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Texans-Rams Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

The future is here. Here are SIX things to watch for when the Texans host the Rams.

Human outline as viewed from Mars. Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Since the turn of the millennium, when our computers didn’t fry and the grid wasn’t sucked dry, the future became imminent. In the months and years proceeding, everything was based around looking like what it might be like when it happened. We were ahead of our time.

Everything was in 3D. Movies, handheld video games, thick graphic t-shirts, Doritos. All of it clunky, all of it fresh from the microwave. We were coming to terms with finally being online. We were in the honeymoon phase of never being bored and having everything all the time, all at once. Designs that were crafted to be sharp turned out clunky and garish. Hell, they even turned the Mountain Dew red.

The future is finally here. I see it every time I watch a Los Angeles Rams game. The logo in the center is a deconstruction of a ram. As little lines used as possible, like a Paris Review squiggle, empty space is filled in by the blue background to create an eye, a nose, and ears. The foundation of the logo, the swooping horn, is in two pieces—the wave and the crescent. The crescent being the shape on the helmet, the only thing that has followed this franchise as it moved around the country. Above it is an elliptical scoreboard that orbits the entire stadium. Fans sit on the field itself, protected by a spongy wall and equipped with round tables, sweet potato hash, and $27 vodka sodas. This is as good as it gets.

Contrasting it is a bright yellow green turf. It’s more real than real. It’s what grass looks like when you imagine it, when you stare at it composed in a frame or on a coloring book scribble. Everything is bright and electric. It’s also ominous. The way we imaged life would look like twenty, ten, five years ago...is now the way life is.

The Rams don’t look like a football team. They look like an Any Given Sunday novelization. Projection and idealization. It’s more simulation than reality. Cold and brutal. Enormous and full frontal. Although there are real life beings trouncing around, trying to kill each other with STOP HATE on their back of their helmets, it doesn’t feel real. There’s a dissociation from it, as if it’s being emitted from a server instead of being played by members of our same species.

WE BEFORE ME. Sean McVay has been ahead of the curve, bringing science fiction, since he arrived to Los Angeles. Taking the outside zone game to the next level. Making 11 personnel a staple. Making two high shells the rage of the game. Sucking everything they can from a Hollister polo and yummy Abercrombie flip-flops. Turning draft picks into star players. Going all in every season, year after year, because the sun is going to supernova one day, leaving everything dead and lifeless until something else takes over. We are all going to die one day.

Back when everything was eXXXtreme and we were imagining the future while attempting to create it, there was a utopic ideal at the heart of it. Everything metal, bright blue and silver, life complete and cups overflowed. Now, that we are here, living it, it’s far from that. No one knows what is real. Truth is convoluted. It’s a cold world. We are dissociated from our fellow man. There’s a general emptiness to everything. The super cities of the futures were liesm sold to us by science fiction, Stumble Upon, and Netflix. We merely eat the bugs, collect our wages, and live in the cages.

None of this is true to me right now. But I feel it’s how a lot of people feel, and it’s what I feel when I see the cold skeletal ram in the center of the field. More importantly, it’s the way everything could eventually be.

But hey, at least the Rams are good.

HIT IT.

1. OUR ANGLERFISH

We built the submarine this summer. We knew heading into this season we would traverse as close as we can to the bottom, before the galactic pressure crushed us, knowing that there is no bottom. Every time we reached another level, there was another stair below our feet, everything can always get darker, something else always remained to be seen in the trench. It’s very cold. There’s little to eat at this depth.

Wait. What’s that? It’s a glimmer. A fuzzy light. Luminous strobe floating through the haze.

For us, Jonathan Greenard is the rare bright spot of light for the Houston Texans 2021 season. For those of us who saw the terrible season upcoming, we were just looking for spats of light, hoping the kids could provide some sort of production, even just an allure for future potential. This didn’t arrive.

Max Scharping was benched for Justin McCray. Tytus Howard is a failure at guard. Charlie Heck is an average pass protector, but is awful in the run game, showing himself to merely be what we expected out of the draft—a competent swing tackle. Lonnie Johnson Jr. can’t play single high, can’t play corner, can’t play double high, is aimless and positionless. Charles Omenihu is an interior rusher lost in space on the edge. Brevin Jordan can’t play a snap. Nico Collins can only catch slants and posts. Davis Mills isn’t even a backup quarterback. I guess Roy Lopez has handled his own, exceeding a sixth round pick selection.

The cabinet is nearly bare. There are flat and flexible crackers, decayed cans of of King Ranch Chicken, and bags of Shredded Wheat, where it’s impossible to tell if it’s wheat shrapnel, or sugar ants floating around.

At least there’s Greenard (#52). The pick that Bill O’Brien screamed about making, was the one that came to fruition. I called it. All credit goes to me. This season Greenard has 6 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 11 pressures and 7 tackles for a loss. He’s gone from playing a quarter of the snaps, to playing more than half.

In the run game, he’s primarily a ‘6’ technique, or ‘6i’ technique. He’s the inside shade of the tight end. Ripping inside he gets inside of Eric Fisher’s shoulder, flows to the ball, and makes a play from the backside. The Colts are trying to wall him off. Instead he’s a leak that bursts.

Greenard is the ‘6’ tech, lined up in front of Jonnu Smith (#81). The Patriots run inside zone. Greenard is low off the snap, dammit, the low man always wins. He wiggles himself into the gap into Smith’s inside shoulder. He moves Smith backwards. The line of scrimmage has been readjusted. When Damien Harris (#37) bounces wide, Greenard clubs Smith, shoves him inside, and moves wide to make the tackle.

This time he’s defending the outside zone. He strikes the chest, making a ‘V’ with his hands, and does more than hold the edge, he drives it backwards. When Christian McCaffrey bounces, he’s a moon bounce, who extends off the block, and makes the tackle for a loss.

He’s held his own in the run game, even undersized at 6’3” 263 pounds for a 4-3 defensive end. He’s made more of an impact in the pass game. Premier defensive ends win their battles against secondary blockers. Greenard does exactly that.

The Carolina Panthers run play action off outside zone, although they can’t run outside zone. Greenard bounces off the side of Ian Thomas (#80), then punches through the inside shoulder of Tommy Tremble (#82). At the tackle point, he doesn’t attack Sam Darnold, he attacks the ball instead, forcing the ball from damn Darnold’s hands.

It’s another tight end. It’s Mo Alie-Cox (#81). Greenard goes inside-out-inside-out and breaks Cox’s ankles OOOOOOOBABY. Liquefied. A puddle with bits of molar and tarsals bubbling around. Something a cenobite would order on a shivering day. Carson Wentz is muddy. Greenard bends the end and vivisects him with a sack.

Now it’s D.J. Humphries (#74). Greenard goes outside in, and converges with Kyler Murray’s scramble, turning a blender of feet, into shrapnel.

Greenard is only source of tangible youth on this defense. He’s the last one left. Justin Reid is a free agent next season, who probably won’t be part of Houston’s long term plans. Greenard has two years left on his contract, he is producing now, only in year two, and could be a fundamental building block of the next good Texans team, when, if every that maybe. Houston’s defense is atrocious. Watch Greenard instead. Bite your lips and imagine a better future.

2. AN ANIMORPH BOOK COVE WHERE IT’S AARON DONALD SLOWLY TURNING INTO A RAM

I know, for this market, for fans of this team, this shall be blasphemous, but Aaron Donald is the greatest defensive linemen I’ve ever seen. J.J. Watt had the highest high, his 2014 season, where he was not only the Texans entire defense, but the entirety of the Texans. Donald has the longevity and the consistency. Every season he plays nearly 16 games, has nearly 10 sacks, 30+ quarterback hits, and around 20 tackles for a loss. This season, finally at the age of 30, he has 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 5 tackles for a loss.

Arms are scythes, hands are knives. He’s a tornado that sifts and violently swirls 3’ above the ground. Enormous mouthpiece. Helmet straps that extend off the buttons they latch too. He looks like an actual ram on the field.

In both the run and the pass game he’s impossible to block. These highlights against San Francisco last year showcase this. There’s a different realm of reality reserved exclusively for him.

He doesn’t subsist only for himself. He’s a charity, and creates for others. Even Clay Matthews had ten plus sacks playing next to him, only to never play anywhere else ever again. It’s 3rd and 5. The Cardinals are sliding their offensive line one gap right with a ‘RINGO’, ‘RICKY’, ‘RHINO’, whatever that starts with an ‘R’ call. Josh Jones (#79) should block the ‘C’ gap. Instead he’s concerned with Aaron Donald. He looks inside, giving Leonard Floyd (#54) a free rush. A violent shove takes down Kyler Murray.

Sometimes worlds collide, and this is what it’s like when they do.

Around Donald this year is Sebastian Joseph-Day, a fat guy who won’t admit it’s time to bump his clothes up a size, fitting in the tiniest thing imaginable; Tyrell Lewis, versatility, who takes a wide edge rush every snap; and Leonard Floyd, the man he turned from draft bust, to $64 million contract signee.

This week Donald gets a malodorous interior weakened by an always running faucet. Tytus Howard has been a wreck at guard. He’s one of the worst run blockers at this position, and has problems against quick movement from one gap to the other. Justin Britt understands hands and leverage, but isn’t the athlete he once was, and can be demolished by bullrushes, or, a long arms that attack his shoulders. Max Scharping was benched for Justin McCray, and is a great depression.

Davis Mills has been fortunate he hasn’t thrown more interceptions under interior pressure duress. Eyes closed. He heaves it up into the pit when an interior defender swallows him up. He can’t think, he can’t escape. He can only heave. Throwing to the middle of the field against pressure is death for Mills.

The Rams are built around two elite players, Donald and Jalen Ramsey. This allows the rest of their defense to either have advantageous matchups, or smaller sections of the field to cover, so they can attack the ball, and have a narrower number of tasks. Against a pass offense that doesn’t exist, against a reeking interior, Donald is the one to watch this week.

3. LET DAVIS MILLS COOK

A baby forms inside its mother’s body. When its in there, the mother’s body no longer is her body, but is a shared body, and is also their body. For nine months the fresh life subsists entirely on her. Her food is its food. Her sleep is its sleep. There they swim and flip inside the ocean of her body. When delivery comes, it finally ejects from the underworld, out and into the external world. Bloody. Squabbling. A new born sun. The mother loves her progeny, but it’s bitter sweet, because she has to share her own with the rest of the world. Its body is no longer shared by her. The world is both theirs, instead of it only being its. Once it is out, it is out though. That’s the end.

Tim Kelly doesn’t understand the biology of mammals. He took Davis Mills out from his womb against New England. Allowing him to throw downfield against a good Patriots pass defense. Hitting a vertical shot on the run to Chris Moore, another to Chris Conley, and a flea flicker also to Chris Conley. The Texans scored 22 that game, the most of the Mills era.

Since then they haven’t managed more than ten. Kelly has attempted to succumb Mills back to the inside of his body and make him in utero again. Even against the Colts, a team without an exterior pass rush, who struggles at staying on top of routes, and defending the deep pass game, Mills was riding his tricycle. Even against the Cardinals, who roved Budda Baker into the box, playing single high for the majority of the game, Mills had the pull ups on.

Davis can make a handful of throws.

He can hit the post against cover three.

He can throw screen passes the offense can’t block.

He can throw the quick slant.

He can throw quick curls, comebacks, and outs, especially off an easy roll out.

That’s it. That’s the entirety of Mills. Houston hasn’t opened the playbook for him, and he hasn’t shown any reason for them to do so. Every week is about surviving, just making it through another week.

Hypothetically, against a team that plays a lot of two high shells, Houston could stretch the under zones horizontally and quick pass them to death. The Texans don’t operate like this though. They don’t have a good short middle passing attack. Everything is to the sideline. And it’s combined with a run offense that ranks last in yards per carry and DVOA.

The Rams should bring Taylor Rapp down from two high to be able to make more plays in the slot and jump on short routes. They have one of the best defensive coordinators in the game in Raheem Morris, and will do everything they can do to eviscerate Mills.

They should blitz more than they typically do. It’s a try out game where they can take the potions they’ve been mixing in the lab come to life. Blow the dust off. Give it a shot. Pull it back out come January.

4. MATTHEW, MY MATTHEW

The differences between Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff, are, one, Stafford can run a shotgun spread offense, something that Sean McVay had abandoned multiple times with Goff at quarterback, and two, Stafford can throw the deep ball. Stafford has completed 24 of 54 passes classified as deep. On those he has thrown for 756 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Only Derek Carr, Tom Brady, and Kyler Murray have completed more deep passes.

Here they all are.

The Rams are great at attacking a safety, or using stacked sets to generate a man v. man matchup to ensure they have wide receivers like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Vance Jefferson all on their own.

Stafford ranks first in DVOA at 37.9%, DYAR with 825, QBR at 78.6, and EPA at .388 per play. He’s an efficiency God. Rescuing him from Detroit turned the Rams from stuck, into a Super Bowl contender once again.

The Texans are screwed. Stacked sets will chew up cover two. Deep posts and route combinations that put Lonnie Johnson Jr. in conflict will eat up cover three, and they can do the same thing in cover four. They can’t play man coverage. Their only hope is forcing turnovers whenever Matthew Stafford tries to stretch the boundaries of his body too far.

5. THE PISS AND THE POT

Dan Campbell gave it his all, along with the Loins, as they threw out everything they had against the Rams. They splashed piss in their eyes, and they pegged their cranium with the pot. D’Andre Swift hit a home run, they played two high and took away the Rams deep passing game, they blitzed to create pressure, and played the run like they landed on a beach in France. Unfortunately, Jared Goff threw a redzone interception with pressure in his face from Aaron Donald, right to Jalen Ramsey, who covered the vertical route from a psuedo trips formation.

Although the Rams controlled the game, their possessions were limited because Detroit had three life changing special teams plays. The scooped up an onside kick, they threw a fake punt pass, and they converted a fake punt run. Even with all of this, they still couldn’t pull off the upset. Despite paying $75 for a mum, Jared Goff went home without his date.

For the Texans to make this game interesting—we aren’t even talking about winning—they need to force turnovers, and they need the incredible to happen. The difference is the Loins have the third ranked special teams by DVOA, whereas the Texans are ranked 26th. When they tried to pull off what Detroit did, this is what they got instead.

Yeah, peel your skin back, I’m thinking it’s going to be a massacre.

6. RIGHT BACK WHERE WE STARTED FROM

It’s all fine to say, “Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget”—and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change.