Two 3-4 football teams are coming to NRG Stadium on Sunday. One of them will leave 4-4 and put themselves right back in the thick of the race for the seventh playoff spot in their conference. The other one will be behind the eight ball at 3-5. At this point, the nerds in Vegas seem to think the Houston Texans (-2.5) will win a close game (DraftKings.com). A lot of that is home field advantage, so both teams would likely be a pick em’ game on a neutral field.
We have been using PFF scores to look at each team’s top five guys. This is not necessarily the end all be all of human existence, but we also know Bobby Slowik used to work for PFF. We know they probably pay attention to these things. Scores over 80 usually are reserved for Pro Bowl type players. Scores of 70 and above are solid starters.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Top Five
S Antoine Winfield— 88.2
OT Tristan Wirfs— 81.7
WR Chris Godwin— 79.7
DT Vita Vea— 79.5
DE Shaquil Barrett— 78.8
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in an interesting place as an organization. They were built to win when Tom Brady was playing out the string. He retired and that void still has not been replaced. Baker Mayfield ranks in the top half of quarterbacks, so he has been good enough. Most of these guys are holdovers from that title winning team. It creates a kind a fascinating dynamic as you’d think they would be rebuilding, but there are too many good players there to fully go in the tank.
Houston Texans Top Five
LB Blake Cashman— 89.8
WR Nico Collins— 87.4
DE Will Anderson— 79.7
DE Jonathan Greenard— 77.3
CB Steven Nelson— 77.0
Thus, we reach a divide between advanced analytics and old-fashioned stats you can see with the naked eye. Jonathan Greenard leads the team in sacks with 5.5. That translates to more than 12 if he continues for the full 17 games. Anderson only has the one sack, but he has a tremendous win rate on pass rushes. He also has been playing the run very well according to the advanced analytics.
Of course, Cashman and Collins are the combination of basic and behind the scenes dominance you expect out of Pro Bowl guys. Since both players were here last year and were not productive, you have to hand it to this new coaching staff and their ability to get the most of out of guys.
What will the Bucs offense do to the Texans?
The Bucs are 26th in yards, but not every team has had their bye week. They are 23rd in yards per play and that is probably a closer representation of who they are. However, they are 31st in yards per carry. They are one of two teams with a lower yards per carry average than the Texans. So, they are in a very similar situation offensively as the Texans. They have explosive wide receivers and Mayfield is having success so far. If the trust their passing game and allow the run to play off the pass they have a chance to be successful against the Texans defense. If they are determined to make the running game work it will be a long day offensively for them.
What will Bucs try to do to the Texans offense?
Like with the offense, the fact that the Bucs are 14th in yards allowed may not mean much. They are 24th in yards allowed per play. They are 12th in yards per carry average against. The Bucs will try to shut down the Texans running game and make them one dimensional. This will open up things for their pass rushers and possibly give them opportunities to make C.J. Stroud make a mistake or two at the wrong time.
They are 23rd in total passing yards allowed, but with the bye week that is a bit deceiving. More important than the yardage, they have given up only eight touchdowns and have had seven interceptions. So, expect them to give up some passing yards on the game, but they might be stingy with the big plays and touchdowns.
What will the Texans offense try to do to the Bucs?
The Texans are 31st in rushing yards per attempt. It is time to stop trying to be a ball control running team. We are getting to the half way point in the season. You are what you are at this point. When this team is at its best it is because C.J. Stroud is getting the ball into the receivers’ hands in position to gain yards after the catch. Nico Collins and Tank Dell are a dynamic combo and it is time to focus on them and not the running game.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t run the ball at all. It just means that the running game needs to complement the passing the game and not the other way around. Other teams do this successfully. Defenses key on stopping the pass and that opens up the run. For the Texans to be successful in the short-term, this is how they will have to operate. It might also mean trying Mike Boone and Devin Singletary instead of assuming Dameon Pierce is the guy.
What will the Texans defense do to the Bucs?
The Bucs are essentially the Texans in the NFC. They have a new quarterback and experienced wide receivers. Their running game sucks. In fact, they are maybe the only team in the NFL worse at running the football than the Texans. The Texans defense has been increasingly good at stopping the run. So, essentially the blueprint is the same as it was against the Panthers. Stop the running game and then get after Baker Mayfield. Hopefully you get to him before he can get the ball out to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.