Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
A deeper look at the Texans’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
—The Texans had settled into an offensive style since they controlled the ball and played keep away against horror movie murder victim Patrick Mahomes. They established the run, won the time of possession battle, threw a ton of slants and posts to DeAndre Hopkins to convert first downs, and then ran the same Darren Fells jet sweep motion option plays. After having two weeks to prepare against an intelligent well coached Ravens’ defense that has competent to great linebackers in Matthew Judon, Josh Bynes, Patrick Onwuasor, and Tyus Bowser, the Texans attempted to run the same offense. It was splotched with blue. It was predictable. It didn’t work.
Watching the game LIVE I felt the Texans didn’t take enough shots down field to play aggressively and try and dictate the Ravens’ league leading offense some. They took shots, or at least attempted to, it just looks like there just wasn’t anything open.
It’s first and ten. The shell of the offense is similar to previously seen play action deep attempts. Each tight end is in a wing position showcasing a max protect look. Duke Johnson is in the backfield reading for a potential blitz, and if nothing shows, he seeps into the flat. DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills are tight wide receivers, playing closer to one another to cross deep down the middle of the field.
Now we don’t have the All-22 yet, but look at Hopkins and Stills’s routes. Stills is breaking inside. Hopkins delays his release before breaking inside. It’s the same deep crossing passing pattern. Deshaun Watson bounces and bounces and bounces and doesn’t find anything open. Fells and Johnson run out routes, but who knows if they’re open. This is a manufactured deep shot where the deep passing routes are the same they’ve been running since the Atlanta game.
Watson runs around. Laremy Tunsil gives up on his block, and he’s done this throughout the season at times. Every time you think he understands he needs to block forever to help Watson extend the play he does something like this. Matthew Judon is Lawrence Taylor now and strip sacks Watson.
When Watson is breaking out of tackles and throws touchdowns everyone craps themselves and loves it, as you should. Miscues are going to happen when you play like this. Occasional bad sacks are going to be taken. The 10% of the bad is worth the 90% of the unbelievable. The unbelievable is the reason why Houston was 6-3 to begin with.
On deep passing attempts Watson was 0/3. He didn’t even attempt a pass over 20 yards last week. The non-call defensive pass interference was one of those attempts. They stack Hopkins and Keke Coutee on the right and have Stills isolated to the left. Baltimore has four really good cornerbacks in Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters, and Marlon Humphrey. They’re playing straight man here. It doesn’t look like anything shorter is open. Everyone is running deeper sideline routes. Watson heaves it to the best receiver in the league who’s wearing a man for a coat.
This was a great throw from Watson. To the corner and away from Humphrey. Hopkins would have had a play on the ball if he wasn’t grabbed. Bill O’Brien challenged it because he hasn’t watched another football team this year. You have to take a can opener to the receiver’s skull and eat his brains to have a pass interference challenge overturned. This one wasn’t overturned. Of course it wasn’t. The Texans could have used this timeout at the end of the half.
A correct pass interference penalty sets off a butterfly effect and alters the entire course of human evolution. Who knows exactly how this game would have played out if they make the correct call? But the Texans had drives when the score was 0-0, 0-7, 0-14, and lost 41-7. It’s ridiculous to blame the refs on this loss.
Houston tried to have their offense stem from the same option action that is a Fells jet sweep motion out to the flat. The Ravens had none of it. The Texans ran a counter keep on 1st and 10. Baltimore has eight in the box. Judon crashes. Watson keeps. The Texans can’t block everyone on a play where they’re purposefully skewing the numbers game. The Ravens are expecting the run on first and ten. Watson can’t break away from Carr.
2nd and 9. It’s the same action. Whenever Fells is in a flex wing position the defense expects this. The lines in the face didn’t grow longer these last two weeks. It’s the same plays as before. The Ravens have one deep safety and are loading up the box. With the receivers so tight, and the corners they have, Baltimore doesn’t have to worry about the deep pass. Baltimore blitzes. Judon is free and ignores Fells and pursues Watson. Chuck Clark comes over the formation to pick up Fells. There’s no read here. Watson is stuck having to deal with an unblocked defender. He does it once, but can’t do it again.
Their first play of the second half had the same problems. Judon runs under Fells. Watson should keep this, but his ankle is twisted, he’s hobbled, and even if he kept it, there are two linebackers flowing towards him. This isn’t 2 v. 1 where the 1 is Anthony Morrow, or Austin Calitro.
Down 21-0 the same thing happens. Ignore Fells. Pursue Watson. Cover Fells with a different defender. The Ravens completely removed the 2 v. 1 read on these plays. They were ready for it.
They tried to run play action off it and take some shots downfield, but when it doesn’t mean anything on its own, it won’t mean anything as a fake. They pull Fells to pass protect. The Texans have three routes off play action on 2nd and 6. Baltimore is playing cover one with Bynes (#57) dropping back to spy. Clark picks up Johnson in the flat. Nothing is open. With Fells pass protecting Onwuasor can blitz. He sacks Watson.
Houston tried to beat the Ravens with isolation routes and it didn’t work. The Ravens’ pass defense has been spectacular since the Peters trade even without a front four pass rush. Their average pass defense DVOA is -34.23% and they’ve allowed only 5.9 yards an attempt. Watson averaged 5.8 yards an attempt this game.
Until we get the sideline views, which I guarantee is going to be a lot of isolation routes v. man coverage with Earl Thomas sitting as a deep safety with no one open, there’s some story creating here to fill in the gaps. Yet, throughout the game we saw Watson bouncing with nothing open.
Additionally, the Texans faced too many third downs this game. The Ravens are great on third down because they can blitz without worrying about getting scorched in man coverage. The Texans went 2/10 on third down. Watson was 2/5 for 24 yards and took 2 sacks. These weren’t long third downs either. The average third down they faced was 6.3 yards. Waston failed to convert on 3rd and 1, 2, 2, and 3.
Houston didn’t trust their run game to convert these short attempts. The formations they used led to heavy boxes. They couldn’t move the first level against Baltimore. Chris Wormley extended Tytus Howard and turned 2nd and 3 into a 3rd down.
The entire interior had struggles dealing with Brandon Williams and his 25 pound frozen turkey arms. The Texans had run the ball well when the passing game set it up, but it hasn’t been the type of run game that can have six down blockers and win big v. big. Bill O’Brien didn’t trust his run game in short yardage situations, just as he should have, and when he did, Carlos Hyde was tackled for a one yard loss.
Same jet sweep motion this time with Jordan Akins. Six man offensive line. The sixth man Roderick Johnson doesn’t block the inside gap, allowing Matthew Judon to run free and make the tackle in the backfield.
Throwing the ball on third down played right into the Ravens’ blitzes. The Texans have pass blocked well against individual pass rushes. That hasn’t been the problem when they have their living their best life offensive line out there. The problem with all the waterbed shifting and repairing is they’ve never really found a groove at picking up blitzes. Baltimore brought it on nearly every third down and overwhelmed Watson.
3rd & 10. Three rushers in Watson’s face. The left side of the line of scrimmage blocks no one. Howard doesn’t use his hands at all whatsoever. Watson has no out to the right. Isolation routes v. man coverage. We never know what could have happened.
3rd and 3. Another blitz. The throw is timed well by Clark. He tips it. Stills can’t create much separation against Peters. This isn’t the matchup you want to attack. The ball bounces short. An illegal formation penalty after a timeout would have negated a conversion anyways.
3rd and 2. Houston has four routes that take off upfield. Tunsil and Max Scharping have no idea what to do. Houston blocks one with three. Watson bails from his drop before he completes it, and heaves a nice pass to the sideline that’s shoved out of bounds. We got a field goal to miss.
3rd and 15. This is a great blitz. With 70% completion rates being the norm, the goal of the defense is now to funnel the ball where they want it to be. Baltimore does exactly this. They overload the right side of Houston’s line of scrimmage. When Watson scrambles to the left, he runs right into Bowser’s short hook zone.
This is how you want 3rd and 7 to look. The Ravens show ‘A’ gap pressure, back off, then bring it anyways. Houston pick sit up. Things are uncomfortable, but this isn’t a disruptive rush. Kind of scratchy. Too much wool. Watson steps up and finds Keke Coutee running to the sideline.
This was a rare time where the Ravens only brought three. Watson has time. Coutee runs a great route here. Wonderful. Coutee loses Humphrey. These are the type of routes you have to win to get open against a defense suffocates the sidelines with great cornerback play, and makes the deep middle treacherous because of Thomas. Coutee drops it. Oh well. Offsetting penalties.
The pressure didn’t come just on third down either. It came on first down too. Watson completed 7 of his 10 first down attempts for 58 yards. This is worse than typical from him. But the biggest problem was he was sacked 3 times and lost 27 yards on these throws.
On this 1st and 10 attempt everything is short. The Ravens are playing cover two and sitting on it. Watson can’t find anything open because nothing is. Williams uses a long bullrush to beat Scharping and bring Watson down.
On this first down Tytus Howard (#71) just gets beat. He incorrectly helps the inside gap when he shouldn’t. Mind your own business. This allows Jaylon Ferguson to get his entire outside half and come back to the quarterback to pick up the sack. He tries to turn against the grain of the sack and twists his ankle. Against these murderous blitzes, and unable to run the ball, the game is over after this play.
The entire offense was a mess. Deep pass attempts they’ve used before. Isolation routes that couldn’t beat man coverage. A run game that cant’ win on its own. Third down passing attempts that struggled picking up the blitz. The same read motion that didn’t work against an intelligent defense. Houston had two weeks to prepare for this game. They tried the same things they’ve been using all season and the Ravens were ready for it. Seven points wasn’t the result of failed fourth down conversions and an unfortunate redzone offense. This wasn’t a fluke. The Texans were shut down.
Thursday is far away. I still have no idea what happened in that Colts game against the Jaguars, but I have a big concern about the immediate future. Houston’s offense was figured out this week, they have a four day turnaround, and they’re going up against a great linebacker group, and Matt Eberflus, who has a history of limiting the Texans’ offense. Can’t wait!
—The only thing the Texans did well on offense was convert first downs with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins turned seven catches into five first downs. This season Hopkins is tied with Mike Evans for second in receiving first downs with 47. Michael Thomas is leading the league with 58.
Since Kansas City, Houston is using Hopkins like how the Saints use Thomas. He’s in the slot, or he’s outside, and he’s running either a slant or a post. It works well. He picks up 13 on 3rd and 8.
Teams catch on though. The Ravens did quickly. Remember the Williams sack? Let’s play it again anyways. The Ravens drop into a zone coverage to take away the slant. This is Watson’s first read. Nothing else is open.
These routes shouldn’t be the entirety of his game though. Hopkins is a premier sideline receiver who can win these matchups against Peters, Smith, Carr or Humphrey. O’Brien hasn’t maximized Hopkins’s skillset. He’s turned him into a mix of Jamison Crowder and Michael Thomas, which just means he’s a force fed less effective version of Thomas.
Last season Hopkins averaged 13.7 yards a catch. This season he’s at 9.9, and Watson is averaging 7.16 yards an attempt when throwing at him, which is about the average pass attempt from a good quarterback to any receiver. His DVOA has drpped from 22.6% (10th) to 6.1% (26th). All of this ball controlling keep away has watered down Hopkins’s effectiveness. The first downs are great when Houston has a lead and can play keep away, but they’re killer when they fall behind.
—Let’s play box score analysis. The Texans had four sacks in their first game without J.J. Watt. They don’t need him. He isn’t that important. They’ll be fine.
Ignore the fact those were looooong developing sacks, that Houston struggled to create meaningful pressure with their down four rushers, that Whitney Mercilus’s rushes are meaningless without the pocket collapsed, and that the secondary is crappy without a pass rush. The Texans had one sack this week. I wonder what Brennan Scarlett’s ProFartballFocus grade is?
They had two quarterback hits in addition to this. Lamar Jackson is a premier quick passer. He misses his deep attempts some, and is hit or miss +20 yards, but his pocket placement is obscene to the shorter parts of the field. The Ravens monstrous and murderous offensive line devoured the Texans’ pass rush and allowed Jackson to throw cleanly.
This epitomizes Houston’s pass rush. Mercilus tries to go wide against Ronnie Stanley and is met at the point of attack anyways. Stanley easily deals with the spin. Carlos Watkins is the closest interior rusher and he’s four vertical yards away from Jackson off a play action fake. Easy throw. Easy completion.
The blitzes didn’t matter either. The Texans brought five. This isn’t a pass rush. Jackson steps up in the pocket and runs past Angelo Blackson and Brandon Dunn on his getaway. Both of these defenders are blocked. Jackson has a clean path because Benardrick McKinney floats to the left to cover Mark Ingram after he completes his block. Poor Zach Cunningham.
Jackson dropped some absolutely wonderful passes. On this touchdown to Mark Andrews, Justin Reid is matched up against him in the slot. Tashaun Gipson is the deep safety. The Ravens turn a personnel package that draws the Nickle defense into a five receiver set. Past Reid’s outsretched arm.
Another completion to Andrews. This time past Cunningham in man coverage.
A completion to Willie Snead right over Reid. Jackson is spectacular at putting the ball over the back of a defender.
Jackson completed 12 of 15 attempts for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns on throws that traveled less than 10 yards through the air. The Texans were 27th in pass defense DVOA against short passes. He completed passes to nine different receivers. The weakness was exploited.
—Gareon Conley had been pyritic since being traded to Houston. The when targeted numbers haven’t matched the performance. Passes were dropped. Throws over the receiver’s heads. He’s been beat in man coverage and fought back to play the ball at the catch point. This is a valuable skill. All great cornerbacks play the ball well. They have to. Everyone is going to get beat sometimes. It can’t be the staple of a cornerback’s coverage though. There’s only so much air in the safety vest.
All of it reminded me so much of Shareece Wright last season. He’d get beat. The pass would float. He’d chase back and defend the pass. Crisis adverted.
Then the double moves happened. Shoddy coverage became easy touchdowns.
Conley had been doing the same thing and it finally caught up to him. As the outside cornerback he was matched up against Seth Roberts, who isn’t even a very good receiver, in man coverage. Roberts beats him easily with an inside release. Conley is chasing from the very beginning. He knows it. He slows down, gives up on the ball, and tries to play Roberts. He never finds the ball again, and can’t do what he has always done.
It’s been a matter of time. Conley is the Texans’ best cornerback with Bradely Roby still hamstrung. With a nonexistent pass rush in front of the secondary, they can’t have their best cornerback getting beaten by a whatever receiver like this.
—I didn’t think the Texans run defense was that bad. The numbers are brutal though. 36 carries for 263 yards and 1 touchdown. 22 middle caries for 179 yards, which comes out to 21 for 116 (5.5 yards a carry) without the garbage time rub your face in it Gus Edwards touchdown. And on the edges the Ravens had 3 carries for 15 yards.
The front line was difficult to move, and when the runs were more interior and predicable, Scarlett, Cunningham, and McKinney were able to jump past some pulls and make occasional plays. Things were better before Jackson picked them apart and the game was close.
The problems were everything else. Houston created first level stalemates, but they couldn’t beat these blocks and create backfield havoc. Being tied last with Kansas City for tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage keeps getting worse and worse. This is an outside zone keeper to the left with Gus Edwards acting as a lead blocker. No penetration. McKinney jumps the gap, but can’t bring Jackson down.
Mercilus was an easy read defender. He was stuck in the swamp. Bogged down boots couldn’t jump from the quarterback to the back. Edwards runs right past him on this power run play.
This time Jackson Vicks the Texans’ defense. Each split back tight end from the fullhouse formation runs into the open field to block. They leave both Charles Omenihu, who is struggling at reading run offenses and is soaked up and turned too often, and Mercilus unblocked. Jackson breaks out of Mercilus’s leap, runs past Omenihu, gets two Texans to run into each other, and breaks five tackles on one play.
And here they run a simple power play right. Fullback, Patrick Ricard wears out Scarlett as a tight end blocker. Bradley Bozeman pulls and pops McKinney. Mark Ingram pops wide and reaches for a first down on first and ten.
Houston’s run defense held up well without Watt last week, and it should as the season progresses. Watt wasn’t playing the run that aggressively. The Ravens have what will probably end up being an all-time great run offense. This was a rough game, but going forward, I’m not too worried about their ability to stop the run.
—November is vanishing, quickly turning into December. All that orange and bronze will be black and gray and white. It’s the time to bundle up and imagine what it’s like to be cold here in Texas. I was finally going to watch The Revenant and see the man fight the grizzly bear. I don’t think I need to now.
I’ve watched McKinney make 350 tackles or so. He bludgeons ball carriers and drives them backwards. Yards after contact doesn’t exist. During this span I’ve never seen him carried off into the woods and devoured before. Patrick Ricard did just that. The 300+ pounds of fullback took him to his den and fed him to his cubs.