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Quick Thoughts: Texans v. Panthers

Pull the plug. Let it out.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Texans scored ten points yesterday. They knocked down a field goal after Carlos Hyde turned pass protection into 20 yards and Duke Johnson picked up 25 on a left side power run play. They picked up their only touchdown after a J.J. Watt strip sack. Kai’mi Fairbairn missed a 52 yard field goal. Another redzone trip was ruined by DeAndre Hopkins playing quarterback. And Deshaun Watson overthrew two open deep shots that probably would have ended in fourteen points. They also had only 56 total yards in the second half yesterday minus the give me final drive. Houston should have had more scoring opportunities, the offense was bad, but football go like this sometimes.

Deshaun Watson’s brain was stretched and torn apart by dreams of ghouls and spiders, Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison. He was sacked six times and hit ten other times. [NAME REDACTED] made the 4.0 yards an attempt scoring line famous in Houston, and Watson hovered around it at 4.8 yards attempt, picking up 160 yards on 33 attempts. On passes that traveled further than ten yards through the air Watson was 2/10 for 24 yards, his average intended air yards was 8.3, and his completed air yards was 2.3.

The game started weird from Carolina. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on with the All-22, no one knows the calls, the play design, and each player’s responsibility, and it’s nearly impossible to tell once the players run off the screen, and reappear only when the ball is thrown past the living room confines. That being said, it looked like the Panthers trailed off zone coverage, and played man to start the game.

James Bradberry’s hand me down arms dangled across from DeAndre Hopkins. From there the Texans kept doing what they did last week, utilize the quick game to microwave the potato and make pass blocking easy. Quick and short was the beginning of the game. Houston’s first two drives picked up 42 yards across 20 plays.

That changed after the first quarter. The Panthers dropped back seven to eight yards, sat, and sucked up the quick passes. Watson repeatedly had nowhere to go with the ball, leading to coverage sacks, which led to cross country third down conversion attempts, which led to an even more aggressive pass rush and multiple punts. The passing offense unraveled. Houston never adapted to it.

This is a good example. The Panthers have one safety deep. The corners take zone turns. The linebackers sit in the middle of the field and make easy pickups. Watson has five receivers and no one is open. There’s Shaq Thompson passing Keke Coutee to the safety, but Luke Kechly is in the throwing lane. Watson tries to step up, then decides to scramble, and is sacked from behind.

Laremy Tunsil is great, but his hands can be iffy. He doesn’t lock and grasp defenders and bury them at the point of attack often enough. Instead he wins by covering them up with his feet. He tends to play too much patty-cake. Watson is his quarterback. He holds onto the ball. He wants to make plays downfield by buying extra time with his feet. Tunsil will have to learn that every pass attempt can go on forever and not allow these second wind pass rushes.

This looks like cover three. Each short route around the line of scrimmage is devoured. Watson has nowhere to go. The pocket is constricted. The pass protection isn’t terrible. Watson has nowhere to go before the rush comes.

Watson was able to get out of the pocket occasionally, and when he did, he was able to turn Carlos Hyde pass protection into a 20 yard ‘carry’.

There were other on the run throws skipped along the turf like smooth stones. Keke Coutee bounced one off his hands that was intended for DeAndre Hopkins. Overall, the same on the run, magical, throws under pressure weren’t here that were here last week.

The biggest difference was the pass rush Houston faced. The Chargers have two great pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. That’s it though. Jerry Tillery, Brandon Mebane, and everyone else, haven’t done much this season. Against Houston, Bosa was washed out wide by Tunsil, Ingram maneuvered from the other interior and exterior, and they rarely blitzed. The offensive line was able to deal with it, and when pressure did come, Watson had lanes to run through.

This was different against the Panthers. Carolina’s defensive line is the back end of the pool. Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, Vernon Butler, Brian Burns, Gerald McCoy, Kyle Love, and Dontari Poe were all there along the line of scrimmage. Each player has the ability to either push the pocket, or flow around the edge. Houston’s offensive line didn’t miss a ton of blocks, but they didn’t maintain pocket integrity. Constricted. Watson played quarterback in a demolished mine. In this setting the same scrambling lanes weren’t there like before.

A lot of this damage was done rushing only four with some tackle-end tinkering. When a defense gets this much pressure with only four they can pretty much play whatever coverage they want. When this much pressure is occurring, and a linebacker like Kuechly is in the center of the field to take away dump offs and hot throws, offenses are suffocated.

The Panthers didn’t blitz much, but when they did, they did it intelligently. The receivers are in a tight formation. Carolina has eight defenders in the box including two defensive backs. They overload the right side of Houston’s line of scrimmage. Kuechly knows the back is the hot, and jumps it before the ball is out of Watson’s hand. This prevents the back from cutting it back inside, and forces him right into the zone turning corner. Carolina is great at funneling the ball to where they want it to go.

On the game ‘winning’ strip sack of Watson, the Panthers overloaded the right side of the line scrimmage again. This week it was Greg Mancz and Tytus Howard, a combination that haven’t started a game next to each other before. They have four rushing against three. Vernon Butler loops back inside, towards Watson, and off of Mancz. The Texans are unable to pass the stunt. Nick Martin and Mancz stick to the same rusher. Eric Reid is blitzing free off the edge after the tight end releases into the flat. Watson steps up the pocket away from Reid, but in doing so, he runs right into Butler. He strips him, and Reid chases the ball down.

The Panthers adjusted and had a great game plan for Houston’s passing offense, and it was one of the reasons why the Texans failed to put up more than ten points. That being said, Watson did have two deep chances he simply overthrew.

I don’t know how you overthrow Will Fuller, but Watson did it. I’m actually impressed. This is cover four. Fuller is on the right sideline and is running a vertical route that leaves him trailing inside and up the seam some. Mancz shoves the interior rusher inside. Howard punches Brian Burns edge rush and takes him outside. Watson has a natural ladder to climb. Clean and clear. Stepping into his throw he puts too much on it.

This looks like cover three. DeAndre Hopkins is on the left sideline. Bradberry has outside placement and Hopkins screams up the seam. The other deep safety is dealing with Fuller. The middle of the field is wide open. Watson slides away from a free Gerald McCoy rush, and outhrows Hopkins, who is unable to shoot his web onto the awning above and sling up to this pass.

The Panthers had a great game plan. They sat on Houston’s short throws, created coverage sacks and forced Houston into long second and third downs, and then sat on the sticks from there. The Texans weren’t able to adjust to Panthers zone, and the pass blocking couldn’t maintain the pocket structure needed for Watson to elongate the play and do it live. Add some bad luck, and missed downfield throws, and you get a ten point game.

  • Last week Max Scharping was called up to the starting lineup and started at left guard. Next to Laremy Tunsil, I’ve immediately fallen in love with the double teams these two create. Last week they made a power backside double team that covered the first and second level, opening up a cutback for the back. I haven’t cried in months.

This isn’t that. This is power left. The playside double team takes the defensive tackle to the inside linebacker. The backside guard, Mancz, takes out the linebacker in the hole. Hip to hip, Tunsil takes the defensive end nine yards backwards, and Kuechly is pulled by Scharping’s gravity. Mancz doesn’t even need to make a block. The linebacker runs around him and out of the play. Johnson outruns Reid and picks up 20, the longest run of his career.

Hyde and Johnson combined for 12 carries and 107 yards on left side runs yesterday. When you remove the Hyde dumpoff ‘carry’ and this Johnson outlier, you still get 10 carries for 62 yards. 6.2 yards a carry is more than what Watson was able to put up.

Part of the problem with Houston’s run game is they never find a staple. It’s a little bit of everything, never really figuring out anything. They’re educated by Wikipedia and podcasts. Houston should cut out the outside zone. The sloshing of the waterbed, and the importance of blocking hat on hat, lead to too many runs derailed by poor steps, miscommunication, and second level tumbling. This scheme takes a summer to run well. Instead Houston should try and run more power, more dart, more inside zone, more duo, and get as many hip to hip double teams like this. Blocking the second level is easy when the first level is moved seven yards down the field.

  • Watson is hit too often in the pass game to be consistently used as a manufactured runner. But, on the other hand, it’s a chicken and the egg thing. If Watson was used as a runner more, and more play action was run off these plays, and pass rushers were flummoxed, Watson would be hit less in the pass game and wouldn’t take the organ liquidating full speed hits while he stands at rest in the pocket.

For now, Houston has kept him in the pocket, and primarily use him as a runner when they absolutely have to have it. It’s the NFL embodiment of a you up? text. He scored on a 4th down zone read play against New Orleans. And he scored again in a similar manner.

It’s second and one. Goal line sniffing. Fuller comes into motion. Laremy Tunsil pulls on a dart play. The edge defender sits. Watson outruns one defender and gets enough of a block from Fuller to cross the white line.

I love this play. I love Watson as a runner. I wish the pass protection was better, the offense was different, and quarterbacks couldn’t get injured. I understand why it’s used sparingly, but I want more of it.

  • For too long, Shaq Thompson played behind Thomas Davis and was never utilized as an every down defender. Then Thomas Davis went to Los Angeles, and they finally gave him the keys to the 2004 Subaru Outback. He pairs perfectly with Kuechly. The transition has been seamless from one administration to the other. Thompson had 12 tackles, 7 solo, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defensed, and 1 quarterback hit in this one to add to the other 19 solo tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 quarterback hit, and 1 pass defensed he’s already made. This is the best game I’ve remembered seeing Thompson play. I’ll have to check and see what Pro Fartball Focus says first though.

Thompson blitzed well in this game when they decided to bring him. He sacks Watson on this second and twelve blitz. They bring three on the right. It’s big on big. Thompson v. Mancz. He tosses him like a Reggie White pass rush, and leaps to take away Watson’s ability to throw it at the feet of the out route. Also, Kuechly knows exactly where Watson wants to go with the ball. Once again, the Panthers are funneling Houston and taking away their outs.

On this blitz, Thompson is wide against Laremy Tunsil. This sets up Bruce Irvin one v. one against the running back. Irvin rolls over the top like a smashed deer, and hobbling on one leg, Watson throws a chest pass to the running back, tackled immediately, by, you guessed it, Luke Kuechly.

Here Thompson rips through the outside half of Scharping, pulling on power, and combines with Kuechly to make the tackle for a loss.

And on this play, Thompson goes from spying on Watson, to covering the back down the sideline, and drops a pick in the process. He turns and finds the ball better than most cornerbacks do.

Thompson has been fantastic this year, along with the rest of Carolina’s defense. They started off 0-2 after losing two close games thanks to Cam Newton missing the open throws available to him. Kyle Allen has made these throws. The Panthers are good. Keep watching them this year.

  • I don’t know what happened to Keke Coutee and all that promise, all that intrigue. Kenny Stills pulled himself off a play after an apparent hamstring injury. Coutee replaced him and had 1 catch on 3 targets for 11 yards. Entering this game he had 2 catches on 7 targets for 7 yards. For whatever reason, he and Watson haven’t been able to gel together and craft him into a drag running hellion, and a quick slot receiving option. When Watson is under pressure he hasn’t connected with Coutee whatsoever. Send me a letter if you know what’s going on here.
  • The Panthers play a lot of zone coverage. Receivers don’t really get lost downfield like they can in man coverage, when defenders get their eyes caught in the backfield, or tripped up scrambling across the field in coverage. This was an all-time Texans play call. I’m still laughing. It’s even funnier when you consider the fact the Texans are selling the Panthers on a play that rarely ever works to begin with.

In addition to this interception, Hopkins had 5 catches for 41 yards. Make DeAndre Hopkins the league’s best receiver again.

  • The Texans’ pass rush made impact plays, but it wasn’t disruptive. Kyle Allen was hit five times, sacked three times, and spent most of the game playing in CHAMPION XXL sweats. He completed 24/34 passes for 232 yards. The problem, of course, was that he fumbled the ball on each of these sacks, and Houston recovered each one.

On the first, Brennan Scarlett takes a wide route where he would have no affect on the throw if Allen stayed in the pocket. Carolina is trying to take a shot deep. They fake the smoke outside, and then want to throw the wheel deep to Christian McCaffrey out of the slot. Allen gets too antsy and runs himself into Scarlett. Hand on ball. It pops out. Benardrick McKinney is the dog to scoop the scraps off the floor.

On the second, Whitney Mercilus is tossed an alley-oop by D.J. Reader. Like Scarlett on the previous play, Mercilus takes a wide route to the quarterback like he often does. This leads to his rushes not mattering. The ball is out too quickly. He flies over the quarterback’s head. But when it does matter, it leads to Mercilus leaping onto the back of an expecting quarterback and turning the common sack into extraordinary turnovers.

Reader makes this sack happen. He slaps Matt Paradis’s punch away, gaining control of his torso, and creates an earthquake in the center of the pocket. Allen reads left to right. Then takes two steps backwards when Paradis is close to colliding into him.

Mercilus long arms Greg Little’s inside shoulder, extends him, bats his right arm with a wound newspaper, and then runs off his rush. He’s a rainbow, wide and circular, drifting around the corner. This rush should have zero impact on the play. It does because Reader forces Allen back into him.

On the third, Watt finally found the end result he wanted on a rush he used over and over again. He attacks Taylor Moton’s outside shoulder, and rips under his punch. He only has a slight advantage at the point of attack. His head is on the outside breast, and he’s inside and on Moton’s body. The right tackle is unable to extend him. Instead he looks to carry him past the quarterback. The right guard Daryl Williams sees this, and turns to try and help out. Watt gets even with the quarterback and sticks his outside hand out. Once he’s past the quarterback, he’s able to extend and knock the ball away.

He got so, so close, using this move earlier in the game. Allen was able to see it in time and sneak away.

Recovering fumbles is luck. It isn’t a skill. Unless you are Watt. He crawls across the bloody bathroom floor, foot sawed off, and swallows this ball with McCaffrey right behind him.

  • Watt was in a rough spot this game. Carolina can slide their pass protection towards him and not have to worry too much. Greg Little played well against Mercilus. The Texans don’t have a fourth rusher to worry about. Unless the Texans blitz, the guard adjacent to the tackle can help out with Watt’s inside moves. This leaves Watt either having to beat two blocks, or trying to rip around the edge, making him one dimensional.

He’s been kind of stuck. Without the same get off as before, tackles have been beating him to the point of attack, and pushing his rip past the quarterback. This has happened rush after rush. Occasionally it works. He enters another dimension and makes an illustrious play, like the strip sack in this game. The majority of his success has come when the inside guard is tied up and he can use power, or when looping back inside against one blocker. Even then, he spends most of the game with multiple limbs pounding him. Offensive lines are shredding him apart whenever Houston rushes three.

I mean, look at some of the things he has to deal with.

My favorite Watt rush had me seeing visions of Dallas, 2014. Watt jumped Tyron Smith off the line of scrimmage, and went to sack Tony Romo blind. Romo ducked, stood up clean, and hit Terrance Williams down the center of the field for six. This play was the watered down version of it.

The Texans only bring three. Watt looped inside to the center of the line of scrimmage. For some miracle, the Panthers didn’t slide and help center Matt Paradis. Instead they doubled Reader and Blackson. Rather do what most defensive linemen do, carry the loop to the same shoulder they are traveling in, Watt, in a fluid motion, swims back across the center, and is right on Allen’s jaw. Somehow Allen is able to duck, send Watt flying over the top, and then find Curtis Samuel open downfield.

This is “professional” wrestling. This is a man in a safari hat blasting a charging lion out of the air. This is absurd. Football is a gross and disgusting game. But plays like this are why I love it. I’m a pig. Feed me my slop.

As we said for lots of games regarding Jadeveon Clowney in the past, Watt wasn’t box score dominant, but was football dominant in this one. He dealt with hundreds of blockers, brought consistent pressure, and was close, oh, so close, so many times, to get the tallies in the box score that matter so much.

  • My professional opinion is that McCaffrey was the best player in this game. Despite his mousy stature, he bounces off of tackles, always spinning and falling forward. He carried the Panthers yesterday. He had 37 touches for 179 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging 3.4 yards a carry against one of the league’s best run defenses, and 8.6 yards per reception. The internet told me he broke eleven tackles, but I’d believe any double digit number that was thrown out. He caught each one of his eleven targets. He even stole a time out from Bill O’Brien.

The Panthers don’t even know what a second running back is. Who needs Fozzy Whitaker?

  • The Texans paid Angelo Blackson $12 million over three years to stay in Houston. This was in spite of the fact the Texans have a great run defense, and he’s, what, the eighth most important component of it, and most importantly, he can’t rush the passer. This season he has one quarterback hit and two hurries. He’s stout and sturdy and holds his own in the ground game, but his run defense doesn’t make up for his inability to get to the quarterback. Charles Omenihu can’t become an every down player soon enough instead of just being a bullpen bullrusher.
  • Zach Cunningham had 14 tackles, 8 of them solo. Having Reader in front of him makes life nice and easy. Cunningham gets to run full speed and slip around tied up blockers to make tackles. With Reader matching last season’s pass rush production already, and the run defense he provides, he should make the leap to Pro Bowler this season. This is what Cunningham deals with week to week.

That being said, Cunningham still has come a long way from Vanderbilt. He has always flown around the ball, but he knows how to tackle. McCaffrey doesn’t have a chance to see the tackle and escape, but Cunningham still spears him. Frontal lobeless Cunningham drags and slings, and doesn’t deliver hits like this.

  • Allen didn’t really hit on any typical downfield passes. He was able to draw a defensive pass interference penalty against Lonnie Johnson Jr. and was close other times. Johnathan Joseph was able to stay close enough and dissuade clenched downfield attempts. With Joseph and Johnson on the outside, and Bradly Roby in the slot since Aaron Colvin was cut, the Texans are susceptible to deep passes, especially ones to the sideline. The throws were there. Like Watson, if Allen hit on two, or even one of these, Sunday would have been dramatically different.

These throws are going to be integral to watch for as Houston keeps moving along its insane schedule. This week it’s Julio Jones and Atlanta. The week after that, it’s Kansas City.