Welcome to the second session of Scouting the Opposition: Houston Texans (Week 2) vs. Tennessee Titans. We try to break down some of the talent on the opponents to see match up issues.
The Texans are an enigma to decipher because stats don’t really do justice to their team. Theoretically, that defense should dominate, but JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney rarely played at top strength next to each other. The offense should dominate with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, yet the young QB was hurt early last year. I’m omitting overall stats from last season because losing your top defensive player and top QB changes a team completely.
Deshaun Watson: He burst onto the scene last year looking absolutely unstoppable. He ended the short year with a 103 passer rating, which was above Tom Brady’s rating last year, and he was destroying the league in QBR. Suffice to say, he was a sensation until his injury, and it was the main reason of hope in Houston this season.
What does he do well?
This is from last year, where the Texans beat the Titans in a rout (so…..trigger warning) but I want you to notice the formation here. The Texans line up 2 receivers in stack formations to both sides against a single high safety look. The formation itself puts the defense at risk because there is open space in the middle for crossing routes since two of the cornerbacks aren’t playing press man coverage. This formation risks the receiver running a crossing route from the formation for an easy conversion. It’s important to know this because the Titans are sacrificing a possible easy pass to protect against the run. Also notice the linebackers in this case because one linebacker goes for outside contain on a possible run, which leaves a gaping hole in the middle for Watson to run. This is a situation where the Titans risked an easy pass situation to stop the run, and still let up an easy run. This play here is the biggest benefit of a mobile QB because there is that extra element that teams have trouble defending. This is what makes Watson dangerous because he’s a good passer, but also has the ability to run when he needs to. The caveat being that his ACL injury could hamper his scrambling abilities, which would limit his upside. Deshaun Watson played great last year, because he posed dual threats to the defense, and defensive coordinators didn’t have time to plan for it. The ACL injury combined with more tape on him in the NFL, there should be a regression.
He rushed for 4 yards in Week 1 against the New England Patriots, so the Texans don’t seem to be limiting his options.
Please keep the last play in mind, because this plays off from that result. On this play, they have a receiver go in motion to indicate man coverage, and the Titans are playing a single safety, but he’s too close to the line of scrimmage at first. It’s a late movement from the defense, because part of the reason is to bait the QB. The defense is blitzing here, so they are banking on an audible to a long pass that takes time to form, thus allowing to the blitz to hit the QB. The idea works, this is an incomplete pass. However, the threat of run causes the linebackers to slow down in the middle before attacking the QB. Notice the linebacker staying in the middle for a tick longer because Watson can run up the middle and he doesn’t want to be cornered into a hole. It’s not a large time difference, but it allows Watson to be in the pocket for slightly longer, which allows him to step into this pass.
The second aspect is Will Fuller, who thrived under Watson because with mobile QB, teams thrive with different tiers of the offense. Watson and the running game can dominate near the line of scrimmage with read option or play action. DeAndre Hopkins can dominate in the intermediate area because he’s just a great player. Will Fuller can dominate down the field because he’s a great deep threat, albeit he does have drop issues.
In my article about the Titans hiring LeFleur, I mentioned how the system works based on those three tiers. Furthermore, I predicted the Titans would target a deep threat in free agency or draft (It didn’t happen), which might hold back the offense. However, the Texans offense performs on the same wave, because they attack three tiers.
Lamar Miller: He seems to show up on at least one of my fantasy teams every year, and ends up being disappointing, even though he does have the ability to be a good running back.
You can see Miller having good vision on this run, as he cuts back to the middle, and gains a first down. He isn’t one of those Trent Richardson type of running backs that can’t run without a huge hole in front of him, but rather a safe runner. He isn’t going to be a league leader, but he’s a decent starter that fits into their offense.
The added element with Miller is that he can catch passes from the backfield as well. On this play, the Titans bite hard on the reverse to Hopkins, but forget that aspect of this play since it’s a gimmick. The interesting aspect is the defenders in the middle, and how enamored they are with blocking Watson’s running lane, rather than worrying about Miller to the outside.
DeAndre Hopkins: One of the top 3 receivers in the league, he’s just a Hall of Fame level player. I’m not going deep into the scouting report here, because he’s such a known commodity.
Will Fuller: He’s the deep threat we talked about in the Watson area, although there is some concern he may not play in this game. The head coach says he will play, so that adds another level threat to the offense for the Texans. He did not play against the Patriots in Week 1, which limited the potential for Watson as well.
Bruce Ellington: He’s the slot receiver for the Texans, albeit he’s not as much of a threat on his own. I believe his stats come from defenses focusing in on Hopkins/Fuller, and I believe he’s been released a few times in his career.
The Texans offensive line was one of the worst in the league last year, but they made massive changes. Only Nick Martin is the holdover for the offensive line, so last year’s data is pretty much useless. This article from the Houston Press indicated a marked improvement on the offensive line.
As a departure from last week, I’ll go through some important players rather than highlighting every single player.
JJ Watt: When healthy one of the best defensive ends in the game, although it’s hard to tell if he’s completely healthy. He had 0 sacks in the game against the Patriots, although he certain came close.
As you can see on this play, this is a borderline penalty on the Patriots tackle, but Watt fights through the block to get a hand on the ball as Brady is releasing the pass. He has some of the highest potential for a defensive player. While the stats weren’t there in terms of sacks or QB pressures (up to his usual stats) he looked healthy in Week 1, which is bad news for the Titans.
Jadeveon Clowney: He usually plays opposite of Watt, and provides loads of upside as the former No. 1 overall pick.
On this play, you can see Clowney fake an inside rush with Taylor Lewan, cut outside and throw down the star left tackle as he gets a sack on Matt Cassel. Part of the blame has to go on Cassel because he holds onto the ball for too long, but this is just a glimpse of the potential he offers. In this instance, he’s lined up opposite of JJ Watt, but I’ve seen a few times where they stack Watt and Clowney next to each other to wreak havoc to one side of the formation.
Zach Cunningham: Titans fans could be familiar with the linebacker, because he was a star at Vanderbilt University. He compiled 90 tackles last year as a rookie, and shows a good ability to shed blockers. Although in college, he was considered very good in coverage, but hasn’t been quite the same. He’s still graded out good, but hasn’t been a star quite yet. He certainly has the potential to be a stud, and many players make large leaps in the second year.
On this play, Cunningham he’s looking to plug the B gap and he’s tasked with closing the cutback lane. The linebacker over the top is going to take the A gap, and Cunningham closes off the cutback lane by getting around the guard, and tackling the runner before he can convert this 3rd down play. Notice how Cunningham sheds the guard’s hand on this play, which helps him push up the field to make the tackle.
Tyrann Mathieu: The honey badger signed with the Texans in the off-season and he has game changing potential. He just has a natural ability to be there for game changing plays.
On this play he gets an interception on this play, although it’s not the best coverage. The Patriots have the running back coming out the backfield and Mathieu has a decent coverage, and then gets an interception on the tipped pass. He’s lost a step since his Pro-Bowl days but he’s a ball hawk in coverage.
Johnathan Joseph: He’s one of the better cornerbacks in the game with good coverage ability, although he’s on the downside of his career. He’s not quite the shutdown corner he was in the past, but still posses enough skill to a stud.
This is an interception from a Browns game last year, so take it with a little bit of salt. Joseph is lined up to the outside, and facing Sammie Coates, who is basically just a go route receiver at this point. Notice how Jackson protects the deep route, but when Coates turns around, Jackson shows exceptional ability to stay with the receiver. The QB doesn’t have enough arm strength for this pass, so it’s intercepted.
The offense has a shot to be good in this game IF Marcus Mariota plays in this game, and his hand is healthy. However, it really depends on the hand because as we saw last week, he can’t float passes out there like those interceptions. If Mariota isn’t playing, I don’t have much faith in Gabbert to lead the team to a victory.
The running back duo of Henry and Lewis should do well, especially with Mariota because it provides the same match up issues we talked about with Deshaun Watson earlier in the article.
The receivers might have trouble in this game, because Corey Davis didn’t seem to be on the same page as the QBs more than a few times. The loss of Delanie Walker is huge for the offense, so the real sleeper for this week is Taywan Taylor, as he can create match up issues from the slot.
The Titans are going to have trouble with Watson, they did last year, and they seemed to struggle with the mobility from Ryan Tannehill. The offensive line for the Texans seems to be improved (although the degree to which they may have improved is hard to decipher at this point) which could cause Lamar Miller to have a big game.
DeAndre Hopkins is a tough match up for anyone, since I don’t think any cornerback can really shut him down. The Titans will most likely put Malcolm Butler on Hopkins because he’s more physical, but Hopkins will get his stats.
The health of Will Fuller will be colossal for the Texans because he adds that 3rd tier to the offense and will pose a major deep threat for the offense. If he’s healthy, I expect at least 2 deep throws from Watson to Fuller.
If Marcus Mariota plays and the hand is healthy:
31-28 Titans in a shootout. The offense looked good last week before the injury with Mariota, and seemed to just miss on some opportunities in a weird game. If Mariota is healthy, he helps slow down some of the Texans rush, and they win a shoot out.
If Blaine Gabbert plays the majority of the snaps:
28-10 Texans, and it’s not pretty. I have no real faith in Gabbert as a starter, because he just doesn’t have the accuracy to be a consistent guy in the NFL.
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