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The Duane Brown Trade: An Analysis

Duane Brown is gone. The Texans are a worse football team because of it.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we did an early version of Battle Red Radio. On the episode, I shrugged off the Duane Brown trade rumors, citing them as things that are talked about to try and make the NFL trade deadline interesting, artillery strikes that always end up being black cat poofs. Then the show ended. Then Duane Brown was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for Jeremy Lane, a 2018 fifth round pick, and a 2019 second round pick.

From Houston’s perspective, this trade doesn’t make the Texans a better football team. Duane Brown is one of the better left tackles in the NFL. He makes edge pass rushers a non-existent threat. Deshaun Watson only would have to worry about the rushers he can see, the ones coming from the interior specifically. Watson could carry on without dealing with someone obliterating him from behind. Additionally, one of the issues for the Texans’ offensive line is Xavier Su’a-Filo’s pass blocking ability. He whiffs, and when he does, it is in embarrassing fashion. Sandwiched between Brown and Nick Martin, Su’a-Filo’s pass blocking washes out some. They can prop up his leaning, lunging, and poor hand placement. Watson could focus mainly on right side rushers instead.

Without Brown this season, the Texans had an adjusted sack rate that placed them at 31st in the league. That number is inflated by Jacksonville’s destruction of Tom Savage. Even then, the Texans were 29th in pressure rate. Pressure was something that Watson has had to deal with. Part of the reason for this trade from Houston’s perspective is that Watson is able to negate the need for a great offensive line some. He has great vision as a runner, pocket presence, and maneuverability. A great offensive line isn’t as important for him as it is for other quarterbacks.

However, Watson has struggled with pressure throughout the season per Pro Football Focus. According to PFF, against Seattle, Watson was 6-13 for 90 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and was sacked five times while under pressure. Without pressure he was 13-17 for 312 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Like every quarterback, Watson is better with a clean pocket. When Watson has had time to throw, he’s been the greatest quarterback of all-time. When he’s pressured, he has been mortal. With Chris Clark and Breno Giacomini on the outside, and Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen on in the inside, the pockets are going to be muddy and sometimes calamitous depending on the opponent.

In the run game, Brown also made the team better. He was the team’s best offensive player last season; the best part of last season’s fetid offense was running the ball to the left side. Houston’s adjusted line yards on left edge rushes was 4.14 (14th) and 4.85 (5th) on left tackle rushes. With Brown out, Houston was 31st in adjusted line yards on left edge runs and 17th in adjusted line yards on runs over the left tackle. That’s a drop-off of 3.11 and 0.83 from last season. In his first game back, the Texans averaged six yards a carry on left edge runs and 3.4 yards a carry on left tackle and left guard runs. Without Brown this season, HOuston averaged 2.79 yards and 4.4 yards a carry in the same directions. Like the passing game, Brown makes Su’a-Filo a better player. They work well together, timing outside zone double teams correctly. Brown is also a great second level blocker and can actually stick on the second level, elongating the time Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman have to choose their routes. Brown makes the Texans’ passing and run games better.

The draft picks Houston received from Seattle don’t help this team in 2017. Jeremy Lane is the player to help the Texans win now and the player that made the salaries work out for this trade go through. The Texans’ pass defense was an atrocity last week. Russell Wilson threw for 452 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kevin Johnson allowed 6 catches on 9 targets and 90 yards. Marcus Gilchrist was singled out on deep pass attempts. Aside from an interception, Marcus Williams played poorly as well. Without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans have one pass rusher that can consistently beat individual blockers in Jadeveon Clowney. Everyone else is underwhelming. The players on the field are ones you see in the third quarter of a second preseason game, not in the middle of the season.

By acquiring the Seahawks’ fourth cornerback, the Texans no longer have to play guys like Williams, or Marcus Burley, or Johnthan Banks. Instead they can play someone who is worthy of an actual roster spot. That being said, Lane hasn’t been even a mediocre cornerback the last two seasons since he broke his arm and tore his ACL in Super Bowl 49. Per Football Outsiders’ charting stats, Lane has had a success rate of 55% this season and 54% last season, ranking him 64th and 79th. He has allowed 2.2 yards after the catch this season and 2.4 last season, which is among the worst in the NFL. He’s allowed 5.8 yards a pass and 7.0 yards a pass in these same years. He has played only 147 snaps this season, spending 2017 sitting behind Shaquill Griffin and Justin Coleman.

The Texans’ fourth corner spot has been a filled by 6 a.m. phone calls to Labor Finders. Lane will make the Texans’ secondary better, but it’s still not going to be good. The impact Lane will have on this team isn’t greater than the one that Brown had. The Texans are 3-4 right now and competing for a playoff spot. It’s a team dependent on its offense to win games. They would have been better with Duane Brown this season than they would have with Lane. From a pure football perspective, this trade has made the Texans worse .

But things aren’t entirely about football. Brown wasn’t happy here. He sat out the entire training camp and preseason, only returning to the team a week ago. He was critical of owner Bob McNair and took offense to McNair’s ‘inmates’ comment that left the team confused and upset. A holdout that began to get a contract extension or additional guaranteed money turned into an avalanche of disdain. Brown didn’t want to play football in Houston. He wanted to get out of here.

This fear of Brown just sitting out, or not being fully invested in the team, drove this trade. The Texans wanted to make sure they could get something for Brown in case he became a noxious asset and a locker room division. Houston still did an awful job managing Brown’s morale, though. He spent his entire career with this team. I’m sure he had affection for the other players in the locker room. It seemed like a contract similar to the one Andrew Whitworth signed this year could have kept him around and left Brown as the team’s blind side tackle. The relationship between Houston and Brown should have never gotten to this point.

The Texans traded one of the best players in franchise history for a fourth cornerback who isn’t very good, a late round pick next year that doesn’t fill the holes the Brock Osweiler and Deshaun Watson trades left in their draft pool, and an early 2019 draft pick. Houston also doesn’t have a player nearly as good as Brown this year and doesn’t have a left tackle moving forward into the future either. As interesting a prospect Juli’en Davenport is, he’s so far from being able to start in the NFL as a tackle. Because of emotions and feelings, the Texans traded Brown and they are a worse football team this year, and probably in the immediate future, because of it.


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