Two weeks ago I drove through central Texas. The sky was that same afternoon blue. The sun was orange. A hunk of tangerine at the horizon squeezed and seeping, bleeding bronzed light. 65 degrees. The crows had crawled back out from their subterranean holes and cackled attached to utility poles and strip center store fronts. Soon, all this light would be devoured. Night loomed over everything. Yet, at this time, at this instant, everything was perfect. A different god coudn’t design this world any better.
All of that is gone. Since then a front has hung over everything turning this light into constant grey, the same grey that will be here until skin shedding March. It’s now dark all the time. I’ve become translucent like the beasts at the bottom of the sea. I’m dry, boring, and have locked the doors.
Yet, there is one beautiful part about this year that swallowed up everything good. And that’s the football. November football is past the weirdness of missed tackles, every game being 38-31, and every quarterback hit being a war crime. Schemes have been perfected, teams have gelled together, new skill player combinations have emerged, and defenders actually know how to pass receivers in man coverage again. Visual breaths, long sleeves, November and December setting the stage for do or die January. As awful as everything is, at least we can put on flannel lined pants, drink root beer, and watch football, and now the best part of all of it is about to begin.
1.) Run D #1
The Houston Texans flipped from 0-3 to 6-3. Sure, there were numerous important reasons for this change, but the monumental one was the Texans’ schedule aligned perfectly like those rhinestones Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The past six weeks have been a glowing asterism. See, the Texans have the best run defense in football. Their run defense DVOA is -31.9%, and are allowing 3.6 yards an attempt. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney have 11 and 10 tackles for a loss, teams can’t run at them, away from them, or get outside and around them. Everything is squeezed back inside and right into the arms of Zach Cunningham, Benardrick McKinney, and the safeties spray the bleach and scrub the rest.
During this six game win streak the Texans have played teams that have to run the football. They’re plodding and trying to mine a rock formation with a feather.
During this run teams are averaging just 3.57 yards an attempt. Houston is allowing only 4.11 yards a play, and 18.3 points a game. Aside from Andrew Luck throwing the ball 64 times for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns in an overtime loss, none of these teams have been able to do much of anything at all against Houston.
The key here is none of these teams could take advantage of their cornerback play. Mike Tyson, Shareece Wright, the loss of 34 year old Johnathan Joseph for a week and a half, were “attacked” by Luck, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen/Nathan Peterman, [NAME REDACTED], and Case Keenum. Five of these teams have some of the worst passing offenses in football. The best receiver they played during this run was, Zay Jones, DeVante Parker, Emmanuel Sanders, Dede Westbrook? The Texans have been fortunate to play offenses that match up perfectly for their defense, and as a result, they’ve gone from lighting a gas leak to being the AFC South favorite.
This week the Texans play another team, as they will for the rest of the year except for when they travel to Philadelphia and play Indy once again, that has to run the ball. Washington is 9th in football with 250 rushing attempts. Adrian Peterson has 155 carries. They’re 23rd in pass offense DVOA, but 16th in run offense DVOA. Once again it should be a lot of attempting without much meaning.
The Redskins have two problems. The first is their running back #1 is Adrian Peterson. On his 155 carries Peterson has 672 yards, 4 touchdowns, and is averaging 4.3 yards an attempt. After losing rookie Derrius Guice before the season started, this is fantastic production from a Labor Finders temporary worker. We can go deeper. Peterson has 11 carries that have gone for 15 yards or more, which is 5th in the league. Yet, Peterson has a success rate of 46% (22nd), and is 20th in DVOA at -2.0%. Peterson is a back that makes up for all the unsuccessful two yard first down runs by running through skeletons and turning them into a crumpled pile of bones, bouncing runs wide, and going down 20 yards down the field. These big runs have overlooked the constant droning.
Even at 346 years old, Peterson is still hellacious to tackle. He’s one of the strongest backs in the game. This year he’s broken 37 tackles, the 5th most in the game, and has a broken tackle rate of 21.9%. It’s strange watching him though. Tacklers pop off of him, sliding off his legs like poles at the Bada-Bing, and then he turns into claymation once he hits the turbo. Choppy and at a grazing pace. It still is Peterson, but it isn’t entirely him. Time consumes all things.
The bad news for Peterson is the Texans don’t give up these 15+ yard runs. They’ve allowed three all year, the second least in football behind only the Minnesota Vikings. During their win streak they only allowed one to Phillip Lindsay. These sorts of runs will look more like this on Sunday.
Additionally, I don’t even think Peterson should get as many carries as he does. Backup Kapri Bibbs only has 16 carries, but has picked up 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. He doesn’t have the usage. He does have the production. There’s a noticeable speed difference between the two. If Washington was smarter they’d get him the ball more often.
The other problem Washington has is their starting offensive line is wrapped in white linens with their limbs tied up. Starting guards Shawn Lauvao, and Brandon Scherff, are on injured reserve after tearing their ACL and their pectoral. Morgan Moses has a knee injury, and Trent Williams has a dislocated thumb, and both may not play. Center Chase Roullier is all that’s left. Look for Tony Bergstrom, yes that same Bergstrom, at right guard, Jonathan Cooper, yes that same Jonathan Cooper, at left guard, and Ty Nsekhe at left tackle if Williams doesn’t play. If Moses plays, look for him to have a blood boiling tantrum after every penalty he draws.
Not only do the Redskins have to run the football to score the 19.6 points a game they put up, but they depend on big Peterson runs to do so, and will need them against a team that doesn’t allow them, all while running behind a scab offensive line. The only shot they have to run the ball is by utilizing tight formations that confuse Houston, and getting backup linebacker Brian Peters into as many tackling opportunities as possible. If not, look ahead to like a 30 carries for 90 yards type of game from Washington.
2.) DeAndre Hopkins v. Josh Norman
As fortunate as the Texans’ defensive schedule has been, DeAndre Hopkins’s schedule hasn’t. He’s faced off against Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Janoris Jenkins, Byron Jones, Tre’Davious White, Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard, Chris Harris Jr., and now Josh Norman. Every week Hopkins has had a difficult one v. one matchup, and every week Hopkins has produced. Despite this, Hopkins has 90 targets (8th), 63 catches (8th), 894 yards (5th), 7 touchdowns (T-5th), 268 DYAR (2nd), and a DVOA of 24.3% (9th).
Against Miami Will Fuller was lost for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL. In his absence the Texans attempted only three downfield passes, and force fed Hopkins a lot. Ho-hum, 10 catches on 12 targets, 105 yards, 1 touchdown against one of the best pass defenses in football. Great games are just usual occurrences for Hopkins.
Washington’s CB#1 has had a good year. Josh Norman has been targeted 40 times, has a success rate of 55% (27th), and is allowing 7.6 yards a pass. He’s back to punching the ball out of receiver’s hands, the play that made him famous in Carolina, and has forced two fumbles. He’s also defended five passes, and intercepted two more.
Him against Hopkins will be great to see while they exist in the realms of the television screen, and in slow motion replays. Norman is aggressive. He prefers to play up close and use his hands to dictate routes. Fade routes against Hopkins will be brutal.
Aside from the pass rush, this is the key matchup for Washington’s pass defense. The Redskins are 19th in DVOA at 2.4% against wide receiver #1, and are allowing 91.4 yards a game. If they can limit these figures, the Texans’ offense can grow stagnant and stuck to the couch. They don’t have a real receiver except for him as Demaryius Thomas gets acclimated and Keke Coutee stays sidelined. They can be too conservative, focusing on interior runs, limiting Watson as a runner, halting downfield pass attempts, and hanging around when they get a lead. If Hopkins is neutralized even a bit, the Redskins could block the leads Houston has gotten to lately, and turn their offense into a lot of third down shotgun passing.
3.) Deshaun Watson Cut Into Thirds
Watson has played three different seasons this year. He’s gone from being a sub 60% thrower and effective runner, to a downfield heaver that turned the ball over too often and stopped running the ball as efficiently, and then morphed into a touchdown throwing super human.
During the Texans’ last three games Watson has completed 8 touchdowns to 0 interceptions, is averaging 8.7 yards an attempt, and most importantly, has only been sacked 5 times. Bill O’Brien has reigned in the downfield throwing when he isn’t playing Miami. By doing so, the interceptions have stopped. The majority of Watson’s turnovers were of the ‘F- it, I’m going deep’ variety. Unnecessary risks that don’t need to be taken against teams that can’t move the ball. As long as you don’t give the Bills, or Broncos, or Dolphins points and short fields, you can’t lose. The Texans almost lost a few of this cuticle crunchers because of the turnovers.
He’s been sacked and pressured less because the Texans are finally doing what they should have done in week two. They’re chipping edge rushers with backs and tight ends, sucker punching nerds outside their lockers, and helping out their tackles. Juli’en Davenport is a different person at left tackle than right tackle, Pro Bowl Guard Wade Smith is wrong. Kendall Lamm has gone from atrocity to perfectly playable. And the Texans have helped both out with additional blockers. These chips give the tackle extra time to kick slide, allowing them to meet the rusher at the point of contact, and make the rusher one dimensional if they choose to evade the extra blocker, forcing them inside and narrowing their rush.
As Watson enters the next three game segment of the 2018 season, I’d like to see him being used as a runner more often, and more downfield attempts. The current game managing version can score 23 points a game. The perfect amount when coupled with a defense that allows less than 20. The problems will come in the postseason. Against offenses that can spread Houston out and attack their inability to cover tight ends, and cornerbacks like Wright, 23 points won’t be enough. Houston will need to score 31. To make this happen, they need to start preparing and gearing it up for now. It’s not a switch that can be flipped. If not, they’ll be unable to help out a defense wandering around in shell shocked disarray
This is a nice matchup for Houston to get things moving against. Washington’s defense has allowed only 175 points. But it’s because they force turnovers. The Redskins are 3rd in turnovers created with 18, and are 17th in pass defense DVOA, and 28th in run defense DVOA. Everything is propped up by making plays on the ball, and taking advantage of the offense’s mistakes. If Watson continues to not turn the ball over, and takes some chances downfield, scoring 20 shouldn’t be a tough thing to do.
There’s something to be said about being competent. Not everyone is going to have cheerleaders in their front seat, or manage 150 people, have a pool table in their den, or a second refrigerator always stocked with beverages. The elite are the exceptions. Most fall in the middle. Being good enough isn’t a terrible thing. As long as you aren’t the anchor actively dragging everything down you have value.
Alex Smith has been the embodiment of this in quarterback form, and was even underrated at times. However, in Washington, he’s sucked himself even further inside his shell. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith is averaging only 6.62 yards downfield on his attempts. He’s 23rd in passing DVOA at -10.6%, and is the nitrate purple dyed roast beef between Case Keenum and Marcus Mariota, and is 25th in net yards an attempt at 6.08. The only nice thing you can say about him is he doesn’t turn the ball over. Smith has only 3 interceptions. That’s it. That’s all I got.
The big difference between his time in Kansas City and Washington is he’s completely stopped throwing it downfield. Last year Andy Reid coaxed him into jumping off the deep end and sling it 15+ yards. Smith was one of the best deep ball throwers in football last year. He completed 46 of 90 passes for 1,604 yards and 13 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. This season he’s attempted only 53. He’s completed 19 of them and has thrown only 2 touchdowns compared to 1 interception.
This was before Paul Richardson went down for the year too. Washington paid a ton for him to only have 13 deep targets. Jordan Reed is second on the team with 8 deep targets. The frustrating part is Smith has thrown the ball downfield well before previously, and at times this year. The Redskins beat the Packers because he completed 3 of his 4 attempts for 133 yards and a touchdown. He slayed the jungle cats with a big downfield pass. Too often, games like last week happen, where Smith attempts only 5, completes 2, and picks up 55 yards.
This middle managing would be fine if the Redskins were a better football team. Their pass defense is fine, their run defense is atrocious, Peterson is a big gain runner but ineffective most of the time, and they force a bunch of turnovers. The Redskins have 4.5 expected wins, and have exceeded their total by 1.5. They’re 3-0 in one score games. They’ve won games thanks to strange occurrences like Tampa having +500 yards and only 3 points, but they’ve needed more from Smith, and they’re lucky it hasn’t destroyed them yet.
Houston isn’t an awful matchup for Smith. He’s mobile and can escape pressure. He loves to throw the ball to his tight ends. Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed have combined together to catch 52 passes on 80 targets for 623 yards, calculated out to 7.7 yards an attempt, and 2 touchdowns.
The Texans are 31st in pass defense DVOA against tight ends, and just turned Jeff Heuerman into the greatest tight end of all-time. Both inside linebackers, and Tyrann Mathieu have struggled covering this position. Josh Doctson has morphed into a go up and get it sideline receiver, and the Texans don’t have a taller cornebrack to match up against him.
As long as Clowney and Watt don’t combine for 5 sacks and 9 quarterback hits, which is entirely possible, Smith could be good.
Smith hasn’t been this year though. He refuses to throw it downfield, and when he does, not much happens. He’s a short of sticks third down thrower, who turns the passing game into a running game. Get ready for a lot of this.
Once again, the Texans will play an offense that aligns exactly with their defensive strength.
I’ve let my brains seep out my skull like slightly cracked eggs in boiling water. The past few years I’ve made it an effort to watch more than the primetime games, and the Texans, to live outside my own crayon scribbled lines. The best part of living this lifestyle is learning and enjoying all the lesser known parts of football that only the professional football men and fanbases themselves cherish. Sure, everyone knows Tyreek Hill is a cheetah, and Patrick Mahomes throws a lot of touchdown passes. But, did you know that Ryan Kerrigan is one of the best pass rushers in football, Matthew Ionadis has monstrous hands that create interior pressure, and Preston Smith, although listed as a linebacker, combine to form Washington’s pass rush, like Carolina’s screen game, is one of the joys of scrubbing a little deeper.
This year Ionadis has 10.5 pressures, 11 quarterback hits, and 7.5 sacks. Ryan Kerrigan has 20.5 pressures, 7 quarterback hits, and 5.5 sacks. Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne have combined for 21.5 pressures, 16 quarterback hits, and 7 sacks. Smith who has 19.5 pressures and 6 quarterback hits.
Washington’s rush isn’t as buzzing numerically because this rush is brought upon by only four at a time. There aren’t sixteen players with a couple of pressures. It’s confined to these five. Washington has a pressure rate of 29.9%, which is 14th, and are 22nd in adjusted sack rate at 7.0%.
The Texans’ pass blocking has been better, and has been one of the more subtle reasons for the change in Watson’s play the past three weeks. Houston is still 32nd in pressure rate and 31st in adjusted sack rate though. It’s been better, but it’s not good. The concern for Houston’s pass blocking in this game, is the chips won’t work as well. The Redskins don’t rush super wide. Ionadis and Payne create interior pressure. Allen and Kerrigan bring it from the edge, but Kerrigan likes to play tight on the outside shoulder, instead of using speed and looping angles back to the quarterback to create pressure.
As good as the immediate past has been, it could be quickly soured this game. The interior should be especially interesting with Ionadis going up against Senio Kelemete. A rusher with great hands going against a pass blocker with shoddy ones, and Payne is a monstrous man that can go through guards and centers. As the saying goes, you can evade and work around exterior pressure, but not immediate interior pressure.
6.) I’m Tired Of All Of It Already
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.