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Texans-Browns Review: Shallow Thoughts

Matt Weston takes a look at the Texans ninth win in a row.

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

—I don’t know if it’s because I’m a hater and a loser with a charred husk in my chest pushing sticky purple blood through my body, the impossibility of meeting last year’s touchdown rate, or Bill O’Brien’s disdain for throwing the ball downfield, or what, but I often forget how freaking good Deshaun Watson is. Cumulatively, he doesn’t have the numbers the top quarterbacks in football have. He doesn’t throw it deep enough, or throws enough touchdowns to be a DVOA darling either. But by talent and eyeballs alone, he’s one of the twelve best quarterbacks in football. At one point in this game he was a casual 15/17 against the fifth best pass defense in football by DVOA.

His ball placement is perfect. It goes exactly where he wants it, where only his receiver can snag it. I loved this 3rd and 15 completion. DeAndre Hopkins delays his route, allowing the inside banana of the bunch formation to get off the line first. This let’s Hopkins know it’s man coverage. He curls outside on a corner route. Watson puts the ball over the linebacker defending the flat, on the sideline, away from the defensive back, and gives Hopkins enough room to get ten toes in it.

Watson was spectacular at throwing sideline fade routes at Clemson. When Houston traded up to draft him I would close my eyes and imagine what a Watson led offense would look like. I saw in my mind a lot of side line fades to Hopkins, where Hopkins gets a great release off the block, and bullies the defensive back at the catch point. There hasn’t been enough of it though. This is what I envisioned that April.

The timing on this post route by Hopkins is perfect. Against what looks to be cover 2, Watson glances left. The linebacker slides over to cover the pass and Hopkins takes off past him. The ball lands in the space he used to occupy.

One of the benefits of Houston running the outside zone more often, more on this in a second, is the effect it has on play action. Watson is comfortable in space, and I don’t want to speak for him, but it’s safe to assume he loves play action. Coming off an imaginary run to the left, he stands in front of a demonic dressing room mirror, a reflection lurching after him, but rather than unhinge his jaw like Amy Smart in some silly 2000s horror movie, he is calm and brave and strong, and lifts a pass to Jordan Thomas, who catches it in stride.

Thomas runs a great route. He carries Jabril Peppers upfield, almost like he’s blocking him, and shreds him apart to break the press coverage. Thomas is the best tight end on this team. He’s strong, is a more than a passable blocker, he’s a capable one, can run really fast in a straight line, and can use his strength to get open in the passing game. This was a beautiful play all around.

I’m still pessimistic on Houston’s upcoming playoff run. I don’t like them against any of the available opponents they may see in the second round. This is at the moment though. A feeling at this instance of time. Watson is so good. It always feels like this offense can be better than what it is. The potential is here. If he starts throwing the ball downfield like everyone knows he can, and Houston starts manufacturing him as a runner, this offense can break past the 24 point barrier, and start pumping out 31-37 points. This would make them an actual contender, and something more than second round fodder. Time is running out though. It’s already December. This isn’t a switch. I’ll be cautious until I see it. I’ve been hurt too many times.

—Watson cooled down in the second half of this game. This is the type of thing that happens when you’re up 23-0 against a whatever offense. Scoring points are just sprinkles and opportunities to engorge numbers. The other is that Cleveland started playing more aggressively. They blitzed a ton to create pressure. The line of scrimmage was crowded. Free rushers came in unhindered. Watson was forced to run through barbwire, and he took some shots. However, in the beginning of the game, Houston was able to handle Cleveland’s four man rush. The offense scooted its way to field goals during this time.

—The one big rush Cleveland had in the first half came from Myles Garrett. Entering this week Garrett had 19 pass pressures, 20 quarterback hits, and 10 sacks. This long arm against Davenport was more diabolical than diablo himself. If you have the strength to long arm like this, you can do anything as a pass rusher. This is Khalil Mack/Jadeveon Clowney type of stuff.

Lamar Miller followed up last week’s absurd 12 carries for 162 yards with 19 carries for 103 yards. In his last two games he’s averaging 8.54 yards a carry. Most quarterbacks can’t pick up that many an attempt. This is what happens when you have a 97 yard run.

Overall though, through the constant this and that, this and that, Miller has looked like Miami Miller. Houston has been running the outside zone effectively with him, especially to the left side. His vision has been sharp, seeing things before they happen, he’s cutting back against the defense. It helps when the backside defensive end runs after Watson instead of maintaining gap control. Stop doing this! Watson isn’t carrying the ball in the run game hardly anymore since his lungs turned into a deflated shore washed jellyfish.

More importantly, the offensive line is really blocking the second level. They haven’t done this since 2015, the last time Houston had a great offensive line. Pay attention to both Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton. The Texans’ free agent guards block each linebacker. Ryan Griffin runs around the safety, but is able to turn back around and push him in the side to save his block. When running the outside zone, if you cover up defenders on the first level, and stick on the second level, beautiful things happen.

Here, Juli’en Davenport, and Nick Martin make their second level blocks. Jordan Thomas misses his, but Jamie Collins is timid and prancing, instead of chasing. He takes a poor pursuit angle as well. There’s actual burst here from Lamar Miller once he gets into the second level.

Do the Browns have a crappy run defense? Yes. Will Lamar Miller continue to average 8.54 yards a carry? No. Regardless, the second level blocking is a real thing that’s here to stay. This, in combination with the outside zone, and putting Miller back into a scheme he’s more comfortable running, should lead to Houston continually having a productive run game.

—I really loved this fake toss pass to Ryan Griffin. Davenport clears out the defensive end. He’s really under rated as a one v. one blocker. Griffin runs straight up the seam. The fake pitch yanks the will linebacker with a butcher’s hook. Griffin is wide open. Good job Bill!

—The Texans scored their fourth defensive touchdown in this game. This time Zach Cunningham sat in zone coverage and devoured a slant route. He charged hard at the flat, then shuffled back in front of a slant to David Njoku.

He missed one earlier in the game, sitting in the same shallow zone. A slant route hit the tops of his fingers. He would have been gone if the caught this one too.

To start the season Cunningham was battered and fried in man coverage. He failed to cover tight ends and running backs in man coverage situations. He’s looked much better in shorter zone coverages. It’s been fun to see him develop into a competent tackler, and now, an actual plus in coverage.

—This was another week of don’t run the ball at the Houston Texans. Nick Chubb had 9 carries. He picked up 31 yards. 3.4 yards an attempt. The bulk came on an 11 yard toss. It doesn’t matter how good your offensive line is. Unless you’re running out wide, or using Houston’s aggressiveness against them, there’s no point running at the Texans.

Nick Chubb is a monster. I don’t believe the Earth hangs in space because of the sun’s gravity. I believe the Earth rests on Chubb’s shoulders as he trembles in an elliptical fashion instead. This is just as plausible as our little blue and green and brown marble being flat. I’ve seen Benardrick McKinney make hundreds of tackles. Never have I seen him hit a running back head on and slide off. When McKinney tackles ball carriers fall backwads. Except for Nick Chubb. This is like that time Marlon Mack stiff armed Jadeveon Clowney.

—Today was a J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney football good, not box score good game. Clowney was able to create pressure going inside out against Greg Robinson. Watt was in the backfield, but looked a little tired as a pass rusher. Despite this, there was Watt once again, swimming and splitting the double team to make a tackle for a loss.

—The Browns jerseys are grotesque. They’re cool and new and edgy. Bright orange. Blocky lettering. There’s too much going on. There’s also something hilarious about the word ‘BROWNS’ scribbled across orange pants. The Browns should be plain. Get rid of the stripes and zany font and all that lettering. I want white and brown and orange helmets. Real depression era 1930s football. Make them wear leather helmets. Pour them Gatorade out of a bucket with a metal ladle. Gregg Williams should have a cigarette in his mouth.

—Bruce Arians loves half time adjustments. He doesn’t sound anything like I would expect him to. I was ecstatic he’s still wearing that same hat, even in the broadcast booth. One day I’m going to walk around Ireland muttering words I made up myself while wearing one of those hats and then toss it into the sun immediately after I exit.

—This was one of the better pass rushing games Whitney Mercilus has had. He was a technician against Greg Robinson. The Browns’ left tackle is an all-time athlete who doesn’t know how to play the game. Punch and grab the chest. If the edge rusher is that deep, push him past the quarterback, don’t try to hunker back down in front of him.

—As TIM noted, Baker Mayfield wasn’t feeling very dangerous today. The Browns offensive game plan was running and throwing short quick passes. It wasn’t until they were down 17-0 before they actually took some chances deep. They found success right away. Kareem Jackson pulled down Antonio Callaway. Jackson was playing off-man and got stuck going from backpedaling to turning and running. Justin Reid bit on the playfake. There was no one left downfield.

Aside from a heave into triple coverage, Mayfield was great throwing the ball deep. Callaway was able to turn Shareece Wright to the sideline before cutting his route inside.

Mayfield found the soft spot in the zone. Reid arrived just a little too late.

I still have no idea what happened here.

They should have done this from the beginning. It was too late for the heroics to matter. Yet, when they finally did, their downfield passing offense was unbelievable. Houston has a great run defense, and excellent pass rush, but they don’t have talent at cornerback. Johnathan Joseph is great at recognizing routes and jumping on the shorter stuff, but hasn’t had the speed for three seasons now to deal with faster downfield receivers. Kareem Jackson’s feet have always been sloppy, and he no longer has the athleticism to make up for it. Wright has played in 8 games and has only been targeted 26 times. They just haven’t played offenses capable of taking advantage of it.

Cleveland finally attacked it, and it worked. This isn’t even Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon, or Phillip Rivers to Keenan Allen or Mike Williams, or Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce. This is Mayfield to Callaway. This is exactly why I’m pessimistic about this team’s second round chances come January. Unless Watt and Clowney are 2015 Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, they’re going to have to score 31 points to beat any of these teams.

Justin Reid is the real thing. Safeties have to be able to play from the center of the field to the sideline. Reid did this all game, and he did it with malice. His shoulder turned receivers into a pink mist. Sprinting from midfield, he bombarded into receivers to extinguish pass attempts. With Jackson forced to play more cornerback, Reid is the best safety on this team.

From a robber position he was a split second early from forcing another fumble this game.

Let’s watch the path he took to save a touchdown with his forced fumble. Sheesh. Also, Tyrann Mathieu begging for the ball from Aaron Colvin, then running it to the three yard line is peak Tyrann Mathieu.

And this splattering was my favorite play he made all game.

No, Reid isn’t the Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s an esoteric view. But he’s one of the five best rookie defenders this year, and should get Pro Bowl consideration. It’s amazing how much better these days are than the ones where AFC Defensive Player of the Month Quntin Demps, Kendrick Lewis, and Rahim Moore resided in.