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Houston Texans v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  • The Texans’ run game had been better lately. Lamar Miller had back to back 100 yard games, the first type of game he’s had since week 16 2016. In this win over Denver both backs struggled. Miller picked up only 21 yards on 12 carries. Alfred Blue had only 39 yards on 15 carries. The improvement in the run game had come from better blocking at the second level, something Houston has struggled at doing since 2016, and misdirection. Lots of pulls from the backside. Deshaun Watson delaying handoffs and making it look like he’s going to act as a runner, without actually running. In this game Denver pretty much ignored the long handoffs and stayed in the center of the line of scrimmage dealing with the backs directly. And as it’s been all season, the Texans’ offensive line couldn’t muster much vertical movement.

Bill O’Brien has done a great job at going back to what worked in the past, and what he needed to do to improve the offense. The inside run-inside run-shotgun throwing offense doesn’t work. He went back to do doing what worked last year in week four. And he’s also done things like chip on the outside to help the tackles, play better younger players in the Jordan rookies, run some nice route combinations to open up DeAndre Hopkins, utilize play action, run more boot legs, and take shots downfield...well except for in this game.

The last thing missing from this offense is using Deshaun Watson as a runner. My assumption is he’s minimized his running because of deflated lungs and purple pruned ribs. Conserving Watson’s running ability for later in the year. Aside from scrambling up field, this was the only real Watson run carry, a game of chicken with the linebacker before the pitch.

Yet, it’s going to need to start whenever December football gets going, or the playoffs at the latest. His running will remove all this inside slogging, and it creates the play action fakes that lead to those sublime downfield throws. Against the possible playoff opponents in the AFC, and Houston’s secondary, 20-19 games probably won’t be possible. They’ll have to do all they can to hit 31.

This, plus the return of Keke Coutee and Demaryius Thomas learning the playbook could be all Houston needs to be a playoff demon. But without it, and without them, the offense will get bogged down at times and scrape to 20 points, like it did in this game once the run game was stopped, and Bill O’Brien ran out of interesting plays to run.

  • The chips and outside help have been integral to the improvement in pass protection. This was apparent in week two, but over the past few weeks it’s been a focal part of the offensive scheme. Yeah, Watson is pressured, and both Juli’en Davenport and Kendall Lamm will get beat at times. But gone are the immediate free blitzing sacks and difficult one v. one assignments.

The best way to chip is by having the running back run a delayed route to the flat, and on the way dip a Pay It Forward knife into the ribs, or line the tight end in the slot and bring out a baseball bat to the side of the outside rusher. On Deshaun Watson’s touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins, Jordan Thomas was lined up in the slot. Von Miller incorrectly thought he had Kendall Lamm all to himself. Thomas instead checked Miller into the boards giving Watson plenty of time to find Hopkins wide open in a sea of busted coverage.

It works so well that even Ryan Griffin can do it. Griffin pops the outside rusher with more power than I’ve ever seen him deliver. This punch allows two things. It makes Davenport’s block elongated; he doesn’t have to worry about speed at all. It also allows Davenport to help Senio Kelemete on the inside. One difficult block becomes two easy ones. And Griffin is open after the zone coverage forgets about him, allowing him to convert an easy first. I guess that’s actually three things.

The Broncos did however pick up a sack in a similar situation. This time Griffin was lined up on the line of scrimmage. This creates a super wide rush, compared to on the previous plays where it removes any possibility of an outside rush. Griffin punches and thinks about pass blocking, but instead he runs out to the flat, his favorite place in the world. It’s third and ten! This isn’t going to convert a first. Bradley Chubb is too wide for Davenport to recover. Watson can’t cast his spell twice and escape from the second monster.

  • Let’s talk about the tackles for a second. Juli’en Davenport is moving like a NFL player again now that he’s playing left. I still can’t believe they switched him to right and put Martinas Rankin at left after Seantrel Henderson broke his leg. My brain has cavities in it. I’m also enjoying how he’s been getting up to the second level in the run game. Kendall Lamm has transformed from an unplayable grotesque tackle, to competent. It’s one of the greatest improvements I’ve seen. He missed a bit of time in this one. Martinas Rankin came in. He immediately gave up a sack to Von Miller after quick setting him and failing to get a decent punch on him. Then missed a block on dart, allowing Denver to squash the run.

It breaks my heart to watch him miss blocks. I just want all the best for him. I still like him as a right tackle. He isn’t quick enough to play left. Plus, he’s wide, is a plus run blocker who can move the first level and get to the second, and shown he has the feet in college to play tackle. Tackles are also super expensive, harder to find, and leaving him at tackle maximizes his value.

It’s still too early to declare him incapable. He didn’t have a training camp this offseason. Was put into one of the most impossible situations a young tackle can be placed in. I like him long term, but he’s lost for now.

  • My favorite Bill O’Brien play call was the quick screen to Demaryius Thomas. How do you get the ball to a player who’s been in the office for only a week? Throw him a pass at the line of scrimmage and let him run forever. The key to this play is the presnap formation. Jordan Thomas is on the line of scrimmage and blocking the slot corner. Kendall Lamm is using Shaquil Barrett’s aggression against him and ignoring him, heading to the linebacker instead. Typically on screens the idea is to have have equal numbers and trust the wide receiver can make one player miss. By ignoring Barrett, the Texans now have 2 v. 2 and Thomas can run forever. Even at 30 years old Thomas can still outrun the speed limit.
  • I love seeing a tight end that can make defenders turn their back to the ball and chase. I love Watson’s touch on this throw.
  • Last year I wrote a post on Kareem Jackson’s tackling ability. He’s the best tackling corner in football. He grinds bones into dust with the turns of his fist. He cuts off legs like a riding mower. He pulls the mask off the monster like a meddling kid. He’s still doing it at cornerback after Johnathan Joseph and Aaron Colvin’s injuries.

The outside receiver goes to block the safety since he’s closer to the ball. Jackson reacts immediately to the run. It’s calling him. He screams downhill, waits and lowers, and explodes into Phillip Lindsay.

Romeo Crennel made the right decision by keeping Jackson around five yards off the ball when he’s out wide. He doesn’t need to be playing tight to the line of scrimmage and mirroring the receiver. Jackson isn’t going to lockdown a receiver playing press man. He’s better at reading and reacting and putting his grey hairs to use. Additionally, he can lure the offense into throwing smokes and screens his way. Plays that he suffocates and strangles by tying a noose around the receiver’s ankles.

2nd and 1. Slot left wide receiver formation. Jackson is in the slot. He’s sprinting unblocked, getting flat to the line of scrimmage, and joining with J.J. Watt to crush a large rock into smaller rocks.

All summer I was battered by the NFL offseason, afraid and horrified by the internet dripping bad news on my forehead. No more helmet tackling. No more tackling the quarterback. Runners couldn’t come into tackles with their helmet. What is this? Protection gone too far that will remove the central part of football—physicality. Luckily for everyone who enjoys and cares about the game, it was mostly future fears never realized, except for infantile quarterback touching debacles that are also now extinct. Football still exists. It’s still really good. And the reason why is that hits like this still exist.

I’M SHOCK COLLARED AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN

  • Unless you’re Alex Collins, to be a running back #1 in the NFL is to be both a receiver and a runner. Phillip Lindsay is this. Lindsay has 591 rushing yards and is averaging 5.4 yards a carry, and has 160 receiving yards and has caught 20 of his 26 targets. He’s an undrafted steal, a for sure starting back, and he’s perfect in Denver. He’s so ‘Rado brah. His style his modeled after SSX Tricky and looks like he just walked off the slopes after spending the afternoon doing the worm on his board.

Football wise, he can do both. He can make plays in space, and run up the middle and break tackles and smash his way through boards for more.

  • Case Keenum’s turnovers have finally affected Denver’s aggressive play calling. For the first half of the season Keenum was chunking it deep, completing passes sometimes, missing most of the time, and throwing interceptions the rest of the time. But now after making terrible decisions and seeing his interception rate jump from 1.5% to 3.5%, they’re picking and popping and attempting easier throws.

Keenum was fine this game. He didn’t turn the ball over. Great. But because of it Denver was never able to fully attack Shareece Wright, and the rest of Houston’s defensive backs. Courtland Sutton was open all game. They attempted three deep passes all game. That’s inexcusable. The closest was a death rattle away from being a deep touchdown.

Keenum also overthrew Emmanuel Sanders on another attempt and flailed one at Tim Patrick. This was there more often and they should’ve taken advantage of it.

Keenum was like the cool dad in Boyhood ditching his guitar for insurance selling and minivans, and it was strange for me to see. I wanted more deep KEEEENUUUUM, and silly dumbfounding plays. All I got was a little underhand flip that was like a secret smoke on the back porch patio.

He did make some great responsible throws. This defender splitting throw before the uncoverable Jeff Heuerman made his break was an awesome redzone throw.

And this 4th and 8 throw past the diving Kareem Jackson, with Whitney Mercilus in his face, to a bracketed Sanders is incredible.

Case has regressed to his career means. He’s back to turning the ball over and taking hellacious self imposed sacks. Throwing the ball to Sanders and Sutton isn’t the same as throwing it to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Yet, among the boos cascaded down from putrescent flue recovering sherbet orange is the occasional incredible.

  • Heuerman was impossible to stop in this one. He had 10 catches on 11 targets for 83 yards, 1 touchdown, and a long of 14. Denver’s best offense since they refused to toss it deep was tossing crackers for Heuerman to nibble on.

The Texans are 30th in DVOA at covering tight ends. The injury to Zach Cunningham has kept Benardrick McKinney on the field the entire game. McKinney can stand up guards, tackle everything, chase down backs, and rush the passer, but he can’t cover at all.

  • Once again the schedule has broken perfectly for the Texans’ defense as it will all year. During their win streak, aside from Indy, they’ve played offenses that have to run the ball to have success. Dallas, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, and Denver are ranked 27th, 32nd, 26th, 19th, and 24th in pass offense DVOA. None of these teams can spread Houston out and take advantage of their secondary, instead, they try to cram it at the best run defense in football. It doesn’t work. The Texans’ defense has been one of the best in football because their strengths have matched perfectly with their opponent. Until they play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New England, Kansas City, or Los Angeles (C) in the playoffs, it’s impossible to know just how good they really are.
  • Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were fine this game. They were more box score good than football game. They should have gotten more pressure considering their skill level and the tackles they went up against. This was my favorite play from them. Von Miller pretty much edge rushes around Ryan Griffin to delay Miller’s run and Chubb comes from the backside to clean things up from there. I’m going to feel so old if and when the Miller/Chubb combo becomes the Demarcus Ware/Miller combo of the past.
  • Vance Joseph should be fired for this game. He attempted a 62 yard field goal that gave Houston the ball at their own 44 with two timeouts left. Two plays later the Texans kicked and made a 46 yard field goal. Turning a nearly impossible field goal into a difficult, but possible to get points out of situation from Houston.

He also looked confused and overmatched the entire time on the sideline, like he has his entire career. In this game he challenged an obvious DeAndre Hopkins catch and was perplexed by the call staying the same. I don’t believe he ever learned the new catch rules.

The worst of course was his end game decision. With :43 seconds remaining Keenum completed a pass to Heuerman for five yards because lol of course. A 49 yard field goal. Instead of hurrying to stop the clock on second down, or calling a timeout, the Broncos let it tick. They handed the ball off to Lindsay, lost a yard, called a time out, and were left with a 50 yard field goal.

Instead of maximize their probability with a timeout in their pocket and make the field goal as easy as possible, they instead decided to settle for 49 that became 50. McManus missed of course, like how he missed his impossible 62 yard field goal wide right.

Last year Houston was 1-5 overall in one score games, and 1-3 with Watson healthy. The year before Houston was 8-4 in one score games. This year Houston has gone from 0-3 to 4-3 in such games. Remember folks, winning one score games isn’t a skill. The only thing that’s changed is which sideline the black cats roost upon.