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Texans-Colts Preview: Five Things To Watch

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

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson was injured yesterday. Or maybe the day before; I can’t be sure.

He’s gone so it doesn’t matter. This season doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. The Texans don’t have the defense like it did last year without J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and A.J. Bouye, or a good offensive line needed for Tom Savage to be able to play the game of football. You can be an optimist. You can talk yourself into eight wins, and then who knows? You can do all of that. But no matter what, once all this time passes, the inevitable is going to happen—this team is going to be bad, and it’s going to miss the playoffs.

Let’s get on with it.

1.) Touchdown Tommy

This summer, in a Starbucks Safeway, I wrote a Texans’ season preview. Nestled in it was a Tom Savage film room. A quick rehash: he holds onto the ball for forever, he locks onto one read and takes forever to scan the field even though he’s been in this offense for three seasons, he can’t escape pressure, he requires a great offensive line to give him time to throw the ball, he can make some nice throws but his accuracy is inconsistent, and despite his great arm he can’t throw the ball downfield. He’s a forever backup quarterback because of his tangibles, arm strength, and size. But not once, not never, will he be a good one.

This was all derived based on watching his two games from last year and extrapolating it in the future. And it all stands true. In this attempt at being a starting quarterback the biggest problem Savage is going to face aside from his own limitations is his offensive line. Last season the Texans’ offensive line was mediocre. This year it’s been awful, especially in pass protection. Houston is 31st in adjusted sack rate and 30th in pressure rate at 37.8%. The Texans have been able to make it work because of a scheme that uses a lot of max protection, and backfield fakes that stem from their run game. It’s not an offense Savage is going to run. He offers nothing as a runner. You can’t do this with Savage.

Instead it’s probably going to look like it has in previous years. There’s not a lot of scheming you can do to accentuate Savage’s strengths because he really doesn’t have any. Lots of runs between the tackles to grind out the clock and keep Savage from throwing. Lots of checkdowns into the flat. Lots of throws to Deandre Hopkins against man coverage. When they do throw they are going to have flex wings chip edge defenders, and they are going to keep eight in to block and run only two routes. Anything they can do to give him as much time as possible.

The only good news is that DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V have been incredible. Savage is going to get open receivers to throw to. But again, his accuracy is up and down, and he can’t throw the ball downfield. In his career he is 6/17 for 154 yards, and picked up 9.1 yards an attempt. This season Watson was 22/53 for 649 yards, 7 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, and picked up 12.2 yards an attempt. This has to change. At a minimum Savage has to be able to throw the ball downfield. If he can do this things could be nauseating instead of cancerous.

Get ready to lay on the floor and look up at the ceiling fan and feel the passing of time as you waste it while watching this Houston offense. I know I am. I got my malt liquor and I’m ready to party. I can’t wait to spend my Sunday watching Savage get pressured over and over again, get sacked ten times a game, incessant inside runs that pick up 3.5 yards a carry, and open throws to Fuller V and Hopkins missed downfield.

I should go to church instead.

2.) Run, Run, Run

The Texans are going to run the ball a lot with Savage at quarterback. They have to limit him as much as possible, and hope he can make three throws a game to get the offense moving just enough. It’s going to be a lot like last year, the year before that, and the year before that.

So far this season the Texans have been running the ball better. They have a rush offense DVOA of -7.3%, which is 16th, and is up from -19.1% and the 27th they finished last year. They are averaging 4.4 yards a carry (8th), which is up from the 4.1 yards a carry (19th) they averaged last season. Yards are a bad measure of anything. Just because you do something a lot doesn’t mean you are good at it. Regardless, the Texans are 3rd in the NFL with 968 rushing yards. During this time the offensive line is blocking just as well as they did last year as far as objective measures go. They are 13th in adjusted line yards at 4.1, and were 15th last year with 4.16.

My eyes tell me that Lamar Miller looks better. He’s breaking tackles. The Texans are doing a better job getting him out in space. He just looks like a different player. D’Onta Foreman is a future RB1 in the NFL. He has great vision and is spectacular after contact. But here’s the truth. Neither has been very efficient. Miller has a DYAR (total value) of -5, which is 25th. His DVOA is -9.6%, which is also 25th. He’s averaging only 3.57 yards a carry. Foreman has a DVOA of -10.27%.

Here’s the problem. Deshaun Watson has been the biggest difference in the run game this year. He is averaging 7.7 yards an attempt, has a DYAR of 65 (2nd out of all quarterbacks), and a DVOA of 26.2%. Efficiency wise, the improvement in the Texans’ run game is Watson. And schematically, it’s Watson too. This run game has been creative and more interesting with someone with his skill set. Jet sweeps turn into option runs, zone reads create easy first downs, and then deep passes are thrown off of that. None of these things can happen with Savage. The playfakes? gone. The zone read? gone. The option? gone.

The Texans are about to go from one of the most fun and joyous teams in the league, to a piece of breadcrust laying at the bottom of the trash can, overlooked by each subsequent trash bag. Can’t wait!

3.) Bulls On A Quiet Stroll

Who cares if the Texans’ offense is going to be a mess. It was last year and they still won the division. This is true. The problem is the defense is going to be maybe mediocre from here on out.

Entering this season Rick Smith’s reasoning was that they could lose AJ Bouye because they had Kevin Johnson and J.J. Watt coming back from injury. Johnson would replace Bouye and have a similar level of production. Watt would transform the front seven to make it the best in the league. The idea was the front seven would make up for a secondary that was going to take an expected hit.

This season none of that has happened. Kevin Johnson has been terrible. He’s given up 9.2 yards a pass (124th) and has a success rate of 35% (140th). He just doesn’t look like the same player. When he was on the field in previous seasons he was great at sitting on routes, reading the break, and blasting off downfield to make a play on the ball. This year he has attempted something similar, but he just isn’t getting there on time. He just looks slower than he has in previous seasons. The Texans needed him to step up. He hasn’t. And they still do. Aside from Johnathan Joseph, the same thing can be said for the rest of the Texans’ secondary, they’ve been terrible, and disappointing. They have to play better.

This was all fine when there was a pass rush with Watt, Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and interior blitzes with Benardrick McKinney. But now without Watt and Mercilus, the Texans have one pass rusher who can consistently beat one v. one blocks to create pressure. If Clowney isn’t making it rain blood, then the Texans can’t get quarterbacks running for their lives. On the season total, that takes in account games with Watt and Mercilus, Houston has a pressure rate of 26.6% (31st), and an adjusted sack rate of 17.4% (13th). This pass rush is going to be meek, like a soft animal laying in damp morning dew, for the rest of the season.

In the first game Houston played without Mercilus and Watt, the Texans gave up 451 yards, and 4 touchdowns to Russell Wilson. The Browns don’t count. Their passing offense is one of the league’s worst. Deshone Kizer has been Osweilerian this year. The Seahawks’ offense had been talented, but mediocre up to this point in the season, and still dismantled Houston. The Texans’ passing defense had a DVOA of 39% that game. Any game that brings a capable quarterback into town is going to be a record setting day for that opponent. All a quarterback has to do is avoid Clowney and and throw the ball at anyone other than #24.

Although the pass defense is going to be awful, the run defense should still be great. Benadrick McKinney, DJ Reader, and Jadeveon Clowney, are all talented enough on their own that they can prop up players that only see the field in the third quarter of the second preseason game. McKinney stops every tackle from picking up extra yards. Reader requires two blockers, and even then, that isn’t enough sometimes. Clowney is the best run defender from the defensive end position in the NFL. Unlike their pass defense, whose numbers are propped up by one incredible game against Tennessee, their run defense has been spectacular all season. It’s 6th in DVOA at -20.0%. That shouldn’t change for the rest of the season.

I’m human. I get things wrong. But my pearly eyes that can see into the future and the butterflies in my gut are telling me that Houston is going to get trounced by teams with great pass rushes and a competent quarterback. When they play teams that allow Savage to have time, and are forced to hide their quarterback as well, Houston will remain competitive. The good news is that gives them four games they could possibly win: Indy twice, Baltimore, and San Francisco. That isn’t enough to make the playoffs. It’s far and away from what was possible. And aesthetically it’s going to look like chunks.

4.) The Colts Are Really Bad

The Colts are really bad. Even going back to last year they have one of the worst rosters in the league. Without Andrew Luck they are a four win team. They did the right thing by not playing him at all this year. Lose as much as possible. Get some high draft picks. And put that cap space to work next offseason to make a run in 2018 once that summer sun cracks the ogre out of his hibernation.

This season the Colts are 32nd in DVOA. 30th in offense. 29th in defense. Jacoby Brissett has been fine in the situation he’s in. His numbers are wonky because he doesn’t throw touchdown passes. It’s hard to score points behind an offensive line that has been awful the last few seasons, and is again this season. They have given up 33 sacks, and are 31st in pressure rate, one spot behind Houston at 38.3%. The only thing the offense does ok is run the ball up the middle. Something they did well last season too.

On defense, the only thing they do ok is rush the passer, and they can kind of stop the run. This offseason they opted to not spend like crazy and sign any top defensive talent. Instead they scraped the second layer and signed Jabaal Sheard, Barveious Mingo, Margus Hunt, and John Simon. And they hit. Hunt, Sheared, and Simon are all starters in the NFL, and can be starters on a great defense if complemented by top talent. Johnathan Hankins has been great against the run. The defense is boils on the back of a bus driver’s neck, but there are still some good qualities. The mustache. The fitted Texas Rangers cap. The surprisingly minty breath. Although the Colts’ defense is hideous, it isn’t a complete failure. They found players that can start when they go crazy and invest this offseason.

When this game happens there isn’t anything from the Colts’ end to really watch for. They are banal and boring. There aren’t any esoteric film room articles to write. Malik Hooker is out for the year. There’s a few good players, a couple of mediocre ones, and the rest is a disaster. It’s more interesting watch for what war crimes Clowney commits against this offensive line, Houston’s ability to stop the inside run, and whether or not the Texans can pass block against a mediocre rush.

5.) Sunday FUNday

I’m going to watch this team. I have to. Like camping once a month, or taking Krill oil daily, it’s something I just resigned myself to do for the rest of my life. Being alive is such a silly and stupid thing. But if you are smart you will do other things. Football wise, you can watch [name redacted] start against the Eagles, the Saints’ defense continue their Superbowl contending ways, the Jaguars all-time great pass defense, exotic methmouth playing that purple camo defense, Julio Jones trying to replicate what he did last year against Carolina against Carolina, or Kansas City’s zany offense. Or you can ignore football. Go for a walk, read a book, shoot baskets, smoke cigarettes and listen to records. Life is full of infinite possibilities. Don’t be me. Don’t waste yours. Please don’t watch this game. Let me live vicariously through you.