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Texans-Jets Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Matt Weston gives you SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Jets.

New York Jets v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I had a football coach who would call us slapdicks. I had a football coach who would call us T-Tonka trucks while he circled drills like a slobbering WWF referee, which he was in a past life. I had a football coach who would squat behind home plate and pick grass to keep himself from slinging teenagers by the grated piece of metal in front of their face. I had another coach who said something very important, he said, “The only thing you can control is your attitude.” He would say this to trick us into wanting to go out there in 100 degree heat and practice for four hours until our bodies were left cold, and riddled with cramps when the armor was pulled off.

This was something that I’ve kept in my bones. Sure, I can lament watching a foregone conclusion of a football game, instead of wallowing around the desert, and oh-woah-woah wish I was doing anything else anywhere else. That’s a sour attitude. Stop it. Houston against another team that has to run the ball, the Jets’ blitz scheme, Sam Darnold, the Jets’ skill players, Houston maybe pushing the ball downfield, and the myth in my head I’ve formulated of New Jersey, there’s so much to see here. Saturday won’t be wasteful. In fact, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

HIT IT

1.) Houston’s Run Defense

There’s a simple way to find out if the Texans will win a football game in 2018. If you answer No, then Yes, then the Texans will win. Are the Texans playing a team that can throw the football? No. Are the Texans playing a team that has to run the football? Yes. The Texans are going to win this game. When they play teams that can’t throw the ball downfield and eviscerate Shareece Wright, the game is a Calvinistic destiny already predetermined. Against teams who are the best versions of this type of team, it may come to a field goal, but in the end, it’s going to end with Houston winning. Shutting down running backs. Scoring just enough. Their brand of football.

See, the Texans have the best run defense. They’re second in yards per attempt at 3.6. They’re second in run defense DVOA at -27.4% and were just passed by the Bears who cloistered Todd Gurley. Well, maybe they now have the second best run defense, but in my heart, they’ll always be first this year. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney squeeze everything inside. Teams can’t pull at them. They can’t run away from them. The best they can do is allow them to run upfield and hope they get deep enough to cut around them. It doesn’t matter who’s running the ball. This is what it looks like.

The Jets don’t have a decent run offense. They have to run it because throwing it often is a horrifying who knows what the hell will happen option. They’ve run the ball 335 times, which ties them for the fourteenth most rushes. On these plays they average 4.1 yards an attempt (27th), they have a DVOA of -28.6% (30th), and are 30th in adjusted line yards at 3.78. They don’t run block well. They’re without their best running backs Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell who averaged 4.8 and 4.3 yards an attempt this year. Instead, it’s going to be Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon who average 3.7 and 3.0 yards an attempt. It’s going to be a bloody mess. A ticket to nowhere. The Jets are going to run themselves into a brambling bunch of third and longs.

Are you ready for it? Get used to it. Saturday is going to be this over and over and over again when the Jets have the ball.

At the same time, there’s an importance to be aware of time sliding right on bye. To wait and wait for the end of something. To feel the ceiling fan spinning. A feeling that sparks grand motivation, and puts one behind those fleeting chariots. Additionally, watching anyone or anything who’s the best at something is always an enjoyable viewing experience. Watt swimming and splitting double teams. Clowney careening like a racquetball off pullers. Benardrick McKinney sticking guards. Whitney Mercilus setting the edge. Zach Cunningham chasing and tackling. Kareem Jackson and the rest of the secondary bringing out their bright yellow bucket and peeling mop to clean up the crimson.

See, there we go, I’m starting to feel it.

2.) Jetz

One of the best parts of sports is seeing how so many people can take a set of rules and objectives and come up with their own strategy and style to play a silly game. West coast offenses. Three points are more than two points. Dump the puck into the other zone and chase. With thirty-two teams, and eleven players on the field at the time, the possibilities are unconstrained. Sure, the Jets are bad, their defense they’ve invested so much into is mediocre, but at least they play the game a specific way, a way different than the majority of the league.

I’m not a professional football writing man. I’m a hobbyist. Someone who like to write who uses the Houston Texans as a vehicle for his words to travel through. If I was a professional football writing man I’d have better numbers. Sadly, I don’t. Yet we can cut a bunch of words in different fonts and colors and combine what Todd Bowles did last year, and the results they’ve had this year to hammer down how this defense operates.

From the 2018 Football Outsiders Almanac, the Jets are listed as blitzing defensive backs 13% of the time (8th), rushing 4 53.7% (32nd), rushing 5 27.8% (3rd), and rushing 6+ 7.2% (9th). 39.3% of their sacks came from the second level, the 2nd highest rate in the league. Bowles, who is a misplaced letter away from Bowels, took what he did in Arizona, blitz all the time, and then replicated it in New York.

This season the Jets have the following pass rush distribution. I’m not a data scientist, but it’s pretty easy to see. New York picks up most of their pass rush disruption from their linebackers, yes they run a 3-4 but in pass rush downs, but the second level positions are pretty ambiguous, and Leonard Williams is pretty much their only source of pass rush from their defensive line.

This list is missing numerous other players. This is just their top sack picker uppers. The Jets have 13 players credited with at least half a sack this year. The Jets blitz from every level, and they blitz all the time. Their pass defense is food poisoning that spews out of every orifice.

The problem for the Jets is their defense hasn’t been better than mediocre. They’re once again 22nd in points allowed, just like last year, and are 18th in defense DVOA, just like last year. The results don’t match the amount of draft capital and money they’ve put into this defense. The curtains don’t match the drapes.

The worst part is all this blitzing hasn’t generated much pressure. The Jets are 27th in pressure rate at 26.8%, and are 28th in adjusted sack rate at 6.0%. You gotta get more when you’re bringing five and six plus. This is five without getting any real substantial pressure.

This strategy puts a ton of pressure on their secondary. Trumaine Johnson has been fine, but hasn’t been used as a press corner as much as he should. Fears of getting beat deep in one on one coverage is to blame. Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine are alright complimentary cornerbacks. Yet, this isn’t the secondary that can take play four deep while everyone else is unsuccessfully attacking the glory boy quarterback.

When the blitz is picked up it also leads to open paths for the quarterback to run down like some sweltering Springsteen summer backstreet. Josh Allen ran for 101 yards on 9 carries against them. These are enormous three pounds of chicken breast a day gains after a five man rush is picked up.

Mitch Trubisky ran for 51 yards on 6 carries, Ryan Tannehill ran for 44 yards on 8 carries, Marcus Mariota ran for 42 yards on 5 carries, and Blake Bortles ran for 28 yards on 3 carries. Deshaun Watson should add to this legacy. He’s 4th out of all quarterbacks with 417 rushing yards. The lanes are going to be there for him to scurry through.

This is also nice practice for Watson. It’s hard to do much when there’s a free rusher attempting to cannibalize you, but he’s had trouble against the blitz this year.

Tennessee, Cleveland, and Indy, all had success with it, overwhelming the pass protection, and splattering Watson with the ball glued to his hands. Next month, any of their potential playoff opponents are going to blitz Watson and try to overwhelm him. Now’s the time for him to start beating it. Hey, that’s pretty important.

3.) Another Rookie Quarterback

Houston is getting to see their third of the five rookie quarterbacks selected in the first round. Earlier this year they beat Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. Now they get Sam Darnold, who’s healthy enough to play against Houston. They’re probably going to beat him too. Since Romeo Crennel has been the Texans’ defensive coordinator the Texans have yet to lose to a rookie starting quarterback. They’re 8-0 against rookie quarterback beating Allen, Mayfield, Connor Cook, Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles twice, and Zach Meth, I mean Zach Methenberger twice. These whipper snappers, still yet to develop their frontal lobe, have a completion percentage of 54%, average 6.25 yards an attempt, have an interception rate of 3.6%, and the offenses they lead average 14.5 points a game. Don’t let the grandfatherly feeling fool you. Crennel specializes in infanticide. He’s a Zebra in an animal documentary.

Darnold is the better quarterback they have. Josh McCown has started three games on his own and did a lot of quick throwing and time wasting. Darnold is averaging 5.91 net yards an attempt, has a DVOA of -25%, and has -286 DYAR in 10 games. McCown, in the same offense, has averaged 4.9 net yards an attempt, has a DVOA of -40.5%, and has -213 DYAR in 3 games. The Jets lost all three games McCown started.

Darnold’s core incompetency has been turning the ball over. He has 15 interceptions to 12 touchdowns, and an interception rate of 4.8%. He leads the league in interceptions despite playing in only ten games. His interception rate is only lower than former Jets’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was the closest to getting the Jets to playoffs since Mark Sanchez. These aren’t just rookie mistakes, or missed throws. The are abhorrent abominations.

Although he’s thrown 15, he’s fortunate he hasn’t thrown many more. Darnold loves to throw it at a receiver when there’s a defender in front of him.

Even after a blown radiator, busted air conditioner, two popped tires, a crackling from the front right speaker, an old auxiliary cord, a rat in an Applebee’s Cobb Salad, pooped pants, and filled up campgrounds, it’s still a trip to the Grand Canyon. You’re still seeing the most sublime spectacle the Earth has to offer. Darnold has been horrendous, but throws like this make you feel things. I’m popping and boiling over like forgotten dorm room pasta.

Damn. I gotta see that again.

Darnold is just a baby. There’s not a talent question here. You can’t teach the touch, downfield accuracy, and arm strength he has. The question is if the Jets can cultivate it, and give him the nurturing, surrounding talent, and time needed to make it happen.

Even when he throws three interceptions it will be worth it. There will be like five jaw unhinging throws. And, next year, the Jags are going to draft a quarterback. Woo! Another infant for Crennel to devour once he finds out they aren’t his.

4.) New York Skill

I can’t even feign excitement here. I just want to point out what Houston is up against and what Darnold has around him. Crowell and Quincy Enunwa are out. The Jets offense will be carried by McGuire and Cannon on the ground as mentioned earlier, and catching passes will be Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, and Christopher Herndon. Enunwa when healthy, and Anderson, are fine receivers. Crowell and Powell are alright. Kearse hasn’t been worth his contract. Herndon is on someone’s fantasy bench. None of these players can carry an offense. They’re all pretty alright. If Anderson is your third receiver, hell yeah, but he’s not consistently getting buckets. If Crowell is your second change of pace back, let’s do it, but he’s not an efficient and successful runner. The Jets have ignored their skill positions in the draft, and have been forced to overpay for mediocre players in free agency.

The best option they got is Anderson.

Aside from that, their number one ranked special teams by DVOA is their best offensive weapons. Andre Roberts is stellar. He’s picking up 27.1 yards a kickoff return. He has a punt return touchdown when the league is trying to scrape it out of the game. Even if Houston’s special teams are great this year, I still have that fear. I’m a cautious guy because I’ve been hurt too many times.

I’m imagining Justin Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Kayvon Webster, and Shareece Wright as a basket of gremlins, all cozy and sleeping easy the night before this game. New York will have trouble beating Joseph, let alone their tertiary defensive backs. Things will be as they have been all season.

5.) Push IT

Houston wasn’t exploited last week. It was there all along. The Colts were just the first team who had the skill set to take advantage of it. Hopefully Bill O’Brien understands this, sees past his cute little 9-4 record, and realizes that his team is going to have to score more than 25 points a game if they want to go farther than any Texans team before has gone. Aside from the Miami game, the offense has done just enough. Hanging around and scraping. Getting past 21 points, sometimes needing the defense to hold their hand through the cross walk. Down 24-14 against the Colts they were forced to play a more aggressive style and they struggled. Playing great offensive football isn’t something you just decide to do. It’s a constant effort and recalibration and tinkering to find out what works and what doesn’t.

To beat teams that can attack their secondary play, they’re going to need Watt and Clowney to be the Armageddon and the Apocalypse, and then they’re going to need to put up 31 points or so. Their best path to this route is throwing the ball downfield, using Watson as a runner, and setting up the play action with it. Last week Watson was rusty throwing it deep. He missed two open throws that could have been scores. I wonder why. Against Indy he attempted 5 deep passes and completed 3 for 74 yards, attempted 5 against Cleveland completed 2 for 53 yards, attempted 3 against Tennessee and completed 2 for 52 yards, attempted 1 against Washington and threw an interception, and attempted 3 against Denver and completed 2. This needs to stop. Watson is too good of a deep passer, DeAndre Hopkins is too good of a downfield receiver, to be wary of turnovers. Now’s the time to take risks and turn the ball over sometimes, so that when January comes the offense is ready to sling it.

This game will be good and great and all that stuff if Houston pushes it and tries to smear the Jets. If they settle for 23 points, and leave it be, it’s going to be a waste of an opportunity. I’m raucous. Let’s take the top off and blast some nips. I’m going to bed at 4:00 p.m. I’m shaking for Saturday.

6.) HOOOOOH

This isn’t painful. Getting shot is painful. Getting stabbed in the ribs is painful. This ... isn’t painful. It’s empty. Dead.