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Texans v. Titans Review: Quick Thoughts

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I got some things to tell you. Some things I would say if I was me.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

This isn’t writing. This is drivel. What is below will be writing. If you like what is below, we can keep doing this throughout the season, because after watching these games and thinking these things, the majority of it is confined to blue pen scribble. Things that I forget. Things that are only for me, never read. Since crawling out of the snow passes, touching down back home, and finally watching this game, this is what that pink sponge fired back at me while watching Houston fall to Tennessee by a field goal.

—The Texans ran a play action quick slant pass to DeAndre Hopkins for three catches against the Patriots. They tried it once against the Titans and Malcolm Butler was all over it. O’Brien has already force-fed this play, and already an opponent has picked up on it.

The Texans also went away from using Hopkins in the slot in this game, which is good. Hopkins is best as an isolated receiver. He doesn’t need help to get open. He needs his own space not muddied up with other defenders. Regardless of whether the defense is playing its best corner on the outside only, moving Hopkins inside should be a special occasion. Something like Dairy Queen mudslides on Wednesdays after school, not a staple of the offense’s diet.

—I plan on writing more about this this week, but the Texans’ offensive line has been a mess. I’m trampled and confused why the Texans are playing Martinas Rankin at right tackle and Juli’en Davenport at left tackle. Rankin played right tackle left tackle in college last year (I’m very dumb), but he’s still and is a better run blocker than pass blocker. Davenport only played left tackle in college, has the measurables of a left tackle, played left tackle for Houston last year, played left tackle all preseason, and is a better pass blocker than run blocker. But for whatever reason(s), as soon as Seantrel Henderson took a Misery shot to his ankle, Houston flip-flopped both players from where they are comfortable. That lack of comfort has shown, especially in pass coverage. Both players have stuttered and stopped in their kick-slides. Their punch timing is off. Their feet are stopping. They aren’t moving as fluidly as they did last year, in the college or pros, or even this past preseason.

Here, they both get beat by simple edge rushes. There’s nothing special here. The outside linebackers simply rip around the edge and collapse around Watson. Jurrell Casey ends up with the sack as Watson attempts to step up.

Here Davenport gets beat by the same simple edge rush by Harold Landry. His kick-slide from the right tackle spot is slower than last season’s at left tackle.

Moving from right to left is moving from one position to another. The anchor and slide is different. The first step is different. Neither player has adjusted well yet.

Both players are unable to beat edge defenders to the point of attack. Instead they are turning their shoulders and opening the gate, allowing the edge for the rusher to climb underneath. Rankin commits the same crime on this play.

It isn’t just Davenport and Rankin either. Senio Kelemete has been falling off blocks, and his hands have been awful in pass protection. Zach Fulton has been better, but hasn’t been the same second level blocker he was in Kansas City. I don’t understand the Davenport and Rankin position switch, and I don’t think anyone can explain it in a way that makes any sense.

Continuity and being comfortable to the man next to you is vital for offensive line play. This was always going to take some time, baby. But, so far, despite all the additions and their individual collection of talent, the Texans’ offensive line has been a disaster.

This constant pressure has affected Deshaun Watson. He’s bouncing passes. He’s pulling his eyes and the ball down whenever a blitz is coming or when there is a bat signal of pressure. It’s dragged the passing offense down, and it’s made third downs a tooth out of line. Houston has what it has at offensive line unless they want to put Greg Mancz in the lineup. That isn’t something that needs to happen yet. What should happen is, first and at a minimum, is Davenport and Rankin going back to the positions they’re used to playing.

—I’m not worried about Watson. The touchdown decrease was expected. That 9.3% touchdown rate ain’t happening again. The talent is still here. It’s undeniable.

He’s shown mobility in the pocket even if it hasn’t been utilized in the run game. The arm strength looks better than it did last year, too. This is a straight shot on the run from interior pressure for the first down.

DW4 dips away from Casey after Kelemete gets beat, balanced and composed, and finds Hopkins breaking inside for a touchdown. It’s western Rocky Mountain beautiful.

This touchdown to Will Fuller V left my heart palpitating. This is a Peyton Manning drop in the bucket sideline touchdown.

Watch it again. That release off the line of scrimmage against press man is perfect. This is everything a team wants from a downfield receiver.

Having Fuller V back dramatically improves this offense. It gives Watson an option whenever Hopkins is doubled. It coerces teams to play two safeties, which opens up the run game; if they stick with one, Fuller has the speed to split the safeties, which also helps open up space for Hopkins’s intermediate route running. Fuller V was also able to run cute little curls and digs to perfection against off-man coverage, creating easy intermediate throws for Watson. This was pertinent after last week’s teamwide struggles to beat man coverage against New England.

—Going back to touchdown rates, this is the type of play Watson converted for a score last season. Instead, yesterday, Adoree Jackson outhopped Hopkins for the ball.

I love Watson taking shots like this downfield. However, in the future, he should try to narrow these attempts to single coverage situations. On this play, he also had Fuller in one on one coverage down the sideline; that would have been the more logical pass attempt.

—The run game has been better out of base packages than it was last year. Lamar Miller has been a jolt. He’s been cutting and going, looking more comfortable in a run offense that has revolved around outside zone plays, powers with Fulton pulling, or darts with Rankin pulling. Miller finally looks explosive. He looks better than he has since he was paid a lot of money to come to Houston.

Alfred Blue has looked better than before as well. When the blocking is good, he’s been a decent vertical runner. He finds the hole, runs straight forward, and puts his head down. If there’s a defender in the hole or if he has to do anything extracurricular, there are problems, but when things are good, Blue’s been good.

The biggest problem in the Texans’ run game has been whenever Houston has tried to run the ball like it did last year. Teams aren’t biting when they use a polytheism number of fakes. Watson isn’t keeping and scampering. The numbers advantage isn’t there. But when they keep things simple and run base run plays, they’ve had success so far. If Bill O’Brien wants the offense to look like it did last year, he’s going to need to use Watson in the run game.

—I <3 Wesley Woodyard tackles.

—Tennessee’s run game did a nice job controlling the center of the line of scrimmage in both the run and pass game. Both running backs were able to pick yards up the middle, especially in the fourth quarter. They schemed well, using Watt’s aggression against him by allowing him to come up field and then hitting him in the back of the head with pulls and cuts. The quick tosses where their backs cut back inside were run with perfection.

Because of the quick passes, the Texans were never able to get a real outside rush going to take advantage of Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin’s injuries. Fine. This was smart and expected by Tennessee. But I was also surprised by the lack of interior rush. Sure, Ben Jones, Quinton Spain, and Josh Kline are good players, but we aren’t talking about the interior of the Oakland Raiders line here. With Watt, D.J. Reader, Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney’s blitzing ability, and whatever rotation they have at defensive end, I thought they’d do a better job at attacking Blaine Gabbert up the middle, but it never happened.

Instead, their morsel of outside rush came not from Whitney Mercilus, who has been a mouse to start the season, but from Duke Ejiofor. In college, during the preseason, and against Tennessee, Ejiofor’s inside rush move has been brutal. His first one almost took down Gabbert.

The second one did.

With Jadeveon Clowney out, both Ejiofor and Brennan Scarlett played on the outside. During the preseason and going back to last year, Scarlett was underwhelming. He’s something that’s never going to happen. All those snaps should just go to Ejiofor instead. And like my friend Sam said, I’d be for Jadeveon Clowney moving to defensive end once he comes back again and letting Ejiofor start at outside linebacker. Ejiofor has been tantalizing enough, and Clowney was one of the best defensive ends in football last year. Why change a great thing? This would also get Houston’s best front seven players in the game in the no longer base 3-4 defense.

—The pass rush has to be better. With the cornerback troubles Houston has, Houston’s defense relies on pressure to make up for it. These last two games, it’s had trouble scraping mediocre.

—I missed J.J. Watt making negative defensive plays and defeats in the run game, but for now that’s all Watt has been. The pass rush from him wasn’t there this week and was only kind-of-sort-of there last weekend. He was close to picking up that elusive sack in this one, but Gabbert just barely whoa-there-Mother—- his way out of it.

—Gang tackles are the best. I see a big pile of skulls. A dump truck plopping cremains. Seeing Reader/Watt/McKinney combine together to tackle Derrick Henry was one of my favorite parts of this game.

—Gabbert is a player I’m happy for. It’s nice to see him go from bust to scrappy game manager. He’s the perfect backup for Tennessee and it’s hilarious how much better he is than Matt Cassel.

—I’m bummed Kareem Jackson is back to playing cornerback. I loved him at safety last week, making splattering fumbles and smashing the ball out of Rob Gronkowski’s hands. But I get it. He’s the only real option they have to play cornerback with Kevin Johnson out. It still sucks. It hurts. And in this game, he looked pretty good. As long as he’s covering slower and more physical receivers, he should continue to have a chance.

In his place was Justin Reid. It’s hard to see what’s going on with safety play from just the broadcast view, but this blitz off the edge turned my stomach into a butterfly garden. Do this more, Romeo. This is a zip line of a blitz. If Reid’s path was a little more narrow, he would have joined Ejiofor in the sack column.

—Going back to Jackson, I’ve never seen a player put him on his back like this. Jackson is a premier defensive back tackler, and Corey Davis absolutely knocked his head off Hereditary style on this stiff arm. Sheesh!

—Finding enjoyment in sports is more than just ‘this team or player is good or bad’. There’s an intrinsic value to the aesthetics. J.J. Watt’s arm brace. Witch doctor images I see in my mind watching Jadeveon Clowney play football. Alvin Kamara breaking tackles like a stripper pole. Case Keenum air balloon passes. These are all examples of this. It’s been only two games and I already can’t stand Tyrann Mathieu’s tough guy shtick. Whether it’s making fun of fans on social media, or posting Twitter inspirations, or the Hot Topic number of arm bands, or jawing after every tackle only to miss Taywan Taylor on the following play, I can’t stand it. There’s nothing worse than faux machismo. Hopefully Mathieu doesn’t read this. He may call the girlfriend I don’t want or have ugly.

It all reminds me of Kevin Johnson flailing his arms after incomplete passes only to turn around to the site of a bright yellow flag, or yapping after missed tackles, or Brandon Harris’s no fly zones. It takes more than a tipped at the line Tom Brady interception to have this amount of chatter. It’s something you slowly build up to over the course of a season with a new team. I’ll always cherish A.J. Bouye going from a simple finger wag to full on orchestral conduction as he progressed in 2016.

—It’s amazing the difference not having your punter give up returns on every punt, and your return man picking up positive yards, does to your special teams play.

—Last postseason, Marcus Mariota threw a self-suck touchdown pass to himself.

Gabbert had his own, lesser version of it in this game that he turned from a sack to a five yard penalty. The universe is a beautiful esoteric place. Made for me, and me only, sometimes.