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NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • What a stupid, stupid, stupid game. I’ll never get over how perplexing, dumb, and long it all was. What’s going to be talked about now and forever was Frank Reich’s decision to go for it on 4th and 6 with :27 seconds remaining and the ball at Indianapolis’ own 43 yard line. At the time, the Colts had a 50.36% chance of winning. Afterwards their probability plopped to 26%. The Texans had a 74% chance to win and their expected points scored was 2.71 when they started their drive after that failed fourth down conversion by the Colts. This simple play is why Houston won this game.

The play call wasn’t atrocious. The Colts did what worked the entire game. Chester Rogers was matched up one-on-one against Johnathan Joseph. Houston only rushed three. Rogers ran a curl route. The monumental difference was Joseph wasn’t playing seven yards off the ball. After being torched by a menagerie of crossing routes where he never even sniffed the catch point, Joseph was down at the line of scrimmage this time. He was able to stay with Rogers out of his break by using his hands. Joseph would have made a play on the ball even if Luck was able to put enough arm into the throw to get it there J. At that point, it’s a 50-50 ball. Luck’s arm failed him. The ball bounced to Rogers.

  • Houston then threw a 24 yard slant route to DeAndre Hopkins out of the slot. Then they kicked a field goal. They won the game. The Colts were grief-stricken without Kenny Moore. Nothing felt good anymore without him on the field. Moore has been one of the best slot corners in football this year. He was knocked out of the game after suffering a concussion thanks to a slot position blitz, something the Colts love to do. The blitz was picked up. Moore’s head was bumped. From that point on, Keke Coutee blasted off. Consistently, Coutee was open in the middle of the field. And here, on the second most important play of the game, DeAndre Hopkins eviscerated Indy’s slot corner to give Ka’imi Fairbairn an easy kick.
  • Yesterday was the best Luck’s arm has looked this season. It wasn’t great. He wasn’t ripping it across the field like he used to. But throughout the game, Luck was able to get the ball out to the sideline with just enough velocity. This just enough was much more than he got out of his appendage in previous weeks.

Ahhhh, that’s so much better.

Luck is super weird to watch nowadays. Everything else is there. The touch, the accuracy, the ball placement, the pocket mobility, the manipulation, the strength, the running ability, the intellect, and quick decision making. It’s just Luck’s arm that’s holding him back at this point. Maybe it will get better as the season progresses. It already has improved from Week Three to Week Four, but it’s nowhere near where it used to be.

Luck’s best throws against the Texans came on those sideline touch passes. He tossed a beautiful cannon ball out to T.Y. Hilton. Luck can throw the ball far enough; he just can’t throw it hard enough.

I especially loved his sideline touchdown throw to Nyheim Hines. The running back was covered by Tyrann Mathieu. Hines ran a pretty out and up route down the sideline. The coverage here was good. The ball was just better, placed right over his shoulder, and Hines outplayed Mathieu for the ball. The hand on the back was feel. It wasn’t a shove. This isn’t offensive pass interference. It was an impressive throw and catch by Luck.

  • The Colts ran 79 plays this game. Luck attempted 62 passes, and honestly, it felt like he should have thrown 79 passes. The Colts’ run game was abysmal against one of the best run defenses in football. Indy picked up only 2.4 yards a carry and was tackled for a loss eight times. It also felt like their run game squandered a few of their drives. The wildflower seed tossing pass offense was rapid and successful against the Texans’ eight defensive back sets that played off-man coverage and soft zone. Then a negative run play would come in and put Indy in a hole.
  • Luck’s swamp beast snap count cooed Houston’s rushers across the line of scrimmage. He got Watt once. He got Clowney three times. During Clowney’s leaps across the border, I imagined him and Juli’en Davenport playing against each other. The game never ends. The clock never runs. The two just take turns committing false starts and offsides penalties until the sun finally burns out.
  • All these pass attempts killed Houston’s pass rush as well. It transformed from diabolical in the first half to cherubic throughout most of the second half. It’s exhausting to try to rip around 330 pound men 62 times in a game. With the energy levels of Houston’s defensive line depleted, Luck could play in a comfier cushion, which helped spurn the comeback. Without a pass rush, the Texans’ defense is meek.

J.J. Watt was once again spectacular. The team may be 1-3, but in a way, I’m perfectly fine with it because Watt is healthy and back to playing like how he did before he got hurt. The past has collided back into the present. We’ve run around the circle and made it back to the starting line. In this game, Watt played almost entirely as the left defensive end against Denzel Goode. He had two sacks, one tackle for a loss, one quarterback hit, and one forced fumble.

Watt’s rushes looked just like last week. His first sack was a long-arm. He punched and extended the tackle, and then used his inside arm to stretch the tackle as far away from him possible. This kicked a hole in the wooden plank fence. From there, Watt just pumped his feet into Luck. Watt has the best long-arm working in football right now.

Watt’s second sack set up a Houston touchdown. His movement coincided directly with the snap of the ball. He beats the tackle to the point of attack, rips under, turns, and reaches with his left arm to knock the ball out of Luck’s hands. This was the same rush he used to strip Eli Manning last week. The difference is Houston recovered the fumble this time.

  • All those years we waited for Watt and Clowney to combine together to obliterate drives finally happened. Clowney had two sacks, four tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits, and a popped pinata touchdown. It took four years for the dream to cultivate, but the egg finally hatched.

Compared to previous weeks, Romeo Crennel used his entire mind to create plays for Clowney to make against the Colts. He went back and watched what he did in 2016 to create pressure with Clowney, and then he did the same things again. On third and four, Crennel has Clowney line up as an outside linebacker and moves him inside right before the snap. From the inside linebacker position, Clowney times the snap perfectly. The offensive line never accounts for him. He steamrolls through the line of scrimmage and cuts both legs off the running back.

This was my favorite rush from Clowney. He and Watt are the defensive ends. On the interior, Benardrick McKinney, Duke Ejiofor, and Whitney Mercilus are all standing up and showing pressure. All five of them chase after Luck. Mercilus rushes the ‘B’ gap on a T-E stunt, and Clowney loops around into the ‘A’ gap. He checks Quenton Nelson into the boards with a shoulder and then readjusts to take down Luck.

via Gfycat

Nelson

This blitz was the same one Houston used against New England in the 2016 Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. This season, the Texans haven’t been able to create any pressure. It’s been all Watt from the defensive end position and absolutely nothing from the interior. To make up for it, Crennel lines Clowney up over the center and has him rush the play-side ‘A’ gap. Right guard Matt Slauson catches him angled and into his chest. Clowney goes through him like food poisoning and takes out the running back in the process. This opens the door for Whitney Mercilus to come on through unscathed. Luck never gets off that boardwalk.

The other important part of Clowney’s game yesterday is that he’s primarily playing defensive end again. Houston has stopped being cute by tugging him onto his feet at the outside linebacker position. He’s once again back on the line of scrimmage, closer to the ball, and playing a position he’s more comfortable in.

This is a simple edge rush from the defensive end position against La’Raven Clark, Clowney’s date in this game. By using elongated galloping strides, Clowney was able to reach Clark’s outside shoulder. With this advantage, he ripped to get around the block and then stalked Luck like some shadow land catamount.

Oh, he also scored one of the dumbest touchdowns in the history of football.

Houston’s pass defense DVOA going into this game was 28th in the league at 35.7%. Watt was the only player with more than one pressure on the entire team. Without the pass rush being a constant headache, Houston’s secondary is screwed. They don’t have the cornerbacks to cover anyone longer than a spat. It’s up to Watt, Clowney, and whoever else decides to show up to create the havoc necessary to save their secondary. Those four years didn’t go by fast. So much has happened since then. Enough butterflies have turned into moths to take us today. The wait was worth it.

  • Houston decided to play Shareece Wright as the second cornerback and then use Aaron Colvin or Kareem Jackson in either slot. Wright had the same struggles Joseph had. He was picked on by quick passes. Although he had trouble staying in front of receivers, he was playing closer to the line of scrimmage. This allowed him to break on the ball and actually influence plays. Wright did deflect a couple passes in this one, which was a little bit of Listerine to wash out some of the other rotten receptions he allowed.
  • I feel like Zach Pascal should have been a front court player on the Toronto Raptors that Zach Lowe loves and constantly talks about, while as I, the person who reads and listens to the NBA more than actually watches it, has no idea who he’s talking about.
  • It happened. It finally happened. Bill O’Brien finally used the offensive scheme from 2017 when Deshaun Watson took over the league. You know the one. The one with an interesting run game that then uses a variety of play-fakes off run plays to create open downfield throws. The one that actually uses Watson as a runner and rolls him out in space on play action to create different throwing angles.

It started immediately in this game. Keke Coutee lines up in the slot. He goes in motion and takes a short toss from Watson. Both Jordan rookies, Akins and Thomas, make great blocks on the alley defenders, creating a natural seam for Coutee to scamper through. It’s an easy first down.

On the following play, Coutee comes back in motion again. Watson fakes the hand-off to Lamar Miller. He looks back towards Coutee on a swing pass, which pulls three defenders over. Watson runs back the other way and finds DeAndre Hopkins wide open toward the sideline. Watson makes a perfect throw on the run.

Later in the game, the same set of circumstances are back. This time Houston runs the option. Watson runs left with Coutee and tosses him the ball. It was almost a first down, but Pierre Desir made a spectacular open field tackle. Hopkins has to do a better job blocking than this.

There were plenty of examples of this in the first half. O’Brien went away from it in the second half after Watson threw an interception. Instead of staying with what worked, O’Brien puckered up and went back to the run-run-pass offense whenever he got close to field goal range, ruining promising drives and limiting the amount of points scored. Like seeing Watt and Clowney on the field together, I’m still ecstatic we saw even a half of the DW4 offensive from 2017 after watching the first three weeks of the 2018 season. O’Brien finally put Watson back into an offense that takes advantage of his skill set. The problem is it shouldn’t have taken three weeks for this to happen, and it should have been utilized the entire game. Houston’s 1-3 record is a direct result of this.

  • It also shouldn’t have taken three weeks for Houston to put together a nice game in the red zone. With a wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins, it’s unacceptable for Watson to have a 31.6% completion percentage in the red zone and for the offense to be ranked 31st in red zone DVOA. Finally, Houston got Hopkins one on one on the outside and fluttered the ball to his outside shoulder. Some of this stuff isn’t that hard.

My favorite red zone play was Watson’s touchdown run. This was taken straight from the Carolina Panthers’ playbook. ME-OW. Houston pulled Ryan Griffin out of the game because he can’t block. Thomas is the tight end walling off the play-side. Akins is a slot receiver blocking down on the SAM linebacker. Coutee is blocking the middle linebacker. Counter is run by pulling both Lamar Miller and Martinas Rankin to lead the way for Watson. Nobody makes a great block. They all get in enough of the way, and Watson falls forward from there. It’s just great play design. Again, this shouldn’t have taken three weeks.

It looked and felt like both Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas played more often yesterday. Great. Perfect. As mentioned earlier, and as mentioned a million other of times, Ryan Griffin is a limited athlete who can’t block. Get the kids out there who can actually run fast and lock up with defensive ends. It will help the offensive tackles and this offense tremendously.

  • Juli’en Davenport was benched for Kendall Lamm. This needed to happen. Davenport was a wreck. He can’t play the right tackle position right now. It was too quick of a turnaround. His body is molded for the left side. The Texans went with Lamm. Aside from a holding penalty, he was fine. It’s amazing how much easier it is to pass block when open throws are created, the cadence has changed, and your mobile quarterback isn’t confined to the pocket.
  • I don’t remember ever seeing DeAndre Hopkins drop a pass. This was unbelievable. Houston didn’t win because of this play, but imagine if they did.
  • The way O’Brien used his timeouts at the end of the game and the Alfred Blue draw were inexcusable. If you aren’t going to go for it in that situation, just kneel and head to overtime.

Don’t run the risk of someone getting injured or losing a fumble by running unnecessary plays. And if you change your mind and decide to go for it, it’s pretty much too late at that point. Sure enough, Houston picked up 30 yards and forced Fairbairn to attempt a nearly impossible 59 yard field goal. All that time wasted would have been helpful.

  • I love watching Trevor Daniel punt. Opponents have returned only four his punts for eight yards. This puts Houston tied for 24th in punt returns allowed. Last year, teams returned 49 of Shane Lechler’s punts, the most in the league. It’s almost like kicking the ball with your punt coverage unit in mind is a good thing.