Enemy Intelligence: The last two Houston Texans games

If this post is longer than normal, it’s because I took advantage of the bye week to watch the Texans’ two most recent games. Way back two weeks ago, they lost the the Oakland Raiders at home, 25-20, when Matt Schaub was intercepted in the end zone on the final play of the game. Last week, they lost to the Ravens at Baltimore, 29-14, as the Ravens scored on five of six meaningful second half possessions.

Here’s what I saw:

  • The Texans offensively are still the Texans. Arian Foster runs inside zone and outside zone. The offensive line is playing about as well as they did last year, defying my expectations of some regression. Arian Foster has been doing somewhat of a CJ impression, missing some holes he hasn’t missed in the past, but still has very good vision. They use a lot of tight ends, and they throw the ball to them. Matt Schaub playfakes and bootlegs.
  • Andre Johnson is out, which is good news for the Titans’ defense. Starting in his place is Jacoby Jones, who had a miserable day against the Raiders (1 catch on 11 targets) and a better one against the Ravens (4-76, TD). He has the speed to go deep and the hands to drop any pass.
  • Offensively, the guy who worries me is Owen Daniels. I don’t think he has Jared Cook’s straight-line speed, but he’s plenty fast and is a matchup issue for the Titans.
  • Johnathan Joseph is good, but whoever the second corner is, be it Kareem Jackson or Jason Allen, is something the Titans will probably look to pick on, the same way they picked on Steelers corner William Gay two weeks ago. Of course, if Damian Williams can’t get in the right place, that doesn’t really matter.
  • The Raiders defensive line (which is better than you probably think) got pressure on Matt Schaub in the passing game. I’m not sure how repeatable that is. The Ravens did sack Schaub four times, but the big issue in pass blocking seemed to be guys other than the offensive linemen, which is another thing I’m not sure the Titans will be able to repeat. One thing the Raiders did do the Titans could is get their hands up and tip Schaub’s passes.
  • You can run on the Texans right up the middle, as nose tackles Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell aren’t anything to write home about. Unfortunately, the Titans can’t run the ball up the middle. Stoppable force v mobile object ho!
  • I’ve done a couple Q&A exchanges about this game, and one thing about the Texans is their offensive line is very mobile. The Titans are going to need to be disciplined in defending the outside zone running play in particular this week, or Foster is going to gash them for big yardage.
  • The other back, Ben Tate, missed the Raiders game but was back for the Ravens game. He doesn’t have Foster’s vision, but is a good but not great back. I think he’s a little faster than Foster. The other back, Ogbonnaya, is just a guy.
  • I still like him best when he can just flow downhill to the ball, but Brian Cushing is playing better than he ever has. If his rookie year he was like a dumb bomb, flying straight wherever it was dropped, but now he’s a smart bomb, better able to track and destroy targets.
  • The Texans signed fullback Lawrence Vickers, who’s a guy I wanted the Titans to go after, but when healthy they’ve mostly been playing James Casey, a hybrid type who spent time at QB in college and lets them do interesting things with formations and route combinations. With Casey and all those tight ends on the field, plus Foster out of the backfield, it’s too easy for me to see Akeem Ayers lost in coverage after a play-fake, something the Steelers had success with.
  • Mario Williams is out for the year, and Brooks Reed is basically playing in his spot at OLB/stand-up defensive end and LDE when they go to four-man line in nickel. Reed’s not nearly as sudden, big, or athletic as Williams. I’m more worried about the other OLB, Connor Barwin.
  • Hey, it’s Derrick Mason. This will be his second game as a member of the Texans, and he’ll do the Derrick Mason things, playing in the slot and finding soft spots in zones where he can sit down. The Texans don’t have the same depth at receiver, but if they want to replicate the Steelers’ gameplan, I expect he’ll get the ball thrown his way a little bit.
  • Watching the Ravens again, Joe Flacco looks A LOT more comfortable than he did against the Titans. My assumption is this is a result of it being easier to identify and locate the coverage weakness than it was against Tennessee.
  • In contrast to Cushing, I’m just not seeing much from DeMeco Ryans. I’ve been up and down on him some over the course of his career, simply because I haven’t been sure how much of his work has been “decent MLB on terrible team.” Cushing’s strong play is pushing me more in that direction, though Ryans may be slow coming back from last year’s injury.

Overall, my impression going in that this is a winnable game for the Titans, but not one I’d have them favored to win on a neutral field, remains.

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