Time doesn’t exist. It’s only a human construct. Created to put benchmarks on our paths towards our demise and give us the ability to live in an orderly fashion, something very important to work together and survive. The past is dead. The future doesn’t exist. The only thing there is is right now.
In football, time exists during games. During the season, it’s measured in weeks. Years are measured by seasons. And here we are. It’s already Week Ten. The Texans have played eight games. The season is halfway over. If it were a person, it would be looking to climb Mount Denali as a way to escape a mid-life crisis. But it isn’t. It’s an arbitrary point in a set of seventeen weeks and sixteen games. However, arbitrary is nice. There is a large enough sample size to take a look at the numbers to get a better idea of how the Texans’ 2017 season has gone, and what they have failed and excelled at.
Last season the Texans were lucky in a football sense. They went 8-4 in one possession games. They exceeded their expected win total by 2.5 wins. They won games by holding opponents to 20 points or less, and putting together three drives that allowed them to scratch by. Despite playing horrific brain numbing football, they were able to win nine games and the division.
This season the opposite has happened for Houston so far. Currently they are 3-5 and have played well when Deshaun Watson was healthy. Their DVOA is 9.4% (12th), 5.3% on offense (13th), and -5.7% (15th) on defense. Their expected win-loss record is 4.5-3.5, and have won 1.5 games below what is expected based on their point differential. Their turnover differential has improved from the -7 it was last year to -1 (T-18th) this year. The difference is all those one possession games they won last year have dropped off. This season they are 1-4 in one possession games. They lost to New England, Kansas City, Seattle, and Indianapolis by eight points or less, and were only able to take out Cincinnati in a real rock fight.
It’s reasonable to think the Texans would have made the playoffs if Deshaun Watson had remained healthy. Their offense was rocking. Watson was throwing bombs to Will Fuller V and DeAndre Hopkins downfield. They were running the ball through a creative run scheme filled with jet sweeps, options, inside draws, and zone reads that they threw play action passes off of. However, this was far from a guarantee. With Watson healthy they were 3-4 through the beginning part of the season. They weren’t winning one score games, something expected this season, and were forced into them because of their leaky defense. For Houston to win games they had to throw the ball and score enough to cover their defense. This wasn’t ever a guarantee.
My heart is broken. I got the taste of orange nails in my mouth. I’m putting monster movies on the tv and spending my nights sleeping on the couch. For the first time since the beginning of 2012 the Texans’ offense was actually fun to watch, and now it’s gone with Watson’s knee.
This season Watson was 126/204 (61.8%), threw for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns to 8 interceptions, averaged 8.3 yards an attempt, and had a DVOA of 22.1% (5th) and a DYAR of 481 (11th). These aren’t just offensive rookie of the year numbers. These are M.V.P numbers. Watson had been fantastic. And now he’s gone. Tom Savage, the Texans summer starting quarterback, the man who had been in this offense for three years who just needed a chance, has been a carcass, dried out with only teeth and fluffs of hair remaining. He’s completed 45.6% of his passes, has averaged 4.9 yards an attempt, has been sacked 9 times in 2 games, and has a DVOA of -46.9%, and a DYAR of -147. He’s been the worst quarterback in the NFL.
The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks, aside from the simple fact that one is very good, and one is very bad, is that Watson can throw the ball downfield. On deep passes Watson is 22/53 for 649 yards (41.5%), is averaging 12.2 yards an attempt, and has thrown 7 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. His ability to throw downfield is that made this offense work. The run game with a variety of options, led to a play action offense with a flurry of fakes, that created open throws downfield. By hitting them the offense became great.
The most interesting thing regarding Watson’s deep throws were the direction. On passes deep left, throws across his body, Watson is 6/21 for 140 yards and threw 3 interceptions. All 6 completions went to Hopkins. On deep middle throws he is 5/8 for 182 yards and threw 3 touchdowns to 1 interception. And, get ready to lick the salt off your palms, on deep right throws he is 11/24 for 327 yards, and threw 4 touchdowns to 1 interception. On these he completed 5/9 to Fuller V for 159 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Savage on the other hand is horrendous. Despite being a big strong man with a big strong arm he can’t throw the ball downfield. Everything ends up out of bounds. Even though he has DeAndre Hopkins he doesn’t give his receivers a chance to catch anything. On deep throws he is 2/14 and is averaging 4.5 yards an attempt. I want to die. On short passes, he’s bad, but he’s not as bad. He has completed 24/43 and is averaging 5.1 yards an attempt, which is 1.9 yards less than what Watson puts out on the field.
The run game has also been greatly affected by Watson. This season the Texans have a DVOA of -4.9% (13th). Lamar Miller is averaging 3.7 yards a carry on 129 attempts. D’Onta Foreman is averaging 4.0 yards a carry on 61 attempts. Watson is averaging 7.5 yards a carry on 36 attempts. Miller has a DVOA of -0.7% (16th), Foreman -6.7%, and Watson 30.6%. From a schematic standpoint, Watson is the biggest improvement in the run game, and he is from an efficiency stand point as well.
When it comes to rushes by directions the Texans are excellent at running the ball up the middle and on the right edge, and pretty good everywhere else. On runs up the middle Houston has 571 yards on 126 carries. They are averaging 4.53 yards an attempt (5th), and has 4.34 adjusted line yards (12th). Miller is averaging 3.96 yards a carry, and Watson is averaging 9.73 yards a carry. On right edge runs the Texans average 6.07 yards a carry on 14 attempts. Half of those come from Watson who is picking up 6.29 yards a scramble. This, of course, is the direction of Watson’s arm and where he runs to escape pressure.
The biggest problem with Houston’s run game is they don’t get past the second level. They have 1.01 second level adjusted line yards, and .44 open field yards. This is mainly because the offensive line isn’t great at keeping their hands on the second level. I don’t know why, but Xavier Su’a-Filo has spent his entire career shoving at the second level rather than grabbing and driving. Jeff Allen isn’t quick enough, and can’t get past the defensive line. The other is they aren’t breaking tackles and making defenders miss. Miller has broken only 10 run tackles, which is 7.75% of his carries. Foreman has broken 7, 11.4%, and Watson has broken 5, 13.8%. Miller is paid to break tackles and go beyond the offensive line. He has been slightly above average in his mismanaged time in Houston, but overall he hasn’t been worth his contract. He needs to be better.
As mediocre as the offensive line has been at run blocking, it’s been a pass blocking disaster. Houston is last in pressure rate. The quarterback is in a burning house on 41.9% of his dropbacks. The team’s adjusted sack rate is 9.6%, which is 30th. The Texans have allowed 28 sacks this year. This was something that Watson was able to mitigate. He was able to scamper to the right side when pressured and turn electrons into neutrons and protons. He could dip away from sacks. Watson avoided 8 sacks, which is tied for second on the NFL. With Savage at quarterback this isn’t happening. He can’t escape. He needs lots of time because his brain is slow. He locks onto one read and waits. The pass blocking is horrendous to begin with, and with Savage it becomes absurd.
Moving forward, this offense is going to stay bad. They don’t have Watson to affect the run game. They can’t use the same run scheme, so they can’t run the same playfakes, which makes the play-action game stale. They are back to slamming the ball in between the guards again and throwing the ball to the flat. Savage can’t throw downfield. He can’t deal with pressure, and there is going to be a lot of it. Last week, the Texans put 7 points up against one of the league’s worst defenses. Pray for us.
Defensively, it’s a weird thing. It’s disjointed. Things are scattered all over the place like ashes in the Grand Canyon. The team has had a few great performances, but they have been torched too. They have lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. There isn’t a real cohesive picture to paint. Instead, it’s some Picasso Cubism.
Before the Kansas City game, Houston posted a negative defensive DVOA in each contest. They were solid, spectacular against the run, and fine against the pass. Then the Tennessee game happened. They had a defensive DVOA of -62.1%. This enormous outlier has propped up Houston’s defensive ranking this year. They are 15th in DVOA in spite of their recent poor performances because of the Titans game.
Since then, Houston has had a positive DVOA in every game except for Cleveland, which doesn’t count because the Browns have one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL no matter who their quarterback is. They had a pass defense DVOA of 40.3% against Seattle and 59.5% against Indianapolis. They are struggling to rush the passer, and their secondary has gone from the strength of this team to a weakness in under a year.
When it comes to the pass rush, Houston has a pressure rate of 28.3% (23rd) and an adjusted sack rate of 7.1%. They have 20 sacks this year. It was average when Watt and Mercilus were around. I don’t have weekly numbers for it, but just by watching, quarterbacks have had the chance to tie their shoes back there. The only pass rusher you are going to see in the backfield is Jadeveon Clowney, who is having his hair and jersey yanked liked a chained dog every snap. Nobody else on this roster can beat blocks individually. My best guess is that these numbers fall to the bottom five of the NFL before the year is over.
The idea for the defensive roster construction entering this season was that Houston would have Kevin Johnson back and J.J. Watt healthy. The pass rush would make up for any issues the secondary could have. Well, two of the league’s best pass rushers are gone, and Johnson has been terrible this season.
The Texans needed Kevin Johnson to have a great year. Instead, he’s been one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders’ charting stats, he’s been targeted 22 times, is giving up 9 yards per pass (117), has a success rate of 41% (132), and is allowing 2.2 yards after the catch (98). When he was playing well before being injured the previous two years, K-Jo was great at playing off-man, reading the route, and breaking on the ball once he diagnosed it. This year he just looks slow. He is trying out the same strategy; he just isn’t getting there on time. Hopefully this is rust, but even then, he was on the struggle bus in the first two weeks of the season before he sprained his knee ligament.
Kareem Jackson is also having a sad(!) season. He has been the most targeted cornerback on the team. Opponents have thrown at him 32 times. He’s giving up 9.9 yards an attempt, which is 124th in the NFL. Teams have consistently thrown at him with success. Now, Jackson doesn’t provide anything. He’s still a great tackler, he forces turnovers, and he is good in zone coverage. He just can’t play man coverage anymore. Like last season, the Texans should look into moving him to safety.
The Texans’ run defense has been incredible and it should be for the rest of the season. They had a run defense DVOA of -60.4% against Seattle and -14.3% against Indianapolis. Even without J.J. Watt, they have three great run defenders. D.J. Reader needs at least two blockers to move him. Benardrick McKinney swallows running backs whole. Jadeveon Clowney is the best run defender from the defensive end position around. The Texans are second in the NFL in adjusted line yards on runs up the middle, fifth on runs to the left tackle, and third on runs to the left edge. Teams are getting dribbles off the side of the mouth when running at these three monsters. Everywhere else, the Texans’ defense has been mediocre.
Houston’s defense can’t stop the pass. They can stop the run. Unfortunately, the Texans are going to fall behind early and force Tom Savage to throw the ball over and over and over again. It was unexpected, but you can never predict injuries. Hopefully next year the Texans are able to add another cornerback. The gang can finally stay healthy for an entire season and actually cover the world in flames.
The 2017 season is over from a Houston’s fan perspective. There is nothing to do but sit in rot every Sunday and wait until next year. I don’t see anything really changing. The Texans will continue to be bad through the air on both sides of the ball, incredible against the run, and probably drop off to below average when running the ball. Close wins aren’t expected. There is nobody in the league the Texans should be favored against. You can’t even enjoy the losses for improved draft standing, because Cleveland owns both of the Texans’ first two picks in 2018.
I’ll still be here. I wish I wasn’t. I beg you, find something else to do. Live a better life than mine. Let me wish I could be you.