The Texans' Biggest Problems Right Now...
- Posted: Thu Sep 24 2015 08:36:31 GMT-0500 (CDT)
- Updated: Thu Sep 24 2015 08:53:52 GMT-0500 (CDT)
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Most would probably say the running backs, or the passing game. Perhaps injuries, the secondary, or our currently-healthy linebackers' complete inability to cover tight ends. It's true that Blue and Co. (or is it Polk and Co. now?) haven't done much of anything. Mallett and Hoyer have done too much of everything. J-Jo hasn't even lived up to his starting cornerback spot (and he's not the only one in the defensive backfield), let alone the hefty extension he just signed in the offseason. And tight ends (theirs, obviously, not ours)... Good grief. We still have Gronk to worry about later this year. Get well soon, Mike Mohammed... Oh, and drops. "Mallett throws really hard" isn't an excuse for the few incompletes he's thrown accurately.
Those are indeed major issues, but anyone who's discussed the subject with me, since the 2013 season, knows my two biggest gripes: Offensive line and special teams.
Special teams is much easier to sum up, so we'll cover that first: Horrible field position for our offense, great field position for theirs. I really miss watching Charles James II down punts within the 10 yard line (and honestly, I'd prefer the occasional big WR making the catch despite his super-tight coverage as a CB than what we've gotten so far from Joseph, Jackson, and Bouye).
Caveats: I know Xavier Su'a-Filo and Duane Brown have been hurt. The latter obviously wasn't himself in Week 1, even against Justin Houston. Ben Jones, while back in his natural position of center, is readjusting after playing as an undersized guard last year (though he seems to have been better there). Jeff Adams was dealing with abdominal issues in Week 1, and is now out for the season. RT Derek Newton was out of position last week (though he's played LG before). Pro Bowl center Chris Meyers was cut in the offseason—a move I supported, as he was too expensive for an undersized (albeit gym rat) center who was really good at zone run-blocking, but not so much in pass protection - though in hindsight, he's definitely missed right now.
With those out of the way, let's take a look at how the first two of the aforementioned "I can't watch this anymore" follies (the two most seem to be citing as our biggest problems) are also affected by the OL's play.
The Running Game
The great Barry Sanders couldn't average 4 yards per carry behind this group. For years now, the Texans have done pretty well in run blocking, and not so much in pass protection. So far this year, neither is at an NFL level. As mentioned above, we may again see Chris Polk doing the most on the ground. Alfred Blue is OK (far from great) when the hole is perfect, right where he expects it to be. Otherwise, straight into the lead blocker for maybe a gain of 1-2 yards. Foster's patience and peripheral vision are hardly abundant in Blue. Polk, at least, has some ability to adapt on the fly. Actually, I would like to see more of Jonathan Grimes, which is exactly what I said last year (and 2013, when Ben Tate tried to carry the offense on four broken ribs), and not just straight up the middle or receiving; however, he may miss this week with an injury.
It really doesn't matter until (hopefully) next week. The only back on this roster who can make this line look good is Foster. If the OL keeps this up, the RBs won't even make it into Tampa's backfield for @JungleBoi_Swaggg to miss tackles. DJ: Though I miss the sound of your hits, and even as poorly as our DBs have played, I don't miss you. At all. Kendrick Lewis is a different story. Screw you, Baltimore... Unless we can have Charles James II back.
Speaking of James, perhaps a scatback like him, or more of Chandler Worthy (maybe) can change the pace enough to offset our run-blocking woes; the more likely answer, though, is even bigger loss of yards if we take that approach with the line playing like this.
The Passing Game
Ryan Fitzpatrick has now torched the Browns and our nemesis, the Colts, this season. I was the only Texans fan I know who said that Fitzy wasn't to blame for our problems last year (nor Rick Smith/BOB for signing him and keeping him as the starter for so long, respectively). Ryan Mallett, on the other hand, has played like what he should have been, again, this year: A backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick. That's right, I said it.
Yes, "The Other Beard" held onto the ball too long (getting rid of the ball isn't always the answer, as Mallett's current 5.6% completion percentage under pressure attests). He also got out of a LOT of trouble caused by breakdowns in pass protection that neither Mallett nor Hoyer can. You don't want a QB to run out of the pocket for no reason. I DO want one who can extend plays when it breaks down. He's also completing a nifty 63.8% this year (don't say that's a fluke, it was 63.1% over the course of last year). He's also 2-0 (with a 94.3 rating, which is actually worse than last year's 95.3). Hoyer/Mallett are the opposite of that W-L tally. He has also won the starting job even once Geno Smith comes back (a job Smith never should have been given this year, pre-sucker-punch, but still...).
Yes, Fitzpatrick has an outstanding defensive-minded head coach overseeing what was already a fantastic defense before Revis, Cromartie, and Skrine gave them the (at least near-) Dream Team of cornerbacks. He also now has the luxury of a good, if not great, offensive line. Our O-line was pretty solid last year—for the second half of the season. I doubt we would have been better than 4-5 if Mallett was dealing with the "protection" Fitzy was dealt for the first 9 games of last year.
Like Foster, Fitz's legs (and huevos) made up for a lot of our OL deficiencies last season. We don't have that luxury anymore (nor, apparently, a QB who can complete much more than half of his passes). Fitz wasn't ever going to be the answer for us, but he's better, especially with this OL, than what we have right now.
I get it. Standing your ground, in formation, is much harder than attacking. Pass protection is tough, especially against two opponents who are gifted in the pass rush department; however, if our front 5 (plus TE and/or RB) can't stop a 4-5 man rush, allowing Carolina to routinely drop 6-7 into coverage, we're in BIG trouble.
Newton at LT, until Brown is healthy, then back to RT (where Kendall Lamm can fill in for now). Move Ben Jones back to LG. Brandon Brooks has consistently been solid at RG. QB JJ Watt under center (who will be Wilfork, until Su'a-Filo returns to play center, not LG), tossing to Charles James II (yes, he makes the roster in my world) or, in a(n even bigger) pinch, handing off to Clowney (he played tailback in high school). Maybe Akeem Dent would make a good short-yardage back. While we're at it, let's give Christian Covington some snaps at TE—his hands and blocking can't be any worse than Garrett Graham's last week.
In all seriousness, though, the Texans need to make better investments in their OL. Su'a-Filo was a start (maybe, though I'm curious as to our pre-draft due diligence on him health-wise). While, being raised in H-Town, I'm required by law to despise that other pro football team from Texas, I have always respected their prioritization of the front five. 2014 NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray has just 11 yards on 21 carries over 2 games in Philly (albeit with a hamstring injury), after Chip Kelly got rid of All-Pro guard Evan Mathis. Like us, O-line is hardly the Iggles' only problem. But apparently, like us, it's a big one. Meanwhile, the 'boys are 2-0 without their star WR and QB, running by a committee that—even if combined into one person—should still be a shell of Murray. Perhaps there is some merit to the idea that Murray's 2014 was more a product of having the league's best OL. I don't think that's the whole picture, but Murray has yet to prove otherwise.
Hopefully, Brown will return soon and newly-acquired, former-Jet guard Oday Aboushi will fit back in with (also former-Jet) OL Coach Mike Devlin's schemes in a hurry. Our defense, while not living up to expectations yet, cannot keep spending so much time on the field. Mallett/Hoyer/? cannot keep throwing over 50 times a game, so hopefully the OL settles down quickly to open up the running game. Hopefully Foster is ready to play in Week 4 to make it easier on them. Hopefully. Without a whole bunch of "hopefully" materializing very soon, this season is all but lost. If so, hopefully there's a QB in the 2016 draft BOB and Rick Smith deem worthy of an early first round pick, a capable backup/future-starting RB worthy of the second, and, aside from perhaps a safety (if Demps/Pleasant/Hal/Ballentine can't figure it out quickly), the rest of our 2016 picks should be to fortify the OL (but lock Rick Smith out of the war room for the 2nd and 3rd rounds).
As for special teams, coordinator Bob Ligashesky may be good at coaching up blocked kicks/punts, but the kickoff/punt return and return coverage games are even worse so far than they were last year. I realize that, absent the Jumaal Rolle trade that never happened, Charles James II's only chance of making this roster was as a special teams and gadget player. But man, was he good in punt return coverage. I really wanted to see what he could do as a returner as well. UDFA Chandler Worthy (and his 4.3 speed) is promising, but there's only one big-ish return to show for that potential so far. If 3rd round pick Jaelen Strong can practice well enough to get playing time, there may not even be a spot for Worthy (especially once TE Ryan Griffin comes back from IR), though I'd personally demote Mumphery before Worthy.
So far, 5th round pick Keith Mumphery isn't the answer. At least the K-Mart era is over in Houston, over which I was turning backflips when I heard. That, to me, was much bigger news than Mallett getting the start for Week 2 (which BOB confirmed the same day); so far, though, Mumph has been Keyshawn Martin part deux. Drops as a WR. Lots of return yards horizontally, but not so much upfield. Ugh. I vote for Worthy as the 1st option on kickoff and punt returns immediately (or Grimes when he gets back, if we won't utilize him as the first backup to Foster that he deserves to be in the current backfield. Or Polk, if we do). At least Blue, our current starting RB, is good on special teams...