Earlier this week the Texans and Lions conjoined together to create a abhorrent faux New England conglomeration—KILL ME. Bill O’Brien and Matt Patricia put on their red jumpsuits with a black webbed pattern, pearl oblong eyes stitched to a red mask that covered their chin dimple and groundhog beard, and they struck their fingers at one another’s football operations. Patricia zoomed around on a four wheeler, still coaching, even with a torn Achilles, because football, football never stops, and O’Brien yakked on about doing your job, getting the bare minimum out of your roster, and how Matt Kalil had a good camp and it was up to Jadeveon Clowney to decide when he wanted to be here. The party was only missing Mike Vrabel leading men with a bloody crotch, who enraged the other two in jealousy by hanging out with the messiah himself. We all can’t be the favorite son.
Practicing isn’t playing though. On Saturday night the Texans and Lions kind of sort of play football to see what they really have here, and make the most of this opportunity to get better, or something else regurgitated after Bill Belichick said it once.
1.) The Offensive Line
Last season the Texans had the worst pass protection in the league. They ranked 32nd in adjusted sack rate at 11.6%, allowed 62 sacks, and had a pressure rate of 38.5%, which was also 32nd. Remember how bad the pass protection was in 2017? Remember Tom Savage concrete clopping? Well, somehow, it got worse.
This isn’t entirely on the offensive line talent. Bill O’Brien and Mike Devlin screwed around and took too long to find their best combination once Seantrel Henderson snapped his ankle. An atrocious Martinas Rankin (LT) and Juli’en Davenport (RT) combination gave up like 12 of these sacks on their own. The secondary blockers blew their own share of blocks. Deshaun Watson took 3.02 seconds to throw the ball according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which was tied fourth with Russell Wilson, and behind Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson. The entire offense took turns swinging with a blindfold on while Watson was yanked up and down.
This is an unbelievable thing to say, but the Texans’ offensive line could be even worse in 2019. They didn’t use free agency to add better offensive line talent, despite paying Matt Kalil $7.5 million to be the team’s starting left tackle. They drafted two tackles in the first two rounds of the draft and one, or both of them, may end up starting at guard instead. Neither has shown they are an upgrade this season over what’s currently on the roster. It’s pretty much the same deck of torn and sticky cards shuffled around a bit.
In the first preseason game Joe Webb scattered around the field to preserve his bones and cloister his precious entrails. Kalil’s punch was abhorrent, he was weak, it was pitiful, he couldn’t extinguish rushes. On his best pass sets the defensive end would turn him to create a path to the quarterback, then Kalil would latch on in a gasping fashion, and occasionally he’d get away with a holding call. Tytus Howard had serious issues with his hands. Like quarterback accuracy, it’s a skill that rarely improves. See Xavier Su’a-Filo. See Kolton Miller. I pray it gets better. Greg Mancz replaced injured Nick Martin in the starting line up, but was knocked out with a leg injury. Zach Fulton shuffled to center. Max Scharping came in at right guard because he doesn’t have a NFL pass set. Pro Football Focus lies to you. And Seantrel Henderson displayed the same plastic bag punch he’s had over the entirety of his career. Martinas Rankin and Juli’en Davenport are now Pinnacle Johnson and Davis Woolf, bearded and raspy, living with the red rocks in the Utah desert for taking that plea deal. Sure beats playing for Mike Devlin.
The only sweet things that can be said about last week’s performance are Fulton was good at center—he can actually do something in the run game, unlike Nick Martin—and Roderick Johnson had a nice pass set at left tackle and could actually strike the chest. This is scrapping the bottom of the lithosphere after digging through the city dump.
This week, like last week, and like every week from here on out, the only thing that really matters is the Texans finding an offensive line combination that works. They need to try anything and everything. Every player is valuable. Every combination needs to be tried. Each play is vital. If last week is any indication for the future, then Deshaun Watson is going to look like an impressionist sunrise, a glory of salmon, pink, and crimson, smeared across rolling verdant hills.
2.) Detroit’s Front Four
The Lions had one of the strangest pass rushes in football last season. Last season they ranked 29th in defensive line sacks and 3rd in second level sacks, while ranking 29th in pressure rate and 5th in adjusted sack rate. Their front four couldn’t get there, and instead they relied on linebackers abandoning coverage at the perfect time, and taking advantage of stunts that created open lanes. This season it should be much better. They added Mike Daniels, a premier interior rusher, and Trey Flowers, who is trying to be one of the few who leaves New England and keeps the same level of production, to a line that has two intestine writhing run defenders in A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison.
It will be interesting to see if Houston can create any sort of first level movement, and if they can deal with the second level blitzes the Lions may use, along with the new individual talent they have. As of now, these matchups sound horrifying. Flowers v. Henderson, Harrison v. Howard or Senio Kelemete. Good luck. It would be great to see Deshaun Watson back out there, but honestly, it maybe better for him to sit out until Houston has a better idea of what they are doing up front. Until then Webb can be the cadaver who stands at the gates of this hell.
3.) I Mean, You Have To Do Something.
The Texans pass rush consisted entirely of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney last season. Together they combined for 25 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, and 77 pressures. Watt didn’t play last week, and probably won’t play this week. Clowney made the smart move for himself and tried to use his leverage to wriggle out a long-term deal, and may never play for the Texans again according to the haters and losers, liars and rumor mongers online.
Without these two on the field last week the Texans had zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, and zero tackles for a loss. The only pressure I can remember is Benardrick McKinney looping over the top and almost sniffing Deshone Kizer. Even a scent of Axe body spray is a win for this rush without Watt and Clowney around. I can still see Angelo Blackson huffing and puffing and pursuing Kizer, and Whitney Mercilus’s spin move slathered by a backup left tackle.
Houston should have added another interior rusher. They didn’t, despite Sheldon Richardson, Malik Jackson, Mike Daniels, and Gerald McCoy available. What they have is what they have barring a surprise roster cut. They are going to rely on Clowney (if he even plays for Houston) and Watt, and hope they can move Whitney Mercilus around and get him closer to the ball presnap so he becomes a real pass rushing threat instead of an afterthought.
Someone else on the interior showing up out of nowhere would be enormous. It would be monumental. They need someone to do something, someone to do anything. If not, this pass defense will look a lot like last year’s if Clowney plays. The big difference is the schedule. The Texans won’t be able to do just enough against teams that can’t throw the football like they did last season to resuscitate their 0-3 blue boy season.
4.) Deep Tracks And B-Sides
The preseason is meaningless and useless for the masses. It’s an ecosystem for position battles, for fringe roster spots to harden and settle, and for the rest to try and get paid to practice. Most of these bottom of the roster players you’ll never hear from or think of again. For every LeStar Jean there’s a hundred Alan Bonners.
That being said, there are a few players I enjoyed watching last week. I mentioned Roderick Johnson earlier, and once again, he was the best left tackle in the Texans loss to Green Bay. Damarea Crockett broke a tackle, that was fun. Tyron Johnson had a 44 yard reception. Dylan Cole has proved once again he’s a great tackler, hopefully he stays healthy. A.J. McCarron is out for the rest of preseason, meanwhile, it’s fun to watch Webb run around and make plays happen. I bet McCarron is ecstatic he isn’t out there anyways.
5.) Something Deep
You don’t want to go all the way in during the preseason. You can’t show regular season plans and packages, you want to keep your quarterbacks and team healthy, but I still want a sample before I come him with 48 taquitos. I want something, and that something I want is a deep heave from Deshaun Watson to Will Fuller V. Fuller said earlier this week he’d like to play a game or two to knock the rest off. He hasn’t stepped on the field since Halloween 2018. Give us something.
6.) The Unreality Of Time; The Entropic State Of Preseason Football
This whole chain of logic, purporting to explain why you can’t turn an omelet into an egg, apparently rests on a deep assumption about the every beginning of the universe: It was in a state of very low entropy, very high order.