For every week until the end of the season, I will be ranking the NFL teams from 1-32, power rankings style. They will be arranged into four blocks.
Each week, I will write about four teams, one should be from each block. It's nice and square. Every team will get written about twice until the season is over.
The biggest problem with traditional power rankings is they take too much in account of every week. Each game is exacerbated. Every loss is the end of the world. Every win is another stitch in a dream season. Part of it just goes along with football in general. These games happen only once a week. There are only sixteen of them. Exaggeration is just part of it. I'm going to try and remove that by looking at the big picture instead of bumping up and down based on one loss or one win. The rankings below are simply adjustments made based on what I thought heading into the season; in the future, they will be adjusted based on an entire body of work and trends, not because of a single HUGE win or one BAD loss.
32.)--Record: 0-9. Point Differential: -105. DVOA: -32.5% (31). Last Week: 32. (Doesn't include TNF)
31.)--Record: 1-7. Point Differential: -93. DVOA: -22.3% (29). Last Week: 31.
What happened to Colin Kaepernick?
This is one of the NFL's greatest mysteries. If it was 1996, Robert Stack in a trench coat would horrify latch key kids around the country about the whereabouts of Kaepernick's talent without ever being able to resolve the story with a how or why.
Back in 2012, Kaepernick was coming off a Super Bowl appearance after supplanting Alex Smith as the 49ers' starter following Smith's concussion, never giving the spot back. That season, San Francisco went 11-4-1 and 5-2 with Kaepernick. Colin completed 62.4% of his passes for 1,814 yards and had a passing DVOA of 25.8%. He also ran for 415 yards on 63 carries and 5 touchdowns. He was a revelation leading San Francisco's power run, read option, multi-back, pulling linemen out of every orifice offense.
With his speed and the scheme, Kaepernick would keep linebackers stuck in place and open the run game up because of the possibility he could take off. In the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta, San Francisco ran a power read option play, a staple of those 49ers' offenses. The left guard is pulling to the play-side linebacker and Kaepernick is reading the defensive end.
Kapernick shuffles right, holds the play fake, and elongates the time of the run. The threat of him keeping it forces the defensive end to stick inside. The play-side linebacker does the same. He is held in his position, frozen, unable to move or run or chase because of the options the 49ers have on this play.
The fake keeps the linebackers still and allows the speedy LaMichael James to run right past them.
When James turns and hits up field, he has three down field blocks and has an easy path for the touchdown.
James really doesn't do much on this run. He runs horizontally and then runs vertically. He is untouched. At the first level, he is free, but not because of great blocks. No one on the play side is blocked. The fear of Kaepernick running opens up a hole for James. All of the blocking occurs down field at the second level.
The NFC title game against Atlanta followed the divisional win against against Green Bay, when Kaepernick used the zone read over and over again, running past outside linebackers and making them look like stone hedges. In that game, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns. His speed horrified defenders. The threat of him running acted like a sixth blocker. He created holes on fear alone.
Most remember Kaepernick for his speed and running ability. They think of him long legged and sprinting, tall and high through the open field like a Jurassic bird on some faraway plane. But he was more than just speed. The guy had a cannon of an arm and could place the ball into the tiniest of windows.
This throw to Michael Crabtree is ridiculous. Crabtree is running a crossing route against man coverage. Kaepernick sees the route late. This gives time for the defender to catch up. It doesn't matter because of Kaepernick's arm strength. Throughout his career, his slow decision making has been masked by an ability to throw the ball past chasing defenders. The ball shoots through the air and right past the defender's outstretched appendage. He leads Crabtree, places it away from the defender, and hits him on the move, allowing for the chance for extra yards.
After this playoff run, when the 49ers lost to the Felix Felicis Baltimore Ravens thanks to three post-blackout goal line incompletions, San Francisco entered 2014 with Kaepernick as the starter and Alex Smith banished to Kansas City. Kaepernick started off the year slowly, mainly due to injuries. His best receiver, Michael Crabtree, tore his Achilles in May. He had to force-feed Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. The 49ers still ended up going 12-4. Kaepernick was 7th in passing DVOA (16.67%) and 8th in DYAR (791). He threw for 3,197 yards on 416 attempts and averaged 7.7 yards an attempt. For the third straight year, San Francisco lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
The NFC Championship Game in 2014 was one of the greatest games played this century. It will forever be remembered for the Richard Sherman fingertip deflection back to his teammate interception, after which Sherman turned the heel, blasted Michael Crabtree after Booker T style, and became a national celebrity. But man, against one of the best defenses of all time, Kaepernick made some incredible plays.
In the passing game, Kaepernick was at his best throwing screens and down field. He was never, and has never been, a quick passing, perfect timing quarterback. He wants to drop back, sit, watch, and use his arm to stick the ball in places it should never be stuck in. By having WRs run deeper routes, it also opened things up for Kaepernick as a runner. Against man coverage especially, deep passes would force cornerbacks to chase with their backs to the ball and give him swathes of space to jolt through.
Against the famous Seattle Cover 3, which has three defenders deep, Kaepernick makes the defensive tackle miss. He doesn't side-step him and then run. He plants off his back foot and runs at the defensive lineman, using one quick cut to go around him and then scampers forward. With two linebackers reacting, he cuts to the outside and runs past one of them. He runs past the second one's futile pursuit angle, breaking tackles without ever being touched. Then he runs through Sherman's ankle-diving tackle and finally goes down at the hands of Kam Chancellor.
The other thing about Kaepernick is the dude just made some throws. Like, throws that are impossible. Throws that you have to rewind and watch four times in a row, and even then, you would have no idea how he did it. Kaepernick broke people's brains.
On this touchdown, which is one of the great plays that will forever be forgotten, Kaepernick sees nothing open. He fades to the left. He then sprints to the right when pressure comes from his left side. Anquan Boldin wanders his route to his right and away from Earl Thomas. Kaepernick sees Boldin's arm waving for the ball, goes from moving horizontally to vertically, and jump throws the pass 26 yards to the end zone. It scrapes past Thomas's left hand and drops into Boldin, who barely jumps to snag it. Astonishing.
The following season, Jim Harbaugh was almost traded to Cleveland, but stayed one more year before being fired for personal reasons. The 49ers fell from 7-4 in the middle of the season to 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Kaepernick had his worst season up to this point of his life. He had a DVOA of -8.4% (34th) and a DYAR of 91 (27th). He completed 60.5% of his passes for 7.0 Y/A and ran for 639 yards on 104 carries. From there, things never got better.
2015 saw San Francisco lose 10 of their 22 starters. Seven were released or went somewhere else in free agency. Three others retired. Harbaugh was fired and replaced by Jim Tomsula, who you want to teach the ways of vagabond road wandering, not coaching your NFL team. San Francisco went 5-11. Kaepernick played only eight games, having a season worse than the previous one, was benched, and then had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
This season, the 49ers are even worse. They are 1-7. Kaepernick had offseason thumb, shoulder, and knee surgeries and was then forced to watch Blaine Gabbert regurgitate bile. Since taking over the starting role, Kaepernick has again been even worse than last year. He is having the worst season of his career. His completion percentage is 52%. His DVOA is -38.3%. His DYAR is -190.
What happened? How did a future Hall of Famer became a shell who couldn't even beat out Blaine Gabbert? The main reason is that Colin needed a perfect situation to be as great as he was. He fell as those great teams fell. He wasn't good enough to transcend the problems around him. Once things started to fall apart, Kaepernick did too.
The biggest problem with the 49ers was the offensive line. Kaepernick was never great against the pressure, despite his speed. He could make plays out of the pocket by sprinting, but he had problems throwing on the run. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, his DVOA under pressure was below average at -66.1%, -64.4%, and -65.2%. Without pressure, when he could sit back, relax, and let his arm do the work, his DVOA was 71.4% (1st) in 2012, 30.0% in 2013, and 46.9% in 2014. Every quarterback is better without pressure, but Kaepernick was below average with it and one of the best in the league without it.
The offensive line was the same in 2012 and 2013. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, and Mike Davis started every game except for the four Iupati missed in 2013. In 2012, they led the league in adjusted line yards and Kaepernick was sacked at an adjusted rate of 6.5% (17). In 2013, he was sacked more often, but he was pressured only 16.0% of the time, which was 19th.
The following season, they lost Anthony Davis, who was replaced by Jonathan Martin. Goodwin was replaced by rookie Marcus Martin. Kaepernick's blocking dissipated. Their adjusted sack rate was 9.8%, 30th, and Kaepernick was pressured on 30.2% of his drop backs (28th). Even with the same receivers, Kaepernick couldn't get the ball out quickly and was devoured behind the line of scrimmage when he dropped back.
After Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman left, Kaepernick was no longer playing in a precise offensive scheme. Kaepernick isn't a scheme quarterback, but his success was the result of it. He was the driver of an offense that was built on what he did best--running on the ground, using his speed to open lanes for his backs, throwing down field, and taking off when nothing was open. He doesn't have the quick decision making to drive an offense all on his own. He needs a great situation, so when he lost his coaching and offensive line, his performance flopped.
Many were excited to see Kaepernick in Chip Kelly's offense. Kelly had success with different types of quarterbacks, regardless if they could run or not, when he was in Philadelphia. This season, Kelly's offense hasn't clicked. Kaepernick is a vertical passer and runner. Kelly's offense is based on horizontal crossing throws, horizontal sweeps, pulls, and stretch plays. It requires a quarterback who can make quick passes, quick decisions, and lead receivers. The only requirement Colin can meet is ball placement. Everywhere else , aepernick is not a fit for what Kelly does, and Kelly hasn't changed his offense at all from his time in Oregon to his time in Philly to now.
The strange thing is the the talent is still there when you watch Kaepernick bounce passes around the field. His arm is still a laser that blasts the ball. The speed is still here. The shadow of the past still lays across the field. There are flashes of '13 and '14 visible.
Because of this, Kaepernick's name was linked to possible trades this past offseason, Denver specifically. His contract was the main reason why he couldn't be traded this year. He was uncuttable this season and had a cap hit of $16 million plus. However, next season, even though his cap hit is $19,365,753, San Francisco would face a dead money hit of only $4,931, 507. That's not unmanageable. The 49ers may decide to cut him, draft a quarterback early, and let said unknown rookie incubate behind Gabbert for a bit.
This is what I hope occurs. Kaepernick was so good three years ago and has too much talent to waste on a team and on an offense that doesn't match his strengths. I could see him having a Michael Vick type of late career resurgence on a different team. It's unlikely. Even if it is unlikely, he still deserves a try.
30.)--Record: 3-6. Point Differential: -62. DVOA: -32.6% (32). Last Week: 29.
29.)--Record: 2-6. Point Differential: -62. DVOA: -13.5% (28). Last Week: 30.
28.)--Record: 2-6. Point Differential: -48. DVOA: 2.5% (16). Last Week: 28.
27.)--Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -52. DVOA: -11.4% (25). Last Week: 27.
26.)--Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -37. DVOA: -10.3% (24). Last Week: 26.
25.)--Record: 4-5. Point Differential: -17. DVOA: -12.4% (26). Last Week: 24.
As I wrote earlier this week, which is reposted below, the Houston Texans have been one of the luckiest teams in the NFL this year. Their performance doesn't match their record. They have exceeded their expected win total by two thus far. They have won close games. They have the lowest DVOA of any team ever to have a winning record at Week Nine. Brock Osweiler has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. They have the worst offensive DVOA in the league. The team has been carried by their defense, and more specifically their secondary.
Right now, the Texans have a 41.2% chance to make the playoffs. 7.7 is the amount of their mean wins. The rest of the way, they face the 22nd toughest schedule, with an average opponent DVOA of -2.7%. I do think it is underrated some, though. They have to play San Diego, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Oakland; that's one team that has played great but had bad luck, two talented teams that have underperformed, and this year's breakout team that's also been on the receiving end of Fortuna's wheel.
Because of their performance, their playoff odds, and future schedule, the door is open for another team to swoop in. The AFC South is far from over. Houston is either going to need to keep winning because of luck or they will need to see improvement. If they don't improve and their luck runs out, they start losing close games and continue to get beat by good teams, they will lose the division. Entering the second half of the season, both the Colts and the Titans have a shot to steal it.
The case for Indianapolis:
Their playoff odds are at 28.7% and have gone up 14.4% after last week's win over Green Bay. Their mean wins now stand at 7.4, 0.3 less than Houston. The one thing they have in their back pocket is that they have the third easiest schedule the rest of the way, facing opponents with an average DVOA of -8.2%. They are playing Tennessee after the bye, Pittsburgh, @ New York (J), Houston, @ Minnesota, @ Oakland, and home against Jacksonville.
This team, like New Orleans and Detroit, is soured by a bad defense and propped up because of their quarterback. Andrew Luck is really great. Everyone who says otherwise needs to GTFO. Everyone who said that last year was more than one bad season and a sign of things to come was so, so wrong. Luck has attempted 342 passes (4th), completed 221 (4th) for 2,565 yards (3rd) and thrown 17 touchdowns (T-5th). Those are the only places in the standings at which he is at the top.
He is 12th in Y/A, 9th in QBR, 20th in DYAR, and 23rd in DVOA. It's not his fault, though. Remember when Jim Irsay said they need to protect Andrew Luck in the offseason? Those were empty words. Syllables devoid of meaning. Luck has been sacked 33 times, the most in the league. He has been pressured on 23.6% of his drop backs and the Colts have an adjusted sack rate of 8.9%. Both of these are dead last in the league. He's getting bludgeoned by dull metal objects in the pocket. He's playing in condensed pockets that look like black lip studded grimy mosh pits. Despite it all, Luck is still carrying this offense.
The key to Indy's offense is that Luck can throw the ball down field. He has completed 37 passes of 20+ yards, which is second to only Matt Ryan. T.Y. Hilton has caught 17 of these passes, which is second to only Julio Jones. Luck is dropping bombs down field, and it's opening the run game. For all the problems the offensive line has had pass blocking, they have been pretty good on the ground. They are fifth in rushing DVOA, thanks to light boxes. The only problem is Frank Gore is old and underperforming. The Colts have less RB yards than adjusted line yards. Despite it all, despite Gore limiting the run game and Luck playing behind the worst pass blocking offensive line in the NFL, they are still 16th in DVOA.
For Indy to make the playoffs, they are going to have to continue to be carried by Luck. He will need to keep leading fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Right now, he has three of each. He will need to keep games close and win the one possession games the Colts find themselves in. So far, they are 4-3 in one possession games. If they take advantage of their easy schedule and walk underneath the horseshoe enough to win the 50-50 games, Indianapolis could get the nine, maybe ten, wins needed to vault themselves to the top of the division.
The case for Tennessee:
The Titans' playoff odds are a smudge lower than Indy's. They are at 25.5% and fell 8.7% after losing to San Diego last week. But like Indy, they have 7.7 mean wins and have already lost to the Texans on the road.
Also like the Colts, the Titans have been carried by their offense. To start the year, it was all about their run game. DeMarco Murray was thriving running vertically again. The other moves they made in the offseason, signing Ben Jones, drafting Jack Conklin, and Quinton Spain playing over the injured Chance Warmack, have all paid off. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league, finally, after all of those yeas of trying to craft one. Tennessee is seventh in rush DVOA, has allowed only twelve sacks, is sixth in adjusted sack rate, and is third in adjusted line yards behind New Orleans and Dallas.
As dumb as it was in the offseason, #EXOTICSMASHMOUTH has worked. Tennessee is bigger and stronger than most teams. They are moving the ball because of it. They are committed to the run. They have run the ball 269 times (3) and have thrown it only 292 times (27th). Since Week Five, their offense has transformed. They scored 30, 28, 26, 36 and 35 points over these last five weeks.
What has changed is that they have finally started throwing the ball down field. Now that defenses have crept up to the line, they are taking advantage of the fat boxes and going deep. Since Week Six, Marcus Mariota has completed 16 deep passes, which is second to only Andrew Luck. Five have gone to Delanie Walker, four to Kendall Wright, and three to Tajae Sharpe. In the first five games of the year, Mariota completed only 15 deep passes, which was tied for 18th. Instead of trying to throw quick passes to receivers who can't beat man coverage, the Titans are pushing the ball down field. As a result, Mariota is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. He is 12th in DYAR at 374 and 12th in DVOA at 8.1%.
The offense is going to need to keep attacking this way. Because, like the Colts, the Titans' defense is bad. They started off the year strong but since then they have fallen to 26th in DVOA. They don't do anything really well. Their pass rush is decent enough. Jason McCourty is really good. Other than that, they don't have much going on. They are just fighting to not be among the league's worst.
By looking at performance, the Titans have played the best in the division. The offense is for real and it has been beautiful to see Mariota no longer hampered by arcane philosophies. The problem is they have the toughest schedule out of the Colts and Texans. Their future schedule is -2.9% (23rd). They play Green Bay, @ Indianapolis, @ Chicago, Denver, @ Kansas City, @ Jacksonville, and Houston. Three of those games are really mean. Their season may come down to their game in Indianapolis if they want to set up a Week 17 division title clash against Houston.
Although the Titans are playing better, my pick to supplant Houston is the Colts. Despite their poor performance, and the hole they dug themselves, they have managed to rise from the dead like Jason or some other teenager-murdering swashbuckler in their eighth sequel. The only thing I'm worried about is Luck getting injured because of the high volume of hits he's taking. But with their easy schedule, how they have owned Houston at home, and them not being out of any game because of how Luck is playing, I'm giving Indy the upper hand. If the Texans don't improve or see their luck falter, they could lose the division to the Colts.
24.)--Record: 3-5. Point Differential: -2. DVOA: -6.8% (23). Last Week: 23.
23.)--Record: 4-5. Point Differential: -9. DVOA: -4.0% (21). Last Week: 19.
22.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: -9. DVOA: 4.7% (12). Last Week: 25.
21.)--Record: 5-4. Point Differential: -1. DVOA: -12.4% (27). Last Week: 22.
20.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +1. DVOA: -4.1% (22) Last Week: 20. (Doesn't include TNF)
19.)--Record: 3-4-1. Point Differential: -22. DVOA: -0.9% (19). Last Week: 15.
18.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +4. DVOA: -1.9% (20). Last Week: 21.
17.)--Record: 4-5. Point Differential: +21. DVOA: 4.7% (13). Last Week: 17.
16.)--Record: 5-3. Point Differential: -30. DVOA: -26.6% (30). Last Week: 16.
Here we all sit, staring at the schedule ahead, thinking about the future. Rather than do that , I want to look at the past two months, the last eight games, and see what the numbers say about the Houston Texans now that we have a football sample large enough to do something with. As a heads up, the ranks involving these numbers are from last weekend and the adjusted numbers may be off by a percentage point or so. Everywhere else, the raw totals are accurate. If +/- a spot or two isn't exact enough for you, I'm sorry.
Football's skeleton is comprised of sixteen parts. Because of the short schedule, strange things happen, flukes occur, and the win-loss record can be easily manipulated. Teams can play poorly and still win games (see Ravens, Baltimore). Teams can play well and still lose games (see Chargers, San Diego).
The Texans fall in the first category. They are 5-3, but they haven't played like a true five win team. The performance doesn't match the drapes. Football Outsiders has Houston with 2.5 estimated wins. Eight games in, the Texans have a point differential of -30. This amounts to an expected win-loss record of 3.1-4.9. In other words, the Texans have won nearly two more games than their point differential indicates they should. To put than in perspective, the Colts won 1.9 more, the Broncos won 2.3 more, and the Panthers won 2.9 more games than expected last year. This year, those teams are 4-5, 6-3, and 3-5. On average, teams that win 2-3 more games than expected see their record drop by 2.5 wins the next year. So far this season, the Texans are already lumped into that category.
Another area of luck the Texans have taken advantage of is one possession games. The Texans are 4-0 in games decided by eight points or less. They beat Kansas City 22-19, Tennessee 27-20, Indianapolis 26-23, and Detroit 20-13. The only win that wasn't a one possession victory was against the 2-6 Bears in Week One. Against Kansas City, the Texans recovered all three of Kansas City's fumbles. Against Tennessee, they stopped the Titans on both of their fourth quarter comeback drives. Against Indianapolis, they scored nine points on nine possessions before scoring seventeen straight against one of the league's worst defenses to win in overtime. Against Detroit, Jim Caldwell squandered any chance of Matthew Stafford the casually tying the game in the fourth quarter by choosing to kick an onside kick with three timeouts and the two minute warning clock stoppage.
These are usually 50-50 coin flip games. Winning games like that isn't a sustainable way to consistently be on the upper end of results. In each of these four games, Houston won just as easily as they could have lost. They just happened to hit heads four times in a row.
When Houston has played teams playing great football (Denver, New England, and Minnesota), they were butchered. New England shut them out with a third-string quarterback. Brock Osweiler threw a fumble farther than his average pass attempt on homecoming night in Denver. Against Minnesota, Houston didn't have a first down of their own accord until the end of the second quarter. The saying is that good teams barely beat good teams and blow out bad to mediocre teams. The Texans have had to claw through games to beat the bad and mediocre teams. They have been obliterated by good teams.
It's still only halfway through the year. The Texans can still get better. The point is that through the first eight weeks, Houston hasn't been good. They are 30th in DVOA. They have barely won the games that they should. They have a negative point differential. Their performance doesn't fall in line with their record. Houston has won more games than they should have. These things tend to balance out over the course of a season and almost always do over the course of two.
There is cause for optimism, though. Houston has a turnover differential of -7. This is in large part because Brock Osweiler has thrown nine interceptions. The defense has forced only six turnovers. That's 31st in the NFL. Last year, with nearly the same defense, they were 12th and forced 25 turnovers. The reason why turnovers are a stat with a high variance is because they are he result of the other team making mistakes. An opportunity has to be capitalized on. Right now, Houston hasn't had the opportunities that other teams have had. That should change.
The other reason to be hopeful is that Houston plays in a bad division. Houston is a game and a half up on both Tennessee and Indianapolis, having beat both of them. Houston currently has a probability of 45.9% to make the playoffs and a 44.5% chance to win the AFC South. Basically, to make the playoffs, the Texans are going to have to win the division. The AFC South isn't getting two teams in.
The other teams in the division don't have an on-paper advantage the rest of the way. Indy has the easiest schedule, but their average opponent DVOA is only 1.6% easier than Houston's. The team playing the best football in the division, Tennessee, has the hardest schedule the rest of the way, ranking 20th at -1.6%. At 4-5, both the Colts and Titans aren't out of the race, but Houston has the easiest and most probable track to a playoff berth. They just better hope they stay lucky or start playing better.
Let's play a fun game. What stats are Brock Osweiler at the bottom of the league in? Let's call 27 and below as the first step down to the basement. Osweiler is 27th in completion percentage (59.3%), 30th in longest completion (53), 32nd in yards an attempt (5.8), 31st in adjusted yards an attempt (5.0), 31st in yards a completion (9.8), 28th in yards a game (214.9), 30th in rating (73.1), 30th in QBR (50), 32nd in adjusted net yards per attempt (4.37), 32nd in DYAR (-385), 32nd in DVOA (-28.4%), and he is tied for third for the most interceptions (9).
Statistically, Brock Osweiler has been one of the worst, if not the worst, quarterback(s) in the NFL this year. I expected some growing pains with so many different moving parts, but not like this. The guy is missing throws, doesn't look comfortable in the pocket, can't place the ball with any precision, and has been scared out of throwing the ball deep, thanks to two safety looks.
The difference in the deep passing game has been remarkable. At the beginning of the season, Osweiler was finding Will Fuller and the occasional tight end down field. All of that has stopped. On the season, Osweiler is 5-21 (23.8%) and 7.6 Y/A on deep left throws (throws +15 yards), 5-11 (45.5%) and 10.9 Y/A on deep middle throws, and 5-22 (22.7%) and 6.2 Y/A on deep right throws. The NFL average is 39.4% and 11.6 Y/A (D.L.), 53.7% and 13.9 Y/A (D.M.), and 37.6% and 11.9 Y/A (D.R.). Because Osweiler can't make these throws, the passing game has stalled to throws to the flat and inerrant DeAndre Hopkins stare downs.
Individually, the Texans' receivers have been inefficient and haven't produced. The saddest of all is Hopkins. Last year through eight games Hopkins had 67 catches on 113 targets (59.3%), 7.7 Y/A, 871 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 54 first downs. His quarterbacks were Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. This year with Osweiler, those numbers have dropped to 40 catches on 76 targets (52.6%), 5.7 Y/A, 434 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 29 first downs. With Will Fuller, Hopkins's numbers, like targets and catches, were expected to drop, but in no world should he have a near 50% catch rate or average 5.7 Y/A. Hopkins has spent the season shaking his head and looking to the sky for forgiveness, Andre Johnson style. Of all of Osweiler's numbers, these are the most putrid.
The rest of the Texans' receivers have all been unremarkable, down in the DYAR dungeon, each with a negative DVOA. So much for #LegionOfZoom. The only shining star has been C.J. Fiedorowicz. He has a DYAR of 19 (16th for TEs), a DVOA of 0.6% (15th), a catch rate of 71%, and has caught 38 passes for 279 yards. That is something. On the other hand, Ryan Griffin is now the worst tight end in the NFL, stealing the crown from Garrett Graham. Griffin is 39th in DYAR and 37th in DVOA.
The Texans don't have the worst offensive DVOA and aren't 31st in points scored just because of the passing game. The run game has had its issues, too. There are two main problems: (1) Lamar Miller isn't an inside zone, between the tackles runner and (2) Jeff Allen.
On runs up the middle, Lamar Miller has 101 carries for 377 yards, good for 3.73 Y/C. Behind the same offensive line, Alfred Blue has 32 carries for 159 yards, good for 4.97 Y/C. Miller is an outside zone back. He was in Miami. He still is in Houston. He has great vision and burst. He is awesome in space. He isn't the player you pay to run in between the tackles over and over again. This year, he's shown exactly that. On runs outside the tackles, Miller has 52 carries for 260 yards, averaging 5.00 Y/C. He's been phenomenal when he cuts runs outside and breathes fresh air.
The problem is the Texans aren't running the ball where they should.
|Carries||11 (T-27th)||22 (T-14th)||143 (1st)||13 (T-28)||20 (12)|
|Y/C||6.55 (8th)||7.27 (2nd)||4.07 (10th)||1.69 (32nd)||4.2 (17th)|
They lead the NFL in runs up the middle (143) while ignoring the rest of the field. The best run games in the NFL, like Tennessee's, do more than just punch it up the middle. They utilize a variety of plays and run directions to create different angles for their backs. Houston doesn't do it as often as they need to. Bill O'Brien is using his expensive running back in an ill-fitted manner. He's treating him like one of those horses in Animal Farm, not like the outside running explosion that Lamar Miller is. They can use Alfred Blue for 10-15 carries a game up the middle and have Miller run 15-20 times through outside zone plays and space churners. Because they haven't, they are hurting Lamar Miller as a result.
The other stat that stands out in the table is the Jeff Allen Effect. Houston is 32nd in runs over the right tackle. Last year with Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton, they averaged 4.13 yards per carry in this same spot, which was 16th. Adjusted line yards, which measures the effect the offensive/defensive line has on the run game, has Houston at 1.88, which is 32nd as well. Last year, they were at 3.77, which was 17th in the league. Since signing with the Texans, Jeff Allen has been Ed Reed bad. The difference between Allen and Brandon Brooks for a million dollars a year has been traumatic. The right side run game has suffered dramatically because of Allen.
Other than that one spot on the offensive line, the blocking has measured well. Against bad defenses, and with more time spent playing together, the run blocking has improved. The pass blocking has been good all season. Not great, but good. They are 11th in adjusted sack rate and 12th in pressure rate. This should only improve with Duane Brown back.
Houston's offense is 31st in points scored, 32nd in offensive DVOA, 32nd in passing offense DVOA, 25th in rushing DVOA, and is averaging just 4.7 yards a play (30th). Overall, this offense has not come close to matching reasonable offseason expectations, let alone gaudy ones. The Texans went all in on offense after being 21st and 24th in offensive DVOA in 2014 and 2015. The first half returns have produced the worst offense in the league.
The reason why the Texans have scrounged up five wins is because of their defense. They have managed to hold steady without J.J. Watt. Last year, their defense DVOA was 6th. This year it is 12th. Without the greatest defensive player of all time, the Texans have managed to stay good.
|DVOA||-9.3% (8th)||-3.3% (12th)|
|Run Defense DVOA||-13.5% (13th)||-1.5% (26th)|
|Pass Defense DVOA||-6.5% (7th)||-5.1% (8th)|
|Adjusted Sack Rate||7.5% (6th)||6.2% (T-14th)|
|Pressure Rate||27.0% (8th)||17.9% (12th)|
|Adjusted Line Yards||3.51 (9th)||4.22 (25th)|
|Broken Tackle Rate||8.8% (21st)||10.5% (10th)|
Note: Pressure rate is higher because of a change in charting.
The Texans' pass defense has taken a slight hit in 2016. The pass rush is a little worse, but not as bad as I expected without Watt. They are having trouble with their defenders beating blocks one-on-one. Romeo Crennel has made up for it by using stunts, twists, and some great inside blitzes to manufacture a rush to dampen Watt's absence.
Crennel has been able to blitz because the secondary has been great. Kevin Johnson was a legitimate first cornerback until he was lost for the season. And then A.J. Bouye stepped up for K-Jo. Bouye has been a revelation. He has a success rate of 63% (38th), is allowing only 4.3 yards a pass (23rd), and only 1.1 yards after the catch (39th). Teams have targeted Bouye thirty times but haven't had success. He leads the team in each of these categories except for YAC, which is currently held by Kevin Johnson. By Bouye excelling at the second corner spot, it has allowed Kareem Jackson to play in the slot, which helps prop up the short passing game defense.
This secondary is shutting down everything except for other receivers. They are 4th in DVOA at covering a team's number one receiver, 7th at covering WR2s, 12th against tight ends, and 17th against running backs. Against other receivers, they have a DVOA of 36.4%, which is 26th, allowing 56.1 yards a game on 6.4 attempts. By direction, nothing stands out. They are 11th against deep passes and 5th against short passes.
Additionally, as a total unit, the Texans' defense has allowed only six passing touchdowns (30th), 5.2 yards a pass (T-7th), 5.9 net yards an attempt (5th), and 11.2 yards a catch (18th). The secondary has been the strength of this team, which has made up for their front seven.
Without Watt, the big drop-off has been in run defense. The Texans are 25th in adjusted line yards with 4.22, 29th in stuff rate (13%), and have a run defense DVOA of -1.5% (26th). While Watt is learning how to walk again, Houston has dropped from 13th to 26th at stopping the run.
With Watt being impossible to run at, with his ability to shed and chase down runs from the backside, there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. J.J. Watt was inescapable. With him gone and Jadeveon Clowney at the other defensive end position, teams have just been running away from Clowney.
|Adjusted Line Yards||4.31 (22nd)||3.11 (6th)||4.2 (22nd)||5.01 (30th)||4.16 (23rd)|
|Attempts||21 (T-13)||9 (1st)||128 (4th)||29 (T-6th)||24 (8th)|
|Y/C||7.62 (31st)||2.37 (1st)||4.16 (22nd)||4.69 (21st)||5.75 (27th)|
|% of Runs||10%||9%||58%||14%||8%|
Clowney has primarily played right defensive end. Teams are averaging 2.37 Y/C when running at him. That's the lowest figure in the league. He is locking down that part of the line of scrimmage and swallowing the key. Teams know this and have run at Clowney only nine times. The biggest difference between him and Watt is that Clowney doesn't constantly make plays all over the line of scrimmage no matter where he is lined up. Teams have been able to just run away from him.
Everywhere else, the Texans are ranked 22nd or below in yards per carry and adjusted line yards. Last year Houston was first in adjusted line yards over left tackle, ninth up the middle, and fifth over the right tackle. Running backs couldn't get anything going inside the tight ends. Now, as long as teams run away from Clowney, they are having success. Vince Wilfork has been abysmal as the year has gone on and despite Benardrick McKinney's growth, the Texans can't stop runs up the middle. With Clowney at defensive end and not outside linebacker, offenses can attack the flailing John Simon.
The softest spot has been at left defensive end. You don't replace J.J. Watt, but the Texans are playing like they have ten men on the field. They might as well be keeping that position empty in Watt's memory. At that spot, teams are averaging 4.69 yards per carry on 29 attempts. Houston has 5.01 adjusted line yards (30th) there. They have replaced Watt primarily with Christian Covington who has played 43.8% of defensive snaps. Antonio Smith has played 14.0% of snaps, Joel Heath 10.9% of snaps, Devon Still 4.8% of snaps, and Brandon Dunn 4.6% of snaps. No matter who has played LDE, the Texans haven't found anything that has stuck. They have been continued to get gashed there.
Considering everything they have been through, the Texans' defense has been impressive. The pass rush has taken a smaller hit than expected without Watt. The secondary is one of the best in the NFL even without Kevin Johnson. The only part of the defense to suffer the Wattl-ess effect that was expected was the run game. For them to not only survive, but stay above average and be the primary reason for this team's success, has been incredible.
I give up. This has reached the point where it has stopped being funny. It isn't explainable. It isn't a cute meme Texans fans can scoff about after every special teams' malpractice anymore. With a new head coaching staff and an upgrade in speed, the Texans' special teams are again 32nd in DVOA. I don't get it.
Special teams DVOA is composed of six parts: field goals, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, punt returns, and hidden. Houston is 19th (-1.9 points added), 30th (-4.0 points added), 31st (-4.3 points added), 32nd (-11.0 points added), 7th (4.4 points added), and 28th (-6.1 points added). The only facet of special teams where they have been a positive is on punt returns, which you can thank a Will Fuller punt return touchdown against the Titans for. Everywhere else they have been among the worst in the league. I really don't get it. My only hypothesis is to blame Shane Lechler, who you can't say anything bad about, and Nick Novak, since they are the key remaining contributors from last year. I'm not some sort of special teams' doctor. I really don't get it.
Some of this can be attributed to bad luck. The Texans are 28th in hidden, which measures things they can't control, like distance of opponent's punts and opponent field goal attempts. This season, teams haven't missed a field goal against Jacksonville, and they have missed only one against Houston. Teams have made an average of 94.1% of their kicks against the Texans. In general, opponents are kicking the ball well against the Texans. The the Texans are still awful, just downright despicable at the things they can control. No matter how many years go by, Joe Marciano's skid mark will continue to crust this franchise with its stench.
So, yeah. The Texans haven't played good football this year even if they have won games. They have been blessed by their one possession record, an easy schedule, and the division they play in. They are a three win team hiding in a five win team's skin suit. Brock Osweiler has been the worst quarterback in the NFL. Bill O'Brien isn't using Lamar Miller correctly. Jeff Allen is the Brock Osweiler of offensive guards. The defense has been able to keep things rocking even without Watt and a putrid run defense because of Romeo Crennel's ability to manufacture a rush and how well the secondary has covered. Te special teams, like the cliche "death, taxes and _____," has been a constant that will never go away.
That's what the first half half has shown. All we can do now is wait and see what the second half has to offer.
15.)--Record: 4-3-1. Point Differential: -3. DVOA: 2.8% (15). Last Week: 14.
14.)--Record: 5-3. Point Differential: -3. DVOA: 3.8% (14). Last Week: 18.
13.)--Record: 3-4-1. Point Differential: +39. DVOA: 1.8% (18). Last Week: 13.
12.)--Record: 4-5. Point Differential: +34. DVOA: 5.6% (10). Last Week: 12.
11.)--Record: 5-3. Point Differential: +29. DVOA: 8.9% (8). Last Week: 7.
10.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +11. DVOA: 9.4% (7). Last Week: 10.
9.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +57. DVOA: 27.5% (1). Last Week: 9.
8.)--Record: 4-4. Point Differential: +13. DVOA: 2.1% (17) Last Week: 5.
7.)--Record: 6-2. Point Differential: +34. DVOA: 5.5% (11). Last Week: 8.
6.)--Record: 7-2. Point Differential: +22. DVOA: 8.5% (9). Last Week: 11.
5.)--Record: 6-3. Point Differential: +48. DVOA: 14.4% (6) Last Week: 4.
4.)--Record: 6-3. Point Differential: +46. DVOA: 20.4% (4). Last Week: 6.
3.)--Record: 7-1. Point Differential: +83. DVOA: 21.7% (2). Last Week: 3.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the league. Ezekiel Elliott takes everything they give them and does so much more with it. Dak Prescott is the best midround quarterback since Russell Wilson and has left NFL teams scratching their heads, wondering how and why they missed drafting him. Already, the Cowboys are planning on a postseason run at 7-1. They are one of the best teams in the NFL.
Underneath the flash and the names is their defense, which has played better than anyone expected. Rob Marinelli is a warlock. He's used his defense like a dark apothecary. He has taken the bones and flesh of his players to craft an above-average defense that has no reason to be so on paper.
Marinelli did something similar in 2014, when the Cowboys were in familiar waters. He kept a defense without superstars and lacking talent heads above water. That 12-4 season, the Cowboys were 22nd in DVOA, and 22nd against both the pass and run. They gave up a ton of big plays. Dallas allowed 73 plays that gained more than 20 yards; 54 were passes and 19 were runs. They didn't stop yards from mounting. They didn't do anything well except for one thing--create turnovers.
That season, Dallas forced 31 turnovers, which was the second most in the league. Their lousy secondary picked off 18 passes and recovered 13 fumbles. Of these turnovers, five occurred in the red zone and stopped points from being produced. The following season, they forced 11 and were 31st. They survived because they were good at something that they did not have complete control over.
This year, things are different. The Cowboys' defense is actually playing well. Right now, Dallas is 14th in DVOA at 10.9%. They are 17th against the pass and 29th against the run. They have only forced 10 turnovers (18th) and aren't relying on some high variance stat.
Their performance has increased mainly because they are covering better. Dallas is 11th in DVOA against WR1s, and 8th in DVOA against WR2s. The combination of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne that was bemoaned in the past has finally played well. Claiborne has made the biggest leap. In 2015, he was targeted 52 times. He gave up 9.2 yards a pass (62), 5.8 yards after the catch (71st), and had a success rate of 44% (68). This year, he has really improved at stopping yards after the catch, allowing only one yard, which is 34th. He's been targeted 35 times, but he's giving up just 4.9 yards a pass and has a success rate of 57%. Something has finally come from all those years of receiving playing time just because of where he was drafted.
Their pass rush has been the usual Marinelli staple. During his time in Dallas, he has never had a great offensive lineman devouring rusher. Instead, he has relied on depth and using his wizardry to get the most out of his players. This season, the Cowboys have 18 sacks. Tyrone Crawford leads the team with three and also leads the team with seven pressures. He's a good player, but not the caliber you would expect for a 7-1 team's best pass rusher. The depth is the key here. 11 players have a sack on this defense. Because of the sum and not the parts, the Cowboys rank 12th in adjusted sack rate at 6.6%.
The defense has played well and exceeded expectations. The best part about it is Dallas' offense. The Cowboys' defense rarely has to play. They have faced only 78 drives, which is tied with Green Bay for the fewest in the league. They have faced only 482 plays, which is 31st. On these drives, they are giving up 34.3 yards (10), have been scored on 34.6% of the time (2), and forced punts 41% of the time (16).
They are more than bend don't break, but they are far and away from being great. It doesn't matter because of their offense. The Cowboys' offense has had only 77 drives, the fewest in the league. Green Bay is second with 81. With their run game and high completion pass game, the Cowboys churn through drives and shorten the game. On their drives, they run an average of 7.1 yards (1), pick up 41.1 yards a drive (2), have the ball for 3:22 (1), and score on 51.9% of their drives (2). Atlanta may have the fastest scoring offense. The Cowboys has a slow moving goliath that methodically churns yards and spits out defense's bones.
Because of this, I don't think you can bench Dak for Tony Romo. Dak does more than just run a beautiful offense. He runs a specific type of offense that Romo can't, one focused on the run and quicker short passes, oe where he can influence and affect the run game. opening up holes for Elliott just because of the threat of him taking off. It's an offense that leads the league in time of drive, plays per drive, and is second in yards per drive. Prescott doesn't just run an offense; he runs an offense that has made the defense better, and one that has turned the Cowboys into a 7-1 football team.
2.)--Record: 5-2-1. Point Differential: +28. DVOA: 20.6% (3). Last Week: 2.
1.)--Record: 7-1. Point Differential: +85. DVOA: 19.3% (5). Last Week: 1.
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