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Texans-Cardinals Preview: Five Things To Watch

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

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals

Screw the sad stuff. I’m done. I’m over it. Time, it’s too precious. Life, it’s too transient. We wait all year for these games. There are only sixteen of them. Moping and pouting, thinking about things you can’t control, walking down the same path, stepping in the impressions from before, hoping for next year and a time that doesn’t exist, is all a waste of the finite days we have. Slam those breaks. It’s time to stop wasting away in all this misery.

Sunday is going to be fun! We just need an attitude change. Take off the glasses and stop trying to be smart. All you have to do is enjoy the Texans-Cardinals game for what it is.

Tom Savage getting strip-sacked is no longer a failure of the coaching staff and front office; it’s now a beautiful display of impotence. Long deep passes against Cover Four are no longer an indictment in Mike Vrabel’s ability to run a defense; it’s an exciting play we rarely see on the football field now that short passes have become king. Jadeveon Clowney getting held doesn’t sprout anger; it’s a laughable strategy as a way to control the uncontrollable. Passes in the flat to the tight ends aren’t inefficient plays that make Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz seem better than they are at the end of the year; they are heartwarming occurrences acting as metaphors to help us relish the passing of time. Alfred Blue carries shouldn’t leave us calling for D’Onta Foreman; they should be an opportunity for Blue to put another carry on film to help him further his dream of playing NFL football after his current contract is up.

This weekend won’t be a blowout. It will be a close game between two bad teams. It’s Andre Johnson Day. Oh, yeah. Alright. Let’s stop wasting all that time. Enjoy the current stream we are plopped in.

HIT IT.

  1. How Bad Can Tom Savage Be?

This is the negative denouement I composed earlier this week as a way to pry open petrified sores to make them seep and drip again.

Currently, Tom Savage has fumbled five times, which leads the NFL and is one more than Eli Manning, who has thrown 333 passes this year, and Matthew Stafford, who has thrown 329 passes. Savage has thrown 93 passes. 93. He's been sacked 12 times. He has a completion percentage of 47.3%, and is averaging 5.4 yards an attempt. He can't throw downfield. He is 5-21 on passes attempted farther than 15 yards. There is only one NFL quarterback with a completion percentage less than his 23.8% who has attempted at least ten downfield passes. That quarterback is Joe Flacco at 23.7%.

Savage’s DYAR is -242. His DVOA is -48.3%. He has a QBR of 17. 17!

Tom Savage is the worst quarterback in the NFL this year. He is the worst quarterback I’ve ever seen. But as Texan fans, this is nearly all we know. Aside from Matt Schaub’s rise to above-averageness and Deshaun Watson running rampant this season, this is life for us. Who are we to scoff at Savage? He fits in perfectly here. He was born to play in Houston. Forever he will live in the immortal ranks of others before and better than him, others like David Carr, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, [Name Redacted], and Sage Rosenfels.

Rather than pissing and moaning over another sub 5.0 yards per attempt performance, let’s play some quarterback limbo. Let’s see how low Tom Savage can go. Can he get strip-sacked again, average less than 5.0 yards an attempt, throw more interceptions, hit a 50% completion percentage? Who knows? This week, what will he add to his bag of tricks? Will he Bortle around and throw a kick-pick? Can he hit a Fitzpatrick off his own offensive lineman’s head? How about throwing a deep pass that actually lands in bounds? We will just have to wait and find out?

It’s not going to be an impossible task to be a truly bad quarterback this weekend. The Cardinals’ defense is fine. It’s not great. They can stop the run and are mediocre against the pass. They have struggled against WR1s. They blitz a lot and have an average pass rush. It’s going to be SO MUCH FUN to see if Savage can diagnose a blitz and check down before uncovered rushers come, or if he lays stagnant like bones in a grave when a defensive back plummets into his his back! I want to see travesty. I want to see the worst quarterback play has to offer. I want to see depths blacker than what I see when I close my eyes, blind folded in a cave. I want more of this.

I want to rot.

2.) The Real American

America. Cherry pie. Texas Rangers baseball. Bald eagles. National parks, Partisan arguments. Blaine Gabbert. That’s right, baby! Blaine Gabbert is back! With Carson Palmer’s age and injury history, the Cardinals needed at least two other quarterbacks on the roster. When the Cardinals signed him this summer to be their third-string quarterback, they never thought he would actually play. Well, the time has come. The Real American is here. Hell yeah, the Jaguars are going to win.

WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

No matter what, you have to admire Gabbert. He has gone from being one of the worst quarterbacks of all-time to just really bad, and he’s still collecting them checks. His rookie year, he was placed in a garbage shredder. With the lockout, he didn’t get a chance to practice like quarterbacks are able to. Jack Del Rio started him over David Garrard in an attempt to save his job, because if the Jaguars became a sultry purse (ME-OW!), Del Rio could at least point to his rookie quarterback rather than himself as the reason that the Jags were bad. Yet Gabbert was historically terrible. He had a DYAR of -1009 (47th!) and a DVOA of -47.5% (46th!). All the lowest I’ve seen and probably the worst of all-time. Del Rio was fired, of course.

Last year, Gabbert became the starting quarterback in San Francisco and went 1-4. He won as many games as Colin Kaepernick did. He was a competent runner with DVOAs of 16.2% and 13.3% during his time with the 49ers. He was pretty good (!) considering where he came from and the disastrous smoldering cremains he reanimated from.

It’s going to be interesting when he plays at NRG Stadium tomorrow. The Cardinals are a vertical offense. Even with Drew Stanton playing quarterback, they still closed their eyes and ran playaction bombs as often as they could. Stanton had a completion percentage of 48.4%, averaged 5.9 yards an attempt, and had 12.3 yards a completion. Crazy!

In Gabbert’s career, he’s been a sad(!) downfield thrower. On throws greater than fifteen yards, Gabbert is 66-201 (32.8%) for 1,750 yards, averaging 8.7 yards an attempt. During his professional football life, Gabbert has averaged 5.3 adjusted yards an attempt and 4.96 net yards an attempt.

Bruce Arians should change his offense up. There should be more quick passes. Maybe some zone reads to get Gabbert unleashing white lightning across the field in bolts of efficient gains. But damn dude, I hope Arians doesn’t change a thing. I want to see Gabbert with a Natty Light between his legs and heaving downfield. There need to be the same route concepts taking advantage of Houston’s crappy Cover 4. I need a convertible ride, a full moon night, and some hot Gabbert downfield action.

The best part is that the Cardinals are going to rely on Gabbert to move the ball downfield. Arizona has the worst rushing offense in the NFL. They are averaging three yards a carry (last in the league) and have a DVOA of -35% (also last). They are the worst in the league at getting to the second level and the open field. Every running back they have tossed out there has been plodding through wreckage like an apocalyptic survivor trying to get to the coast. All of them—Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington (whatever happened to that guy?), and David Johnson (RIP)—averaged less than four yards a carry. Everyone aside from Ellington has a double0digit negative DVOA.

Peterson is bad. His career is done. He still is the best running back option this team has. Kind of how Deshaun Watson is a MVP candidate based on the suffering that proceeded the shredding, David Johnson should be as well.

My face is taut. No smiling. The Cardinals are going to need Gabbert to win this game. I love being alive in 2017.

This Sunday. 12 p.m. CST. Savage. Gabbert. It’s happening, America. Unzip that interconnected brass. It’s party time.

3.) Lamar Miller’s Future

Let’s have an intervention. Like the one I should be having for spending a Friday night watching Blaine Gabbert highlight videos.

We need to talk about Lamar Miller. I’m 99% against paying for running backs. You can always find one among the collections of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and Rob Schneider’s The Animal in the dungeon at your local Walmart. Every year, it’s the same story. Late round draft picks become stars. Unless you are getting someone you can guarantee can transcend your offensive line, there is no point in paying for the running back position.

When the Texans signed Miller, I was for it. He was incredible, efficiency-wise. He was young and didn’t have the corrosion other running backs usually have. He was remarkably fresh for someone who had been on the shelf for a few years.

It hasn’t worked out well. Last season, the Texans misused him by shoving him between the tackles and turning him into Alfred Blue, or a running back versus an All-Madden difficulty setting. Miller became inefficient and plodding. Those wildman days in Miami were a tug of the heart that’s felt in a suburban bedroom when the coyotes begin to howl.

This season, Miller has a DVOA of -0.3% (16th) and is averaging 3.9 yards a carry, which is tied for 25th. He also has 22 catches for 242 yards, a number that comes out to 11 yards a reception. The problem is that Miller isn’t breaking tackles. The offensive line is whatever when it comes to run blocking. It doesn’t matter. Miller is paid to make it better. So far, Miller has 18 broken tackles, 13 on runs and 5 on receptions. His broken tackle rate is 11.1%.

That’s fine. It’s all so average. It’s a Luann platter at Luby’s. The problem is you don’t pay a running back $6.5 million a year to be average. Miller is the fourth highest paid running back in football. He’s projected to be the fourth highest paid back for the remainder of his contract, with a cap hit of $6.75 million next year, and $7.25 million in 2019.

Houston is going to end up being 5-11 at best this season. Probably 4-12, and 3-13 wouldn’t be surprising. They won’t be able to lay in the sun with all that draft capital. Their first and second round draft picks are somewhere in a rusty Cleveland locker. For this team to upgrade their roster, it’s going to have to come through free agency. This was one of the reasons why the front office made the trades they’ve made. Next year Houston is projected to have $47,899,08.00 in cap space. This is before possible cuts of Brian Cushing, Kareem Jackson, Jeff Allen, Derek Newton, and Ryan Griffin. If Houston adds Miller to the list. they will save $4.75 million next year and $6.25 million in 2019. That is a mouthwatering amount of money to recoup for an average player.

Additionally, behind Miller is recent third-round pick D’Onta Foreman. The dancing bear from the conclusion of The Blood Meridian has shown spurts of talent that he could be a RB1 in the NFL. Behind the same offensive line as Miller, Foreman is averaging the same 3.9 yards a carry. He has a DVOA of -13.5%, however, an enormous drop-off from Miller. But Foreman has broken 13 tackles this season, 12 of which were on run carries. Pro Football Focus has also loved Foreman after contact.

Houston would save $4.75 million without Miller next year. That’s money that could be used to sign a starting safety, a defensive end, a tight end, or an extra cornerback. Miller is being paid more than he is worth. He isn’t outperforming his offensive line. He is pretty okay. Miller’s performance doesn’t match his contract.

The Texans have a suitable backup in Foreman. If not, there are plenty of other running backs they can take a chance on. With Tom Savage at quarterback, they need to run the ball. Houston has to limit their reliance on Miller. They need Miller to carry the offense. If he doesn’t meet this task and improve, he could be gone this offseason.

4.) Individualism

Just because you are a great player doesn’t mean you get to play football on a great team. You can still be forced to toil in the junkyard around you. Both the Texans and Cardinals are bad. Houston has been a flopping disaster since Deshaun Watson went down. The Cardinals have been an old folks’ home whose play has exceeded their modest 4-5 record; they have no shot at the playoffs with better teams in the NFC like Seattle, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington, all of whome have greater than or equal to records, all of whom are fighting for a wildcard spot if the division doesn’t fall their way. The season is slightly past it’s half-life, and any rumors of this season mattering for either of these teams are voices that are really just echos.

Regardless of overall team performances, there are still great players to watch tomorrow. You got:

DeAndre Hopkins against a team that struggles covering WR1s.

—Patrick Peterson, who has been spectacular as always this year.

—Jadeveon Clowney bringing hell and making it rain blood.

D.J. Reader and Benardrick McKinney taking on the NFL’s worst run offense.

Renowned ‘diploma mill graduate’ Larry Fitzgerald blocking and using his stout frame to attack smaller and quicker corners in the slot, all while trying to stay positive and talk himself into deciding to play football in Arizona for another year.

—Young pups Budda Baker and Haason Reddick.

Overall, the game is going to be sloppy and gross. But there will still be some usual jaw-unhinging plays that only the greats can make.

5.) What Truly Matters

Why do you watch football? Why do you watch the Texans every Sunday? Is it to answer the mystery of whether they are going to win or not? Do you love the aesthetics and sounds of the game? Is it just something you do? Does it enrich your life and make it more joyful?

If you answered yes to any of these questions or have a different solipsistic answer, I guarantee you Andre Johnson was at some point the reason why you watched the Houston Texans. For a decade and some change, Johnson was the best player on the team and is sitting in the clubhouse as the greatest player in franchise history. He was always open. Nobody knew why or how. He was a laboratory collaboration of speed, strength, and beauty. The impossible catches were made. Every route was run to perfection, though he was still able to win on pure athleticism alone. For so long, Andre Johnson was the only thing worth watching on a roster filled with vagabonds and shoddy football-playing lepers.

Andre Johnson’s career is over. To recognize it is a big day. The Texans are enshrining his name. It’s a lovely thing. Because of ‘Dre’s quiet demeanor and personality, we probably won’t really see him again unless he gets to go gold jacket shopping. Even if you can’t ride the chariots of optimism, shrugged along by the horses of passion, to watch this game, you should at least watch halfime to see Andre Johnson’s name elevate its way to divine status.