With the Jets getting set to take on the Houston Texans, I was able to ask Matthew Weston of Battle Red Blog a few questions on the state of the current AFC South leaders, who sit at 9-4 as they fly into New Jersey this weekend.
1. What does the Houston community think of the overall job Bill O’Brien has done in Houston, and what does his future with the team look like?
Winning games is a hell of a drug. At 0-3, I and many others, were ready for him to go away forever. Then Houston won a lot of games in a row, nine in fact, and saved their season. A team this talented, and with their top players healthy, had to make the postseason this year. Houston will and O’Brien will stick around. Overall, most, I included, think he’s mediocre. He’s bad at managing time outs, challenges, and end game scenarios. His playcalling is too conservative. It takes him too long to make some easy adjustments. But there’s something to be said for competency, and throughout his time here Houston has won games.
2. Following his phenomenal (but short) rookie year, was there any doubt Deshaun Watson would be able to follow it up in his second season? What questions did he need to answer, and how has he been able to sustain his elite level of play?
The big question was that Deshaun Watson had a touchdown rate above 9.0%, something that hadn’t been seen since Peyton Manning did it. The offense thrived last year because Watson was used as a runner, which set up deep play action passes that he completed. Yes there was a little squeaking of doubt. This year he hasn’t been as good. Regression was inevitable. But he also had his lungs deflated after getting smashed to begin the year, which limited his use as a runner, the team lost Will Fuller V for the season, and O’Brien has kept him in the pocket. Watson is a supreme talent. Yet there has been issues with his deep field accuracy lately, he’s been holding onto the ball too long, and the offense is more stagnant than it should be. He’s healthy now though. How much of it is him or scheming? It’s hard to say.
3. How good has J.J. Watt been since returning to the lineup? His production looks on par with the standards he set for himself throughout his career. Were there any bumps in the road for him on the way to returning to form?
Watching Watt is weird this year because he’s the best all around defensive end. He’s great. It’s incredible how good he’s been. Yet, he isn’t near the player he was during his defensive player of the year reign. He’s usually good for a sack, and three tackles for a loss a game, but he’s not hitting the quarterback 12 times, scoring touchdowns, and adding three more sacks to it like he has before. He squashes offensive drives on his own, but he isn’t winning entire games on his own anymore. His game has just been a lot of swim moves against right tackles. The really good ones like Braden Smith have been able to stop him, and he didn’t really start playing well until week three this season.
4. The one man Jets fans care about most at this point of the season is Sam Darnold. What will he be seeing in this Houston defense? In particular, I noticed that they rank dead last in red zone defense, why do you think that is the case? Where are their other strengths and weaknesses and what are their schematic philosophies like?
The Texans’ defense is simple this year. They have the best run defense in football, a top ten pass rush, and a horrendous secondary. When they play teams like the Jets that have to run the ball, and aren’t even very good at it to begin with, they’re dominant. When they play teams like the Colts that can actually throw the ball downfield, players like Shareece Wright are exploited, and offenses move the ball easily. The problem Sam Darnold will have is the amount of long third downs he’ll be in after 0-1 yard gains on first and second down*, Romeo Crennel has done a great job baiting rookie quarterbacks into mistakes, and Darnold has made plenty this season.
*- This is a scary matchup for Darnold; Houston’s run defense is great as Matthew mentioned, and the Jets have picked up no gain or less on a higher frequency of 1st and 2nd down run plays than every team but the Browns.
5. Can the 2018 Houston Texans win Super Bowl 53? What strengths have they shown that make you believe that they absolutely can, and what weaknesses have been revealed that make you skeptical?
Houston has the record of a Superbowl contender, but their record is the result of playing teams that align exactly with their defensive strength. The only competent passing offense they beat during their win streak was Indy in week 4. The Colts lost T.Y. Hilton in the second half, still hadn’t settled on their offensive line that’s now one of the best pass blocking units, dropped a snap in the endzone that was recovered by Jadeveon Clowney, and still didn’t lose until a hilarious Frank Reich fourth down decision in overtime. The rest of the year Houston played teams with awful passing offenses that couldn’t attack Houston’s secondary, while their offense did just enough. In the postseason they’ll have to play KC, NE, PIT, or LAC sometime, and the offense hasn’t shown it can score the 31 points needed to beat them. At 9-4 Houston is a Superbowl contender, but in reality they really aren’t.