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Texans-Bears: Five More Things to Watch For

The Texans play the Bears Sunday. Here are five things to watch for.

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

I am ready to Brock and roll. I spent all summer thinking about things I wanted to write without writing while trying to come up with some sort of equilibrium. As an adult, summer is a bummer, and it is finally over. I just got back from the Grand Canyon and my soul is filled back up. I finished putting together an AFC South season preview that no one cared about. I've spent all week tossing heavy weights around and drinking green tea. My BRB shirt is on, the sleeves are torn off, and OMGrb  I can't wait any longer for the season to start Sunday.


That's the stuff. To pop things off, here are five things I have scribbled in my note pad.

1.) A World Kind of With J.J. Watt

When humans first got out have that fetid primordial cave and learned to speak, they sat around and talked about how people survived without language. Then they thought about how anyone ever lived without agriculture. And then they pondered how it would be like to live without bronze. And then they discussed how strange it must be to live in a world where you had to kill with rocks, swords, and hands. Then salt wasn't cool, and they wondered how you ever stored meat without refrigeration. And then people wondered how you could entertain yourself without television, or how to communicate without screens and the internet. The newest batch of people always wonders how anyone ever could have lived before us, yet they all did anyways.

Entering the Texans season, the front office and coaching staff was chewing on the idea on how to live a life without J.J. Watt. Unlike the first people who were able to survive without the accommodations of future people, the Texans probably couldn't survive a world without Watt. Lucky for them, they were never forced to live in this apocalyptic scenario. J.J. Watt is going to play on Sunday.

This is after he missed the entire preseason because his perfect stomach was stitched back together and the disks in his backs were squished back into place. Although he is going to play, I wonder how much he will. The guy hasn't missed a game in his entire career. He has played 3,950 regular season snaps since 2012. I'm not a doctor, but all signs point that he should not, and will not, play every single down. Maybe if the opponent is facing a 3rd and 20, the Texans keep him on the sidelines. Maybe they learned their lesson from Cecil Shorts III (miss you) and Arian Foster (miss you more) that it is best to not let transcendent centers of the universe, let alone starters, play in blowouts.

Against Chicago, Houston won't have to learn the horrors of a Wattless world. Yet they may live in a world where Watt doesn't play 90+% of the snaps.  That is a good thing considering his situation, the early part of the schedule, and the team they are facing. Knowing Watt, he will probably vaccinate Jay Cutler's children, have ten tackles, five for a loss, two sacks, a receiving touchdown, save a kid out of a burning building at halftime, bat down two passes at the line of scrimmage, and send out five tweets about dreaming big and working hard in those three hours he intersects with the world on Sunday.

2.) I'm Sorry if I Yell. I Really Don't Want To.

So far Romeo Crennel has taken the great defensive talent from the Kubiak era and the few extra players they've added these last two seasons and crafted two top ten defenses. Despite the results, there are two things that Crennel does that drive me crazy. I really hope we are never forced to see these things again.

First is the depth at which the cornerbacks play. If Johnathan Joseph comes out playing eight yards off Alshon Jeffrey, I am going to yell at the dog until my voice stops working. We have seen what happens when the Texans play defense like this. It takes Joseph, Kevin Johnson, and especially Kareem Jackson off their game. They are corners who are best at pressing and getting inside the receiver's jersey. When they play that far off, they are timid and just sit and watch seven yard curl routes go by without having a say in the matter. This type of defense was crucial in losses to Kansas City and other teams; it limited Houston's ability to generate turnovers. Please play tight defense. Andre Hal is really good. He can take care of the rest.

The second thing:  In nickel situations, Eddie Pleasant has been playing the other linebacker spot next to Brian Cushing. This is despite the fact that Pleasant is too slow to play man coverage against wide receivers, too small to cover tight ends, too light to take on blocks in the box, and too weak to make tackles. The Texans are bad when they play with Pleasant as the second nickel linebacker. They get chewed up on interior runs, and the tangible improvement in coverage isn't worth the problems they have stopping the run. Please don't use this defensive alignment. Please don't make me yell at the dog, Romeo.


Have you ever heard Stephen A.Smith say Jay Cutler? You have to.


On Sunday afternoon, every time Cutler drops back, just let this voice replace the one in your head. That's all I have to say regarding that.

4.) That Big Hole in the Center

If the Bears win this game, it is going to happen on the ground. Last year, they were fifth in rushing DVOA at 4.2%. This offseason, they lost most of their offensive line to free agency. What remains is strong interior run blocking. Kyle Long, Josh Sitton and Ted Larsen is one of the better inside run blocking trios in the NFL. Complementing them is booming Jeremy Langford, who has one of the strangest rushing lines you'll ever see. He averaged just 3.6 yards a carry yet somehow finished fifth in DVOA. The guy just doesn't get stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage. He's good for 3.5 yards every time.

If Chicago can control the center of the line of scrimmage and run, run, run to keep Houston's super-fast and super-cool offense sitting around, they could have a chance in this one. Especially if JAY CUTLA can toss some high passes up to Alshon Jeffrey over the shorter Texans' secondary and get Kevin White (if he plays) in space where the Texans have problems making tackles.

Chicago should be able to run the ball. Although Houston ended up ninth in defensive adjusted line yards at runs in the middle, they had enormous issues stopping the run inside to start last season. Vince Wilfork was consistently driven back and made life hell for Brian Cushing and Akeem Dent or Justin Tuggle.  They were constantly forced to dip under 300 pounders to make tackles because of Wilfork's inability to hold the point of attack. Things got better once Benardrick McKinney got the start and Wilfork stopped playing on third down, but I'm skeptical this will be a strength for Houston this year. Wilfork is a year older, and this defense places so much emphasis on the nose tackle. As bad as Wilfork was last season, I think he could be even worse this year.

5.) Pop Brock and Lock It

Of course. This is the moment we all have been waiting for since Brock Osweiler left Denver at the altar and came to Houston. And boyo, this couldn't be a better matchup for Osweiler. He's going against a defense that ranked 31st in defensive DVOA last season. Their only additions were Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, two rangy linebackers who excel in coverage and jolting in between gaps in the line of scrimmage to make tackles. It's a Pedialyte version of the linebackers Carolina has. The Texans' offensive line at full strength was abysmal at getting to the second level last season. It will be an issue this game and all season, too. The Bears' new linebackers should help their woes against the run and should shut down a nonexistent Texans short middle passing game.

The other strength the Bears have is outside rushing. Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young each had six sacks last season and, McPhee, the best of the bunch, had 8.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, and 21.5 hurries last season. The Bears' pass rush finished 18th in adjusted sack rate and 20th in pressure rate. The good news for Houston is that McPhee isn't playing tomorrow and interior pass blocking, not exterior, is the issue. Derek Newton is better than how he played in a tumultuous 2015, and Chris Clark (in place of Duane Brown) is as good as it gets for a third tackle. They will miss blocks occasionally, but for the majority of the game, this should be a cold molasses pass rush. Osweiler should have plenty of time.

Because the run game may struggle (aside from the runs Lamar Miller makes all on his own because he's a magic man), the lack of short middle passing game, and the slow pass rush, Osweiler is set up for this game to be his own. He's going to have plenty of opportunities to throw outside to DeAndre Hopkins (who the Bears don't have to answer for), Will Fuller, Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller.

This is exactly what you want. The Texans are set up to win without great quarterback play. The entire point of signing Osweiler instead of going all in on defense was to get exactly that. Houston is going to need Osweiler in this game. This is a perfect game to get the season going right and a perfect opportunity for Osweiler to instantly make a case he was worth the $18 million per year he got.

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