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Texans v. Giants Review: Quick Thoughts

Here are some of the finer details from Sunday’s game.

New York Giants v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

I don’t have rhetoric in me. That was all used up yesterday. But what I got are some thoughts on the game yesterday, some GIFs, and some bones. I’m lost.

  • It’s absurd that this offense is no different when Brandon Weeden runs it as opposed to when Deshaun Watson runs it. I was ecstatic when Bill O’Brien talked about changing the offense up during the offseason. Maybe he understood last year was an unsustainable and cute little five game run and knew he needed to expand upon it to continue to bomb defenses. He didn’t. What he meant by his statement was that he was going to go back and run the same old terrible offense he ran before Deshaun Watson became the Texans’ quarterback. One filled with inside runs, throws out to the flat, and hoping DeAndre Hopkins can catch enough passes to get them to 20 points. The only bright spot or real difference this year is the utilization of Will Fuller V to take advantage of the double coverage Hopkins has been dealing with.

No longer is Watson used as a runner. His play-fakes don’t mean anything. The jet sweep fake is never going to be a jet sweep. It’s an empty gesture. It’s a “How’s it going?” when the next words are ignored. Houston rarely runs the zone read. They didn’t even run it often against a Giants’ defense that was beat by both Blake Bortles and Dak Prescott doing just that.

Worse, Watson looks great running the ball despite his reconfigured knee. On a rate and per play basis, Watson’s rushing numbers are similar to last year’s. Yesterday, he had five carries for 36 yards, which is 7.2 yards per carry. He’s rapid and missing tackles. He doesn’t look any different than last year.

The only excuse for this malpractice is preservation. They’re worried about Watson re-injuring the ACL he tore last year. That’s the only reasoning that can be given for the decision to force Watson, a young quarterback who has plenty to learn, to win locked in the pocket from a shotgun formation. That’s it. That’s the only thing that can explain why O’Brien is wasting everyone’s lives.

There isn’t a reason for Houston continuing to run the ball over the interior of the line of scrimmage. The best part of the Giants’ defense is their inside run defense. Damon Harrison is cheese-clogging bowels, constipating opponents’ inside running games. Get the ball on the edges and over the tackles, away from Harrison, and force New York’s linebackers to make plays. But no. Instead Lamar Miller finishes the game with ten carries for ten yards.

At 0-3, the season is pretty much done from the perspective of making the playoffs. At 0-3, I don’t even know if I want to see the Texans use Watson as a runner and go back to what worked so, so well last year. Keep him healthy through this season. Let him see as much as possible. Navigate the professional pocket passing development. Then hope whatever new future coach you hire can unleash him in an offense that actually fits his skill-set.

I don’t know. I’m just so listless.

  • My opinion on O’Brien entering this season is that I didn’t like him because of his arrogance, that he wasted J.J. Watt’s prime with terrible quarterbacks that he selected, and that he ignored making any meaningful decision regarding the quarterback position despite the team having the talent to win since he took over. O’Brien hid behind his win-loss record. He won close games thanks to a defense and the offense doing just enough. Now that his win-loss record has finally caught up to him, the mirage is over. That isn’t your tent. That’s just a rock.

That being said, I did think you had to stick with O’Brien for this season. The offense was too great during that little run to move on after a 4-12 record that was inflicted by injuries. I thought giving him an extension was dumb. Why not wait and see if he could do it again? There was no need to rush to add the perception of stability. If the team was great, O’Brien would sign a new deal here anyways.

Now it looks like O’Brien will be gone sometime soon. During the year or after, I don’t know, but it can’t happen soon enough. This team is too talented and too healthy to start off 0-3 and lose to a tackleless, Blaine Gabbert led team or to fail to take advantage of any of the Giants’ obvious weaknesses.

  • It was impossible to tell yesterday what was going on with the passing offense specifically because of television constrictions, but it looked to be the same thing:

Hopkins and Fuller on opposite sidelines. Everyone else in isolation.

I mean, it took until the third quarter for Hopkins and Fuller to run a route combination together, one that subsequently created an easy Fuller completion. There was also a lot of Watson holding onto the ball forever, scanning, searching, and never finding anything at all.

Even when Houston’s pass protection is good, the offense still struggles. Of course, once again, the protection was consistently terrible. Juli’en Davenport was a perfectly acceptable left tackle last season, but he has been a disaster and is completely lost on the right side this year. Davenport is a left tackle. He hasn’t been able to instantly switch over the right. I don’t know how you can play him any longer. He already has seven penalties this season. He committed a Jeff Allen number of false starts (3) and added a holding call that negated a touchdown. I don’t know who you replace him with, but you can’t keep running him out there.

On the other side, Martinas Rankin looked pretty good (!) in the first half. He wasn’t getting beat around the edge by speed and rips. Things fell apart in the second half. His punches weren’t hitting the chest. He was playing high. Defensive ends opted to bull rush, went right through him, and found success in that.

All this talk that Rankin is a guard is silly. He can play left tackle. I wish he played right tackle. The feet, hands, and strength are there. He’s just in a wild situation going from a foot injury riddled training camp, to playing tackle at both spots in the third and fourth preseason games, to starting NFL left tackle.

Like everything else, O’Brien isn’t helping matters. Edge defenders are rarely chipped. Their rookie tight ends that are better blockers than Ryan Griffin aren’t playing enough. The majority of third down pass plays are in empty sets. The quarterback isn’t getting the ball out quickly. The release point is usually the same. Play-action is rarely used to change the cadence of the rush. Defensive linemen can just go after Watson and get to him without worrying about anything other than the player in front of him.

  • Kareem Jackson’s move to safety was something that has needed to happen for a while now, and this game was another example of why. Early in the game, he came downhill from the safety position and lopped the legs off Saquon Barkley, turning him into Lieutenant Dan. It was a perfect tackle. The best part was the timing of it. Jackson starts his run once the back is out of his first broken tackle attempt to catch Barkley when he’s easier to bring down.

It’s impossible to tackle Barkley on the first try every time. The key is not to miss the second attempt. That’s when horrible things happen. On Barkley’s touchdown, this is precisely what happened. The Giants ran an inside zone play. The blocking was great on their end. They moved the first level and sucked up both linebackers. There isn’t even a real tackle attempt here. Houston couldn’t even attempt the crucial and nearly impossible first tackle. D.J. Reader is able to turn his back on the block and dive at Barkley, but come on, that’s not a real tackle attempt on a back of Barkley’s caliber. Instead, it was up to Jackson to take down Barkley, and on this pseudo second tackle attempt, he misses. Barkley saunters in to score.

Houston did a pretty nice job tackling Barkley on the second attempt, and they had plenty of second tackle attempts. I counted nine Barkley broken tackles in this one, an absurd amount that is probably too low. Barkley’s longest run was only 24 yards; he picked up 82 yards on 17 carries, a 4.8 yard average. He also had five catches for 39 yards, seven yards a reception, and his longest catch was for 21 yards. Against a player of Barkley’s caliber and ability, the defense did a fine job.

  • Barkley is a supreme talent. The way he stops and starts is like flicking on a light. He makes cuts with his legs scraping the turf. He can catch passes and pass protect. It’s imperative to wrap up and bring everything when tackling him, yet he makes this a rarity with jukes and spins that leave the defender sampling the tackle instead of getting a full grasp. I was a baby when Barry Sanders played. I would hear stories about what made him special; namely ,those knee-scraping jump cuts. It’s only three games into Barkley’s career, but I feel like this is what that felt like.
  • Lisa P. is back! J.J. Watt is back! The greatest defensive player of all-time finally had one of those all-time games. He had eight tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, and countless other pressures. I’m fiending right now. I’m scratching at my neck waiting for that All-22 to drop, waiting for the dude from Pro Football Focus to give me those counting stats.

Watt’s plays weren’t end of the game stat padding, either. He was crucial in this game not becoming a blowout, willing it to become one where Houston clawed its way back in. The first was a third and nine pressure with the Giants fee-fi-fo-fumming their way to the red zone. Watt was matched up against tight end Rhett Ellison, who had a pretty good game, considering what he was up against. Watt long-armed the tight end to drive him back and create extra space for his trademark swim. The swim took Watt around the block right before Nate Solder was able to come back and place a bollard in front of the quarterback. Watt wraps up Eli Manning around his torso. The ball flies high and is overthrown out of bounds.

Back before the back surgery and the broken leg, Watt would murder drives on his own. He’d freestyle around the line of scrimmage and force punts with his own individual efforts. With New York deep in Houston’s territory, Watt had one of his trademark series-destroying drives.

On first down, Watt pops off his inside foot, swims over the first blocker, and splits the double. This is a ridiculous move against one blocker, but one he’s used hundred of times to get around individual blockers and make yard-losing tackles. Watt finishes the play by swallowing up Barkley once he receives the hand-off.

Barkley picks up five on a reception on second down. On third down, Watt is matched up on replacement right tackle Chad Wheeler, who replaced the unplayable Ereck Flowers. Watt’s get-off is aligned exactly with the movement of the football. Chad Wheeler, Pete Wheeler, Tyron Smith, some eight-armed deity, the patron saint of offensive line doesn’t matter, no one could recover after a jump off the line of scrimmage like this. On his way to the quarterback, Watt windmills his arm under the punch for good measure. Instead of murdering Manning, he sticks a big honey covered paw out and forces the fumble. New York recovered. The Giants are lucky to get three instead of nothing at all.

  • Watt is also the only source of pass rush for the Texans right now. He’s the only player Houston had credited with more than one pass pressure entering this game. Yesterday, Jadeveon Clowney was matched up against Nate Solder, and despite it being tougher matchup then going up against Wheeler, it’s one Clowney needed to win. Solder isn’t that good; he has been constantly holding onto defenders to start the season.

Clowney wasn’t stats-good this game. I don’t think he was even football good, but I won’t know for sure until tomorrow. Whitney Mercilus has me screaming like Jeff Rosenstock “IT DOESN’T EXIST!” whenever he’s on the field. Houston’s defense needed to win with pressure from its front four. They couldn’t generate consistent pressure aside from Watt. So Romeo Crennel had to blitz, and even when he did, the Texans couldn’t make a dent against a shoddy pass protection team.

I don’t know what Crennel can do, other than call other blitzes and change the personnel up. He can’t play soft zone coverage because easy, quick slant completions are there for the taking, which eliminates the pass rush. He can’t play man coverage because his cornerbacks are liable to get beat downfield, and even if they cover long enough for havoc to ensue, Houston’s rush has been impotent to start this season. The Texans were among the worst in the league in pressure rate going up against one of the worst pass blocking lines in football; still, despite their nameplate talent, they were unable to get anything rocking at all.

Crennel needs to do more to generate interior pressure. Angelo Blackson, Brandon Dunn, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington, and whoever else has been rushing on the inside hasn’t done anything. The pocket isn’t convex. It’s a flat line like some landscape I want to look out to. Previously, Crennel generated pressure by blitzing Benardrick McKinney or moving Mercilus or Clowney over center. So far there hasn’t been any of that. To attempt to create pressure, Crennel has mostly been rushing six, including safeties, and it hasn’t worked.

It should also be time to jigger their front four around when they play dime and nickel on obvious third down passing downs. Duke Ejiofor has a dominant outside-in move. It’s time to see what he can consistently do out there. Put him on one edge, put Mercilus on the other, and then rush Watt and Clowney from the interior, unless there’s an obvious match-up for Watt to dominate. Something needs to be done. The front seven has been sick. A jolt is needed to resuscitate things.

  • One of my favorite parts of this game was the challenge O’Brien made. In the first half, he challenged an eight-yard completion, one that had zero dramatic impact on the game and didn’t even look like something was remotely wrong. Of course O’Brien lost the challenge and a timeout. At the end of the half, Houston ran out of time to score a touchdown and settled for a field goal. What do you know? That timeout would have been pretty useful.

Later in the game, Barkley caught a long pass that put the Giants in the vicinity of the goal line. It looked like the ball moved as he went to ground while the defender swatted at it. There was a possibility it wasn’t a catch. O’Brien called a timeout. There wasn’t a challenge. Even if he didn’t call the timeout to coax a challenge and you’re going to call a timeout here anyways, why not challenge the call? That second red flag doesn’t mean anything outside the two minute warning. If you lose, you only lose a timeout that was going to be called anyways. This isn’t as erroneous as the first bad challenged decision, but it’s another example of that part of the game O’Brien has been terrible at managing throughout his time here.

  • That Fuller V stiff arm was everything. He’s been a really great route runner this year. He has feated on the man coverage opportunities he’s been given since Hopkins is bracketed on just about every play. Against press coverage or man, it doesn’t matter; Fuller can run past press and he can use that speed to cut back to the quarterback against long-distance, fearful, shivering alignment. This is what a breakout looks like. Please, Will, stay healthy.
  • Without constant pressure, Eli Manning was competent again. Maybe he shouldn’t retire. The Giants will probably go as far as their pass protection allows them to.