What do you think about Will Fuller? I think that he’s great. I think he’s the best. Yeah, I think he’s better than Kanye West. I think he’s better than John Steinbeck. Don’t you agree? Can’t you see you’re just like me? The man can do things. The rest of us can only dream of, baby.
Heading into the season, I was skeptical about Will Fuller.
The dilemma is that Fuller isn't good at doing the most important thing a receiver needs to do--catch the football. Since he was wide open on the majority of his targets, he could sit and wait for the ball to come to him. He could double-catch the ball. He could catch the ball with his chest and not worry about any repercussions. Fuller didn't have to extend his arms and actively catch passes. He was allowed to play passively.
When evaluating college players, it is vital to add a layer of NFL scenarios to what you are watching. At the next level, the cushions are going to be smaller, the corners are going to be able to press him, and the difference in speed is going to be mitigated. He has the athletic ability and route running skills to get open, but he doesn't catch the ball well enough for him to consistently turn attempts into completions. The deep routes where he waits will end with a safety slapping the ball out of his hands once it arrives. The slant routes that come into his chest will bounce in the air when the corner hits from behind. The routes to the sideline where one foot sticks because he doesn't extend his arms and attack the football will end in an incompletion.
This is the grim reality with Will Fuller. And yet, he's so fast and such a remarkable athlete that the potential is limitless. If he ever learns how to actively catch a football, consistently extending and catching the ball with his hands, he could become a great receiver. If not, he's going to be a Cordarrelle Patterson, jet sweep, screen game sideshow instead of a real receiver that can carry an offense.
On the first pass that came his way yesterday, he confirmed all that skepticism. Brock Osweiler plopped a 65 yard touchdown right into his hands and it repelled right off them. Immediately the wolves were out, howling around. See, it’s true, Fuller is a bust. He can’t catch the ball. He can't complete the central task in a receiver's job description.
Fuller then proceeded to slash through the Bears’ defense. He caught 5 passes for 107 yards, which comes out to 21.4 yards a reception. He ran every route. He made professional athletes look like children at summer camp. He was the NFL's version of Usian Bolt this past summer. He broke tackles and picked up yards after the catch. But the most important thing is that Fuller caught the ball correctly. He leaped and attacked it at its highest point. He extended his arms and caught the ball away from his body. The cradling. The helmet-sticking. All of it was gone.
The best of it all was a low screen pass on third and seven. Fuller lowered his claws and then spewed nitrous oxide all over the field and into the end zone. It was like he paused time and proceeded to live through it while everyone else was stuck under some insidious spell, like that dude with the goggles in that X-Men movie. It was probably the first wide receiver screen pass Houston scored a touchdown on since Andre Johnson scored in overtime during that afternoon duel against Chad Henne three seasons ago. This play was magical.
Sunday was a direct result of Chicago's defensive strategy. They decided to cover DeAndre Hopkins by playing Tracy Porter on him, and having Porter follow Hopkins around the entire field with their safeties focused on Hopkins. This left Fuller alone against a bad secondary's second and third corners, and he just zoomed past them. Throughout the season, Fuller is going to get opportunities like this as teams do everything they can to limit Hopkins.
It’s only been one game against a team that was 31st in defensive DVOA a year ago and was missing their best player. Regardless, I’m smitten. I love Will Fuller. I love the "V" on the back of his jersey. I love his hair. I love how he turns defensive backs into mud. I think that he’s great. I think he’s the best.
I Believe I Can Fly...
Ball skill from Wilfork. pic.twitter.com/USV5LqIn9w— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) September 11, 2016
I think this game will prove to be a good representation of the Texans' season. The Bears are weak on both sides of the line of scrimmage, so they were unable to get to Brock Osweiler and protect Jay Cutler. Ultimately, this made the difference in the game.
Defensively, the Texans feasted on getting to Cutler as the LB play was simply off the charts. When your "worst" LB play comes from Jadeveon Clowney (who had a sack!), that's really saying something. Benardrick McKinney and John Simon were especially effective running stunts in sub packages, to which the Bears were never able to adjust. I'd also love to see D.J. Reader get more snaps.
Offensively, the Texans also met my expectations. If Osweiler can put up an 89.1 QB rating for the season as he did on Sunday, this team makes the playoffs. In addition to managing the game adequately, Osweiler showed the willingness to push the ball downfield. That's important with all the team speed that will produce the occasional big play. Finally, I can't see teams being willing to allow Will Fuller free releases off the line of scrimmage. That strategy, or lack thereof, was perplexing the entire game.
This still looks precisely like a 10-6 team to me. There are strengths and weaknesses, but I think what ultimately decides the season will be the evolution of Osweiler and the gelling of the offensive line.
Throughout the first quarter, watching the Texans fail to execute again and again while showing inconsistent flashes of brilliance, I had the feeling I was watching a top fuel dragster running on three cylinders. The potential is obviously there, but dropped passes, missed assignments, false start penalties and other mental errors made it feel like 2015 Kickoff all over again.
My biggest fear going into the game was losing a star player to injury. Then Captain Ron let us know Cushing was being walked into the locker room (despite sensationalized reports of him being carted off) with the trainers, and it seemed like we were doomed.
But Bill O'Brien is a heck of a ball coach. He took his team in at the half, after just coughing up the only first half lead Houston had, and made some solid adjustments. By the fourth quarter, the Texans were rolling, the receiving corps had found their hands, Brock was proving he was worth every penny of his contract, and the defense looked like they never needed Cush in the first place.
Lamar Miller didn't quite get the 150 combined yards I'd expected, but he did break 100 on the ground. Will Fuller looked first round worthy, as did Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. J.J. Watt fought off his normal dose of no-call holding penalties and Houston ended the day as the only undefeated team in the AFC South.
Now, if they can remain immune to further injuries, get Duane Brown and Cushing back, and continue to gel as a rock solid team, I'm confident this year will be the first time the Texans host the AFC Championship Game.
Yeah it Really Don't Get Much Better Than This.
Brock Osweiler makes me nervous with how he seems to throw into coverage as if the receiver is ALWAYS DeAndre Hopkins. That said, for the most part he was not checking down, and near the end of the game he was repeatedly going for the kill shot. Then again. even the TV angles revealed how he missed some wide open receivers on plays where he seemed to be forcing the ball.
Brock had a successful debut in Houston. Period. Far from perfect, but the guy was the furthest thing from timid and actually looked pretty good throwing on the move in a couple situations.
Lamar Miller looked great, and I was pleasantly surprised how well the offensive line worked the run game, especially in the first half.
On defense, Whitney Mercilus looked like he was all over the place, J.J. Watt was effective despite his lack of stats, and as a unit they really tightened up in the second half, as was a regular occurrence last season. J.D. Clowney looked good, including a sideline pursuit sack--he was still getting good pressure late in the game.
Hey, man, it's the first game. Lots of good, lots of bad, and they did leave some points on the board with Fuller's drop. When things started go sideways, they came out and handled business. Oh, and a WR screen went for a touchdown!?!? What alternate universe is this!?!?
A very bi-polar start to the season by all accounts.
The first half very showed what potential issues the Texans might have to deal with going forward. Stuff like starting the game quicker is going to become more and more important with the better teams that the Texans will face on their schedule. The secondary's struggles with Alshon Jeffrey are also concerning, considering that the Texans will be seeing a whole host of talented jump ball WRs this season. The smaller stuff, like the penalties in the red zone, need to be corrected. Especially since those two penalties all but killed two drives and forced the Texans into settling for field goals.
Whatever concerns the first half raised, the second half did its best to remind us not to panic. Watching Lamar Miller run is an absolute pleasure after watching Alfred Blue the last two seasons. Miller's work today was a big reason why the Texans moved the ball on offense.
Brock Osweiler shrugged off that early mistake and showed a lot to be hopeful about. His deep ball accuracy, and his accuracy in general, was very good for most of the day. His first TD pass to Hopkins was an absolute dime and he was just unlucky he didn't repeat the feat with his later end zone attempt to Hopkins.
Will Fuller was pretty damm good. I'm going to give credit to the Texans' WR coach Sean Ryan, because Fuller's technique has completely changed from when he was at Notre Dame. No longer are his arms glued to his chest. He showed great extension to increase his catch radius, which showed on his big 35 yard fourth quarter reception. That being said, Fuller is still learning, and the easy TD that he dropped is a sign of that. But by all means, it's a strong start.
The defense was what we expected in that second half. The LBs terrorized Jay Cutler, even with the loss of Brian Cushing. McKinney, John Simon and Max Bullough all did well. Whitney Mercilus deserves special credit for his two sacks, both of which were on third downs.
Everything considered, there is a lot to be excited about, but there are better teams to come and the problems which plagued the Texans early in this game will have to be nipped in the bud.
Remember When Will Fuller Couldn't Catch?
It took him so long to sign because he kept dropping the pen. https://t.co/HWu9zjNldz— Matt Weston (@Mbw987) June 26, 2016
Wow. Live footage sent of Will Fuller's first practice as a Texan. pic.twitter.com/6YfOU6WizK— School Hanx (@HankJoness) April 29, 2016
very inspirational story of Fuller making it all the way to the NFL despite having been born without hands— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) September 11, 2016
Brock just kept on taking those shots down field to Will Fuller, something that hasn't happened in a long time. Despite a couple overthrows and the Fuller drop, there's reason to be hopeful. That being, Fuller just kept on winning. Fuller looked every bit the NFL receiver out there and well worth his first round status. Bob McNair described him as dynamite after the game, and I can agree with that. Fuller is going to keep winning, and I expect a couple of 50+ yard touchdowns this year.
Brock had me a bit nervous, but I slowly got used to having him back there. We ran it a lot to start, but once he started getting in the groove, it was a lot better on offense in general. I think we'll see things improve even more in the coming weeks. There will be better connections on those deep throws to Fuller and passes to Hopkins. It's inevitable that when we play on a prime time game, Brock is going to get called a gunslinger if he continues this way. Probably by Jon Gruden, repeatedly.
The O-Line seemed okay. Run blocking wasn't great in the second half, but Lamar Miller still had a 100 yard rushing day and looked exceptional early on. I actually didn't notice too many problems with Greg Mancz, but I'll have to give it a re-watch to really see.
Clowney had left tackle Charles Leno on skates several times that game, straight up bull-rushing that guy backwards. He seems to be continuing that from preseason. This could finally be the Clowney we hoped for. Prepare yourselves, AFC South.
The only concern was J.J., and I don't think I've ever said that. He didn't seem to have his usual burst and bend. Maybe he's just a bit stiff from a lack of practice time? Of course, as soon as I wrote that down, he went and got a sack. Well, almost. Pretty sure that was intentional grounding. Anyway, hopefully with some more practice, that should loosen up. I can't imagine he was able to move his back much post-surgery, so that must have caused some long-term stiffness. It'll be a work in progress.
Overall, a win is a huge positive, and we actually managed a WR screen for a touchdown. That's stuff only dreams were made of these past few years.
One game is not enough to make me worry about anything. Not because there aren't problems, but because we don't know if what happened in that one game was just an anomaly or the start of a trend.
That said, one of the things that stuck out to me is Osweiler's tendency to get, for lack of a better word, panicky. He missed at least two open receivers in the first half and possibly more in the second, and that's not to mention the balls he just threw away without even noticing open receivers. I think the second he starts hearing footsteps he just wants to get the ball out of his hands. It seemed to improve in the second half, so I do wonder if that was just first half jitters.
Same thing could be said about the secondary. The secondary let Jay Cutler, Jay Kittening Cutler, throw for 150 yards and a TD in the first half. Again, it seemed to get better in the second half, but since it's one game, I don't know whether it's nothing or something to be concerned about going forward. For now, I'll write it off as just a bad first half, but I'll be watching them in the next two games to see if it becomes a trend.
Will Fuller is going to make me drink a lot of gin this year, followed by questions of either, "How did he make that catch?!" or "How the hell did he not catch that?!" He is very talented and watching him reverse field on his touchdown was a beautiful thing to see. I just hope that he can find fully functioning hands before the end of the season.
I was really happy to see Clowney get in the backfield regularly, even though the only sack he got was when Cutler was forced out of bounds. Mercilus was making most of the big plays in the backfield, but I don't think we've seen the last of Clowney's contributions to the Texans' quarterback-terrorizing efforts.
Oddly enough, perhaps the thing that stood out most to me in yesterday's game was Charles James. It seemed like he was the first guy down the field on every punt or kick, and he made the tackle of the Bears' returner nearly every time. He was a gunner in every sense of the word and made a gigantic difference in flipping the field.
I don't want to make too much of one game, but between him and Brian Peters, I think the Texans' kick coverage unit has a legitimate chance to be a difference-maker (in a good way) for the first time in a long time (like, ever?).
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