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Texans v. Jaguars Review: Quick Thoughts

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Here are some of the finer details from Sunday’s game.

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
  • Turnovers were the key to this game. Jacksonville’s defense played well. In a game where the majority of the second half didn’t mean anything at all, the Jags kept Watson to a 50% completion percentage, 139 passing yards, and just 13 rushing yards on 7 carries. The difference was like last week. The opponent handed the ball over, and Houston capitalized. Last time it Buffalo Bills’ punting screw ups. This week it was Blake Bortles bumbling and fumbling.

On the first fumble, Houston rushed only three and didn’t muster a pass rush. Bortles looked and couldn’t find anyone open. He sifted through the floatsam and made a run for it.Bortles found his way through both inside linebacker tackle attempts, and limboed his way over the first down marker. Placing his hand down to roll and fall forward left the ball exposed. Mercilus pursued back to the play after being blocked by Jeremy Parnell and was able to knock it out. Watson was sacked by Dante Fowler Jr. They settled for three.

On the second fumble, the Jaguars had the ball right at their own endzone thanks to a perfect Trevor Daniel punt. Romeo Crennel called a safety blitz. Three players blocked Jadeveon Clowney, and tight end David Grinnage allowed Tyrann Mathieu to run unhindered. Mathieu went for the strip sack and missed Bortles entirely. Similar to Mercilus, Zach Cunningham pursued Bortles from behind and forced the fumble. The ball plopped right to Kareem Jackson.

Houston’s offense did just a little bit. They ran the ball surprisingly well. Lamar Miller broke the hundred yard barrier and had his best game since week 16 2016 against a cheesy Colts’ run defense. DeAndre Hopkins beat Jalen Ramsey off the line a few times. Will Fuller V beat A.J. Bouye a few times. They scored two redzone touchdowns. The monumental part was they didn’t turn the ball over and hand over short fields to a constipated offense.

It’s 2015 all over again baby. As long as Houston plays run heavy teams they can gouge eyes and get by with defense and ball control alone. The problems are going to arise when the spread heavy postmodern offenses are around.

  • This poor bastard.

After his second lost fumble Bortles was benched for Cody Kessler. At this point Bortles had completed just 6 of his 12 attempts for 61 yards, and was sacked 4 times. The lost fumbles were killer, but there are larger problems with the Jags’ offense. They don’t have the skill players to subsist on a pass heavy attack. Their best downfield vertical receiver is rookie D.J. Chark, he had 4 receptions entering this game. It’s all crossing routes, and Bortles third down scrambles. Most of this can be stamped out with soft zone coverage and quick tackling. Houston did that. They didn’t play off-man and allow Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and Donte Moncrief to run back and fourth next to each other uninhibited, and when Bortles did take off, they were in yellow car hot pursuit.

The Texans were second in run defense DVOA entering this game. Jacksonville’s path to winning was the same path Houston took. They needed the pass rush to take down Deshaun Watson, they needed turnovers, and they needed to rake their way through the redzone. Against great run defenses, they don’t have a running back to carry the entire offense. Sure, T.J. Yeldon is fine, but he can’t consistently have successful runs in between the tackles. This, plus falling behind early, puts even more pressure on Bortles, and for Jacksonville, that equals DEATH.

Bortles didn’t look much different than he had in previous games where they put up 31 points. He still threw accurate passes when the crossing stuff was open.

His biggest problem were his own receivers dropping passes. He lost a third down conversion after a Cole drop, and may have lost another one on Cole’s second drop. With a struggling offense every third down is precious. You can’t lose these. This is as easy as it gets.

The legs still worked. The body still carried Bortles for third down conversions. He felt the pocket well, stepped up when required, and found open space. When he wasn’t losing the football Bortles had a fine game running.

As always with Bortles, it wasn’t perfect. He still has his quirks. The ball comes out at times like he’s throwing a plate full of food in an adolescent rage. The intermediate accuracy will never be there.

But aside from the turnovers, and even then, it wasn’t an unusual Bortles game. It looked like other previous ones where Jacksonville’s offense did just enough. Somethings just didn’t go their way, and Houston is also a terrible matchup for them.

This is the problem though with paying and sticking with a quarterback like Bortles. Everything has to go perfectly to win games. There needs to be an early lead, the short stuff needs to be open, turnovers can’t happen, the run game needs to be consistent, and the receivers need to go up and make some occasional plays. Bortles doesn’t lift up the players around him. He’s fauna that keeps the ecosytem working. This offense can’t handle any adversity whatsoever. A voice in your head mental breakdown occurs whenever it arises.

From here on out, the Jags either need their defense to be better than great and be the best defense in football again, or they need Leonard Fournette and now Carlos Hyde to churn out yards and make Bortles the secondary component on the offense. If not, the Jags may have already fallen from the Superbowl contender who beat New England to early January vacationers. If so, and oh man do I hope so, week 17 against Houston should have playoff implications.

  • The most surprising thing about this game was Watson was sacked only once. I was horrified he was going to turn into a pink mist. That number is misconceiving. Watson was still hit, and still pressured, and he’s still a rambling bus riding man. Yannick Ngakoue was a terror on the edge. Juli’en Davenport couldn’t contain him when they were matched up one v. one. Here, Davenport lunges when he attempts to punch Ngakoue. The Jags’ edge rusher swats him away with a free path to Watson. Watson melts through the floor and solidifies outside the pocket. It’s unbelievable how he turns three tacklers into a heap about to be tossed into an unmarked clearing and gets any positive yards at all.

Yet, this wasn’t some horrifying seven sack, nine quarterback hits allowed performance. The pocket was itchy, but it wasn’t a hellscape. Houston was able to contain Jacksonville’s pass rush to Ngakoue, and not allow the rest of the front seven to get in Watson’s face. This is entirely different than last week when Watson was chased around by not only Jerry Hughes, but Kyle Williams, and Trent Murphy as well.

Houston also finally provided help on the outside for Davenport. Rather than leave Davenport on the edge by himself and tell him to deal with it, Bill O’Brien provided assistance to him. No longer was he forced to move the wardrobe filled with VHS tapes by himself. On this third down the Texans had a split shotgun set with both Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller in the backfield. And each went wide and helped Davenport against Ngakoue, and Kendall Lamm against Fowler Jr. It worked alright. Watson didn’t have anywhere to step up after Senio Kelemete was driven into him, and instead flailed the ball away.

On the only sack Houston allowed they helped Davenport outside as well. Jordan Akins was lined up on the line next to Davenport in a two point stance. He didn’t punch Ngakoue or do much of anything at all. Davenport took too sharp of an angle and was too late off the snap to do much either. Akins was a mattress in the center of the highway Ngakoue was forced to run around. He cut the wheel hard, but was way too deep and didn’t have a realistic angle to Watson. A short climb was all it took to get away from him.

The sack instead came on the interior. Greg Mancz turned his shoulders helped out Lamm too much on the T-E stunt. This over extension gave Fowler Jr. a free path to the quarterback, and Mancz wasn’t able to move back over quick enough.

All things considered, this game couldn’t have gone any better from a pass protection stand point. Watson was pressured, but didn’t take any cataclysmic hits. He took a single sack, and only attempted 24 passes against a rush that is usually more pink plastic flamingo and cut off jeans raucous. This quieter game was integral for the young man with bloody lungs and glued together ribs who’s forced to quickly turnaround and play on Thursday night.

  • I like good football. I don’t like bad football. I hate it when good teams don’t do what they should to play their best football. Entering this game I was bummed by how much zone the Jags were playing. A lot of cover four, and cover three, and too much off man. With Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye on the outside this is unnecessary. Let your best players play press-man, force the secondary options to make plays, and go from there. I was distraught we wouldn’t get to see much Ramsey v. Hopkins and Fuller V v. Bouye action.

These fears never came to fruition. It was all jump scares. The monster wasn’t in this home. Ramsey stuck to Hopkins. Bouye stuck to Fuller V. Like the leafy shadows on my bedroom wall, this press-man coverage gave us some little memorable images.

Ramsey wasn’t able to get a strong jam on Hopkins. He was forced to turn and run with him immediately. Never able to seek for the ball. To create a little separation Hopkins stuck his right arm out a bit without fulling extending it. This created a little bit of a drag. The ball was overthrown. When Hopkins is running routes nothing is really overthrown though. He stretched his left arm out and made a pure one handed catch, not one of those ball hits the hand and is cradled into his chest catches. This was a noodling look what I found in that mud pit catch.

Hopkins had just three catches. His other one was a touchdown. This close to the endzone, Ramsey was protective of the corner endzone fade. He steps left and jams Hopkins. Instead, Hopkins clubs him in the head like a pass rusher, and cuts inside. With the amount of separation created Watson was able to waft the ball over Barry Church without worrying about Ramsey coming back to the ball. A redzone touchdown? Wait, yes, yes you can do that.

Fuller V had a nice inside release too. His came against Bouye to convert a third and six. Rather than use violence, Fuller uses some quick footwork to get around Bouye. From there he disappears from the frame. The rest of the route is subtext. You fill in the blanks. He pops near the sideline and gets both feet in bounds with feet to spare.

Hopefully when they play again in week 17 this game means something, and hopefully we get more battles like this. Matchups like these exemplify what makes football great.

  • Houston’s other redzone touchdown came on an inside zone play from five yards out. This is a killer ‘Ace’ block by Greg Mancz and Nick Martin. They get first level movement and abuse the linebacker. Vertical first level movement is a requirement to the run the ball in the redzone. These types of blocks haven’t happened enough for Houston.
  • Defensively, the Texans had one enormous mismatch on the line of scrimmage. It was anyone against third left tackle Josh Walker. This season J.J. Watt had been given the easiest matchups on the line of scrimmage. This led to him rushing against right tackles. Rather than move him to the opposite end, they kept Jadeveon Clowney out there, and over on the right side of the defense he was indestructible. Clowney had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and 4 quarterback hits. This was a day to reflect upon. Dear journal.

His run tackles in this game weren’t sublime bombarding through the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t a boulder tearing off from some ancient rock. These were textbook run stops. Punch and extend the blocker. Sit and wait. Remove the block and make the tackle. Lessons taught since the first pricklings of arm pit hair.

Clowney also picked up a sack against Walker too. His second sack of the game was an instantaneous jump of the ball and a rip around the edge. The getting around wasn’t the impressive part. The awesome was the bend and comeback to the quarterback. This is 255 pound edge rusher play. This is what Von Miller does.

Like previous weeks before, Romeo Crennel went back to using Clowney on the interior. Since he’s started using what worked in 2016 once J.J. Watt went down, the pass rush and run defense has improved dramatically. Without any interior rushing talent, it has to be manufactured. One way to do that is to have Clowney stand up in the ‘A’ gap and go and get it. A.J. Cann is a mediocre guard. Clowney turns his hair into serpents, stares in his eyes, and leaves him stone and frozen after this swim move.

This is an #elite pass rush move. Put it up there with Watt’s long arm, Aaron Donald’s rip, Demarcus Lawrence’s or Everson Griffen’s spin, Jerry Hughes’s get off, and Von Miller’s bend. He even bamboozled Andrew Norwell, the man who didn’t give up a pressure last year but actually did, with it, and almost turned a Bortles swing pass into the worst possible thing that could happen to an offense.

Clowney was unblockable this game. Poor Walker. Keep him in your mind when you kneel beside your bed tonight.

  • Mercilus picked up a sack against Walker as well. It was one of the easiest sacks you’d ever see. Walker looks like tired and obliterated in some summer two a day where the quarterback is transformed into a cone. But, still, Mercilus didn’t exist until this game. No matter how easy this rush was at least it was something. Him actually playing can toss this pass rush into a black hole and into another dimension.
  • Jacksonville’s touchdown came on the blandest drive you’ll ever see. It was quick passing against off-man coverage. It didn’t matter or mean anything. It was canned ravioli without sour cream.
  • I’m a Tyrann Mathiue hater! and loser! He’s obnoxious while providing little of anything. I saw him make a six yard run tackle after punching and ripping past a slot receiver. I saw him miss a free pass safety because he wanted the touchdown. And I saw him intercept a pass. This impact play was that slosh of water extinguishing embers to end an episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark. It, of course, came after the ball bounced off T.J. Yeldon’s hands and into his, the same type of interception he made against New England.

Too often he misses tackles, he’s bad in man coverage, he holds too often, and every seven yard tackle is the greatest play of his life. He’s like Kevin Johnson. He’s like no fly zone Brandon Harrison. Bombasity without meaning. Mathieu is just an obnoxious version of AFC Defensive Player of the Month Quintin Demps.