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Texans-Colts Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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

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Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2.3%. That’s the percentage of all teams who started 0-3 and made the playoffs. There’s been one team to make the playoffs after starting 0-4; that was the San Diego Chargers in 1992. They went 11-1 the rest of the year. This is it, Custer.

The entire point of the regular season is to make the playoffs. If you don’t make the playoffs, the season was a failure. It’s simple as that. From a “I love the Texans and it makes me happy when they win perspective,” this season is pretty much already over at 0-3. There’s a slight chance, but it’s only a shovelful of dirt away from being a foregone conclusion. Today the procession may finally be able to turn back around, head home, and let that reality really settle in.

HIT IT.

1.) Come On, Dude.

The Texans and Cardinals are the two most poorly run offenses in football. At least the Cardinals can feign ignorance with their quarterback who looks nothing like the northern light he briefly was in Minnesota. The Texans don’t have a goat to blame. They aren’t manufacturing quick and open throws for Deshaun Watson, Watson is holding onto the ball forever, they are 31st in football in play action rate, he’s never used as a runner in the actual run game, the playfakes are empty gestures when they’re rarely run, and most importantly, the offense looks nothing like how it did last year when the Texans were the most exciting offense in football while Watson on the field.

This past offseason, Bill O’Brien said he was going to continue to evolve the offense. Great. He needed to. Last year’s offense was unsustainable. Additions needed to be added. The shirt needed to be tossed under the bed and put on after the summer. However, that shouldn’t have meant he was going to run the same crappy offense that was among the bottom in the league from 2014-2016. You know the one. It wasn’t that long ago. Inside runs between the tackles, isolation routes, and pure pocket passing. O’Brien didn’t evolve. He just went back to his old ways. 2018 is a reversion not an evolution.

The offense has been as terrible as it possibly could. But Watson has been pretty good despite the confines O’Brien has put around him. He is 11th in DYAR, 9th in DVOA, and is averaging 8.2 yards an attempt. He’s thrown 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, all of which were desperate downfield heaves, two went into double covered go up and get it situations, and another was an underthrown Lamar Miller prayer. His biggest problem has been in the redzone. He’s completed only 6 of his 19 attempts. He’s thrown 3 touchdowns, but he has also picked up 4 sacks. And the team as a whole is 31st in redzone DVOA and is 29th in DVOA in goal to go situations. This same banal playcalling has carried its way into the most important part of the field.

I thought for sure some of the things that happened last year would happen last week. It didn’t. It was the same old drivel. I don’t expect it to, but hopefully this week O’Brien does everything he can do, and goes back to what worked last year in an attempt to resuscitate this blue baby of a season. Give me anything. Give me something. Give me a read option where Watson actually runs the ball, run a jet sweep and use the receiver as the pitch man in the option, run play action off these plays, set up one on one downfield throws, run play action and help out the offensive line out and churn some yards out with the outside zone.

2.) Andrew Luck Has A Ramen Noodle Arm.

Come in. Sit down. This is very hard for me to tell you, and I don’t know the best way to say this, but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Andrew Luck has the arm of 2016 Peyton Manning. Look, I know. The truth hurts. I love to watch Luck play as much as everyone else in the world does. I love the swamp beast neck beard, his evaporating head of hair, his intelligence, pocket presence and manipulation, stampeding scrambles, pump fakes, and obscene throws. But so far, he hasn’t been able to make the oMg throws. Luck isn’t the same.

After having shoulder surgery that kept him out all of last year, he’s playing, but he’s playing with a floppy arm. Luck’s average depth of target is 5.6 yards, which is last in football according to Pro Football Focus. He’s thrown 126 passes, the 6th most in football, but for only 623 yards. He’s averaging 5.3 yards an attempt, which is second to last, only ahead of captain checkdown Sam Bradford. It’s eerie to watch too. Luck can do everything he could do in the past. He’s still climbing the pocket and throwing among a jungle of rushers, reading the defenses like a BOB book, finding open receivers, and throwing with great placement.

The arm just isn’t there.

New head coach Frank Reich has created a short quick throwing offense to help him out. The Colts are running a play every 23.8 seconds. Plays are in and out. This is the quickest offense in football. Luck is hitting receivers on slants, and digs, and comebacks. It’s saving him from the wrong side of the road interstate collisions that turned his bones into goop throughout his entire career. The downfield throwing just isn’t here though. We need more downfield throwing, not less of it. This is the Colts’ passing offense now and it makes me so sad.

I mean, look at what it’s done to T.Y. Hilton. It’s turned him into an entirely different player. Hilton is averaging 10.5 yards a catch. His career average is 15.6 yards a catch. Hilton is getting open downfield. Luck just can’t get the ball there. The only positive thing about it is the underthrown passes have led to some silly defensive pass interference penalties. What is a defender to do when the receiver completely stops right in front of him? It’s like those lame Chris Paul charging draws.

Hilton typically obliterates defenses by running downfield, and he loves playing the Texans. In his career Hilton has turned 63 catches into 1,131 yards, or 17.95 yards a catch. In this game he’s going to be quickly turning and stopping instead of galloping down the field like a wild horse. Maybe the Texans know this and play press coverage from the get go instead of hanging back like a baby tooth.

This quick throwing is the entirety of the offense too. The Colts aren’t even really running the ball, and for good reason. They are 27th in run attempts, and are 24th in run offense DVOA. The young guards haven’t played that well to start the season, and the Colts running backs haven’t made anyone miss in the second level. It’s narrow passages that quickly crumble. The Colts’ run game probably won’t matter in this one at all. The Texans are third in run defense DVOA, but the Colts don’t even really run it. Instead the focus is going to be on the Texans’ ability to stop this banal short throwing Andrew Luck.

3.) Kicking Up Dust

Tom Delonge is more certain of aliens existing than I am that Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus do. So far the other stars on the Texans’ front seven have been Gray Foxes in the box. Neither player has a sack this year. Jadeveon Clowney has one pressure. Whitney Mercilus has zero. Both players have been healthy this year too. The only reason why I can think of is the lack of playing time in training camp hurt them. But even then, Clowney said earlier this week he was 100% ready to go once the season started. So, I have no idea.

Their lack of production has killed Houston’s defense. Everyone knew the secondary was going to be bad entering this season. It was going to be up to the pass rush to extend past the boundaries of the line of scrimmage and help the secondary out. The rush needed to force quarterbacks into uncomfortable throws, hits that pulled their eyes down from the field to the rush in front of them, and neutral and negative plays that led to the ball being thrown away and the quarterback slammed to the ground. Right now the Texans are 29th in pressure rate, and are creating pressure on just 18.2% of all drop backs. And as a result, Eli Manning is doing things like completing 86% of his passes against them.

So far their entire pass rush has been from J.J. Watt. Last week Watt had one of those vinyl games, halcyon days, bringing the past to the current day. He had three sacks, four quarterback hits, and four tackles for a loss. He was back to being that great white leviathan. On the season as a whole he has seven pressures. Nobody else on the defense has more than one.

The pass rush is going to be kind of neutralized by default. Luck is throwing short and throwing the ball immediately. On occasional longer drop backs, the Texans have to take advantage of it though. They need to go out and get him. La’Raven Clark has been whatever as a left tackle, and Denzelle Good has been about the same replacing Joe Haeg. The Texans will move Watt to the best matchup available for him, which will probably be over either tackle. Both Clowney and Mercilus need to make the difference on the other end. If not, Luck is going to pick and pop and make the correct throws turn this game into a layup line.

4.) Indy’s Defense...Good?

This season exemplifies what makes the NFL so intriguing. The end result is never a foregone conclusion. Things are always wilder and crazier than the preseason expectations. The Dolphins are 3-0, the Patriots got smashed by the Lions, Houston is 0-3 and lost to Blaine Gabbert, Patrick Mahomes has thrown 13 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, the Rams are the future and the future is now, and the roughing the passer penalties are even dumber than anyone thought they could have been. Yet, the most surprising event of the bunch maybe that the Colts’ defense is actually good to start the season.

Currently the Colts are 12th (!) in defensive DVOA. They are 12th in pass defense and 15th in run defense. What in the world is going on here, Carmen Sandiego? First of all, they’ve been able to actually bring down the quarterback. As a team, they have 10 sacks and are 7th in adjusted sack rate. Margus Hunt has three despite having only one pressure and is playing way better than he ever should be, Darius Leonard has three, and Jabaal Sheard has one and a half and four hurries and continues to be the most underrated pass rusher in football, doing things like bull rushing Lane Johnson and slapping passes out of the air.

One of the best parts of the Colts’ defense has been their blitzes. They love to use cornerback Nate Hairston as a blitzer. Fifth round pick Anthony Walker is a mobile free range grass fed player. And most importantly, second round pick Leonard is having a Pro-Bowl season. He takes off the snap at the perfect time, taking the perfect angle, and is a road runner scurrying across a straight Mojave highway after a flash of green.

So far this season, Leonard has 30 tackles and a forced fumble in addition to his 3 sacks. He’s controlling the run game as well as terrorizing quarterbacks like hallucinogenic flashbacks. The alumnus from the imaginary South Carolina State has been an absolute terror from the linebacker position.

They’ve also been better in coverage than they should be. Hairston has been good on the outside, and even more so since he’s a fifth round cornerback in just his second year. Kenny Moore is their slot man, and he’s been one of the best slot corners in football. Malik Hooker can influence any part of the field no matter where he lines up, and is Earl Thomas esque without the hard hitting tackles. The weakest part has been their strong safety Clayton Geathers.

Still, it was never expected for things to be this good. The Colts haven’t invested much in this position aside from Hooker, and are benefiting from this unit’s play. Summertime thoughts thought that this would be one of the worst defenses in football, the secondary especially, and instead they’ve been better then average. They held Washington to 9 points, and Philadelphia to 20, and it took a lame holding penalty to absolve a 4th and 5 miss to continue their drive that got Philly that last touchdown. So, yeah, this won’t be a sunny match up for Houston’s offense.

5.) Pass Protection

Everything before this converges here. The Colts can rush the passer, especially by blitzing. The Texans can’t protect against it. Right now they are last in pressure rate and are allowing pressure on 41.1% of all drop backs. Even when they block well, Watson isn’t tossing the football before three Mississippi and is allowing secondary moves and efforts to get to him. Both his tackles, Juli’en Davenport and Martinas Rankin have been unplayable, first getting beat by simple edge rushes, and then last week, getting put through Satriale’s Pork Store meat grinder in the form of bull rushes. Senio Kelemete may play at guard, and he too, has struggled in pass protection. But his errors come in faulty hands that don’t strangulate rushes. And since everyone here is new, never playing next to the man next to him until this season, they’ve missed blitz pickups and have allowed too many free rushers.

O’Brien isn’t helping them out either. He’s still playing Ryan Griffin more than the Jordan rookies even though Griffin can’t run or pass block, struggles to beat man coverage, and is a limited athlete compared to the other two who can actually block a bit and can create separation sometimes. By putting the worst blocker he has available to them, he’s offering zero help when he could. There isn’t any chipping on the edges by the tight ends or running backs either. You know you can shove the defender to force them inside and to take the left instead of the left or right? And the lack of play action isn’t changing their cadence. When the ball moves they go without any thoughts or care.

The Colts haven’t created pressure as well as they’ve taken down the quarterback. But this is a formidable rush. They got to deal with Sheared, the outside of the confines of his skull Hunt, and Leonard and Walker and Hairston blitzes. This isn’t a comfy cozy rush. And even if it was, Houston would struggle to deal with it.

6.) The Unimaginable Reality

But there are intrinsic benefits to constantly probing the possibility that our assumptions about the future might be wrong: humility and wonder. It’s good to view reality as beyond our understanding, because it is. And it’s exciting to imagine the prospect of a reality that cannot be imagined, because tha’s as close to pansophical omniscience as we will ever become. If you aspire to be truly open-minded, you can’t just try to see the other side of the argument. That’s not enough. You have to go all the way.