Last season, the Texans ran the ball a ton out of 12 personnel (one back, two wideouts, two tight ends) — they ran from that set almost as often as they did from their more common 11 personnel (one back, three wideouts, one tight end) sets despite passing from 11 personnel about twice as often.
Houston was empirically better by a long shot in 2018 passing out of 12-personnel. Watson’s sack rate dropped from 10.7% to 9.9%, his air yards per attempt went from 7.5 to 9.5. His completion rate went from 65.7% to 73.9%. While that hasn’t been the case entirely in 2019, that is based on an extremely small sample of plays because the Texans have only run 38 total plays out of 12 in 2019. Last week was a huge boost because, for the first time all season, Houston had two tight ends with over 50 percent of the snaps:
Last season the Texans ran 57% 11 personnel and 35% 12 personnel. This year, they’re at 74% 11 personnel and 16% 12 personnel. Some of that probably is about having faith in Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, and some of that is probably about having traded for Kenny Stills and wanting to use him often. Obviously, without Stills, there was less incentive to play 11 personnel.
12 personnel on its own cannot be blamed for the Falcons having a shoddy defense that was coached roughly as well as Jon Arbuckle deals with Garfield. But, one thing that has become more and more clear to me watching NFL teams for the last few years is that teams generate play-action shots off of 12 personnel much more easily than they do out of 11. 11 personnel is where you go to get quick passes.
Will Fuller’s second touchdown was out of play-action in 12 personnel, and the entire Atlanta defense decided they would rather cover DeAndre Hopkins:
Now, yes, that looks easy. No, that won’t happen on every play. But — you know who is more likely to mess up in pass coverage between a linebacker and a defensive back? A linebacker. You know who is more likely to bite on a run fake? A linebacker. The personnel has a huge impact on how defenses react to play-action. The more linebackers you put on the field, the more space you can create.
This is an area that was mostly unutilized last year by the Texans. Partially it’s because Will Fuller wasn’t healthy all season. When Fuller was healthy, in Weeks 1-8, the Texans averaged 8.5 yards per play-action dropback, and that’s counting two sacks, out of 12 personnel. You’ll probably most memorably recall what happened when the Texans got two touchdowns out of the set against the Dolphins:
The Texans did fine on these dropbacks afterwards, but they didn’t have the deep threat Fuller provided to make the play work as well as it should. Their longest play the rest of the season was 28 yards, and most of the air yards were closer to the 14-20 yard range.
At the same time, the Texans have somehow shook Carlos Hyde off the scrapheap and found a player who can get through arm tackles and tight inside creases while maintaining burst, which is something they didn’t really have last season. Houston’s early looks with Hyde have mostly been in 11-personnel, but I think he translates well to 12-personnel. If you are able to get teams scared of him as a consistent chain-mover in 12-personnel, suddenly the linebackers are even more liable to getting sucked in. Particularly if the Texans are able to disguise their plays with the satellite action/zone reads they used the last couple of weeks. That is a lot of different things for a defense to worry about before they think about where Fuller and Hopkins are headed. Jordan Akins’ emergence as a pass catcher and Darren Fells’ pass blocking also bolster the unit from where things were last season with Ryan Griffin.
This isn’t an argument that the Texans should sit Stills, or that Stills and Duke Johnson shouldn’t be a big part of the game plan still. I just think that 12 personnel has the potential to be so effective that it needs to be more carved into the 2019 offense than it has been so far.
That’s my major takeaway from watching Atlanta get owned by it for four quarters, anyway.
There’s a reason I am so hard on Bill O’Brien all the time, and it’s that we saw how good this offense could be in 2017 and he simply had been unable to recapture that magic. For the last 22 games of Texans football, Deshaun Watson was shackled by a structure that didn’t seem to do enough to help him out. He held the ball a long time. The offensive line wasn’t good enough to protect him.
This is what it was supposed to be like after 2017. This is that 59-point drubbing of the Tennessee Titans all over again. Because when you make things easy for Deshaun Watson, he makes them look easy.
Only Kirk Cousins had a better day than Watson as far as Next Gen Stats’ accuracy against expected completion percentage. Watson completed 14% more throws than expected to by the raw data.
To say that Watson torched Atlanta would be understating things. The Texans punted once all day — happy birthday Bryan Anger, enjoy the time off — and on every drive they took seriously they seemed a threat to score. One field-goal attempt happened when Houston ran a screen for Fuller on third-and-long, and even that screen arguably worked.
This was a master class in something I haven’t seen a lot of from O’Brien, and it’s a reason I want to circle back to his press conference to give him credit:
“He runs the show out there.” The best leaders are quick to give credit to their players. I’ve often felt that O’Brien has made his offense about what he has preferred. With the game plan he picked today, and with Watson running the show as well as he did, he recognized he didn’t need to go back. That’s a huge step.
1 — Can this offensive output be replicated on a weekly basis?
Not only were the throws that Watson took today often not happening as far downfield, they were also easier. The best offense in the world is the offense that makes eight yards on second-and-10 feel like this:
There were several examples of the offense doing this. They were 10-of-13 on third down because they kept generating shorter third downs. The fact that they kept creating X-and-short meant that play-action burned Atlanta, and Atlanta was quick to react to those fakes:
While there will, obviously, be bigger challenges than the Atlanta personnel and coverage scheme, the grander question is if this philosophy can continue. I think it can.
I think the chart is instructive here:
Notice there were only a few throws over 20 yards. One of them being the play-action pass that was wide open for a touchdown. This was a short, focused passing game. This is the sort of stuff that Tom Brady is able to pull out in most games.
It could be Houston’s thing, too.
2 — The best offensive line is throwing fast
That says it all, doesn’t it? The Falcons have a bad pass rush by sacks, but they were getting pressures coming into the game. SIS had them with a 32.8 percent pressure rate in 2019, the sixth-highest in the NFL.
Matt Weston’s counterpoint to this was that the Falcons don’t run many games or stunts, which is what Houston tends to struggle with. Fair enough. But a lot of these balls were out so fast that the Falcons didn’t have much time to pressure Watson. Again:
There will be bigger tests for the line, and I think this is going to be a week where we look at the line and everything looks great — like Week 3 — when the story is a little more complex than that.
But if the Texans continue to get the ball out as quickly as they did in this game, negative plays disappear. When negative plays disappear, and you pair them with a still-explosive offense and consistent gains, you get a top-5 offense.
3 — J.J. Watt picked a hell of a time to have his best game of the year
While the Houston offense kept looking good, the Falcons were able to move the ball pretty easily.
The Texans as a defense right now are incredibly reliant on the pass rush to make things happen. Today, they did that. Watt keyed the charge, and D.J. Reader’s sack came because of Watt pressure in a nice change of pace:
Houston found eight quarterback hits and two sacks. Watt had five of the hits. It was not a dominant performance given the 46 dropbacks, but it was enough. When your offense plays as well as it did today, this performance becomes enough.
Very quiet game from Whitney Mercilus, but he did show some good discipline on this screen pass:
Negative plays are all this defense has going for them. Anything else is going to be too much. Thankfully, between the pick-six and a couple of key third-down stops, they were able to keep Atlanta from making the game tightly contested in the fourth quarter. Romeo Crennel deserves some credit for the blitz looks he came up with to get two of those third-down stops, which generated free rushers at the quarterback:
When the offense plays like they play today, it doesn’t matter too much. But in tighter games, ones where Watson will presumably not hit all but four of his throws, the Texans are going to need every negative play they can cobble together.
4 — The nagging concerns
Coverage continues to remain quite loose. Lonnie Johnson was playing hurt and is a rookie asked to move across the line of scrimmage on this snap, but you simply can’t let a receiver get this free of a release in this coverage:
Some of Ryan’s throws were just flat-out off, rather than well-defensed. Obviously, hard to tell entirely from the tape, but I didn’t see many throws that the Texans negatively impacted outside of the one Julio Jones slant that Johnathan Joseph and Zach Cunningham sandwiched Jones on. Take this pass on second-and-20:
I don’t know that we’re going to see a team with a good quarterback held under 250 yards this year. Pace and tempo matter a lot to that statement, but the Texans don’t have an emerging corner or defensive back that is fixing to come on and save them. They have Mike Adams. They have Keion Crossen. There’s not a lot of hope that the coverage will be able to do much but stay passive and mix in the occasional change-of-pace press play. When they do, they have to have better from Johnson than he showed on that play.
Special teams continues to be a concern. Kaimi Fairbairn has missed a season’s worth of kicks for some kickers in the last three weeks. DeAndre Carter’s fumble nearly imploded the Texans before Watson brought them back from brink with a flawless closeout drive.
The Chiefs are looming, and the Texans have picked up the pace just in time. Could we have a shootout to rival the Rams-Chiefs on Monday Night Football last year? Or, was this a one week flash-in-the-pan?
In case you somehow missed this, I made a Tweet out of a Texans video of Deshaun Watson answering Aaron Reiss’ question. It went viral.
SportsCenter essentially copied the Tweet. (They didn’t use the Periscope video, so their version did not have hearts on it.) Deadspin wrote a post about the interaction. Big name media people ran with it all overnight on Monday — Ian Rapoport being the biggest domino — and when I woke up this video I made on my own, in my little computer room, was spun two million times. It only got bigger from there.
Let me tell you a little about the experience of going viral.
I don’t have any alerts on my phone. Texts and phone calls only. But every time I logged in to Twitter through Tuesday night, I was buried in notifications. I use web Twitter on my phone so that’s pretty much a constant 20+ popping up every five minutes — I use TweetDeck at home and pretty much every net push was a fresh batch of likes, tweets, comments, retweets.
This was oddly paralyzing as a user. Do I try to Tweet through the storm? It’s actually a little bit hard to have conversations with people on Twitter when this is happening. At the same time, I was fascinated enough by the reactions that I wanted to keep seeing them, so I didn’t mute the thing entirely. I actually put off posting all-22 clips by a day just because I knew I couldn’t have a conversation with anybody.
One thing I can’t recommend enough if you’re trying to go viral is to make something that can be viewed through every lens. I closely monitored the comments to this post. There were several groupings of comments, the pro- and the anti- side of each.
*The Bears fans who like Mitch Trubisky versus the ones who like Watson more. (One Trubisky comment on my original Tweet had over 3,000 likes on its own.) *The people who were amazed by the information and what it took to play quarterback versus the ones who play Madden and were incredulous that people were amazed by this. *The football coaches who want to use this to train their players versus the football players who already knew it all.
The Tweet itself was innocuous. I did that on purpose. “Deshaun Watson explains Carolina’s defense in 66 seconds” is vague as hell specifically because when I’m just trying to share someone else’s story, I don’t want to impose too much of my own mindset on it. It’s amazing that so much division and cynicism can come from that, but that is the world we live in today. I am literally putting things out there for you to react to and take and put your spin on. Sometimes your spin is positive. In many, many more cases, your spin is negative or angry or cynical. Or not funny. Sorry to tell you — a lot of the comments are not funny.
For the record, there was only one person who directly criticized that phrasing — they said (paraphrasing) “THAT’S NOT THE WHOLE DEFENSE.” So, in case you were wondering, yes, people can get mad at anything.
By far the biggest group of people, though, I had to address in an aside:
I would wager anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the Tweets were people happy that Aaron “got dunked on” for asking the question. Let me expound on this Tweet for a minute.
I think major media is fucked, which is why I am writing here and not trying to use my time begging to freelance for bigger places. They have completely failed to address the major issues of the day because — and I say this as someone with a limited understanding of these things myself — most media people don’t know jack shit about advertising. Google and Facebook make all the money. The scraps that are left behind from most major content deals are enough to rig up skeleton crews and trap otherwise great people in jobs that will never make more than $60,000 a year.
Between major media failing to deal with how they make money properly, and major media backlashing that on the public with a sea of scammy advertisements or pop ups, I think most people do mistrust the news to some extent. My wife has negative feelings towards the Houston Chronicle because she was bilked by a salesman once and is on a mailing list that they simply won’t let go of. I can’t imagine this is an uncommon occurrence.
Media reacted to the money being gone by acting like every customer was a mark, and that made their consumers look at them with a more discerning eye. The New York Times has an entire Opinion team that could not possibly be more awful, because they use that rage for hits. We are all guilty of using your emotion against you to get your attention.
At the same time, with the freedom of social media and the self-importance that provides, you are now free to carefully build your own attuned culture of “media” however you like. Some people use that well. Some people use that to remain permanently angry. There are people who would use your anger to blind you to what they are doing to you. I don’t think I have to name names here.
Most of the reporters you interact with do not make a lot of money. Most of them are telling their truth. If their truth doesn’t resonate with you, that’s fine. But we are all so drowned in information and choices now that we’ve become a Dunning-Kruger effect society, and that — plus major social cues from certain other places I probably don’t have to name — just make us all tee off on caricatures of people we don’t know.
Aaron asked that question to get that answer. That wasn’t being dumb. That was about getting the reaction he wanted. But people wanted that Dumbass Reporter caricature to be true so bad that thousands and thousands of them — unprovoked by any kind of political anything — just went with it.
Popular Twitter is a dark, dark place. Or, as one writer I talked to this week said, it’s a “terrible but necessary place on the internet.”
When I take videos of the press conferences or media sessions and share them with you, I’m trying to be the editor you don’t have in your busy life. You could watch every Texans video and be drowned with a lot of stuff that doesn’t much matter to outsiders — yes, you’re all trying to win, you’re all going to improve this week, it’s a 60-minute game, etc. etc.
You could watch every Tim Kelly interview to try to understand if he is a robot or a person. One of my services is doing that for you, picking quotes I think are interesting or revealing — i.e. not Kelly quotes — and sharing them.
That’s a loss leader for me. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, think of it as a doorbuster deal on a big Black Friday sale. I post them to get you in the door, and if I get you in the door, maybe you’ll read my writing — just like an Amazon shopper realizes they’ll need batteries for this toy and they’re already on the website anyway. Once you read my writing … well, hopefully I can keep you reading, and eventually, perhaps you’ll pay for it to continue.
Watching what happened out of going viral made me appreciate the people who are positive and back what I put out often. There are tons of readers who come to something quietly now, because the internet has become more rage storm than they are comfortable dealing with in a positive way. Instead of trying to personally interact in fighting anger, they would rather shut down and just be quiet supporters, so as to not lose their own positive energy. I respect that.
So I want to thank people who have been very publicly supportive of my Texans stuff: Steph Stradley, bfd, Mike Meltser, Sean Pendergast, Seth Payne, the guys at TexansUnfiltered. And I want to shout out some of my smaller, quieter lurkers who I see surface only every once in awhile. I won’t splash your names out there.
Hopefully, if you came into the circle this week because Deshaun Watson nerding out on football is awesome, I can show you why you should keep reading.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest this is an enormous game for this year’s Houston Texans. While I haven’t written the preview yet, I think we all know that there is an extremely high likelihood of Patrick Mahomes destroying Houston’s secondary next week. This Texans team has not proven that it can conclusively put away anybody yet — this is not a team that can afford to fall two games under .500. Yet, if they lose this game, that’s about where they are headed.
If you saw last week’s Falcons 10-spot and laughed, well, the Falcons are this weird mix of snake-bit and laughable that I find utterly charming from afar. Keep in mind that they missed a field goal and had three separate fourth-and-short conversions go wrong against the Titans in Tennessee territory. 10 points understates the work that was happening — they remain a fairly dangerous offense. And, as a quarterback, Matt Ryan is accurate enough to exploit the Houston secondary to the exact same extent that Philip Rivers was.
The last time these teams met was in 2015, and Bill O’Brien got steamrolled. The Falcons won 48-21, and all 21 Texans points came in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, the TJ Yates Texans won 17-10 in 2011. Bobby Petrino’s Falcons won in 2007 in Matt Schaub’s return to Atlanta. To Joey Harrington. Are all these games embarrassing for one of these teams? You better believe it.
Vegas has the Texans as anywhere from 4.5 to five-point favorites, so we’re right back into the same danger zone that produced last week’s Panthers upset.
When the Texans have the ball
The Titans were able to jump on Atlanta by taking full advantage of a major weakness: their inability to do much about play-action passes. The Falcons allow 5.8 yards per play on regular pass plays, but 9.8 yards per play against play-action. That’s one of the seven biggest swings of any team, and teams run a ton of play-action against Atlanta because they tend to be zone-heavy.
Unfortunately, the Texans aren’t really the team that is going to exploit that weakness. Houston runs a below-average amount of play-action and averages just 5.5 yards per play-action pass, one of the five lowest numbers in the NFL. The Texans have been good at play-action before, but it hasn’t really been much of an emphasis for them this season. Perhaps seeing what the Titans did last week will embolden them a bit.
I say that the Falcons are zone-heavy because most of their cornerbacks haven’t been targeted much. Desmond Trufant has been targeted just 11 times. Isaiah Oliver, at 23, has the most targets in the secondary by far. He’s been boom or bust, giving up 8.1 yards per pass and a 56 percent completion rate, but also three touchdowns.
This is a get-right game for both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. The Falcons allow a 56.9% DVOA to No. 1 wideouts and an 87.4% DVOA to No. 2 wideouts, both bottom-three numbers in the NFL. No. 1 wideouts are averaging 83 yards per game against the Falcons. The possible absence of Kenny Stills won’t hurt too bad here, as the Falcons have mostly silenced interior receivers anyway.
Atlanta’s pass rush isn’t too intimidating, with a 5.0% adjusted sack rate that is good for 26th in the NFL. Vic Beasley is going on year three of being a completely pedestrian edge rusher. Takkarist McKinney is probably the biggest threat on the outside. On the inside, Grady Jarrett is going to be the first real test for Nick Martin this season. Time to earn your money, Nick. It should be noted that the Falcons still come away with a mid-table level of quarterback hits, so don’t expect Watson to be clean in the pocket for years.
However, one area where the Falcons have gotten much better this year is run defense. Even if DVOA isn’t your cup of tea, they’re allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. They shut Derrick Henry up pretty good for most of a game that they were trailing. The return of Deion Jones has really elevated that part of the unit.
The one thing that jumps out at me about this game in a concerning way is that the Falcons are pretty solid deep. They’re allowing a 36.2% DVOA on deep passes, barely above the league-average. For reference, Jacksonville is slightly worse than that on deep passes, and Carolina is doing better in defending them than any team in the NFL right now. If O’Brien continues to build so much of the offense towards the deep ball, he simply has to hit more in this game. The Texans can’t go 0- or 2-for-8 on deep balls unless both of them are touchdowns or something.
When the Falcons have the ball
The Falcons are a weird offensive team that matches up really well with the Texans because Atlanta has understood that the concept of running the football is stupid, so they just gave up on it.
The Falcons have just 71 rushing attempts on the year — only three teams are below them, and the Dolphins and Jets barely count as football teams at this point. When they do run, Devonta Freeman has been so east-west that he’s not been getting much generally. He’s talented as far as breaking tackles, and I think he’s been a beast in the past, but I’m not sure he’s playing like one this year.
The Atlanta offensive line has not done great things this year, though Alex Mack and Jake Matthews are obviously good players in a grander sense. This is the first time all season that Whitney Mercilus will face somebody worth his time. I do like J.J. Watt’s chances of swimming past rookie Kaleb McGary on a few downs. Because the Falcons have been so depleted at guard without IR’ed first-round pick Chris Lindstrom, I think it is extremely important that D.J. Reader continue to dominate:
Charles Omenihu’s potential return from a lost week looms large as well. James Carpenter and Wes Schweitzer played most of the guard snaps for the Falcons in Week 4 and they let Jurrell Casey eat them alive. Jamon Brown was the nominal starting guard this year, but is questionable with a concussion. While Ryan has mostly been well-protected this year, the line really sprung a lot of leaks, allowing 12 quarterback hits to the Titans.
How do the Texans deal with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley? This is something that they didn’t really have to do against the Chargers, where Mike Williams was injury-limited and the rest of the receiver corps was bad. They let Keenan Allen torch them, but smothered the rest of the brushfire. The Falcons will try to get both in Cover-3 posts for easy change against this secondary, which hasn’t really proven it can cover anybody one-on-one. Lonnie Johnson will be on the spot here. Jones has been about a 50% slot player, so Bradley Roby will get some chance to contain the damage that will obviously be happening.
The Ryan Falcons have been uncharacteristically mistake-prone this year. Ryan has thrown six picks this year. He threw seven all last season. I would expect them to play safer than usual given Houston’s myriad zone coverage schemes.
The Falcons have been held hostage by Matt Bosher, who has been on the injury report all season and has winced his way through a ton of punts. The ancient Matt Bryant has taken over on field goals. He’s been surprisingly accurate on longer field goals even at his advanced age. (17 of 19 from beyond 40 in 2017, 11-12 from beyond 40 in 2018.) His usage rate and the fact that he was released before the season may be telling you that range has decreased.
Kai Fairbairn earned the dreaded vote of confidence from O’Brien, but nobody has exactly been dialed up to take his place just yet. Otherwise, the Texans have an edge on special teams.
My gut instinct, before I started breaking down this game, was that the Texans would win. I don’t think they’ll make it easy on you, and I don’t think it will always be pretty, but I think Deshaun Watson will have a major bounce-back game and play well against a defense that doesn’t have much in the way of sure things that can stop him. He might take plenty of hits in the process.
The more I dove into the research, the more I wondered if this feeling was a trap. It’s hard to see “42-0” in Atlanta, no matter who the quarterbacks were, and feel confident that the head coach can hang. Atlanta definitely is the most complete offense the Texans have faced this year to this point.
Once again, I’m back to “I picked this team to make the playoffs, and they better win this game if they’re going to make the playoffs.” I like a high-scoring affair here. Give me Texans 29, Falcons 27
The Laremy Tunsil trade was, if not exactly stunning because rumors had been floating around for a while, a stunning amount of draft capital to see shipped out all at once right before the season started. And, particularly after the emotionally exhausting end to the Jadeveon Clowney saga earlier that day, it came right when I think most fans needed a pick-me-up to feel in on this season. Whether you think the trade was good or bad, I think you can agree that everybody knew that Matt Kalil was not going to be a starting left tackle for more than a few games before he was found wanting.
Because of the amount of capital shipped out, there was instantly a lot of pressure on Tunsil. Bets as bold as the one O’Brien put on him don’t come around often. What it also did was it set people on trying to figure out the deeper meaning of why the Texans gave up two first-round picks and a second-round pick for him. There is a lot of justification necessary, not only among journalists and the media, but among fans, in properly creating the narrative of why Tunsil was worth the ransom that he was worth. As someone who is more focused from an outside perspective, and saw the trade as a massive overpay the second it happened, it’s always fun to listen to the other points of view out there. Let’s go through these one-by-one, and hopefully I at least capture the spirit of the arguments if not capture them word-for-word. If you’ve got other arguments you want me to respond to, I’d love to hear them.
“Laremy Tunsil is worth it because Andrew Luck retired after he got hurt, and you can’t risk your young quarterback’s health in today’s NFL.“
This one seemed to be the most prevalent explanation for the overpay. Andrew Luck had just retired in the middle of the preseason, and the Texans were supposed to look at the beating that Luck took and realize that they couldn’t let their franchise quarterback take the same beating.
That argument falls apart in a few different ways, but the most important reason it falls apart is because study after study shows the two people who have the biggest say in a quarterback’s sack rate are the quarterback and the head coach. Just this week, Watson took six sacks, I would argue the offensive line played fairly well outside of Greg Mancz. It didn’t matter:
All of Watson’s sack/hit numbers are essentially within the realm of what he did last season, especially if you believe the Chargers game was an outlier caused by an overly passive defense. Houston’s adjusted sack rate of 11.9% is the second-worst in the league. Last year it was 11.6%. Watson’s quarterback hit rate has gone down only slightly, and in going down slightly it has still not come close to the 2017 numbers:
The real interesting thing about Watson’s hit rate is when you compare it to Andrew Luck. See, Luck floundered about with what was perceived to be a bad line for a long time too. Then they hired Frank Reich, and Reich completely torched the system that Chuck Pagano had put in place, then made some in-house adjustments. Luck’s adjusted sack rate dropped from 7.6% in 2016 to 4.1% in 2018.
Airyards did not keep Andrew Luck in their system after he retired, so I went and counted out the hit numbers manually.
Andrew Luck’s 2016 season: 8.3 quarterback hits per start Andrew Luck’s 2018 season: 5.3 quarterback hits per start Andrew Luck’s last 10 games + playoff games of the 2018 season: 3.9 quarterback hits per start
The problem was: It was too late. Luck had already been broken.
We’ve seen Bill O’Brien run an offense with more concepts that keep Watson doing what he was comfortable in college in 2017. That was the year that Watson had his lowest quarterback hit rate. The head coach can have a huge impact on the quarterback hits by his scheme and the areas of the field he wants to target. O’Brien’s scheme is more conducive to getting Watson hit than Watson’s college scheme was.
Tunsil has not solved this problem because no offensive lineman could. The two people who can solve it are above his pay grade, which is a weird-but-true thing you can say about a guy who will probably get $60 million in guaranteed money at some point.
“Laremy Tunsil will raise all tides along the offensive line by putting players into positions they are better equipped to play.”
I think this is the second-truest argument put out about what Tunsil has done, because all you need to do is look at what the Texans would have done without him. Matt Kalil would almost undoubtedly have led to Tytus Howard at left tackle, when Tytus Howard’s first four games have shown us uneven play at lesser positions.
That said, it hasn’t really changed a whole lot. If you look at Houston’s line as a whole, Nick Martin has been solid, but he was going to man center anyway. Zach Fulton has been … okay? But he was going to man that position anyway.
The player who has lost snaps as a result of trading for Tunsil is Roderick Johnson, who I would argue actually deserves to be starting at right tackle on pure merit. That’s no slam on Howard, he just was always going to be year-one project coming out of Alabama State. Howard definitely has higher upside.
But, I have to admit that Howard at left tackle would likely be a disaster, and Johnson and Howard outside probably gets you to mediocre-to-average at best. Tunsil has definitely put less pressure as a whole on the offensive line to perform, and that is an objectively great thing about the trade.
“Laremy Tunsil will open up Houston’s deep passing game.”
There are definitely a handful of plays every game where Tunsil out-and-out locks a lineman down.
I think the best argument to make here is not that Tunsil himself is doing enough to make the Texans throw deep, but that he has given O’Brien more comfortability with longer dropbacks. In 2018, Watson took the fourth-most time to make his throws, with an average of 3.01 seconds per throw. But, Watson’s intended air yards of 8.8 was tied for eighth. He has cut that time to 2.92 seconds per throw in 2019, but with an intended air yardage that is tied for seventh at 9.8. That’s almost a full yard of increase, and that includes a game against Carolina where he often did not feel comfortable pushing the ball deep based on what he saw.
The interesting thing about the intended air yards in 2018 is that the number decreased as the season went along not because the offensive line was bad, but because the Texans didn’t have an easy deep-ball target. After Will Fuller’s injury, the Texans had a single-game average above 8.8 air yards twice: against Philadelphia in Week 16, and against the Jets in Week 15. Seven of the eight games where Watson threw less for less than eight intended air yards per attempt came after Fuller was hurt.
Obviously, we have to see where the Kenny Stills injury changes things for the Texans, but they were at 8.3 with him mostly incapacitated in Week 4. Will Fuller is still here. I think they’ll be able to go deep if they feel up to it.
It’s almost impossible to sit here as an outsider and tell you Bill O’Brien’s intent, but I believe that the Tunsil trade was about throwing it deep more than anything, and I think they’ve mostly accomplished that.
“Laremy Tunsil is a leader who will help Houston’s young offensive linemen grow.”
Uh, I guess? I don’t know a whole lot about Laremy Tunsil the person, but what I can tell you that has come out of press conferences is
1) Bill O’Brien says he “leads by example.” 2) He’s sick of talking about his own leadership:
I don’t know how to quantify the effect that having a good left tackle who has learned how to play in the league has on the young linemen. We haven’t really had any good stories leak out yet. There are no interesting anecdotes about him helping Tytus Howard fix Problem X. (At least none that I’ve seen.)
I leave this up to the reader to score, but I personally don’t believe there’s much of a leadership effect. Or, at least, not as much of one as people want to believe that there is.
“Laremy Tunsil will be a dominant left tackle.”
Per Sports Info Solutions, Tunsil has blown three pass blocks. That 1.7 blown block percentage is very good, but about on par with what he’d done in Miami. (Public SIS numbers are through Week 3.) Tunsil leads the team in penalties with four, all of them false starts.
Pro Football Focus has him graded as their 18th-best tackle this year, with a top-10 pass protection grade and a middling run grade. That’s a ranking I think feels pretty right. While the Texans in general have run blocked better than they did in 2018, they haven’t seen a lot of improvement at left end from Tunsil. They average 1.16 adjusted line yards to left end per Football Outsiders, and 3.49 to left tackle. Those are both bottom-eight rates in the NFL.
I will say that Brandon Thorn does this stuff for a living and believes Tunsil has played better than this snapshot sells him, putting him on the short list of honorable mentions for All-Pro.
My own evaluation of Tunsil is that he’s so physically talented that you feel like, watching him, he’s capable of doing anything he wants. On some plays, he does! He’s the guy who can get out on screens and get somebody from an awkward angle. He’s able to stymie good pass rushers out of position. He’s eventually going to be one of the best tackles in the NFL.
But I don’t think he’s played up to it just yet. I’m sure some of that comes from the sudden change, and the fact that through Acts of O’Brien, he hasn’t even played next to the same left guard for three consecutive games yet. Teamwork is important for a line and the Texans have been asked to learn it on the fly.
I’ve seen solid games, and I’ve seen good games. I feel like I’m still waiting for the dominant game.
Through one month, you can absolutely see why the Texans were so keen to acquire Tunsil.
But, I think the most important thing going forward isn’t Tunsil, but how O’Brien and Watson combine to fix the pressure in this passing game. That’s a nagging problem that the Texans hoped would go away just by acquiring good linemen. So far, that hasn’t borne out.