Following the 2018 season, the Houston Texans were swimming in waters they’ve never swam before. They had a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. After Rick Smith traded up for Deshaun Watson in 2017, Watson burned the house down with a jet sweep deep play action passing attack, and turned car crashes and amputations into positive plays. Houston’s secondary let him down, and a torn ACL ended a potential playoff push. Historically high touchdown rate. Possible regression. The following season Watson turned it on after a 0-3 start, where an all-time great run defense squashed run heavy teams with terrible quarterback play, and Watson carried them to wins when they met eventual teams that realized to throw the ball against the Houston Texans.
The season ended with an embarrassing home loss in the Wild Card Round to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Houston went down 21-0 early. Their game plan to throw it deep into double coverage to DeAndre Hopkins didn’t work. They didn’t have a second option. With a battered receiver group, they waddled around the field, lacking any sort of place, and trudged to a 21-7 loss.
This was the most important offseason in franchise history. They had four top 100 draft picks, and $78 million in cap space to build around Watson with after releasing Demaryius Thomas. Los Angeles (R), Kansas City, Buffalo, and Baltimore, had followed the model Seattle set earlier that decade by taking advantage of a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. Because of the salary cap every team has weaknesses. The trick to team building is to ensure your strengths mask your weaknesses, and those weak points are under invested in. The franchise quarterback on a rookie contract is a cheap code. The barriers are lifted. Paying a top quarterback $6 million a year is a world of difference than $30 million.
After riding Bill O’Brien’s tough-smart-dependable quarterback carousel from hell, this was Houston’s best chance at building a Super Bowl caliber team since 2012. Franchise quarterback. Defensive talent. Holes that could be fixed in a single offseason. The decisions they made this offseason have reverberated into the team they have today.
The foundation of this offseason was the NFL Draft. After trading Duane Brown, the flap of the butterfly’s wings, the voodoo that started the ruination, Houston had an extra second round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. With three picks in the top fifty, the Texans could find three starters on cost effective contracts that would pay off once Watson started making $30 million plus a season.
The Texans used their picks to address the biggest weaknesses on the roster. Offensive line and secondary. They selected offensive tackle Tytus Howard in the first round with the 23rd overall pick, and then selected offensive tackle Max Scharping, and cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr., back to back in the second round with selections #54 and #55.
Houston is currently 1-8. They haven’t had a first round draft pick since this season, and last season they were without their second round pick, after making the stupid decision to trade for Laremy Tunsil. Tytus Howard has gone from left tackle at Alabama State, to right guard, then right tackle, and is now starting at left guard, in an attempt to build out a foundational left side of the offensive line. Scharping has gone from a right tackle at Northern Illinois, to left guard, to right guard, and now resides on the bench. Johnson Jr. has gone from outside cornerback, to slot cornerback, to strong safety, to free safety, and now resides on the bench.
It’s vital to remember the context of the Howard selection. Houston had come off a season where they started Juli’en Davenport and Seantrel Henderson at offensive tackle. Henderson had been awful his entire career, and not only that, was injury prone. He snapped his ankle the first game of the season against New England. They moved Davenport to right tackle, a position he had never played before, and put rookie Martinas Rankin, who missed nearly all of training camp at left tackle. Before settling into a tackle combination of Davenport and Kendall Lamm, Watson had been sacked 17 times, hit 41 more times, and pressured 57 times. At the end of the season Watson was knocked down a total of 138 times, the most in the league, and 27 more than Dak Prescott.
General Manager Brian Gaine saw this problem, and his answer was to sign Matt Kalil, in the same mold of Henderson, an offensive tackle who was terrible, with a terrible injury history, who missed the entirety of the 2018 NFL Season. Houston needed a pure pass protecting offensive tackle.
The best tackle in this draft class then was Jonah Williams, and now after breaking out this year, still is Williams, who was selected by the Cincinatti Bengals with the eleventh overall selection. This need for pass protection is where the Andre Dillard clamoring came in. Dillard was a pure pass protection prospect who should have been able to slide in and protect the edge. The Philadelphia Eagles traded up, swooped up Dillard, and this never happened. Since then Dillard played right tackle because of a Lane Johnson injury, was overwhelmed playing out of position, has dealt with his own injuries since, and was beat out in training camp by Jordan Mailata.
For whatever reason, the Texans never gave Howard a chance at left tackle. After watching both him and Max Scharping in minicamp, and after hiding Kalil from the media because he was unplayable, they felt terrible at the tackle position once again. This was the impetus for the Laremy Tunsil trade. Tunsil is a top ten pass protecting offensive tackle who is allergic to run blocking. Locking down Yannick Ngakoue is important, but it isn’t that important, and as we’ve seen this season without Tunsil, the Texans haven’t missed him at all.
Earlier this year I wrote about Howard’s performance at offensive guard. This was five weeks ago, and not much as changed.
He’s still an atrocious run blocker, especially in the outside zone game. Houston is running outside zone lead on 1st and 10, making this block even easier on Tytus Howard. The ‘Ace’ block between Justin McCray (#64) and Howard doesn’t need to get to Darius Leonard (#53) now, instead it’s to the Mike linebacker Bobby Okereke (#58).
Howard doesn’t help on Grover Stewart (#90) at all. Instead he evades Stewart, and misses him entirely. Howard has to punch the outside half of Stewart and turn him, allowing McCray to take over.
Howard latches onto the second level fine, but it doesn’t matter, because he put McCray in an impossible position against one of the best interior defenders in the NFL. Stewart bludgeons into the backfield and trips up Mark Ingram.
It’s the same run design. Now he helps on Stewart, but he sticks on the block for too long. He doesn’t make a dent at the second level. A big gain is limited to five yards.
On 1st and 15 Houston runs split outside zone left with Pharoah Brown (#85) pulling back across the formation to seal the edge. Howard has to make the same block again. Striking the outside half of Jordan Phillips (#97), before climbing up to Isaiah Simmons (#8).
It’s more defensible on this block to quickly leave to the second level, since he isn’t working back to the middle linebacker, and is trying to catch electricity. Howard does the opposite. He sticks on the block the entire way, and never peels off. He incorrectly narrows his steps before contact. His head is on the sternum rather than the outside shoulder. The double team barely makes this block and never gets up to the second level. Simmons is free to chase Ingram out of bounds.
Houston is nearly halfway through the season and he still doesn’t know his assignments. The Texans run midzone left from their own endzone toward Howard’s side. Instead of block A’Shawn Robinson (#94), he blocks down, handing over the tackle for a loss.
Tim Kelly has shied away from the outside zone game lately. At the beginning of the season he tried to run an outside zone heavy scheme, something that was silly, yet refreshing, since it meant Houston had nailed down a run scheme. Historically the Texans would run a little bit of everything and be terrible at all of it. They’ve attempted to run more power and trap with Howard as the lead puller. He’s been a good puller until the Miami game where he missed multiple blocks. He doesn’t bring enough punch and clean the hole out well enough. His head placement is sometimes incorrect which allows the defender to play the ball. It’s the only aspect of run blocking that he does competently.
The biggest problem is the hip to hip play side double teams are still weak and ineffective. On the opposite side of these plays that require a pulling guard, are a strong play side double team that always involves the guard.
Houston runs power from the shotgun. Geron Christian (#72) and Howard have a strong duece block to the backside linebacker Ja’Wuaun Bentley (#8). Scharping (#74) will pull to the playside linebacker.
Houston teaches their offensive linemen to slide step away from the block to maintain the gap. Howard takes a slide step away from the block. This creates a conflict. Howard’s second step is longer back to the block. Contact is made lurching and extending. Christian and him punch in unison, but Howard can’t bring enough power to get the first level moving because of this wrong step, and they both lose the pad level battle. Christian Baremore (#90) is the low man. The whole play is clogged because two can’t move one. David Johnson runs right into the block.
The best block Howard has made this season came as a result of the slide step away from the block. Buckner (#99) floats into the ‘A’ gap. Howard strikes the chest, hits Buckner square on, and drives him out of the mud. Christian doesn’t get to the second level, but he finds work, and Scharping executes his pull behind them.
Howard has an Ace with McCray this time on a split inside zone run to the left. Their block has to work from Phillip Gaines (#91) to Samson Ebakum (#50).
Howard makes contact correctly. His head and hands are in the right spot. The pad level is the problem. He’s too high on the block and can’t create any movement. Gaines is lower than him and controls the block. All Howard can do is reach out at the linebacker and is tangled up from behind.
The similar problem is seen on DUO. Gaines (#91) slants to play Christian head up, playing two gaps at once.
Rather than follow the flow with Gaines and work up to Troy Reeder (#51), Howard works back inside, making the second level block impossible. He offers a shoulder, and blocks McCray instead of Aaron Donald (#99). Reeder floats to the ball and makes the play.
Whether it’s inside zone, DUO, power, or trap, the problem is the same. Howard isn’t low enough at the point of contact, he doesn’t create a wedge into his teammate, they don’t drive the first level, and as a result, they never actually pick off anything at the second level.
Howard has never been a competent run blocker. He wasn’t as a rookie, he wasn’t at right tackle, and he still isn’t at left guard. The pass protection has progressed on the interior though. Aside from getting mogged by Deforest Buckner, he’s limited pressure on the interior and has maintained integrity of the pocket.
Pass protecting is secondary to run blocking at this position. The guard is the focal point of the run game. He’s required to move the line of scrimmage vertically to create lanes for the back. Howard is tougher online, than on the field, and looks to tackle defenders to the ground, instead of make competent blocks that create rush lanes for his backs.
This isn’t entirely Howard’s fault. He’s been a great pass protecting right tackle. The organization has failed him by moving him inside. Hopefully in some better future they admit their mistakes and put him back at his rightful position. That’s dubious though. Even with Tunsil hurt, the Texans have opted to play Geron Christian and Charlie Heck at offensive tackle, instead of put Howard where he belongs.
Howard’s selection could have at least provided Houston one starter playing a premium position. Their own bungling of his development, and desire for versatility, is what has crushed his career in Houston. The body. The athleticism. The potential is all there. It’s no different than when he was drafted in 2018. The consistent performance has never arrived.
Pro Football Focus played you with pressure statistics. At Northern Illinois Max Scharping played in a quick pass offense, in front of a mobile quarterback, and immediately turned his back to the quarterback, opening the gate, utilizing a pass set that wouldn’t translate to the NFL. Rather than play the position he was drafted to play, he too moved to offensive guard.
Scharping started at left guard the last two seasons next to Tunsil. His rookie season he was better than Tytus Howard. He was able to use his lateral quickness to stay in front of interior rushers and maintain pocket integrity. He couldn’t move defenders off the ball, or execute one v. one run blocks well because of his strength and lighter weight. Scharping seemed like a potential year in and year out starter if he added the strength to play the position
This never happened. Last year Nick Martin stole all the weights from the weight room. Picking up cans isn’t the same thing as dumbells. The same problems that plagued him a year ago worsened, and his pass protection dropped off. He allowed zero sacks his rookie year, and allowed two last season, while still providing scummy run blocking.
His career has fallen apart at right guard. He’s now unplayable. Last week Scharping was benched for meandering gypsy McCray, and Houston started rookie center Jimmy Morrissey, tangling their entire offensive line against a high blitz defense, all to keep Scharping off the field. The decision was warranted, even though it was done a week early.
There are two basic issues that deride Scharping’s performance. He’s weak and he’s soft. There’s a level of strength required to play offensive line, and there’s a level of tenacity required to mash around on the frontlines. Scharping doesn’t have either. He’s a broken ice cream machine.
Houston can’t and doesn’t run power, counter, and trap in one direction. Scharping is the antithesis of Howard’s pretty alright pulling. His drop step is correct. The fundamentals are here. He makes the correct block. He’s mushy at the point of attack. He runs and catches. Full speed, running, and he still doesn’t bring enough power to clean out the hole and move safeties and linebackers.
There shouldn’t be a world where a safety does this to a pulling guard.
This same problem plagues him when run blocking in general. Houston is running outside zone left on 1st and 10 in the redzone. Scharping has to reach the ‘3’ technique rookie Christian Baremore (#90). Charlie Heck shouldn’t help on this block unless Baremore slants to the ‘C’ gap, or he two gaps this run, and plays Heck head up. Heck should offer a hand of help to Auclair (#83) before climbing to Kyle Van Noy (#53).
Scharping’s footwork is perfect here. His feet place him in the correct spot to make this block. His aim is off. His head lands on the sternum instead of the outside shoulder. Most importantly, he doesn’t punch Baremore in the chest. His hands are wide. He wraps Baremore and catches him. Compare the two. Baremore is the teacher. He strikes Scharping in the chest, and presses him. From there he sits, follows the back, and finds his way to the ball.
It’s outside zone again. Now Scharping is climbing to the second level to take on linebacker Dont’a Hightower (#54). Hightower flows to the ball, comes low, and bashes Scharping. He’s the attacker, the aggressor, and Scharping is the bag taking on the blow. Lindsay is a moleman who buries into the tackle.
He’s the nail, and the defense is the hammer. Scharping is a catcher, a grabber, a holder, he doesn’t strike and drive in the run game.
There’s also too many missed assignments from Scharping. His brain is broken. These aren’t learning mistakes. It’s year three.
Tim Kelly used to love running from three tight end sets. This time Heck is in as a sixth offensive lineman with two tight ends in the game. Houston runs DUO. They have two combo blocks between Scharping and Britt, and Howard and Tunsil. Lindsay is reading Shaq Thompson (#7) and is making his cut off of him. The duece between Howard and Tunsil should get to Thompson. Howard and Britt’s Ace should work to the weakside linebacker.
Derrick Brown (#90) plays the ‘A’ gap and the outside half of Britt. Scharping has a kill shot. He could drive the side of Brown off the ball then peel to the second level. Instead he’s high, leaning, and stomping his feet into the block. Blocking the second level hasn’t even crossed his mind. Jeremy Chinn (#21) comes into the box and contains the cutback.
Head down. Stomping feet. Can’t find the second level.
His greatest sin comes in pass protection. The fat teenagers of America are taught how to pick up T-E and E-T stunts in middle school. It’s year three, and Scharping still over commits and allows the free rusher to sprint through his gap.
It’s 3rd and 8. Houston has a split shotgun backfield with Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson. Johnson is the hot route. He’ll look to help on a free interior rusher. If no one arrives he’ll leave in the flat. Houston is sliding their protection one gap left, and blocking man on man, or big on big to the right. Scharping has the first defender, Heck has the second, and Lindsay will take the exterior rusher. Remember, interior defenders have a shorter path to the quarterback.
New England runs a simple T-E stunt. Kyle Van Noy (#53) rushes the ‘B’ gap, and Matthew Judon (#9) loops around him. Rushers have to maintain their lanes. Get two defenders in the same gap and the quarterback has a free rushing lane. When a defender commits to a gap like this, the loop has to be expected. Scharping should stay square move Van Noy to Heck, and then slide step wide to wait for Judon. Instead he turns his shoulders and overcommits, giving Judon the free rush lane, and allows the quarterback hit.
He’s learned a new trick this year. He’s a slimy pig who attempts to spin back and get in front of the rusher. It doesn’t work. Over and over again he’s been picked apart by interior stunts.
Pass protection used to be his greatest skill. This season he’s been chewed up by bullrushes. Interior rushers have picked him up and carried him to the quarterback.
Against top interior rushers like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald, he doesn’t have the hands to reside on the same planet as them. He’s a displaced hologram. Defenders materialize in the backfield.
There maybe a future where Scharping can play for an outside zone offensive line where a great offensive line coach can mold him into something better. Even though he’s gelded and meek, he does have lateral quickness, the only aspect of his game carrying over from being a former tackle.
Houston runs outside zone lead with Antony Auclair (#83) leading up to Tremaine Edmunds (#49). Scharping is able to help on the ‘3’ technique, before working back to the safety Cam Lewis (#47). It’s a scheme that simplifies outside zone, allowing the backside scoop to work back across the play, instead of chasing down speedy linebackers.
Scharping’s zone step is good, and he redirects back to the defensive tackle well. He’s a dolphin though. Rather than strike with hands he’s flippers with his elbows out. He stays on the block though. He’s a sun the tackle orbits around, turning his shoulders, allowing Marcus Cannon (#61) to take over. The timing is perfect from the first to the second. He strikes Lewis as he flows to the ball, and uses one arm to extend him away from the play. Mark Ingram (#2) cuts across this block. Savor it. It’s one of the rare successful outside zone runs Houston has had this year.
The only thing he does kind of well is block the second level. This of course means his head is up and is actively ready to make these blocks. It’s inside zone. Scharping works back against the play to help Cannon with his block. Does he strike the defensive tackle, does he jolt him backwards, does he help Cannon to accelerate movement so he he can drive him off the ball? No, no, no. He does take two nice slide steps off the block to pop the filling linebacker.
He has some skill in space. He made the best block of his career on a Casper screen pass touchdown against Cleveland. Trampling downfield he sucked up Ronnie Harrison (#33), the open field safety, to carry Lindsay into the endzone.
An enormous problem. Scharping can’t reach the defensive tackle. He struggles play after play at getting his head on the inside shoulder. He’ll hit the sternum instead and take slide steps to follow the tackle’s path, rather than run his feet and move him off the ball. Scharping doesn’t dictate. He facilitates the defender to the tackle.
The Texans aren’t that team though. They can’t block outside zone. James Campen has had problems of his own—weird quirks like having the guard help back on the nose tackle on outside zone plays, taking slide steps away from the down lineman on combo blocks—and Howard and Scharping haven’t improved this season in year three.
Paint the locker room red. Toss him into some cthonic lair where he can hang around the Troglodytes and discover his shadow. Staple his eyes open and play clip after clip of how to successfully pick up interior stunts. Pump him up until his head is misshapen. Scharping needs a new shell and a psychological change to play offensive line in Houston. After being benched in a lost season for McCray, competition Competition COMPETITION COMPETITION, unless an epiphany happens, Scharping’s career in Houston is over. I heard Nashville is quite nice.
Lonnie Johnson Jr. wasn’t a good cornerback at Kentucky. He was a body drafted to be molded into something else. As a coverage corner, Johnson didn’t have the quickness to stick in front of receivers and mirror their routes, he had to use his size advantage to have success, and too often he didn’t, he couldn’t use his hands to play press man coverage, didn’t play the ball at the catch point, and he struggled to tackle. This is what I wrote after the selection:
Johnson is a size prospect. He has too many holes in his game to expect him to be able to start as a boundary corner right away. He doesn’t have the quickness to play in the slot either. This is a problem. The Texans didn’t improve their interior pass rush this offseason. They signed Bradley Roby, who is a liability as a CB1 and struggles against the best receivers in the league. Johnathan Joseph is old and can’t stick on downfield routes anymore. The Texans needed a cornerback who can contribute right now, right away. Johnson isn’t the man coverage corner they needed.
The one way Johnson should see the field in 2019 is in Cover Three and Cover Four. In these coverages, where Johnson takes on a quadrant, turns, runs along the sideline, and then plays the ball from there, he could be playable as a rookie. He understands zone coverage well. He knows how to peel off from one receiver to another and find the ball, as seen in this Citrus Bowl interception and that previous flat route tackle.
Lonnie Johnson is length and strength. He needs to learn how to utilize it. A body. A project. Hopefully his rookie season plays out like the first hour of a comic movie, with him spending 2019 figuring out how to use his powers. Maybe one day he will, but for now, Johnson will be a liability on the field unless he’s used in specific zone coverage situations.
The same problems that afflicted Johnson in Kentucky carried over to the cornerback position. Aside from holding Travis Kelce in the slot against Kansas City, he was consistently devoured in man coverage. His rookie year he allowed a completion percentage of 63.6%, 12.1 yards a completion, an average depth of target 12.1 yards, a quarterback rating of 111.6, and allowed 4 touchdowns.
Last season he made the move from cornerback to safety, and this year he has played entirely at the safety position, and recently was benched for Eric Murray, after flailing away back there.
Johnson Jr. is a right fielder. He isn’t a center fielder. There’s zero intuition at the position. Johnson Jr. is a see it and break on it safety. If he sees the route in front of him, and breaks on it, he can make plays on the ball. This was seen on his only non fluky interception against New England.
Houston is playing Tampa Two. Nelson Agholor runs a deep curl route against Johnson Jr. Roy Lopez chops, long arms, and swims to create interior pressure. Mac Jones has made mistakes all season against interior pressure; this is no different. Lonnie (#1) is able to shove Agholor off his inside shoulder, drive through him, and pick off a pass that is placed in the incorrect spot.
It’s cover four. He comes down and tackles the hook to Cooper Kupp in the redzone.
There’s skill there. When he sees it and breaks on it he can make plays. There’s so much more to the position than this.
His other two interceptions were just being in the right place at the right time.
Houston has played Johnson Jr. at two different positions this year. Double high safety, and the deep middle safety in Cover One and Cover Three, a role he took over when Justin Reid was injured, and he maintained to keep Reid closer to the ball.
In Cover Two Johnson Jr. didn’t have the ability to defend two routes at once. Teams would stress him and put him in conflict. He’d overcommit to one route, or cover the wrong one, creating wide open throws.
Against the Colts, Indy was able to score using a scissors route concept. Mo Alie-Cox runs the corner, and the ‘Z’ wide receiver runs the post. Houston is playing Tampa Two, meaning Christian Kirksey (#58) will roll to the intermediate middle and help cover the seam or post. These routes put Johnson Jr. directly in conflict. If he chases the post, throw the corner, if he chases the corner, throw the post.
The outside cornerbacks are supposed to press the outside receiver into the field, towards the zone coverage where there are bodies. From there they peel off and defend the flat with their eyes, and shrink the corner with their body. If there isn’t a flat threat they’re supposed to roll deeper backwards. Desmond King (#25) doesn’t peel off deep enough without a flat threat. Johnson Jr. has Kirksey covering the post, the corner is open. His feet get stuck. Rather than drive on the corner he thinks, not knowing what to do. The slight hesitation is all Carson Wentz needs to hit the corner right in front of Johnson Jr., who of course reacts by berating his teammate.
Good safeties, like Justin Reid, will run at the post, then roll back to defend the corner, baiting the quarterback into making a throw that isn’t open. Johnson Jr. isn’t a nuanced defender. The toolbox is empty. There’s just a warped level and a dull pencil in there.
Same coverage. Arizona is running two verticals. They have a receiver running the seam, and A.J. Green down the sideline. Johnson Jr. runs the seam, despite having the linebacker already doing so, which leaves Green standing wide open along the sideline. This is on Johnson Jr. once again.
Lovie Smith went away from Cover Two and Tampa Two. The Texans don’t have the linebacker play to pull it off, or the pass rush. Too often routes weren’t passed correctly, and their defenders, like Johnson Jr., were put into conflict, giving up enormous gains from a two deep shell. Inexcusable.
The Texans have played more Cover Three the last month of the season. This was done to help with their run defense, giving them eight defenders in the box to stop the run. This has also made them susceptible to throws to the middle part of the field. Johnson Jr. has also failed at single high. The number one rule for the free safety in this coverage is don’t let anything get passed you. Twice this year he’s allowed enormous gains on post routes where the receiver has gotten by him.
On 1st and 10, the Rams run a play action pass against a Cover Three shell. It’s a simple deep post to Van Jefferson against Vernon Hargreaves III (#26) with Johnson Jr. playing deep middle. He can’t let anything get past him. He tries to run under the post, instead of ontop of it, allowing Jefferson to fly by both of them. Two Texans defenders can’t cover a basic route, playing a basic coverage.
This one is trickier. Buffalo runs a Pin concept (deep post-deep in), the perfect cover three beater. Houston has Hargreaves III covering the post, and King covering the in, against play action. The in is shallow and isn’t a real threat, that being said, Johnson Jr. works back in this direction. This allows Emmanuel Saunders (#14) to get across his face and beat him to the sideline. Allen puts it right on the edge of the Earth.
He has zero feel for the deep middle position. Thirty yards off the ball. D.J. Moore stands still 24 yards downfield. He’s flat footed, standing still, when he catches the deep hook.
The free safety is the last line of defense. It has to be a player who understands pursuit angles to limit yards after the catch, and can tackle, to ensure players don’t scamper in the endzone untouched. Johnson Jr., like other Texans defenders, needs to take Geometry next summer school and understand how angles can create a shorter path, and he still, just like at Kentucky, can’t tackle.
The Texans are playing Cover Three Sky, meaning the safety has the flat. This time it’s Justin Reid (#20), playing strong safety to help against the run. Christian Kirksey (#58) breaks on the hook instead of carrying the post. Zach Ertz is wide open. The reception isn’t on Lonnie, but everything afterwards is. Look at the angle he takes to make the tackle, and compare it to the angle he should take. He runs flat downhill, instead of towards the sideline, giving up a walk in and embarrassing touchdown.
It’s the same problem. This time it’s Christian Kirk running the post, and Kirksey actually carries it. Johnson Jr. sees it, makes a break on it, but rather than running under the route to make a play on the ball, he comes over the top. He jostles Kirk, who makes the catch despite the contact before the ball arrives.
As a single high safety, the defender isn’t always going to be able to play the ball in the air. Sometimes the body has to do it. Bones have to be crushed to create incompletions. Johnson Jr. talks more with his fingers and mouth than with his body. The Texans play cover one. The post holds Johnson Jr. He redirects across the field to defend the deep in to Stefon Diggs. Josh Allen puts it on his back shoulder, away from Desmond King (#25), but it opens the door for Johnson Jr. to make the play. The angle is poor here too. He widens before running to the ball, instead of coming at a sharp angle. And rather than play the ball at the high point, he lowers the basket, and delivers a hit after the catch has been established.
In general, Johnson Jr. can’t tackle. Running backs go through him, and around him. Seven yards becomes fifteen. Cornerbacks have to run back to save enormous gains from becoming atrocities.
Johnson Jr. has run out of positions to play. He can’t play two deep, he can’t play single high, he can’t play man coverage, the Texans don’t have anywhere to play him. After being benched for Eric Murray, Johnson Jr.’s time in Houston maybe over. The Texans drafted an archetype, a body, and needed to mold it into something greater. They didn’t use enough water. The kiln was busted. The Johnson Jr. pick has been a failure.
The rest of the draft class is no longer on the roster. Kahale Warring was too much of a Chad for the Houston Texans, and has found himself on Buffalo’s practice squad. Charles Omenihu was never going to be a passable edge rusher, and was instead a good interior rusher. The Texans played him out of position this year, benched him because he was terrible playing out of position, and have since turned him into a 2023 sixth round pick. Xavier Crawford doesn’t exist. Cullen Gillaspia is a cowboy without horses living in New York.
Houston isn’t a rebuilding team, because they haven’t even started the rebuild. They have one of the oldest rosters in football, signing a horde of veterans to one-year contracts, instead of doing what rebuilding teams do: acquire as many draft picks as possible, cast a wide UDFA net, play the kids, sign younger players with some allure of upside, and pay off their bad contracts. The Texans 2021 season is a special kind of hell. They aren’t only terrible, but the cabinet is barren too.
The Texans are in the place they are in not only because of the Tunsil trade, the egregious Bill O’Brien overpays, the alienation of their franchise quarterback, but also because the last time they had draft capital, they took seven swings and missed on each and every one of them.
Maybe there’s a future for Howard at offensive tackle again. Maybe with enough time he can figure out guard, despite being a terrible run blocker every year of his professional career. The end is near for Scharping and Johnson Jr. though. The last vestiges of draft capital haven’t developed into anything better this season. The 2021 Texans season has been horrendous for hundreds of reasons, yet, the worst on field one of them all, is the stagnant development of their first three selections from the 2019 NFL Draft.