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Texans-Jets Review: Shallow Thoughts

Matt Weston takes a look at Houston’s Saturday afternoon win.

Houston Texans v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

—The easy thing to do after every sack is holler that the Texans need an offensive line, and scream this errant sore on the face of the Earth needs to be popped and wiped clean. There are times when the offensive line is at fault, see Houston’s run game the last two weeks, and the occasional sack. But since Juli’en Davenport moved back to left tackle, and Kendall Lamm was inserted at right, Houston hasn’t been getting obliterated by edge rushers, and four man fronts. Instead, it’s the blitz, and holding onto the football that’s been killing them.

This is the first sack Houston allowed. It’s third and seven. New York brings four. They rush straight up on the right side, and run a E-T stunt on the left. The middle linebacker is spying. It’s all picked up. There’s nothing open. With the inside linebacker in the center of the field, Watson is hesitant to leave the pocket. Zach Fulton is the only one who has trouble with his block. The pocket loses its integrity. Fulton is driven seven yards back by Leonard Williams. Not only is no one open, but Watson has nowhere to go. He’s trapped in a sinkhole, a hatch leading into the Edward’s aquifer. Juli’en Davenport will get credited for the sack. It’s not on him. When Watson backpedals it gives Henry Anderson a free path.

This one is on the offensive line, kind of. It’s second and ten. The Jets bring only four again. They’re running an E-T stunt on the right side, and rushing man on man on the left. The right side is horrendous. Lamm passes the end all the way to the center, and both Fulton and him scurry to block the tackle. This should never happen. Lamm should help and pass the end to Fulton without turning his shoulders then wait for the end. This forces Watson to step up. Kelemete is way too high, his hands are spaghetti, and he gets bullrushed by Anderson six yards into the backfield. When Watson steps up and way from the defensive end, he walks right into Anderson.

Alfred Blue chipping and helping Davenport is the strange part of this play. Houston should never be chipping against teams without a true edge rush presence. The Jets aren’t the Denver Broncos. Their pass rush comes from a flood of defenders. Blue does anyways, and seeps into the flat. There’s six yards here to set up a more manageable third down. Watson doesn’t see it.

The third sack wasn’t on Houston’s offensive line, but on the Jordan Thomas. New York is in a cool front. Jordan Jenkins is lined up wide with four down linemen huffing on the offensive line. Houston is running a play action pass where they pull the guard to really sell it. They block down one gap to the left, and Kelemete pulls right to act as a personal protector. Kelemete pulls into the gap like he’s actually blocking power. He shouldn’t do this. Jenkins rushes wide and bounces off of Thomas with a rip. The rush is too deep for Kelemete to help. There isn’t enough situational awareness on his end. This sack is on Thomas, but he doesn’t get any aid. Watson can’t climb away.

Watson was sacked on the following play. He has the ball for 4.5 second before Anderson doubles his season sack total in one game. The Jets only bring three. This time Fulton stops Anderson’s bullrush. Nick Martin has nothing to do so he shoves Anderson to help. This pushes him out of Fulton’s grasp, allowing Anderson to escape, and snag the quarterback. The blocking is fine here. There’s just one, but Daddy he means well mistake. No one being open is the bigger problem.

But wait, there’s more. Houston is running a super cool playfake similar to those ran during last year’s offensive revolution. Watson fakes the hand off to Blue, fakes the jet sweep to DeAndre Carter, and then holds onto the ball. Ryan Griffin pulls from the backside to the playside. He’s supposed to block Frankie Luvu. He doesn’t. Luvu runs right inside of him without Griffin making contact. Blue Saves The Day and is through being cool by making a crushing block. Davenport has Anderson extended and stoned. Griffin turns inside and runs into Davenport, knocking him off his block. Brandon Copeland cleans it up. Go ahead and tell me more about why Davenport is terrible and Houston needs to pay $15 million a year for a left tackle.

Sack number six hurt the most. It was third and three and it led to another field goal. The Jets bring six. Houston has only five blocking. Jamal Adams gets a free rush and takes down Watson. Kendall Lamm would have allowed the sack regardless, and Davenport should have blocked Adams instead of Anderson, but you can’t block six with five. There’s nothing short for Watson. He doesn’t see it presnap. This is just a free lane. It’s like each and everyone of Tyrann Mathieu’s sacks.

This wasn’t the first play Watson missed the defensive back blitz either. Watson missed back to back slot blitzes to force a punt earlier in the game as well.

The second one sums up Houston’s offensive problems the last two weeks. Griffin is chipping the same side as the slot blitz. He turns inside as the defensive end crashes. He never sees the blitz, runs out wide, and catches a pass for a loss of a yard. Indy used this same strategy last week to keep Watson in the pocket. There was no need to chip this game. Griffin is a bad blocker, and a lackluster hot route v. the blitz because he can’t get yards after the catch. Houston punts.

It took Bill O’Brien way too long to figure this out, but he eventually did. On the final drive of the game O’Brien cut out the play action, long developing passes, and started showing quick short stuff. It worked in the first quarter, and it worked once again. Against blitz heavy teams you either quick throw them out of it, or use max protect and then take advantage of the open field. Houston opted to get the ball out immediately, and it worked.

The offensive line isn’t without flaws. In this game the interior run blocking was abhorrent. Houston’s running backs averaged 1.16 yards a carry, mainly because the Kelemete, Martin, and Fulton trio couldn’t block Leonard Williams and spent the game in the backfield. They have trouble picking up blitzes stunts. Lamm is still stuttering between incompetent and getting away with it—he turned Jabaal Sheard into Jadeveon Clowney last week. Things aren’t like they were to start the year though. They’re giving Watson an acceptable amount of time. The bigger problems have been the tight ends in pass protection, and the overall offensive scheme against the blitz.

—The only thing the offense did well was throw the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. A wide receiver number one is a player who can carry an entire offense on his own. Hopkins is this. He had 10 catches on 11 targets for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns. Watson threw for 294 yards. Hopkins started off the game catching cute little short passes. He beat Morris Claiborne on a comeback route v. cover three.

Even when covered he’s not covered.

He caught a few nice slant routes against the blitz as mentioned earlier. The best part about this game was Watson throwing it to Hopkins downfield. The bomb touchdown was the type of thing we saw last season. Fake the hand off, fake the sweep, sling it deep. Watson throws this straight ahead with a man in his face. Hopkins is able to track this ball like a 1990s idealized upper middle class golden retriever. I love how he slightly shoves off the defensive back to find the ball without giving a full extension. Johnson and Daryl Roberts are speechless.

These types of throws have been missing from the offense for way too long. Hopkins is an elite receiver. Throw it to him. He’s really good! He’ll probably catch it. If he doesn’t the worst thing that can happen is an early punt. The second worst thing that can happen is an incompetion. Most of the time Hopkins is either going to come down with the ball or draw a defensive penalty. Last year he drew 11 defensive pass interference penalties for 155 yards. This year he’s drawn 2 for 43.

His game winning touchdown catch was one we’ve seen so many times. It’s a fade from the 14 yard line. Nate Burleson said it best during the telecast. There aren’t 50/50 balls to Hopkins. It’s 80/20 when they’re thrown up to him. He dunks on Claiborne. It’s the same catch he made against Adam Jones in 2015 to end the Bengals undefeated season. I can’t wait to have wasted my entire life and still be doing this at like 57 years old.

There’s no limit to how many catches, yards, or touchdowns Hopkins can have in a game. Too often it feels like the offense doesn’t do enough to get him the ball. Hell, even 11 targets seems like not enough in this game. Without great secondary options, Hopkins is all Houston has at times, and most of the time, he’s all they need.

—Call DeAndre Hopkins Deshaun Hopkins again, say it again, I dare you, I double dare you.

Imagine how confused they’d be if Carlos Watkins played any meaningful snaps.

—The Texans have played Shareece Wright as their second corner for most of the season. They got away with it. Zay Jones made his skeleton fall out of skin on a double move. Denver beat him with it, but Wright was able to knock the ball away with the hair on his chin. Zach Pascal made him go to church, not because of faith, but because living a more conservative life is a better option than going through eternity after a life of sin. This isn’t happening anymore. They can’t hide him any longer. Another double move. Another touchdown. Wright wasn’t seen again.

The problem for Houston is that it isn’t just Wright. All of their cornerbacks can be beaten. It’s an overall issue, not a Wright issue. Johnathan Joseph now plays three to seven yards off the ball on every play. In the past this was alright because he had the closing speed to break on the ball and make plays. He’s 34 years old. Sure, he’s not getting beat deep, but he gives up easy completions. Even on third and three he’s seven yards off the line against Robbie Anderson.

Fourth and one he’s five yards off the line. Four years ago he defends this pass. 2014 was a long time ago.

He plays like this so he can read and react and not give up the BIG plays. I’m not even entirely sure this will matter. T.Y. Hilton is the only great receiver Houston has played this year, and he didn’t even get the chance to play one on one against him and attack him deep. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t. I’d take Travis Benjamin over Joseph on a deep route no matter how far Joseph is off the ball. He’s survived for now though.

Houston is doing the same sort of thing when Kareem Jackson is in man coverage on the outside. Unlike Joseph, Jackson’s problem isn’t entirely a speed issue. His is based on his feet. He’s always struggled at changing directions, from backpedaling to breaking on the ball, and turning and running out of a break. At age 30, he doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for it like he used to.

The Texans have also been a notoriously bad zone coverage team since Romeo Crennel has taken over. They struggle at passing receivers, and knowing their individual responsibilities. They’ve allowed wiiiiiiide open deep passes, and can get picked apart short. The frontal lobeless Sam Darnold was able to find his receivers in between levels of the defense.

After scooting by against teams that can’t throw the ball, and run the ball, not because they are particularly good at it, but because it’s the safer option, teams are finally attacking Houston’s secondary. Like the blitzing, I’m glad it’s happening now. I’m glad Houston is having an awakening to these underlying issues that have been there all along. I assumed the gates of hell were going to be opened up in January, and they’d unexpectedly get their head turned into a November pumpkin, surprised by blitz heavy defenses, and deep throwing offenses. Since it’s happening now, Houston can plan ahead and prepare, and actually be ready for the end times.

Aaron Colvin came in the game after Wright got beat by a double move. I have no idea what happened on this play since it occurred outside the confines of my skull. Something happened, and it ended with an incompeltion.

Colvin had been dealing with an ankle injury, hadn’t been very good when he played, and was paid after being the nickle corner on the best pass defense in football last year. Yet, he has to be better than Wright. Same goes for Kayvon Webster. I have no idea what to expect from either player, but it has to better.

—The Carolina Panthers have a big kitty cat snarl. People yell Houston Texans first down after every Texans first down. The Broncos have a horsey neigh. The Jets have an air raid siren after every single play. It’s like an airhorn at a rap concert without the gunshots. Last week I felt bad for Jets’ fans as I learned more about the team and spoke to a few of them. I don’t anymore. They deserve every bad thing to happen to them.

—Romeo Crennel is 71 years old. He’s won championships as a defensive coordinator. He’ll never be a head coach again. At this point he’s microdosing, always in an altered state, and just trying to see what he can get away with. The man dropped Christian Covington into zone coverage at the goalline.

Whenever I think I’ve seen everything this stupid game has to offer something else comes up.

—This week in don’t run the ball against the Houston Texans. The Jets’ runningbacks picked up 55 yards on 25 carries. They averaged 2.2 yards a carry. This was the best game I’ve seen from D.J. Reader this season. He’s been fine this season. There’s a lot of stalemates against double teams, but he hadn’t made the impact when one man is blocking him. That was different this game. He had six tackles, two of which were solo.

I love his pad level on this play. This is the ideal male figure. Low butt, wide stance, hands out stretched, in control, and reading the play. When the back makes up his mind he sheds and finds the ball.

Aside from Reader, the other thing I loved about Houston’s run defense were the tackles Benardrick McKinney made in this game. He turned the Jets’ defense into a yellow splotched I-10 windshield. When he tackles, players don’t fall forwards, or land where they’re hit, they go into motion.

McKinney weighs around 260 pounds. He has the size and strength to size offensive linemen up, but at the same time, he also has the speed to run under their blocks and chase down the ball.

Imagine being a tight end coming off a double team and having to block McKinney, mascara running, biceps bulging. Your only hope is cutting him.

Unlike previous teams with horrendous passing offenses, the Jets actually threw the ball. They didn’t stick with the 2.2 yards a carry as much as you think they would. Darnold attempted 38 passes. The Jets scored 22 points. This holiday season I’m thankful for the Jets making what could have been a banal Saturday afternoon a raucous one.

Darnold was the best running back the Jets had. A.J. Soprano’s best friend did a nice job recognizing interior blitzes and escaping, and running wide when Watt and Clowney looped inside after their initial rush was stopped. Their best running play was the affect of all this scampering. The Jets ran a zone read and froze Watt. This is Darnold. Let him keep the ball J.J..

—Houston’s defense can only go as far as Watt and Clowney can take them. They combined for 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 4 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. They extinguished multiple drives on their own. The usual was here. Clowney blitzing from the interior to decimate a run play.

Watt was swimming from the backside to make tackles for a loss.

Houston did one thing differently with these two. It’s something I’ve been waiting for a while for. Crennel finally used Watt as an inside rusher. I know it’s tempting to leave him out wide against bad or backup right tackles. The quarterback is staring right at him though, there’s a longer path to get there, and the quarterback can climb up to escape. When Watt wins from the interior there’s no hope. All the quarterback can do is enclose himself to incite metamorphosis. Darnold can’t climb the pocket. Watt is the next colored stone on faux rock. The same rush that takes four seconds from the outside, takes three seconds from the inside.

The downside is more blockers can get their hands on Watt. Centers can slide over. Tackles can wiggle their tentacles across him. Teams don’t have to chip. Yet, this attention drawn to the interior has other benefits. It will create more open inside blitz lanes. And it gets Whitney Mercilus into the action. Mercilus hasn’t been as productive as a rusher, he now has 3.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and had 25 pressures entering this game. He’s still the team’s third best rusher. By moving Watt inside, it gets Mercilus and Clowney outside, and their best pass rushers on the field.

On the final sack of the game Houston had Watt and Mercilus on the right side and Clowney and Covington on the left side. The Jets chipped Mercilus, leaving Watt against the right guard, and Clowney against the left tackle in one v. one matchups. This is perfect. It can’t get better than this. Clowney windmills his way to Darnold. Watt rips under. Clowney is credited with the sack.

Houston should use Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus like this, as their staple four man front. This shouldn’t be an end game fire extinguisher. It puts Mercilus in a natural pass rushing location, gives Watt a shorter path to the quarterback, will open up interior blitzing lanes, and keeps Clowney doing what he’s done all year. Wade Phillips loved to use Watt as an inside rusher. It worked. I bet it will continue to work again.

—The Texans are currently the second seed. Please, please, please, don’t go celebrating yet. Remember Minnesota 2012? Remember last year when everyone said it’s a glory age for Houston sports after the Astros won a title, and then Watson tore his ACL the next day? Just be quiet. Wait until it’s a done deal. Then cut your head off and slather around in it.