Four Downs: Ravens 33, Texans 16

Well, it isn’t necessarily a surprise that the Texans are 0-2. The defending Super Bowl champs and the AFC’s 14-2 No. 1 seed were the first two teams on their schedule this year. The problem with these two losses is that the Texans faded quickly into the distance in both games. Here, a fumble-six by Keke Coutee and a failed aggressive fourth-and-1 go at the Houston 34 set the Ravens up with 14 points. What was once an impressive answer by the Texans had to get it to 10-7 was immediately turned into a two possession game.

While there are parts of this team functioning well, as two units, they just haven’t gelled enough yet. I think the offense is having major identity struggles — which isn’t that out-of-line considering their identity last year was “DeAndre Hopkins is good and here are some run plays for you” — and I think the defense just lacks top-of-the-line talent. But let’s start with the defense because I think that is a more optimistic place to come from today and, well, I need some optimism:

1) Anthony Weaver’s unit provided a game for three quarters

They certainly weren’t helped by the offense much with short fields, but the Texans defense came out with a game plan that seemed to limit Baltimore’s rushing attack. The first half bell rung with the Ravens at 10 carries for 44 yards. There are plays that jump out at you where they attack the read-option quite well:

After the game, John Harbaugh praised Anthony Weaver’s game plan:

And I think they were 90th-percentile successful as far as what I would’ve expected coming into this game holding down Lamar Jackson. They sacked Lamar Jackson four times! He threw for only 204 yards, and seemed a little more uncomfortable in the pocket than usual. He missed Hollywood Brown in the end zone on a target where a better throw absolutely gets it done:

And yeah, they didn’t get a turnover. OK, do you know how hard it is to get a Lamar Jackson turnover? He fumbled nine times last year in about 600 dropbacks and runs. He threw six interceptions all season. The guy is just … amazingly good at football. Turnovers are random to some extent, but Jackson limits them as well as anybody in the game. I don’t think that’s a demerit on the Houston defense. I think they were somewhat lucky on the Brown throw, which Jackson mentioned as a self-mistake twice in his post-game presser, but otherwise they did a hell of a job.

Anyway, I said a lot of nice things so let’s get back on brand. They melted down at the end of the fourth quarter and ended the game with 230 rushing yards allowed.

I am not a football coach, but when I see a line that has eight guys on it, five of them to the left of the center. And the fullback is to the left of the center … I dunno, that might be the side of the ball I want more than six players on. Might be the play! Maybe! Just thinkin here.

The quit was strong after that, and this defense fell apart as the run chewed them up and spat them out.

2) The hot reads and blitz protections continued to be a humongous problem.

Deshaun Watson did not hit every throw tonight, but the degree of difficulty on some of the throws that he was asked to hit was insane. Post-game when asked about not converting on third down he went directly to this throw to Brandin Cooks:

So, okay, it’s a throw we know Watson can make. But at the same time, it has a looping blitzer coming free that forces a step-up. It has a short-area linebacker waiting for that step-up. So as Watson is coming up, his angle is poor. He could have hit the throw, and he did put the blame on himself on that throw. But a perfect strike as a linebacker steps into your lane is a big ask.

Likewise, the offense continually struggled dealing with Baltimore’s pressure looks. Watson was also sacked four times. He was hit eleven times. And some of the sacks he didn’t take looked like this:

The bottom line is that the Ravens teed off on Watson, as we knew they would. Bill O’Brien/Tim Kelly’s only real answer to this kind of pressure-based approach that Watson has struggled with has been to bench guys. Max Scharping, who in my eyes is one of the two best players on the line, got benched after some rough pressures allowed. The Ravens that only pressured Baker Mayfield seven times on their big blitzes got to Watson on … we don’t know the number yet but I’m assuming it’ll be right in line with the Chiefs games.

This is killing the offense. I’m not sure if it’s something that can be audibled out of or what, but the complete lack of a real checkdown game for blitzes is destroying this offense. The offensive line — which, I think if we’re being honest with ourselves, hasn’t played well this year — is put in an awful position. Deshaun is put in an awful position. The receivers are forced to win quickly. The third-and-11 that led directly to the quitting field goal from O’Brien was a play that was almost unbelievable:

So it’s third-and-11, they run a variant of a mesh concept with a lot of intersecting underneath routes. The Ravens not only have a lineman jump it, but they get a rusher completely untouched. So … you’re throwing short on third-and-11 … and Watson STILL gets crushed … and STILL nobody is open. Maddening.

I think this is a situation that calls for a lot of urgency, and it’s about something that we’ll talk about in our third section as well. Other teams have had a full offseason to prepare for this stuff. It’s not that surprising anymore! They are going to come after Deshaun Watson. They are going to ask Bill O’Brien to counter that. Houston just has no game plan for this. I wouldn’t be surprised if it stays a festering wound this offense wears until they come up with real plans. They barely run screens, they barely throw over the middle. It felt like a miracle that Randall Cobb got involved in the third quarter, then he immediately disappeared. They need to put something different on film or this is going to be a “same shit, different day” situation every Sunday. And hey, the Steelers? They’re going to blitz Deshaun. FYI. All that offensive line talent doesn’t mean a lick if Watson is still getting his ass beat every Sunday. You’ve protected nothing.

3) I liked the fourth-and-1 go. I think it showed some awareness. I don’t think O’Brien followed through with what that actually meant.

So in a 3-0 game near the end of the first quarter, the Texans come out on fourth-and-1 at their own 34 and went for it. Let me tell you what I liked about that: It was a) aggressive and b) showed that Bill O’Brien knew his opponent well enough to know that he needed to be aggressive. Game script matters a lot to the Texans the way they are currently set up on offense. It was an acknowledgement that the Texans needed to play this game with some risk.

The play itself, was terrible. It was a variation of the same play they’d just run on third down to set up the fourth down. They got Baltimore to call a timeout, so that was nice. But then they out-thought themselves. Randall Cobb literally said they “might’ve been ready for that one.”

And then after he failed, O’Brien turtled right back up. He may come to the analytical side of fourth downs well as a theory, but as soon as he touches the hot stove and gets burned, O’Brien is back on DoorDash ordering empty field goals. The Texans had a drive cooking in the third quarter, down 13, sputtered out on the aforementioned throw to Cooks, then turtled up so that they could turn a two-score game into … still a two-score game. On a reasonable fourth-and-6.

After going down 30-13, in a game where with Baltimore’s run offense you can’t reasonably expect three possessions, they settled for another field goal. Fourth-and-15 makes that a little more presentable as a casual call, but with 8:13 left in the game, you have to figure there’s little chance you’re seeing the ball two more times. You need points in a hurry. Dial up Ka’imi Fairbairn. The Texans didn’t get the ball back until there was only 3:44 left. Was that their biggest sin? No. The first one was. But it was a mopey mentality.

Bill O’Brien’s Houston tombstone is going to read that he had some genuinely good ideas at times, and when he cared, he was able to scheme it up pretty well too. But the consistency, the logical connection of the steps … they were never there. What it adds up to without that edited and arbited train of thought is that things feel random. Why does Max Scharping get benched but not Zach Fulton? Why does Vernon Hargreaves get benched but not Brandon Dunn? It all begins to feel like management by rolling dice.

4) Speaking of logical connections: Do the Texans have a deep passing offense?

Deshaun Watson threw three balls of a depth of more than 20 yards, completing two of them for 62 yards. The one he missed was the one play I’d been wondering if we’d ever see: David Johnson in man coverage. This is the throw that you have to believe can play if you ever want any chance of seeing a rationale in the Hopkins trade:

Another harried throw, another one just barely missed.

In game one, Watson threw just three balls deep as well. That was with a healthy Will Fuller. Last year, Watson attempted 76 throws of 20 or more yards, an average of a little over five per game since he sat Week 17. In the games that Fuller played last year, they threw 5.36 20-yard throws per game.

Now, is some of this locked behind whatever happened to Fuller’s leg in this game? Yes. Is it about the defenses they’ve faced? Maybe Baltimore, but you shouldn’t be scared of attempting deep balls on Kansas City’s cornerbacks. Is some of it to do with getting new chemistry with receivers? Maybe a bit. But that shouldn’t stop teams from attempting deep balls. The fact of the matter is that all the expensive design of this team with Watson has been aimed at deep balls. Will Fuller is supposed to get them. Brandin Cooks is supposed to get them. Laremy Tunsil is supposed to buy time at them.

The fact that this team has only attempted six of them in two games is a major commentary of where this offense is right now. What this team is supposed to be isn’t happening. This is … well, this is long look in the mirror territory. The Texans need big plays to win games on offense, because they can’t rely on their defense to play as well as it did this weekend. What is stopping this team from hitting deep balls? What about their philosophy is failing? If you took Watson off this team right now, I believe we’d be talking about this offense in the same vein we talk about like, the Jets. There’s not a lot of time to get this corrected, as a certain head coach would say. There’s a lot of improving that needs to get done to get this team back in a playoff driver’s seat. These two losses won’t bury them, but they sure as hell have clarified many issues the team needs to address before they’re ready to be in the same breath as the real contenders of the AFC.


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