clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2019 Opponent Scouting Report: Texans Defense, not what they used to be

New, comments
NFL: AFC Wild Card-Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Indy Star-USA TODAY NETWORK

Overview

On October 20, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Houston Texans. In this Week 7 match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

These two teams have faced off a total of 35 times since the Texans came into the league in 2002. In that time our Colts have compiled a 27-8 record over the Texans and if you do better with percentages; the Colts have won more than 77% of all games played against Houston. The last time these two teams faced the Colts turned in a dominate playoff performance on the ground finishing with a final score of 21 to 7, though the game never felt like it was that close. Hopefully the Colts still have it in them to bully this Texans team like they did earlier this year.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week 7.


Defense

The Texans have had a consistent run of solid defensive coordinators over the years. From Wade Phillips to Romeo Crennel to Mike Vrabel (who wasn’t a great coordinator but the Titans, titan’d right up with a head coaching contract, in to a classic Titans move) and back to Crennel, this franchise is no stranger to coordinators who have had success at the games highest level. The Texans have historically used a 3-4 base set and while that designation seems a little silly considering what defenses actually do in the modern NFL, it’s more important to note that they do tend to use more 3-4 principals in their front seven, mainly the fact that they will be two gapping instead of controlling one gap with penetration. On the back end of the defense the Texans will primarily look to use zone coverage while mixing in man to man occasionally, especially when sending more than four pass rushers.

In learning more about defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and this Houston Texans defense I came across this article from Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle. Near the beginning of the article, Crennel talks about his desire to take away what his opponents do best and force them in to doing something they do poorly. This is interesting because Solomon went on to list some stats from the Colts 2018 regular season match-ups:

...In the two games against the Texans, Luck threw 103 passes as the Colts ran the ball just 40 times.

Luck posted six 300-yard games this season, including yardage totals of 464 and 399 against the Texans, his two highest of the season. He was responsible for two of the four 300-yard passing games the Texans gave up.

Crennel’s defenses have allowed just two 300-yard passers in his 13 playoff games as a coordinator.

This sometimes-dominant Texans’ unit is 28th in passing yards allowed but No. 3 against the run and fourth in points. When Luck threw for 399 yards, the Colts scored only 24 points.

This is interesting when we view these statements with the knowledge we have, knowing how the game that Crennel was preparing for, went. He stated he wanted to force the Colts into doing something they didn’t want to do, he mentioned putting his players into a position they are best at. So naturally Crennel wanted to force the Colts to run the ball given Luck’s high levels of success throwing the ball against his defense in 2018.

This seems simplistic but given what we know, this could tell us exactly what Crennel is going to try to do to our Colts on Sunday. Historically the Colts have shredded Houston’s secondary but last season’s playoffs proved that Crennel couldn’t choose to limit one aspect of the Colts offense, but this is a new season. The Colts are very good on the ground and have been inconsistent throwing the ball with Jacoby Brissett under center. Coincidentally the Texans have a top 10 run stopping defense. It stands to reason the Colts might see a lot of 8 man boxes, daring Brissett to throw on Sunday.

So what does this defense actually look like?

On a lot of plays you can expect to see something similar to the picture above; three down linemen, (including J.J. Watt who is still pretty darn good in case you were wondering) and Whitney Mercilus in a two point stance on the line. Mercilus is technically a linebacker but he will most often be found at or near the line of scrimmage. Fair warning: From here on out I’m probably going to go back and forth calling Mercilus a defensive lineman and a linebacker, because in my mind it makes more sense to view him as a defensive end, but technically he’s a ‘backer. So if I call him one thing and you think I’m technically incorrect, I’m going to copy and paste this in a comment replying to your complaint.

Like most defenses you’re going to see just a couple of linebackers and five defensive backs on most plays, but on this play the Texans have just four defensive backs in and have brought in their third (fourth but again with the Mercilus thing, just be cool, man) linebacker.

The Texans don’t blitz very often but I did notice on more than one occasion they would send their nickle cornerback on a delayed blitz. Other blitzes are designed to confuse an offense but ultimately they aren’t overly complex.

The Texans send a delayed double a-gap blitz that is effective, it gets Phillip Rivers off of his spot and he just gets rid of the ball as he is hit. On the back end of the defense the Texans are playing a very soft man coverage. There was no safety help over the top so it was imperative for them that no one get behind them in coverage. If this blitz is able to be picked up and there was less pressure on Rivers this would have been an easy completion for a first down.

Ultimately this defense isn’t complicated. It’s kind of boring, actually. They rely on playing disciplined, assignment football and hope that they have the talent to force the opposing offense into making mistakes.


Defensive Line

The Texans defensive line has undergone some changes recently. Perhaps you may have heard about the trade that sent Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for what amounted to a washing machine, three sticks of Big Red gum and a third round pick in 2020. While that sure doesn’t seem like a great return on a former number one overall pick the Texans are still doing just fine up front with the players they have on the roster.

First, J.J. Watt is still a monster. Based on what I saw from him he isn’t the guy he was a few years ago, but Watt at even 75% of what he used to be is still a very good football player. The other names to know: D.J. Reader, Angelo Blackson, Charles Omenihu and Brandon Dunn.

Reader is a massive individual at 6’3” 347 pounds, he looks like the kind of guy that has been asked to leave every Sirloin Stockade he’s ever been to after eating an entire roast beef. The problem for the Colts is that he looks like that but moves like a guy who eats a reasonable portion of roast beef before having a small bowl of fruit for desert and leaving a decent tip for that poor server who probably felt hopeful for their new gig at Sirloin Stockade at some point in the past.

Blackson has started all six games this season and has been on the field for nearly 43% of all defensive snaps so far. Omenihu is a rookie out of Texas who the Texans took in the fifth round. During the draft Omenihu fell much farther than I expected him to and I assumed the NFL just didn’t like his game as much as I did and while that might be true, he has vastly outperformed his draft slotting so far, racking up two sacks and forcing two fumbles in just four games. Obviously the sample size is small but Omenihu has been very active getting pressure on quarterbacks and it seems that the Texans may have stolen a good player on day three of the last draft.

Brandon Dunn will work in the rotation as well. He has played around 25% of all defensive snaps. One final name to know is rookie Carlos Watkins. The 6’3” 297 pound defensive end out of Clemson has only played in three games and hasn’t made a statistical impact in any real way but he should see time on the field rotating to keep guys fresh.

Overall this front seven has been very solid against the run. They currently rank 8th overall in yards allowed and in their last four games have given up an average of 69 (nice) rushing yards per game. With that said I did notice a couple things that stood out to me that the Colts might be able to use on Sunday.

The Chargers were able to have success running against the Texans in part due to their usage of pre-snap motion and fake jet-sweeps. It was just enough to hold the Texans backside defenders long enough to let their backs find holes on inside zone runs.

The motion before the snap causes the Texans to shift away from the play side which helps open a running lane for the back. This type of misdirection isn’t something the Colts always do but it could help grease the wheels this week.

Another example

This time the Texans didn’t shift and they stayed home to fill their gaps, this was a split zone run, which is usually designed to go inside, when the Texans didn’t shift it just meant that the right side of the defense didn’t have many defenders to make the stop. Justin Jackson made a good read and picked up a nice gain.

Running outside will be iffy

Mercilus and Watt are just so good at setting the edge and the Texans have good athletes at every level of the field. If the Colts can somehow force them to abandon their edge setting responsibilities this could change, but I don’t see that happening.

Reader

Watching Reader and Quenton Nelson battle is going to be a lot of fun. Nelson is a much better overall player but Reader should provide Nelson with a rare blend of size and athleticism that he won’t see that often.

Watt had a leg, I think

So this isn’t vintage J.J. Watt but he is highly effective. Braden Smith had success against the five time all-pro last season and he will need to be ready to play this week because Watt is still capable of wreaking havoc.

This is a solid defensive line, the Colts have a solid offensive line. It should be a good battle in the trenches all day long but I believe that the Colts still have the better of the two units.


Linebackers

Whitney Merclius, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Brennan Scarlett are the guys who will take the majority of the snaps at linebacker on Sunday.

McKinney is a very good interior linebacker. He’s solid in coverage but excels against the run. Cunningham has surprisingly been better against the rush than he has in coverage, with that said he has been on the field in coverage more than any other Texans linebacker this season. The coaching staff obviously believes he is an asset against opponent passing attacks. Scarlett is someone who will rotate in but will play close to the line much like Merclius.

This discipline is impressive

These Texans linebackers do a really good job of filling their assigned gaps and allowing the defense to work the way it’s designed to work. It’s not that often I turn on an end zone angle and see all 11 defenders playing their assignment. Romeo Crennel’s defense may not be exotic but the quality of he and his staff’s coaching is apparent when you see things like this.

McKinney really sells out

I included this play for several reasons. First anytime a linebacker jumps headfirst over a pile of football players, it’s fun to watch. Second, the Colts have gone for it on a lot of 4th and short’s this season and this is the first team that I’ve felt could challenge the Colts ability to consistently pick up those do or die plays.

The Texans linebackers are good but they aren’t great. They play disciplined football and their defensive line does a pretty good job keeping them clean to make plays when needed. So far the Texans seem to have a solid defense but don’t worry, good news is coming.


Defensive Backs

Hey guys, I found the weak link! It’s the defensive backs.

Starters Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby are both set to miss this weeks game against our Colts. Losing Joseph may be a blessing in disguise for the Texans as he’s 35 years old and I’m pretty sure T.Y. Hilton used a time machine to go back in time and become his daddy.

Filling in for them will be rookie Lonnie Johnson, journeyman Phillip Gaines and 2018 seventh round pick Keion Crossen. The only other cornerback on the roster that has played any football for the Texans at all this season is rookie Xavier Crawford, a sixth round pick out of Central Michigan and he has yet to log a defensive snap, instead playing 23 snaps on special teams.

At safety the Texans will trot out Tashaun Gipson who seems to be average in every possible way and Justin Reid who is a decent player all around.

This is the coverage they provided when CB1 Johnathan Joseph was healthy

Lonnie Johnson hasn’t played that well so far this season. Phillip Gaines looks to be this teams best cornerback heading into this weeks game and that might be a problem if you happen to have any rooting interest at all for these Texans.


Final Thoughts:

The Texans have some issues going into this game. For starters, they’re very injured on the back end of their defense, though T.Y. Hilton never had a problem torching Johnathan Joseph when he was fully healthy. Every defensive coordinator hopes to be able to take away his opponents strength so it’s not surprising heading into the Colts vs. Texans wildcard game last season, Romeo Crennel talked about doing so, what is surprising is that the Texans actually gave the Colts light boxes to run into early on in the game. They really wanted to force the Colts to use someone other than T.Y. Hilton to beat them.

Given that information and where the Colts are this season I believe the Texans are going to do everything they can to sell out and stop the run. The Colts have been good on the ground, the Texans have been good stopping their opponents rushing attacks. Instead I believe they will make Jacoby Brissett beat them with his arm and given the Texans current state of affairs in their training room, I don’t think he’ll have a problem doing just that.