Remember when the Texans were 6-3 and were going to sleep walk through the division and make playoffs? LOL. That was a funny thing. All of those fuzzy pink slipper feelings have evaporated. Houston is now 6-6, having lost three straight to Oakland, Green Bay, and San Diego. They are conjoined with Indianapolis and Tennessee in a three-way tie at the top of the division like that Matt Damon movie or Biff and Chip. All of the ease and luxury of life has been removed. It’s now back to the trenches.
1.) I Hate Playing In Indianapolis.
The thing I hate most about being alive is clothes shopping. I’m a 6’6” monster. I walk into these stores made for babies. I try on pants, and they are too short. My ankles hang out like some unappetizing cleavage. I try on other pants, and they are too tight. My legs explode through the seams like really angry purple shorts. I go to the big man store, and there I am tall enough, but not wide enough. There is nowhere where I belong. I stare in the mirror and feel ugly. I get a headache. I look at hats, but never buy one. I look at shirts that I’m not cool enough to wear. I browse through books I don’t have the time to read. I eat a pretzel. I wander around for awhile trying to find my car. I go home.
This is how the Houston Texans feel when they play in Indianapolis. Currently they are 1-13 in that milquetoast hellscape, winning their first game ever last year. That game was T.J. Yates v. Matt Hasselbeck. Two 6-6 teams fighting for the playoffs. Sound familiar? The Texans started the game off with two turnovers and allowed only seven points on those drives. Yates tore his knee up in the second quarter, so it became Brandon Weeden v. Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck signed up to hold a clipboard, not to actually play. He started every game from Week Eleven on at the age of 40. He took a mean hit and sat out so Charlie Whitehurst could wet his whistle. So the game became Weeden v. Whitehurst. Once Hasselbeck’s ears stopped ringing, it became Weeden v. Hasslebeck again.
With Weeden at quarterback, Houston scored 13 unanswered to win. That was one of many zany things that occurred in this game. Jaelen Strong caught a touchdown off a bootleg pass. Nick Novak attempted a 57 yard field goal. Indy was held to less than 200 yards. Alfred Blue broke a 45 yard run. Keith Mumphery returned kicks. Robert Mathis had a strip sack. J.J. Watt had THE CLUB on his hand. Although Houston was up late in the fourth quarter, it never felt like they would actually win. We all waited for the same nightmares from the past to rip our brains apart. No one was comfortable until Johnathan Joseph forced a fumble that Kareem Jackson recovered to set up the victory formation. It was a lot of weird football played between two bad teams.
That’s what it took for Houston to finally win in Indy. If I’m Bill O’Brien, I’m doing whatever it takes to replicate what happened last year tomorrow. I’m extrapolating everything from that one game sample. I’m benching Brock Osweiler for Brandon Weeden. I’m making sure Koltz Killa Jaelen Strong is playing no matter how cranky his ankle is. I’m organizing an emergency book club meeting at the Barnes & Noble that has a Starbucks, not the one closest to the stadium, to keep Andrew Luck off the field. I’m throwing it to DeAndre Hopkins a lot against Vontae Davis. I’m doing whatever worked in that one win all over again. I continue to hope it will, kind of like this offense, except they do what doesn’t work over and over again and hope that one day it magically will.
2.) Everything Changes Except For This Thing.
When the Texans played the Colts earlier this year, the Colts’ defense was really bad. Regardless, they were still able to generate pressure on the outside. Brock Osweiler scattershotted DeAndre Hopkins and Vontae Davis kept him quiet. Entering the last drive of the fourth quarter, Osweiler was 14-27 for 121 yards and one interception. The Texans had only scored nine points. The only thing they did well was run the ball outside the tackles.
Then the OSGASM happened. BROCKAGEDDON occurred. The offensive explosion Houston is so close to finding that Osweiler alluded to after last week’s loss actually happened in this game. The Texans went from scoring nine points on nine possessions to scoring seventeen on the last three to tie and then win the game in overtime. Afterwards, some wondered if this was the explosion waiting at the end of the fuse. Had everything has clicked in place? Would this be a sign for things to come? No. No, it would not.
A lot of football has happened since that last pathetic offensive showing that ended with goodwill. Since that time, the Colts’ defense is still bad. They have allowed 25.9 points a game, which is 25th in the NFL. They are 30th in defensive DVOA, 29th against the pass, 31st against the run, and are one of four teams with a positive run defense DVOA. They are the worst in the NFL at covering running backs, tight ends, and WR1s. They collect sacks, but they are last in the league in pressure rate. They are also last in the NFL at covering short passes. They don’t do anything well on defense. They are old and slow. They weren’t expected to get better and they never did.
That being said, Houston’s offense was putrid and all those other words that mean bad until the end of that game. The Texans’ offense has been that way throughout the season. In their first meeting with the Colts, the Texans could run the ball outside. Lamar Miller had 12 carries for 35 yards up the middle. Everywhere else, he had 12 carries for 112 yards. Math! That’s almost ten yards a carry. Houston repeatedly ran inside zone runs that Miller bounced outside with vision and genius. He also scored the first touchdown in their end game flurry by breaking 500 tackles on third down in what usually ends up as a turnover of downs or a field goal.
So yeah, Bill O’Brien, please, please, please, please, please don’t run the ball up the middle over and over again. It won’t work. Get outside against their slow linebackers. Get outside and run over their cornerbacks that can’t tackle. Please don’t just plod Alfred Blue up the middle over and over again to set up third downs Osweiler can’t convert. Give Akeem Hunt the ball on tosses. Run the outside zone with Miller. Run power sweeps with Jonathan Grimes out of the shotgun. Get outside. Run wild.
Usually this would be the time where I would say something like, “This is the game where Brock Osweiler needs to and should play well.” No. It’s not going to happen. I’m done with it. I’m done waiting for Godot. I’m done sitting at that bus stop. Osweiler is 28th in completion percentage while averaging a league worst 5.8 Y/A, 0.3 worse than Blake Bortles. He’s thrown the fourth most interceptions. He’s 20th in touchdowns thrown. He’s 31st in Y/C. He’s 32nd in DYAR, 31st in DVOA, and 30th in QBR. It’s gotten to the point where when Brock Osweiler does something that all good quarterbacks do all the time, like step up in the pocket and throw an accurate pass, it turns into this celebration, a “Why can’t he do that all the time?”. Well, he can’t.
I still think Houston can score points on Indy. The Colts’ defense is that bad. They only have Vontae Davis, Mike Adams, and David Parry. Everyone else on their defense can be recycled out. I assume Osweiler is going to lead two scoring drives of capable offensive play. And the run game should be really good if they run outside. Houston should be able to score 24 points at a minimum if those two things occur.
3.) Andrew Luck Is Really Good, In Case You Forgot.
Andrew Luck is an incredible quarterback. He’s 17th in DYAR. He’s 17th in DVOA. He’s thrown 23 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. He’s done this while playing behind the worst pass blocking offensive line in the NFL. The Colts have allowed a criminal—really, they should be locked up for this—39 sacks. They are 30th in adjusted sack rate at 8.5%. Their pressure rate is 25.3%, DEAD LAST. Everyone wants to praise Russell Wilson for the dark arts he practices behind his acolytes, but no one mentions that Luck is playing nearly as well, behind a worse offensive line, facing even more pressure. I guess nobody loves you when you are 6-6.
The Colts are 3-0 in the last three games that Luck has started. In these games, Luck has completed 65.2% of his passes for 821 yards, has a 7:3 touchdown to interception ratio, and is averaging 8.9 yards an attempt. Indy has scored 96 points in those games. That’s what an offensive explosion looks like, Brock.
Overall, T.Y. Hilton already has 1,000 yards and has caught five touchdowns. Donte Moncrief has six touchdowns despite being injured for most of the year. He’s turned Jack Doyle from a name that makes you want to watch Billy Madison to a legitimate #1 NFL tight end who is second on the team in receiving yards.
The numbers aren’t all there, because again, Andrew Luck has had his skull bounced around, his body bitten into, forced to play football from a mosh pit, and has suffered a concussion. But the oMg throws are here. The bounce-back from last year has occurred. He’s done so much more than other quarterbacks would do in a similar setting. Those guys would have ended up with Scott Tolzien playing more than one game this year.
4.) Good Things Never Last.
There’s two problems here. The first is the run defense. The first time the Texans played the Colts, Frank Gore ran up the middle really well. He averaged 4.8 Y/C. He ran for over 100 yards, which was the first time Indy’s offense has done that since, idk, a really long time. The Colts’ offensive line, as bad as they are at pass blocking, are pretty good in the run game. Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, and Ryan Kelly are a nice core. They are first in the NFL in adjusted line yards up the middle. The problem here isn’t the run blocking. It’s Frank Gore, an old bruiser who thinks he still has it. He doesn’t, and continually fails to pick up what the offensive line gives him.
The Texans’ run defense remains a problem. Last week’s performance was the result of something nonexistent going up against something that barely exists. Houston’s defensive line is worthless aside from Jadeveon Clowney, who’s healthy, and the occasional D.J. Reader play. The middle is alright because Benardrick McKinney is the greatest My Chemical Romance fan to play the game. Aside from where Clowney lines up and the middle, the Texans can get gashed open like my leg that summer I was moving cubicles for a moving company. “Check this out. I got bit by a shark. Wild, right?” Indy should be able to run the ball pretty well tomorrow.
The BIG problem, the really big one, is the Texans’ pass defense. Yes, this is Houston’s strength. Yes, they have been led by their secondary. The issue is that Johnathan Joseph is questionable. He cracked two ribs last week. Houston wants to play man coverage. They want to have A.J. Bouye on one side, Joseph on the other, and Kareem Jackson in the slot. Any dent in Joseph’s recovery or in this game will place Jackson on the outside matched up against either Donte Moncrief or T.Y. Hilton; both of those guys can dismantle him and make him chase like he’s done all season. Quintin Demps is still back there, too. Against San Diego, Demps was at fault on all three of the Chargers’ touchdown passes. Luck is really smart. He reads books. Look for him to attack Demps and for Indy to isolate Demps with their route combinations.
In addition to that, the Texans can’t really rush the passer. They have no interior rush on their defensive line. It’s led to Clowney and Whitney Mercilus getting chipped, doubled, and cut. They can’t play as aggressively as they should. Houston’s pass rush has generated pressure on interior stunts and delayed blitzes, not because of their outside demons beating one on one blocks. As bad as the Colts’ pass blocking is, they have allowed only five sacks the last three games Luck has started. Things are getting a bit better. Also, Luck is a great runner. Houston plays man coverage. Like their first meeting when Luck ran for 53 yards, he should get plenty of chances to get outside the pocket and scramble.
Andrew Luck, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, may get time to throw, and it may come against a secondary that is mismatched all across the field if Joseph is out. Houston’s defense has been awesome and has kept them in every game except for three, when the offense was incomprehensibly bad. This game, the defense may not be able to do that with all the injuries and the opportunities the Colts’ offense has. If Indy scores more than 24, this game is over. That is a number I think they should be able to reach.
5.) This Is Very Important.
Oh, the mighty have fallen. The playoffs are hanging like a tooth that can’t be used to eat chalupas. All three teams are tied atop the AFC South. Football Outsiders now has Houston with the lowest playoff odds of the three.
Indianapolis is first, thanks to their two wins over Tennessee. Their weighted DVOA is -6.3%, their mean wins is 8, and their playoff odds are 39.9%, jumping 19.1% after last week’s win over the Jets. Tennessee is second at 34.0%. Houston has a weighted DVOA of -25.3%, 7.5 mean wins, and a a playoff probability of 28.8%.
If we look at the New York Times’ playoff calculator, which isn’t as good at weighing a team’s performance and future schedule, Houston’s odds jump by 24% with a win, from 44% to 68%. In addition to this, I think Denver loses to Tennessee. The Broncos can’t stop the run, exotic methmouth is really good, and Paxton Lynch has been an abomination. If only Lynch was as good at being a rookie quarterback as he is at being a pirate. If Houston wins and Tennessee does too, their odds are at 64%. If Houston loses this week, their probability drops to 30%. It’s 22% if they lose and Tennessee wins.
Bill O’Brien has been able to hide behind a curtain these last three years. In 2014, despite all factors pointing to an improvement, they weren’t expected to make the playoffs and nine wins was great. Last year, they won nine in a Luckless division and were curbstomped by Kansas City in the first round. But hey, they made the playoffs!
This year, even though they never played well, the Texans just won games. They were 6-3 and atop the division. At 6-6, those curtains are in shambles. They are tied. They have played the worst football of these three playoff-hunting AFC South teams. With the investment and the expectations entering the season, for this team to play as bad as they have and not make the playoffs is inexcusable.
This weekend is the most important game up to this point of the season. If the Texans sweep the AFC South, they win the division and they’re in the playoffs. If they don’t, they’ll be relaying on tiebreakers. This is a very important game.