country singer watching airplanes.

Nobody can or will be perfect at anything. We all have things we are mediocre to good to great at, and things we are destined to fail at no matter how many times we push the boulder up that hill. The soup Ryan Mallett bloomed out of blessed him with a nasty arm, but left him devoid of other components that make a quarterback a good one.

He's inaccurate. Yesterday we saw a handful of passes bounce off the turf. The types of passes I thought I would never see again as long as Ryan Gritzpatrick wasn't on my television screen.

Mallett has no touch. RYAN MALLETT THROW HARD. Yes, receivers dropped passes that should have been caught. But that's what happens when you strain every tendon and every string of sinew into throwing a ten yard pass.

He makes poor decisions. That errant toss at the end of the game with a timeout still left was one of the dumbest things I had ever seen.

He's slow. I'm 90% Vince Wilfork is faster than Mallett is. Actually, I'm 100% sure Vince Wilfork is faster than he is.

Wilfork 40

Mallett 40

The problem with Mallett is that he is great at one thing and craps the skid-mark crusted bed in every other facet of the game. If he was at least average in a lot of these other things, his arm could make up for it, but he isn't. And on Sunday, he threw the ball really hard, and that was about it; he completed 46.5% of his passes for 4.6 Y/A, and a QBR of 43.1.

It would be different if Mallett was filling in for an injured starter or if he was a stop gap until a younger player was in the nest waiting to get kicked out. But he isn't. He's a 27 year old with little room to grow. This is pretty much it. And you know what? He's the best quarterback on this roster.

Ladies, and gentleman. This is what quarterback hell looks like.

MDC:

I will not write about Mallett...I will not write about Mallett...I will not...

Oh, who am I kidding? The story of yesterday's game (working title: The Shart In Charlotte) begins and ends with Ryan Mallett.

More accurately, it begins with the high hopes that Mallett was going to do things that Brian Hoyer could not or did not do, and it ends with a realization that those "things" are "bouncing throws to wide open receivers," "chucking balls twenty yards too far," "firing full-power missiles at receivers who were 8 yards away," and "tossing an intentional grounding that defied all logic."  Oh, sure, his WRs did not help him, especially with the early drops, as well as by not always seeming to know where they were supposed to go on a given route, but that is minor compared to what Mallett did to himself.

Which, as Weston noted above, is a problem, because it leads one to believe that the Houston Texans do not currently have a QB on their roster who can perform at a level that will let the Texans win more games than they lose. The baffling part of that, though, is that it is not exactly a surprise development. This is a team, over the past six games, has played Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, Tom Savage, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. It's a team that has not had a quarterback that did not make you want to kick a baby in the face since T.J. Yates briefly caught lightning in a bottle in 2011.

In fact, maybe the story of yesterday really begins in 2011. Since that time, the Texans' roster has listed the following people as QBs during the regular season: Jake Delhomme, Jeff Garcia, Yates, Matt Schaub, Keenum, Savage, Fitzpatrick, Thad Lewis, Mallett, and Hoyer.

That's four full seasons in which the QB situation was addressed first with, "Man, I hope Schaub can stay healthy all year," then with "Man, Schaub is done--who do we have available?," then, ultimately, with "Maybe [insert retread QB] can be solid...yes, I can totally talk myself into that."  That's not a plan for addressing the position; that's the sports equivalent of going through the stages of grief.

Is this real life?

Capt Ron:

Since Matt and MDC already addressed the quarterback situation, I'll just add that I watched several other games this week and saw very similar high-velocity passes by other quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Blake Bortles, & Ryan Tannehill), and their receivers caught the ball just fine.  Mallett could use more touch on short throws, but these Texans' receivers need to simply catch better.  Had those drops not occurred, for any reason, Mallett would have completed 60% of his 58 passes.

Another issue is that the receivers need to run the same route that Mallett is expecting.  Clearly there were disconnects yesterday.  I don't know if that's an issue of miscommunication at the line, or if this offense is so complicated that the average player can't figure out their job within the scheme.

Notwithstanding a quarterback getting up to game-speed in his third NFL start, my top three concerns about yesterday's game include:

COACHING

The opponent showing up with a better game plan, which included perfect mismatches against the Texans, and Bill O'Brien not having Houston ready in the same manner.  The halftime adjustments by the Texans were more effective, but this team has not showed up ready at the opening kickoff for two consecutive weeks in 2015.  For two weeks in a row, the first play on offense had players not knowing what to do.  Lack of preparation is usually on the coaches.

DEFENSIVE SECONDARY

The defensive backs, and scheme, are absolutely in need of immediate attention.

  • The safeties are giving up huge plays. For two weeks in a row, there was a void the size of the fictitious asteroid field formerly known as the planet of Alderaan in the deep middle of the field that the opponent exploited for a touchdown. This week, Quintin Demps bit on the run-fake and left Johnathan Joseph in single coverage in a deep post that he couldn't defend.
  • On that note, Johnathan Joseph looks very rusty.  Perhaps he has lost a step, so either he's still getting up to game speed after not playing any snaps during preseason, or it's time to give Kevin Johnson more reps in his place.
  • Is this defensive scheme simply just not working?  Are the players unable to figure out their assignments?  What is going on here?

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Texans are still abysmal in coverage and returns on special teams.  I made a comment in last week's Captain's Log that the type of mistakes the players are making can get coaches and coordinators fired.  It would not surprise me in the least if O'Brien ends up making changes on his staff if we see more mistakes on special teams in the next game.  In this latest game, there were THREE blocks in the back on returns in the first half (Justin Tuggle, Darryl Morris, and Eddie Pleasant).  I don't know how that is even possible at the NFL level.  These players should have been hearing about this rule from coaches since they were five years old.  Eddie Pleasant now has two consecutive weeks with special teams penalties of either holding or blocking someone in the back.  Why? WHY?!!

A final thought...

Jadeveon Clowney is looking good in his first two games after returning from a microfacture procedure last season, and I'm confident that he'll be affecting highlight reels and stat lines very soon.  Clearly every NFL franchise would have selected him first-overall in the 2014 NFL Draft with the same information that was available at the time, but it does sting to see him, along with the best player in the NFL in J.J. Watt, being neutralized regularly by even a mediocre offensive line.  It greatly underscores the point that even great players on defense can be nullified to the point that their teams will lose, while slightly above-average talent at quarterback can help win games for their teams.  The punchline?  The first four quarterbacks selected in the 2014 NFL Draft (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr) won on Sunday.

The Texans' quarterback competition extending into the middle of training camp likely set back the offense a bit in trying to get everyone on the same page.  Shifting gears once again after the first game of the regular season by replacing Brian Hoyer with Ryan Mallett further exacerbated things with respect to timing and general cohesiveness.  We should see improvement across the unit as starting offensive linemen return to action, Arian Foster gets into the backfield, and the receivers and Mallett get more comfortable together.

How important is quarterback?  Matt and MDC focused on it.  I started and ended with it.  I guess it's pretty important after all.

Brett:

I still have yet to actually watch the game in full, but I will say that it seemed like every time I peeked at the screen yesterday somebody was dropping a pass. Whether that was due to poor ball placement, too much heat on the throw, or just straight up stone-handed receivers is anyone's guess, but I think that it's probably a mix of all three.

Beyond that I am still not quite sure what the hell happened here. I'll have more later in the week once the anger subsides and I can stomach actually watching this tape.

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