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Texans v. Saints Review: Quick Thoughts

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An in-depth review without a narrative of the Houston Texans loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Houston Texans v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson is absurd. He’s all the things and metaphors and adjectives you can come up. Say anything. I’ll agree with it. He’s the great space turtle in the sky who rode a celestial wave right after the big bang. Sure. He’s a wild goose honking into the Wyoming sunset. Works for me. He’s nightcrawler, disappearing in a plume of vape smoke in a collapsed mine of a pocket, only to reappear to safety. Perfect.

After spending last season lamenting and lambasting the Texans for not throwing the ball downfield, they finally threw the ball downfield. And you know what? It worked. With Will Fuller back, Kenny Stills around, a competent stable of tight ends, and one of the best receiving backs in football, Houston didn’t settle for three yard completions to a tight end into the flat. They pushed it. Watson attempted 11 passes that traveled between 10 and 20 through the air, and most importantly, he completed 3/5 of of his attempts for 129 yards that went 20+. This has been gone for way too long.

The Texans’ playcaller or playcallers, however it is they’re going about it, did a great job of attacking the Saints deep. New Orleans was the worst team in football at defending deep passes last season. Additionally, they went after New Orleans in atypical situations. The 54 yard throw to Will Fuller was perfect. Play action, seven defenders in the box, perfect pass protection, and Fuller turns Eli Apple around immediately and blasts off. The playcall. The timing. The catch. You can’t throw this any better.

The two biggest throws were of course on the final drive that gave Houston the lead for 23 seconds. On the first one the Texans finally picked up a stunt right. Laremy Tunsil passed the end over to Senio Kelemete who just barely got in the way quick enough to save the day. From there DeAndre Hopkins beat Marshon Lattimore in man coverage, and Watson squeezed a perfect pass down the sideline. The ball placement here can’t get any better.

The touchdown to Kenny Stills was even better. If that’s even possible. Unlike the previous throw the Texans don’t deal with the blitz here. The Saints show double ‘A’ gap pressure. The strong side linebacker drops back. The right side of the line blocks big on big, and Cameron Jordan runs with Darren Fells when he runs his route. From Nick Martin on it’s one gap over with Duke Johnson looking inside-out. Martin allows the linebacker to rush freely and doesn’t maintain the integrity of the pocket. This trips up Johnson, and makes it impossible for Kelemete to pick up the rusher since he’s too deep. The safety, Von Bell, can rush free from the edge. Martin overextends, grabs and holds onto the looping Marcus Davenport. He got away with one here.

Watson braces for calamity from a messy left side of the line of scrimmage and gently fades to his right. This little bit of space is the difference between throwing cleanly, and throwing while being hit. He sets his feet. Then puts the ball to the left of P.J. Williams and over Still’s shoulder. Stills runs a nice route here, and turns Williams around when he makes his break to the center of the field. Because of the blitz, and the additional routes, there isn’t a safety deep to affect the catch point.

Most importantly, Watson was spectacular under pressure, and he was a submarine captain for the majority of the game. He was sacked six times and hit eleven times. Seven of the quarterback hits came from the defensive line, one came from a linebacker, and the other three came from New Orleans’s secondary. The Saints brought pressure from everywhere in addition to winning their one v. one blocks.

This was expected. Despite having, ohhhhhh, four months to come up with a starting offensive line combination, the Texans ended up running out a week one configuration that had played zero live snaps together before. Continuity is important to run fits, second level peeling, and pass protection. Without it, offensive linemen or stuck constantly talking and communicating instead of lining up and playing, and are unsure if the man they’re playing next to has any idea what they’re doing.

Luckily, they have a quarterback who can handle this. Like Russell Wilson has shown, good pass blocking is less important when you have a quarterback who can dodge sacks, manufacturer throwing lanes with movement, convert first downs with his legs alone, and complete passes while huffing in a defender’s hot breath. Watson did all of that this game.

This play is unremarkable on the play by play. Houston is blocking man on man on the left side with a back into help. Johnson doesn’t block though and immediately scampers into the flat. Senio Kelemete doesn’t keep his eyes up. He commits to the down lineman, misses his assignment, leaves two blocking one, and allows the linebacker to sprint through the ‘A’ gap. Watson looks right, moves back to center, and slippery, he calmly side steps away from a kill shot and turns a seven yard loss into a one yard gain. He’s remarkable. Without competent pass protection, plays like this are vital for an offense to stave off punts.

If the Texans and Mike Devlin can ever figure out how to consistently pickup blitzes they are going to be impossible to stop. Here the Saints bring six. The pocket becomes a circle pit rampaging around to Iowa like it’s 2001 all over again. Without anyone in the center of the field, Watson pulls it down and converts easily for the first. When blitzes are caught and caged, Watson has the speed and tackle breaking ability to make teams pay. Blitzing Watson is going to become a traumatic experience if Houston ever figures it out.

The pass protection problems seep past just making one v. one blocks, and picking up the correct man. It’s about feeling and knowing how to work together as well. This is a grotesque pass set from Seantrel Henderson. It’s like hamburger meat dropped onto a barbershop floor. Henderson turns, clicks his red heels together and wishes for home, and his parallel to Watson when he makes contact. Before heading out to his route Duke Johnson chips, but when he does, he shoves Jordan off of Henderson. This sequence, and the bullrush Fulton is unable to deal with, creates a natural stunt along the front. Unplanned. Like the wheels of nature. Jordan redirects and digs into Watson’s throwing radius. Despite this, he’s able to deliver a torpedo to Hopkins to convert the first.

Watson is a MVP candidate this year. There’s no question about his talent, or his ability. He’s that guy. The only thing holding him back is the pass protection in front of him, and the constant fear the playcalling will becomes a scaredy cat. Houston will rely on him to play like this every week too. With the defensive issues, it’s going to be all on Watson and this passing offense to make the jump from 28 to 31 points a game, so they can win shootouts and improve on Bill O’Brien’s 4-33 record when Houston allows more than 22 points in a game. To do this, he’s going to have to be spectacular against pressure each and every week.

Marshon Lattimore was beat a few times by the best receiver in football, whose skill has no equal. That being said, Lattimore in an air strike raining death when driving down onto the football. His tackles create a blast of energy, turning bone into shrapnel. Him and Jalen Ramsey are two of the best players in the league at driving down on the receiver and creating a viscous collision.

Tunsil was really good this game. I wanted to see more from him in the run game though. He did a nice job turning out defensive ends wide to create lanes, but there needs to be more at the second level. Too often he’d jog after linebackers once they bounced off his block. We can save this for another day.

A lot was made about the sack he allowed to Trey Hendrickson. The get off was impeccable. Tunsil can’t block something timed at the exact moment of the snap like this, unless he did the same. His only option is to turn sideways and run with him, hoping he could slow down the defender just enough. Getting a deeper pass set is out of the question here.

There were blitz pickup problems, but overall, aside from that one sack allowed, Tunsil had a fine game. He spent the majority of it matched up with Marcus Davenport, who ended the game with one quarterback hit. I loved this pass set especially. He stays square with Davenport, is able to keep his hands on him, and doesn’t give up too much ground once Davenport tries to bullrush. When Davenport pops his head out of it, and his pad level is compromised, Tunsil drives him out, creating a throwing lane for Deshaun Watson.

Do I love the Tunsil trade? No. Giving up that much draft capital after the Jadeveon Clowney trade was absurd. Losing the ability to add cost effective talent once they pay Watson $35 million a year is going to be crucial in two years. It was a frontal lobeless decision from a coach and general manager who isn’t concerned with the long-term future. And adding a left tackle doesn’t make an offensive line competent. It just limits the pressure coming around one corner is all. With the rest of the line ranging from unknown, to crappy, to horrendous, the Texans are still going to play plenty of games like this one where Watson is bombarded by pressure. Hopefully, he can stay healthy, and hopefully they can figure out a starting combination that can grow together, and learn learn how to limit so many free pass rushers.

—The same can’t be said for Seantrel Henderson. He had one of the toughest matchups a tackle can deal with. He was locked up against Cameron Jordan, and was unable to hang.

This pass block pretty much sums it up. Jordan is standing up in a two point stance. Henderson is slow out of his stance, but worse of all, he’s late despite knowing the snap count. He doesn’t punch Jordan. Awww he catches him. Jordan strike him first and gets his hands into his chest. He’s able to drive Henderson backwards, and raise his pad level. Along his commute to the backfield Henderson loses his hands as well. Once he gets to the outside shoulder, Jordan turns to bend the corner, and Henderson latches onto his throat, like the dreams of a merlot drinking vampire at a goth bar. The three man rush turns the pocket into a warzone.

In the run game I had Kendall Lamm flashbacks. Houston is probably going to be the worst team in football at running over the right tackle once again this season. This is a lead play spoiled by Henderson. Jordan is an outside shade. I really don’t know why Henderson commits so hard to Jordan’s chest with the play going the other way. He does, and his feet are sloppy. Henderson leans into the point of attack. Jordan disappears and murders this rush attempt.

The Texans made plenty of mistakes this offseason. Sticking with, and staying with Henderson as their right tackle was one of them. Rather than go through this last season, they’ll be dealing with it this season. Pray for Max Scharping or Tytus Howard to be able to play the position they were drafted to play.

—So much is made about the final play of the game. Yet, these types of plays were made by New Orleans throughout the entirety of the game. The final one was just the end conclusion of an entire defense tortured by throws like this. It wasn’t just Colvin either. The Saints attacked the middle of the field ruthlessly, and attacked every matchup opportunity available to them.

Gipson v. Thomas

Gipson gets turned around by a quick step left and a jam inside within a yard of the line of scrimmage.

Addae v. Cook

It’s an easy third down conversion. Addae pats Cook down. He doesn’t punch or knock him off the route. This is the softest jam you’ll ever seen.

Gipson has outside alignment on Cook. He punches up into Gipson, and Cook easily knocks it away, leaving Gipson heaving, and Cook wide open.

Thomas v. Justin Reid

Thomas isn’t a deep field burner. He gobbles up short and intermediate route and collects first downs like pocket monsters. This doesn’t stop Reid from playing thirteen yards off him before the snap.

Zach Cunningham v. Kamara

I love this play design. New Orleans has trips right. The two outside receivers run vertical routes. Cook runs an underneath drag that draws Reid. The left outside receiver runs a deep in to pull Bradley Roby away. The entire field is cleared out for Kamara, who runs an angle route out of the backfield behind Cook, and absolutely dusts Cunningham. Reid does what he did for the entirety of the game, take out of his mop and bucket and cleanup the mess.

Colvin v. Ginn

More off-man coverage. Colvin is ailing and wheezing as he breaks back to the ball.

Colvin v. Ginn

Let’s run it back. This time Colvin is playing press man. He doesn’t punch Ginn at all. Doesn’t get his hands on him. Doesn’t affect his route. All he does is open his hips and turn and run. Colvin can’t do this against one of the faster players in the league. It becomes a foot race he can’t win. Even though Brees throws a lazy hazy pass, Colvin is unable to chase back and make a play on the ball.

This isn’t new either. As I mentioned in the game preview, Houston was 28th by DVOA at covering slot receivers, and the Saints are primarily a middle short field passing team. Houston expected for Colvin to bounce back and provide adequate play. They cut Briean-Boddy Calhoun before the season started. They cut Colvin on Tuesday. They should have found a better option this offseason. It’s just the cornerback version of a Matt Kalil calamity that never came to fruition.

I don’t know what Houston is going to do either. I assume they’ll move Bradley Roby to the slot depending on the matchup, and put Lonnie Johnson on the outside. They don’t really have another option, unless Keion Crossen is a rare mineral ready to be mined.

This is going to be a problem as early as next week. Gardener Vishnu and the Jacksonville Jaguars are another middle of the field crossing route offense. Chris Conley and Marqise Lee will look to break across this portion of the field and take advantage of Reid, Jahleel Addae, Tashaun Gipson, Cunningham, and mysterious slot corner X, just like the Saints did earlier this week.

—The Texans’ pass coverage was shoddy last year too. It was just masked by a competent pass rush consisting of Watt and Clowney doing insane things, and a schedule that tossed them into a pit against the worst passing offenses in the league. Tha’ts changed this season. The schedule matches them up against teams that can actually throw the ball, and Houston’s pass rush is going to fall apart without Clowney. In this game Houston had three quarterback hits, one sack, and I counted five pressures across Brees’s 43 dropbacks.

J.J. Watt was locked down by Ryan Ramcyzk. Watt spent the majority of the game rushing from the left defensive end position. He had zero tackles, zero quarterback hits, and zero sacks. The only thing he did was draw a holding penalty, and one pressure. That’s it. Ramcyzk did a spectacular job changing up the timing of his punches. Watt wasn’t able to beat him to the point of attack to turn the corner. His only hope was to win with his hands. Ramcyk made this impossible.

I love this so much. Ramcyk ducks to get Watt to prematurely show his hands. After this he takes a drop step to get deeper. Watt attempts to rip around, but Ramczyk waits, get his hands above the rip, punches the outside half of the chest, and drives Watt past the quarterback. It’s so pretty.

On this rush Watt attempts to go through him. The right tackle is square with him, and punches under his arm pits when Watt raises up.

This happened to last year to Watt too. His sack totals were the result of feasting on horrendous tackles like Chad Wheeler, Corey Robinson, and Denzelle Good. He had trouble generating pressure when matched up against his equals, great players like Braden Smith and Lane Johnson.

I clamored for Watt to move inside to generate a rush after toiling away without any success on the outside. This kind of worked once. He was able to loop inside and get around rookie center Erik McCoy. This was atypical. Most of these loops led to Watt being shredded apart and his entrails devoured on the interior. This is what happens when you rush three. This is what happens when you don’t have another monstrous rusher to draw attention away from him.

Whitney Mercilus had the best game among the front seven. He had five tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, and the first interception of his career. His interception came on the play mentioned earlier. Watt looped inside and had a one v. one matchup against the center. He was finally able to turn a blocker around, zap him of his leverage, and disengage from the block.

We’ve spent so many years laughing at Romeo Crennel’s love of dropping back front seven players. We’ve seen Vince Wilfork and Christian Covington drop back into the center of the field. We’ve seen Mercilus and Clowney sit in the flat. We’ve never seen it really work. Then Mercilus reversed, jammed, and turned in front of a Brees pass attempt. It was a terrible and desperate decision. Mercilus capitalized on it.

This pass rush is the perfect exemplification of how Mercilus gets after the quarterback. Last season he was rushed too far outside with Clowney around. Crennel should have done a better job mixing Watt and Clowney on the interior to get Mercilus more pass rushing opportunities. There was enough room on the field for all three. He didn’t strategize well enough to make it happen.

Mercilus is best tight to the blocker. There he can use his hands to knock off punches, and pull blockers down and inside so he can get around the outside shoulder. He’s a five technique against Terron Armstead. Taysom Hill kind of provides a chip. Immediately he strikes the chest and gets inside hand placement. From there he runs his feet, is able to rip and swing under Armstead’s hands, and turn the corner flat to the quarterback. Armstead’s protection fails because his base gets too wide and the turf morphs to a movie theater floor.

(this is also another good example of Watt exasperated on the interior)

His sack was the opposite of this play. He delays his rush and attacks the outside shoulder. It’s a great move. He hooks himself around Armstead and curls around him. He’s too deep though. Typically this rush wouldn’t affect a quarterback.

D.J. Reader created this sack. The camp reports are true. Reader is quicker off the ball. This is the best game he’s had as a pass rusher in his career. He was able to collapse the pocket often for what seems like the first time ever. Larry Warford slides steps and creates space. Strange. Reader is able to turn this extra space into momentum, and with lower pad level, and elephant legs, he’s able to run Warford all the back into the quarterback. Brees steps right back into Mercilus.

Mercilus won’t have the same production as Clowney, or do the non-box score things Clowney was able to do. He doesn’t have the same inhuman athleticism Clowney has. However, Mercilus just being productive is monumental for this defense. They’re going to depend on him to be a great second pass rusher, and will need him to have games like this week in and week out. No exception.

—Lastly, Alvin Kamara is unbelievable. He never goes down. He never gets tackled backwards. He can walk the line with a BAC of .18. Tackle attempts are clouds he flies around and through. It’s absurd some of the plays he makes.

The only thing better than the Kamara slingshot through the universe is the block Ramcyk makes on Gipson in the open field.