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.
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