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Texans-Seahawks Preview: Five Things To Watch

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Here’s five things to watch for when the Texans play the Seahawks.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
Damn I missed this large man
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans are playing a very important football game tomorrow that nobody is really talking about anymore. An article was published at ESPN that quoted owner Bob McNair saying, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” that has deflected talk from this game, to the things that occur off the field. This is true. You can’t have the inmates running the prison. However, in the case of calling player’s self expression and them using their platform in they way they choose to, is not the correct use of this expression. DeAndre Hopkins took a personal day. Duane Brown was upset. Coaches Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel led team meetings to discuss the comments, and patch the team back together.

On Sunday, the Texans are going to do something before the game in reaction to McNair’s statement. And they should do whatever it is they want. As a white middle class man, I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America aside from snippets of things I’ve seen, and books I’ve read. And I have no idea what it’s like to be a professional athlete, and no, having a job is not the same thing as the employer/employee relationship that the players have with the owner.

I’ll sit there and watch the Texans and hope they win, and I’ll say nothing about what happens before the game. I don’t know what these athletes go through. I don’t truly know what members of this demographic go through. And no matter how many options we have to ‘like’ or comment or retweet or post, there are times when things don’t pertain to you, and this is one of those situations for me, and probably for you too loyal reader. The players have a platform. They should be able to use it however it is they want to.

HIT IT

1.) Lisa P is back!

My man. My guy. My dude. Duane Brown is back!

Last season the strength of Houston’s poopy offense was the left side of their offensive line. Duane Brown was stellar in pass protection. Football Outsiders credited him with 0 sacks allowed, something I have qualms with after watching video last year because he did give up a few sacks, and six blown blocks in the pass and run game. The Texans also had problems running the ball effectively last year. Just because you do something often doesn’t mean you do it well. The team had a run offense DVOA of -19.1%, which was 27th. However, they could run the ball to the leftside fairly well, and that segment of the line of scrimmage blocked well. Houston’s adjusted line yards on left edge rushes was 4.14 (14th) and 4.85 (5th) on left tackle rushes. Combined together, Brown and Xavier Su’a-Filo are an above average offensive line duo.

With Brown back the Texans are going to be better on offense. They are getting their best player back from last season. Houston hasn’t been a good pass blocking team. Deshaun Watson has been spectacular at escaping from the rush, but they have been more of a colander than a border wall. Houston is 31st in adjusted sack rate, something over inflated by Tom Savage, but are 29th in pressure rate. With Brown there it will not only give Watson more time, but also piece of mind. He won’t have to worry or think about a rusher coming free off his blind spot. There will be assurance that he only needs to react to the rushers he sees coming, and not invisible monsters crawling out from under the bed.

In the run game Houston is 31st in adjusted line yards on left edge runs and 17th in adjusted line yards on runs over the left tackle. A drop of 3.11 and .83 from last season. Additionally, they are 25th in second level adjusted line yards. Brown is going to make all three of these run situations dramatically better. He is one of the few offensive lineman who can punch and hold and stick to their block, creating more time for Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman to make up their minds and scoot.

And it’s going to make Su’a-Filo better too.

Brown and him work together really well. They get hip to hip on double teams. Brown knows when to peel off at the perfect time. When pass protections slide in certain directions Brown can stop by and help Su’a-Filo with his groceries. Su’a-Filo’s worst quality is that when he misses, he misses bad. Being sandwiched between Nick Martin and Brown is going to help him tremendously and allow him to do what he does best, be big and strong and move the first level.

Regardless of how you feel about Brown’s holdout doesn’t matter now, and it didn’t before he came back. Now that he’s back he’s going to make the Texans a better football team as they beat on like a boat against the current.

2.) Watson v. Wilson

The summer path for Deshaun Watson to start immediately was similar to the one that Russell Wilson stomped down his rookie year. Wilson was behind Matt Flynn on the depth chart. Then rumblings came out that Wilson was a natural leader, the guy, a starter in this league. He outplayed Flynn in the preseason. And Pete Carrol made the move to start the rookie. The same thing happened in Houston. And then Bill O’Brien squashed that because ‘rookie quarterbacks are never ready’, and then was completely embarrassed with Jacksonville blood splattered and lapping up Tom Savage’s remains. Luckily, he completely turned around and started Watson for week two.

The comparisons don’t stop there. Both players have similar styles. Each one is a dynamic runner that can affect the game with their arms and legs. Their speed allows the offense to be run in a unique way. They can run a multitude of plays, especially in the run game, quarterback draws, zone reads, powers, and in the pass game they run fakes off these plays and roll the quarterback out into space to make plays.

However, when it comes to actual performance, Watson is better than Wilson. Watson has a DYAR of 408 (8), a DVOA of 22.1% (5), a QBR of 80.8 (1), and has thrown more touchdowns and has a higher net yards an attempt. Wilson has thrown for more yards only because he’s thrown 43 more passes than Watson. But in every other measure Watson is the better quarterback.

On Sunday, to an almost nauseating point, Wilson and and Watson are going to be compared back and forth, back and forth. This is blasphemy. Watson is the greatest quarterback of all time and shouldn’t be compared to lesser quarterbacks like Wilson.

3.) Where To Attack Seattle?

The Seahawks run defense is worse than it has been in previous years. They are 23rd in run defense DVOA, and are giving up 4.7 yards an attempt, which ranks 26th. Houston has been mediocre at running the ball, but they are getting Duane Brown back, and the run game will bounce upwards like a red rubber ball. The Texans also have three rushers with more than 200 yards, and have run the ball creatively. As the game progresses they should be able to exploit whatever area of the line of scrimmage that is the flimsiest.

When Watson drops back to throw the ball he’s going to face an interesting dilemma. Dare he throw the ball to center of the field where Earl Thomas is patrolling, or attack Richard Sherman directly? In the deep center part of the field quarterbacks are 5/10 for 135 yards, 1 touchdown, and have a rating of 129. Seam routes are how to exploit cover three. Teams just have to run creative route combinations to pull Thomas away, and the quarterback has to anticipate the throw perfectly to place the ball between the linebacker and safety. This throw will probably be the key one for Watson. If he can complete this pass consistently, Houston could be able to hit some fairly big plays in the passing game.

On the outside Richard Sherman is again playing at an All-Pro level. He has been targeted only 29 times, is giving up 3.9 yards a pass (11th), and has a success rate of 66% (25th). He predominately plays as the left cornerback. Quarterbacks have completed only 3/20 passes on throws +15 yards towards this direction, leading to 1 touchdown and 53 passing yards. On the other sideline, teams have only had slightly more success. Completing 4/14 passes for 97 yards and 1 touchdown. Teams have been forced to throw this direction with the success Sherman has had, but haven’t been able to make it work. Rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin has been targeted 35 times, but has given up only 5.1 yards a pass, and has a success rate of 62%.

The key for Houston on offense is going to their ability to get a lead or keep it close so they can run the ball and attack the weakest part of Seattle’s defense. From there Watson need to be precise and hit on seam routes, and minimize the need to throw to the sidelines and attack Sherman or Griffin directly. If they can do this, they maybe able to score enough points to make up for their unknown defense.

4.) The Texans’ Defense, Now With Less Teeth

The Texans lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on the same series in their Sunday night loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then they have only played the Browns. A team that has no idea what to do at the quarterback position, benching and starting Deshone Kizer, the worst quarterback in the NFL this year, as often as Bill O’Brien has done before. In that game the offense got out to an early lead and forced the Browns to throw from behind. They dominated the worst passing offense in the NFL.

This week isn’t going to be the same set of circumstances. There still is talent even though Seattle’s offense has only been mediocre. Wilson is an ‘elite’ quarterback, and has played better the past few weeks. Doug Baldwin is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Their biggest problem is they have a litany of running backs that haven’t been effective. Chris Carson, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, J.D McKissic, and C.J. Procise have all had rushing attempts. Carson had been their best back, but he’s on IR after having a fracture right below his knee. The Seahawks offense is based on their run game. Everything else flows from that. They don’t have an offensive line that can control anything, not even the television clicker. Their offense needs a running back that can break tackles and transcend the offensive line. Marshawn Lynch was this. Thomas Rawls was this for one year. Carson was doing this. He broke 21 tackles before hurting his leg. The rest haven’t been able to.

The Seahawks offensive line isn’t good. It’s bad. Where else can you get this type of analysis? But this game is going to say a lot about the Texans’ front seven. If they can’t control this offensive line, and get a pass rush going against a team that is 30th in pressure rate, they won’t be able to against anyone.

When Seattle is throwing the ball it’s going to be interesting to see how the Texans use Kevin Johnson if he plays. He was limited in practice this week, but was hopeful he could be back out there with the boys this week. I assume Houston will place him on the outside at cornerback. This will then move Kareem Jackson into the slot where he can be closer to the action, and put an end to the candy wrappers and tail side up pennies that have been playing that position. Additionally, Johnson wasn’t good before he was injured. He struggled against Jacksonville and Cincinnati. With a worse pass rush they are going to depend on their secondary to make up for it. Johnson must elevate his game to make this defense work in a Wattless and Mercilusless world.

5.) I Don’t Know Who I Am Anymore

This is the game to see who Houston is as a team. They have chewed up three of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. They have only played the Cleveland Browns since losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. This is the first time this strange version of the Texans, one led by their offense and not their defense, will take the field against a good opponent. It’s only one game. But this one game is going to answer more questions than the previous ones have. After this one, we will probably actually know how Houston is going to respond without Watt and Mercilus, and if this offense is something more than a cupcake devourer.