Well, after blowing last week’s game against Indianapolis, the Texans come back to the comfy confines of NRG in what I think most people are projecting as a bounce-back spot. After all, the Raiders just traded one of their starting cornerbacks to the Texans for a third-round pick, they must be throwing in the towel on the season!
I don’t necessarily buy that hype. I don’t know that I’d call the Raiders an out-and-out dangerous team, but I think they present enough challenges to the Houston defense that they can hang close. This is another huge game for the Texans (aren’t they all?) because the Raiders are a hanger-on in the AFC wild card race, and an Oakland win would do a lot for their ability to stick around as well as any tiebreaks.
The Texans are favored anywhere between six and seven points from the numbers I’ve seen, without much budging. One thing that has moved is the over/under, which opened at 48 and is now straddling 51.5 in most spots. Points are a good expectation right now given how both defenses have been struggling.
The last time the Raiders and Texans met, Connor Cook gifted Bill O’Brien his first (and only, to this point) playoff win. They’d actually met in the regular season that year as well, in Mexico City — a game you might remember best for a horrific spot call by an official in Oakland’s favor that helped them score 14 points in the fourth quarter to win. In 2014, the Texans won 30-14 in a mostly-forgettable game in Oakland where Arian Foster rushed for 138 yards.
When the offense has the ball
Few teams currently have as horrific of a defense as the Raiders have created under the watch of former Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The pass defense has been one of the worst in the NFL for two years running, following the trade of Khalil Mack. (It’s honestly been bad for longer than that, too.)
Oakland has just 10 sacks in six games. They have a league-worst 11 hurries. They rarely blitz (18.9%, 29th in the NFL), have allowed 16 passing touchdowns, and their averaged depth of target allowed is the third-highest in the NFL at 10.9. Their cornerbacks and safeties have not played well this year. To this point, they have checked just about every box you can check for a bad pass defense.
On an individual level, Gareon Conley’s trade would appear to open up snaps for Trayvon Mullen, their second-round pick out of Clemson. Mullen has played reasonably well in limited playing time, but as a rookie, could be a source of big plays. He’s already allowed one passing touchdown in six targets. The players with the most pass pressures on this team — I swear to God I am not making this up — are nose tackle Johnathan Hankins and journeyman end Benson Mayowa. I would call Maurice Hurst their most talented rusher, but he is not a full-time player.
After reviewing the All-22 from last week’s loss, I don’t think there are long-term concerns for the offense. They did seem to abandon 12-personnel very early to me, but the Colts also played the read-option stuff that worked against Kansas City pretty well. Ultimately, if they hammer in a few of their red zone opportunities, I think we might be talking about this team in a different light this week.
Oakland has allowed 9.3 yards per attempt and 16 passing touchdowns against 11-personnel, while collecting just eight sacks in 165 dropbacks. Even if Bill O’Brien’s offense takes things back to deep play designs, I’m struggling to find a lot to be worried about with this defense besides the random turnover luck inherent in any game.
Will Fuller has not practiced and is expected to be out for a while, so expect Kenny Stills to take over as the main deep threat this week. I think that’s a fantasy football play with some upside. Roderick Johnson has been limited in practice with Tytus Howard still down, and Johnson did not put together a great game against the Colts last week. That’s one spot where I think the Raiders could generate some pressure.
When the Raiders have the ball
This is the part of the game that is very hard to write about in-depth only because the state of both of these units are so in-flux. The following players have had limited practices or no practices through Thursday night and have signaled they might play anyway this week: Josh Jacobs, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Trent Brown, Tyrell Williams, Tashaun Gipson, Johnathan Joseph, Bradley Roby
Let’s start with the general scope of things. The Raiders are a good style matchup for a Texans team that spent last week getting coverage busted all over the field. The offense Jon Gruden has built around Derek Carr relies mostly on safe, short throws — their 6.6 average target distance is tied for third-shortest in the NFL. Per the SportsRadar definitions of a “Bad Throw,” Carr has fewer of them than any quarterback in the NFL. Teams have essentially given up on trying to blitz them — they have taken fewer blitzes than any NFL team.
With J.J. Watt essentially neutralized by game plan — if you think I’m kidding, the Broncos had a healthy Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and got nothing against Oakland — this will become about execution for the back seven. Jon Gruden probably has several ideas about exactly where to stuff the ball at Gareon Conley. Lonnie Johnson had a devil of a time with man-beaters last week. Even the normally reliable tight-end defense cratered with Tashaun Gipson mostly sidelined, allowing a combined seven catches for 91 yards and a score to Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle.
That last part is of interest with the only for-sure healthy Raiders receiving stud being Darren Waller, who lit up the Packers for 126 yards and two touchdowns. So, really, Gipson’s health is a big ex-factor for this game.
The Texans responded to Indianapolis’ short passing game by bringing a lot more heat in the second half and playing an even more aggressive game plan than their initial stab in the first half, which was primarily a man-to-man style with one deep safety. They finished the game blitzing Jacoby Brissett on 21 of 39 dropbacks. That this rarely happens to the Raiders leaves the question of what happens when a blitz is sent up for grabs. Carr has traditionally not been very good with pressure in his face, but the Raiders have been good at keeping that from happening.
Oakland has a great offensive line if everyone is healthy, and Josh Jacobs has been stellar in his first six games. So the nagging question of health hovering over it all is pretty interesting. The Texans beefed up for dealing with Marlon Mack last week, using Brandon Dunn on 34 snaps — nine more than he’d seen in any other game — and holding Mack to 1.2 yards before contact per attempt. Rodney Hudson and Richie Incognito have both been excellent in creating space in the interior. This will be a terrific clash of strength-on-strength up front if Oakland’s line suits up. (All of them suited up last week except Brown.)
The Raiders use 11-personnel less than 51% of the time, as compared to the NFL average of 61%. Like the Colts, they are practitioners of 13-personnel. They also have a foothold in 22-personnel with an actual fullback in Alec Ingold. Think of this offense kind of like Gary Kubiak’s old Texans offense and you’ll get the gist of it. Carr has been much less effective out of 11-personnel, and if the Texans establish a game script where they are leading and running clock, that will make a comeback harder.
Kai Fairbairn had a lot of practice ironing things out last week, so that’s good news except for the part where the Texans lost. That remains the only gaping hole on their unit on a seasonal basis.
Trevor Davis has killed it since the Raiders traded a low-round pick for him in the return game. Dwayne Harris combos to create a great kickoff return unit. A.J. Cole (the former Nationals pitcher?) hasn’t been helped out by his coverage unit.
I would be very surprised if the Raiders out-and-out blew the Texans out. That hasn’t happened since Deshaun Watson took the field. Oakland’s run defense DVOA is good and will probably prevent them from being pushed off the field like Kansas City was. (Though I will note, it’s always harder to assume that when Watson is a real part of the run threat.)
Trying to get off of my own slump here after two straight picks losses, I think the Raiders keep this closer than most fans will be comfortable with, but ultimately succumb to the Texans, 31-29.
I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is a labor of love as I am between Texans gigs. This is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.