Enemy Intelligence: Houston Texans

Last week, the Houston Texans stayed up late to come from behind and beat the San Diego Chargers, 31-28, in the second Monday night game. The Texans went behind 28-7 early in the second half before rallying to come back for the win.

Since the Texans have only played one game, this post will be based on what I saw from them in Week 1 and also the umpty-umph hours of them I watched over the offseason in the course of writing the Texans content in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013. Fortunately, this is not that big a deal because fundamentally the Texans are still the Texans. Gary Kubiak is in his eighth season as head coach. Wade Phillips is in his third season as defensive coordinator. By and large, they're doing the same things they did last year and the year before, and the key players this year are the same as the key players last year and the year before. What I saw in Enemy Intelligence last year is still mostly on target.

After the jump, some more specific thoughts on the Texans. 

1. Offensively the key is still the outside zone. Defenders, don't let yourself get reached on the edge and don't overpursue to open up either the cutback or the bootleg. Obviously, this is easier said than done.

2. Ben Tate is splitting the load with Arian Foster (18 for Foster, 9 for Tate against San Diego). For a while Tate was good for gashing the Titans on one long run on inside zone a game, though that didn't happen in an injury-plagued 2012. Foster has better vision but not the same long speed.

3. Notwithstanding what I said earlier, the Texans seem to be incorporating a few more gap plays. It's not just inside zone and outside zone all day. These are better for Tate, who does not have the vision to be a great zone back.

4. Andre Johnson is still Andre Johnson. He's a high volume receiver who can do it all. Only 12-146 (on 16 targets) against San Diego, ho hum.

5. Owen Daniels isn't the seam-stretcher he was earlier in his career, but he's a reliable target who gets in good spots and can make contested catches. The other tight end, Garrett Graham, could probably be described as sneaky good, though again he's not as fast as a younger Daniels.

6. Left tackle Duane Brown has a shockingly miserable game against Dwight Freeney in pass protection and also got stood up by Corey Liuget on a fourth down run. Both Liuget and Freeney are good players, but Brown was getting some push as the best left tackle in the game last year. I didn't agree with that, but I'm interested in seeing how he rebounds. He's still amazingly mobile for a left tackle and a good fit for the outside zone. The right side of the line is still a work in progress.

7. The Texans are a run-heavy team, but they script early and pass a lot on their scripted plays. This is nowhere near news, but it's something to keep an eye on.

8. How much of what the Texans did with their defensive front against San Diego was a result of (a) Antonio Smith's absence due to suspension and (b) a desire to exploit San Diego's weakness in pass protection on the tackles? They did more 3-man line and more stand-up end than I was used to seeing. My guess is they'll look to test the middle of the Titans line more than they did San Diego's.

9. J.J. Watt is still ridiculous, but they need a secondary rusher. Whitney Mercilus is supposed to be that guy, and he has some cornering ability, but that was a bigger problem for San Diego than I expect it to be for Tennessee. Then again, David Stewart is slowed and Brooks Reed gave him fits and seemed to get under his skin in the game in Houston last year.

10. Brian Cushing is back, and while had a pick-6 on a zone blitz drop I'm not sure he's moving like he did last year before he got hurt. Joe Mays is the other inside linebacker. He's a guy, though maybe a little better version of one than Bradie James was when wearing #53 was last year.

11. One matchup I'll be interested to watch is how much we get of Kendall Wright against nickel slot corner Brice McCain. McCain was great last year, okay until he got hurt last year, and San Diego had some success going against him.

12. The safeties can be had in pass coverage. Ed Reed is an assistant secondary coach thanks to his health issues. Danieal Manning is not great in coverage. Shiloh Keo is a special teams player. D.J. Swearinger was exploited frequently by Antonio Gates last week. Between them, McCain, and the linebackers, I think the middle of the field is the area to attack rather than testing Johnathan Joseph or Kareem Jackson (who's gotten a lot better) on the outside.

The line for the game is something like the Texans by 9.5 points. That seems about right. They're a clearly better team, playing at home, but not incredibly awesome. They have more consistent strengths than the Steelers do and are very good at taking the air out of games once they have the lead, something they did very effectively in the game in Nashville last year. The Titans will have to play better than they did against the Steelers to win.

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