—After flat out refusing to throw the ball downfield due to their own ineptitude, fear, and lack of talent, or just barely missing, the Gates of Hell have swung open. Opponents have unleashed imps, abominations, goat demons, and tormentors against the Houston Texans.
In the last three weeks, the teams that have faced the Texans have attempted 24 deep passes (passes traveling 15+ yards). Andrew Luck, Sam Darnold, and Nick Foles have completed 15 of these attempts for 489 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and averaged 20.4 yards an attempt. This past week, Foles completed 5 of his 7 attempts for 205 yards and one sea-to-shining-sea touchdown to Nelson Agholor. Sure, losing Johnathan Joseph for a bit and Kareem Jackson for the game hurt, but each member of Houston’s secondary was attacked at various times. Foles finished the game completing 35 of his 49 attempts for 471 yards. He averaged 9.6 yards an attempt.
Foles started the game with quick passes, throwing short and taking advantage of man coverage. The Eagles targeted Zach Cunningham specifically when he was covering Darren Sproles. Cunningham was beat multiple times by running backs to start the season, and along the waves, this strategy had been lost. Foles’ only first half deep pass completion came on 3rd and 1 with Deante Burton matched up against Alshon Jeffery. Sproles sat in the backfield. Jeffery ran a slant and sat, forcing Cunningham to take a narrow angle to Sproles. He was stuck turning and chasing, unable to find the ball. Philadelphia scored their first touchdown on a similar play in the first quarter.
The Eagles did try to attack Houston deep downfield earlier in the game. Johnathan Joseph just made a miraculous play to keep it from happening. Philly went with two tight ends left and Jeffery isolated with Joseph on the right. Foles was able to pull the safeties short, leaving Joseph covering Jeffery on his own. Foles made a nice throw even if it was a little short. With the height advantage Jeffery has and his skill set, getting it close is usually good enough. The ball flew over Joseph’s right arm and came into Jeffery’s right shoulder. He was unable to high-point the ball and catch it with his hands. Just because you miss the first time doesn’t mean you don’t get a second attempt. Joseph swatted his arm down to knock the ball away after it flew above it. Houston wouldn’t get this lucky later on.
Jeffery left the game later because of dehydration. He came back and made two enormous catches. Houston played more zone coverage in the second half after losing one-on-one matchup after one-on-one matchup in the first half. Jeffery ran a slant from the slot. The route put him behind the linebackers and under the safeties. Justin Reid tried to take Jeffery out with a shoulder.
This was a mistake. Jeffery has at least ten pounds on Reid. They collide like bumper cars, and Jeffery cuts out to the sideline to turn 17 into 52.
The second was at the end of the game on third and ten. The Eagles had three wide receivers bunched right. The Texans were back to man. Joseph was on Jeffery and was in off-man coverage. Aaron Colvin and Reid had the two inside receivers. With Clowney looping inside, Foles tossed one up high to Jeffery. This time he high-pointed the ball, went up, and got it.
The Eagles’ play of the game encapsulated everything I’ve been hollering about all season.
Throw the ball the deep against the Houston Texans.
They can’t cover it. The worst thing that happens is a rare interception that acts as a punt. Houston has four interceptions against downfield passes. But whenever the offense schemes for one-on-one matchups like this, the ball isn’t even 50-50. The opposing offense has the advantage just about every time.
Here Houston looks to be in Cover One. The Texans have three safeties. Andre Hal climbs down as the robber to double Jeffery. Tyrann Mathieu is forced to cover Nelson Agholor, the middle trips left receiver. Mathieu is six yards off Agholor. He takes a zone turn, similar to what you see in Cover Three or Cover Four, rather than backpedaling. By the time we see Mathieu again, he’s chasing Agholor. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney get a little bit of exterior pressure, but Foles pretty much runs up the pocket and heaves it deep. The ball is perfect. He leads Agholor inside since Mathieu is on the outside of Agholor, and the ball is over Mathieu too. Mathieu almost defends it; he’s just a second too late, and the throw is too good.
Regardless of how close he is, Mathieu is chasing the whole way. He’s torched. Because he’s in pursuit, he can’t play the ball as accurately. He even overruns the ball and is stuck diving back to defend it. The Eagles go up by seven.
Throw the ball against the Houston Texans.
—Covering Zach Ertz was the other enormous problem Houston’s defense had in pass coverage. Entering this game, the Texans were 29th in defensive DVOA at covering opposing tight ends, with a rating of 25.9%. Ertz continued the tradition Rob Gronkowski, Jeff Heuerman, Eric Ebron, and others started with 12 catches on 16 targets for 110 yards. Dallas Goedert even caught all three of his targets for 30 yards. There wasn’t a player on Houston’s roster who could cover either of them.
On 3rd and 8, Ertz runs an out route and gets back country wilderness open against Kareem Jackson.
I don’t know what a Deante Burton is, but he tried to press Ertz at the line of scrimmage and got flipped immediately against a simple slant.
When Foles saw man coverage, he looked to Ertz. The Eagles used route combinations to free him up as well, even though they didn’t need to. Here it looks like Colvin is covering Jeffery. Reid runs to cover Ertz in the flat, but he stops right in front of Jeffery. He’s a pin to a three-hole ball. Ertz is open. He makes Dylan Cole miss and then runs past three Texans who give half-hearted to non-existent tackle attempts at the goal line.
The Eagles arrived in game-winning field goal range after picking up a first down on third and ten. Here Mathieu attempts to press Ertz. He gets turned inside, opening up the cut to the sideline on his corner route. The safety doesn’t even get the chance to turn and run. He stumbles, and Cunningham finishes him off.
Cunningham is covering Sproles in the flat. He takes a better angle this time to prevent himself from chasing the route, but by doing so, he runs into Mathieu and knocks him down. Ertz catches the pass and rolls out of bounds.
The enormous problem for Houston is that there really isn’t a way to prevent this. It’s a personnel issue. The ponies in the stable are the ones they’re stuck with. They can blitz more to try and create quicker pressure to deal with the repercussions on the back end. But other than that, the Texans struggle at any type of coverage they’ve been running, whether it’s zone or man. Houston isn’t going to be able to survive on the back end whenever Watt and Clowney aren’t diabolical and crushing their matchups. This problem has been here the entire season. The only difference between the past three weeks and the rest of the season is the opponent.
—This was another week where Watt was locked down by a great right tackle. Braden Smith shut Watt down two weeks ago. Lane Johnson did the same in this one. The long arms and power rushes weren’t working. Watt was unable to get to the outside shoulder on his speed rush.
Jadeveon Clowney, on the other hand, was a witch doctor. With Jason Peters out of the game, Clowney mauled Halapoulivaati Vaitai with inside moves over and over again. Clowney ended the game with 8 tackles (5 solo), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery that set up a Texans’ touchdown, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 defended pass, and 3 quarterback hits.
Here, on 2nd and 15, Vaiti doesn’t even get a hand on Clowney when he swims inside. I have no idea why Vaitai doesn’t step inside and hinge on this draw play to prevent Clowney from winning inside. The worst possibility becomes a reality.
This is the same move Clowney uses to sack Nick Foles on a two-point conversion. Clowney jams outside to set Vaitai up to punch. He then sticks his foot, cuts inside, and swims inside of the punch. Once again, Vaitai moves air only. Clowney tackles Foles by the face mask. I felt that.
On the strip sack, the Eagles run play action. Everyone is sliding one gap to the right. This leaves Clowney against Goedert. This is a terrible idea. Clowney runs straight ahead and dips under the inside shoulder to break free. I love how Clowney reacts when he’s blocked by tight ends. He doesn’t waste time. There’s never a ton of skill. He just attacks.
Deshaun Watson took care of the rest on the following series. I love this zone read that utilizes Jordan Akins, instead of Ryan Griffin, as a lead blocker.
Here’s the exact same move from Clowney again. Except this time, Vatai saves the day by grabbing Clowney by the waist. The ref actually calls the hold, negating and extinguishing an end of half drive.
Clowney doesn’t get credited with this tackle for a loss; Cunningham does. Clowney makes this play, though. He reads Goeddert’s inside zone steps and swims outside. Clowney is one of the rare players who can use an outside move on the backside of a run play and still find the ball. He then cuts under Ertz, who’s pulling to seal the backside. As an interstate zombie movie monster, Clowney crawls to grab the back by the legs.
Clowney also added pressure from the interior once again. When Romeo Crennel isn’t blitzing, and when Watt is lined up at defensive end, looping Clowney inside or blitzing with him from the interior is Houston’s only source of inside pass rush. Christian Covington and D.J. Reader offer nothing as pass rushers. This is all they got. Clowney swims over Stefen Wisniewski and slams off a hold from him to force a softer toss from Foles.
On the crappy roughing the passer penalty where Clowney hit Foles in the chest and stomped the wind out of him like an elephant sitting on a whoopie cushion, Clowney loops inside and around Jason Kelce. This is an enormous feat. Kelce is one of the best players in the league at picking up stunts.
This idea that Clowney shouldn’t be paid after this season needs to be suffocated. He’s the best run stopping defensive end in football. Although he’s been in the league for five years now, it still seems like he can become a better pass rusher. He relies on his physical ability, and there are refinements that can be made to his pass rushes to turn more almosts into sacks. He needs to learn how to react once his first move is stopped. His dip and rip aren’t quite there yet, which makes his obscene inside moves and bull rushes less effective.
Overall, Clowney is a top ten edge player. He should be paid like it. If the doctors have injury concerns, he should be franchise-tagged. Houston can’t afford to let him get away. He’s the defensive bridge for whenever Watt’s production finally drops off.
To make up for the secondary’s shortcomings, the Texans need both Watt and Clowney to have games like this. An incredible game from one but not the other isn’t going to be enough to beat teams that can push the ball through the air. Both Watt and Clowney have to devour drives on their own, put the offense in advantageous situations, and then hope Deshaun Watson can do enough. If both Watt and Clowney are devouring universes, they’ll have a chance against New England, Los Angeles (C), Indianapolis, or Kansas City. When it’s just one of them performing, 30 points looks like it will be the minimum necessary to win a game in the NFL Playoffs.
—This week in “Don’t Run The Ball Against the Houston Texans,” the Eagles ran the ball 21 times and picked up 56 yards, which comes out to 2.6 yards a carry. Running backs were averaging 3.2 yards a carry against Houston, the lowest mark in the NFL. The Eagles couldn’t run straight ahead against Houston despite having their monstrous interior line healthy again.
The Eagles did have a little bit of success running draws and other plays that purposefully pulled Watt and Clowney up the field. Teams can use their aggressiveness against them. While you wouldn’t want them to play any other way, the option is there.
—Doug Pederson is a crazy bastard. The Eagles converted on all four of their fourth down conversions. Dylan Cole was stuck covering Sproles in the flat. Agholor gets in his way. Cole takes a sharp angle to try and stop the first, but by doing so, he gives up the big play. Reid has to make this tackle here. With the run defense Houston has, any red zone trip isn’t going to be an easy endeavor. He’s way too high when he wraps up Sproles.
On 4th and 3, Goeddert goes in motion. Joseph and Mathieu double Ertz. Rather than pass the route off, Benardrick McKinney is stuck chasing from the inside to the outside. He doesn’t stand a chance. Goeddert is a banana peel away from scoring.
On 4th and goal from the one, the Eagles have their receivers bunched left. Houston is playing man. Colvin is covering Ertz. His legs become tied shoelaces as Ertz runs an angle route for an easy score.
On 4th and 1, Foles sneaks it to get the first.
—The other day I stood up to flush. I’m a post-modern sheep and can’t sit there for seventeen minutes without scrolling through my entire life. My phone slipped. It bounced off each hand. Breath held and focused, I snagged it.
—The only hope Houston has with their defensive struggles in the upcoming postseason is Deshaun Watson. He was outrageous, incredible, spectacular, and all those adjectives they put on report cards to inflate an entire generation’s self-worth and vision of themselves. The Texans have a quarterback they can win because of, not with. Even though Bill O’Brien is actively trying not to have the #1 offense in the NFL, which is so unbelievable, the Texans have a quarterback who can outscore the opponent.
I enjoyed how Houston used their passing game when they were actively moving the ball. When the blitz came they threw hot to DeAndre Hopkins.
Houston threw more play action in Philly than they had throughout the season. This season, the Texans ran play action on 22% of their plays (18th in the NFL), even though they averaged 8.8 yards a play off play action (8th in the NFL). Watson was aggressive with it. I enjoyed his high flying throws in between the levels of the zone coverage.
When things weren’t open, Watson has the ability to do silly things like out run Malcolm Jenkins to the first down marker.
Houston was more aggressive with their first half passing offense than they have been previously. They did have problems, though. They spent third down dumping the ball off to Alfred Blue only to watch him get tackled immediately. Blue has a broken tackle rate of 6.0%. He’s awful in the pass game. If you are utilizing a blocker as a dump-off target, push Jordan Akins or Jordan Thomas out there. They can actually do something. Bill O’Brien once again was playing for field goal position on 3rd and 11 with crappy screen passes, which left his team punting.
O’Brien also went into his shell once Houston finally had a lead. With a lead, Watson only attempted six passes for 24 yards (4 yards an attempt), a 4.2 yard difference from when the Texans were trailing.
Down by one possession, the belt came off. The Texans went to empty five wide receiver sets. They spread things out. They completely ignored a running attack that didn’t work. Their first attempt at coming back ended with a forced fumble. Houston chipped both edge rushers, and neither attempt worked. Davenport was unable to extend Brandon Graham. Blue’s chip missed, and it forced Graham inside and out of Davenport’s grasp. Akins doesn’t jam Chris Long. The end is able to take a wide rush around Lamm. Graham forces Watson to the left, and Long comes from behind to sack Watson and strip the ball.
The Texans’ pass protection was better than expected against the Eagles. They allowed only four sacks, one of which was on Watson for not tossing it away. The pressure wasn’t overwhelming. Watson had enough clean pockets and was able to deal with the rest. But it’s hard to rush the passer when it’s four blocking six. The pressure became more of an issue when Houston spread the field out.
Down by 13, the Texans scored on back-to-back drives to take the lead. Deshaun Watson was unbelievable. I still can’t get over it. My tongue hasn’t grown back. I’ve spent my Christmas leaning sign language and writing on Post-It notes like Arrival alien ink blots. I wish I was a lizard.
Graham knocked Davenport’s punch away and swam over the top once the tackle leaned over. Watson escaped and made an obscene throw to DeAndre Carter on the run. The angle and arm slot are ridiculous here.
The Eagles blitzed. It must be a wonderful life for Watson. As long as he puts the ball on the correct shoulder and gets it in the vicinity of Hopkins, Nuk is going to bring it in. Hopkins is on ice skates sliding to the sideline to make this catch.
Philadelphia brought four with Nigel Bradham covering D’Onta Foreman. Watson seeped out of the pocket to the right. Bradham couldn’t take his eyes off Watson and lost Foreman, giving up a touchdown because he changed the channel and missed the most important part. 29-23.
These two plays, man...these two plays. Watson breaks four tackles and makes Michael Bennett miss twice. This is a glitch in the simulation. The same set of actions repeating itself. Instead of dumping the ball off to Blue, or running a screen, Watson converts by throwing a line drive to Akins.
3rd and 11 again. Watson finds Rasul Butler, the Eagles’ worst starting cornerback, and puts it right over him, giving Smith enough space to pop the question. This is the Watson we fell in love with last season. 29-29, and then 30-29.
I wonder how good Watson could be if he had an offensive coordinator who tried to have the #1 offense in football.
—The Texans’ run offense was once again horrendous. The last three weeks, their running backs have combined for 43 carries for 78 yards. That’s 1.81 yards a carry. Last week D’Onta Foreman and Alfred Blue had 11 carries for 13 yards. I’m going to hurl a swirl of menthol cigarettes, candy canes, and peppermint mocha. Tis’ the damn season.
This week the run offense suffered for, ugh, like, so many reasons. Martinas Rankin missed the linebacker when pulling on power, Zach Fulton couldn’t block Fletcher Cox. There were too many defenders in the box to block, allowing Malcolm Jenkins to fit the edge, Juli’en Davenport stumbled at the second level, and the same could be said for Nick Martin.
But you know what? Who cares? They shouldn’t even run the ball that much to begin with. Throwing the ball is more effective and efficient. The Texans have Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. That should be the staple of their offense. Not running the outside zone with Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue.