After last week’s soft defensive display against the Saints, the Texans were tasked with a rookie quarterback who had shown a lot of accuracy in his first start. They reacted by pumping up the blitz rate early on, and the blitzes created chaos for Gardner Minshew.
The Jaguars’ offensive line was banged up, starting backup Will Richardson at left tackle. While he’s expected to be good, it was right tackle Jawaan Taylor’s second start. There were plays where those offensive linemen sunk an otherwise well-designed pass. There were plays where a holding penalty ruined a big gain for the Jaguars. There were players where Minshew was his own worst enemy.
The overall chaos of what Crennel brought didn’t always come clean, by the way. These are plays where, if the quarterback is up to the task, the Texans give up a big gain. The secondary just isn’t good enough to go at someone man-to-man and win. Even the Jaguars had plenty of success downfield against Houston’s corners.
But … was it better than the alternative? Absolutely. My preview of the game figured that Crennel would continue to be passive or mix in more three-man rushes as he did against Brees. I think Minshew can hit a lot of throws against those kinds of coverages. He actually had one look early on against a three-man rush where he understood the coverage and pumped the ball rather than throwing to a drop linebacker.
When it was all counted, I had the Texans with 15 blitzes against the Jaguars. They had just seven last week against the Saints.
When it came down to crunch time though, and the Texans were defending a lead while Minshew drove them the field, they gave up blitzing. They blitzed just one time on Minshew’s 11 dropbacks on that drive, and that pass led to an open downfield throw for Minshew that he just couldn’t hit. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus did bring some pressure on that drive — Mercilus was unleashing the fire on Richardson all quarter — but Minshew was able to avoid it and march down the field. The extra cover men didn’t make a real difference.
As I said last week, this is going to be a tenuous balance for the course of the season — at least unless they trade for more help. They aren’t going to have Mercilus matched on that easy of a mark all season. The secondary isn’t good enough to cover anybody in man, and the zone coverage isn’t hard to beat.
What does having a good Pro Football Focus grade mean?
I assume you’ve all seen this:
I want to be clear with you here: I have a baby PFF subscription, and I find the numbers interesting. But one thing it’s important for you to understand when you’re using them is the context. Pro Football Focus numbers are descriptive, not prescriptive.
Kareem Jackson had one of the best PFF grades of any cornerback last year. He went into the playoff game against the Colts and got his ass kicked by Dontrelle Inman. Jackson had a really good year, but the context in which he accumulated his grade was mostly playing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and punishing people in front of him downhill. When he started having to backpedal, he was toast. As he was in every game the Texans played against the Colts. The Texans did not even tender Jackson a contract offer. If he was the eighth-best cornerback in the NFL (or whatever it was), would they really just let him walk for no reason?
J.J. Watt’s PFF Grade as of this moment is 67.8. Is he worse than Charles Omenihu? Has the game entirely passed Watt by? Of course not. He’s been dealing with double teams on a regular basis because other teams don’t respect the rest of this edge-rusher group:
While Omenihu’s strip sack was obviously a good play, it doesn’t really speak well to his ability to play well in the future. He’s up against a second-round rookie, doesn’t beat him cleanly. I’d argue that he could have been called for hands to the face on the play. It’s heads-up, and is clearly a great play. It also doesn’t speak a lot to Omenihu as some sort of gamebreaker just yet. I’ll be happy to highlight him beating some people left and right when it happens — I must have missed those snaps if they happened this week.
PFF grades are what you want them to be, and they are promoted at you almost always from a positive angle because selling hope to people who want to see good things is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to build a following. We’re in an information overload world where nobody wants to question why the numbers are good, they just want to pre-agree with seeing their favorite team has a star young player brewing. Most fans want something positive to believe in more than they want to hear about the negatives. Trust me, I’ve inadvertently done the research for 10 years.
The one glaring question
Bill O’Brien tends to play close games on account of his devotion to the run and his offense’s conservative nature. That hasn’t always been the case this year — he’s been a lot more deep-ball focused over the first two games. But even with that deep ball focus, O’Brien has still played in two close games that came down to the last possession.
If Romeo Crennel doesn’t blitz at all on those final drives — and I would say that is clearly his nature — how many games will that cost the Texans? It was about six inches from costing them a win in game two. It did cost them a win in game one. We have concrete proof it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work against Drew Brees, and it doesn’t work against Gardner Minshew. It might work against Kyle Allen! But … how many quarterbacks are going to be able to carve that up in the fourth quarter?
A lot of the season could be riding on the answer to that question.