For a quick preview of tomorrow's game and to provide everyone over here with a scouting report on the Texans from someone who follows them closely, I traded some questions with Battle Red Blog's Brett Kollmann. Make sure you head over to Battle Red Blog today and tomorrow because they do outstanding work over there (and I'm not just saying that) - lots of X's and O's, and honest, rational analysis.
Thanks to Brett for the scouting!
My questions in bold, his answers follow:
1. What would you say is the Texans' core philosophy on offense? Has the team stuck to that this year and overall, how has that side of the ball performed?
The Texans offense and Seahawks offense are literally carbon copies of each other. The run scheme, just like Seattle, is all zone based while the passing game heavily relies on boot action bombs to Andre Johnson (or Golden Tate in Seattle's case) for big plays. Owen Daniels, like Zach Miller, will also be running eleventy billion crossing routes behind linebackers on Sunday as Matt Schaub's favorite chain mover. Hell, the Texans have also incorporated the pistol into their offense this season, so you could legitimately make a case that Seattle and Houston could swap play books and nobody would know the difference.
2. Similarly, how would describe the Wade Phillips defense? What are the core philosophies and how has the defense played this year thus far?
The Phillips defense also shares some similarities into Seattle in the way he uses mixed gap concepts along the five man front. Brooks Reed is our own version of Red Bryant in that his job is to just stack tight ends and play the D and C gaps while J.J. Watt plays fast and loose inside with little to no responsibility other than "go blow up the offense". Houston's nose shade however, unlike Brandon Mebane, is also a one gap player and is asked to penetrate the A gap on every single snap. Antonio Smith and Whitney Mercilus work on the weak side B and C gaps like any normal three and seven technique pass rushing duo.
The difference between Houston's front and Seattle's front, at least in my estimation, is the different philosophies of how a defensive line and linebacker corps work together. In Seattle, Pete Carroll likes his defensive line on the offense's strong side to be physically imposing and hold their ground so that Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright can play like mad men all up and down the line, whereas in Houston it is the five men up front that are asked to make all the splash plays in the back field while Brian Cushing and Joe Mays/Darryl Sharpton clean up any trash that gets through on the second level. I suppose that is one of the main reasons why Bobby Wagner is so lauded in Seattle while Watt has achieved Godlike status among Houstonians.
In the secondary, Wade Phillips and Pete Carroll share an affinity for man coverage across the board, but unlike Carroll's unit, Phillips allows his corners to move all over the field to follow their assigned man for that game. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are fairly entrenched on the left and right sides of the field (San Francisco game not withstanding), but it is pretty common to see Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson playing right next to each other if their assigned receiver motions across the field. For that reason I think it is a little bit harder to get good matchups for number on receivers on Houston than it is on Seattle, though if Richard Sherman keeps lobbying to follow the league's top receivers all game that could change soon enough.
What Houston does not have is Earl Thomas. However, we do have what Earl Thomas wants to be - Ed Reed (or at least be in his prime, anyway). Seattle runs a lot of single high looks and relies on Earl Thomas to be the ball hawking center fielder that Ed Reed was a few short years ago, and he may yet get to that level some day. Wade Phillips is more of a Cover 2 aficionado though, so I do not expect Reed to be patrolling deep as much as he used to in Baltimore (though I have seen an increase in Cover and Cover 3 looks since Reed's arrival, even if it is not by much).
So that is about as quick a crash course in the Houston defense as I can possibly give, and for the most part this unit has been stellar. Seattle and Houston are the number one and two defenses in the NFL respectively. They both have only allowed 4.3 yards per play, they are the only defenses to average less than 250 yards surrendered per game (the next closest is the Jets at 270), and they are both among league leaders in three and outs forced. There of course have been hiccups for Houston, namely the Chargers going on a rampage in the opening half of the season and the Titans getting a 99 yard TD drive, but more often than not this defense has been dominant.
3. Are there any major injury issues this week for Houston and what kind of effect will that have on the game or game plan?
Duane Brown is easily the biggest injury that Texans fans are watching this week. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil pressured Schaub to no end last week in Baltimore with the All-Pro left tackle out of with turf toe, and the task of pass blocking gets no easier this Sunday against Seattle. Hawks fans know how helpless it feels to be on offense with no pass protection with Russell Okung also on the sidelines (other than when playing the Jaguars, but who really didn't see that coming), so this game has potential to be sack city for both sides.
4. How do you think Houston will go about attacking Seattle on defense?
The enemy of zone blocking is penetration, and if any defense knows how to get into the back field in an instant it is the Texans. If J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith play their best games and force Marshawn Lynch into the waiting arms of Brian Cushing, this game could get ugly for the Seahawks offense. Despite the reliability of Zach Miller and the big play threats from Golden Tate/Sidney Rice, third and long is not a place you want to be when J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are matched up with JR Sweezy and Paul McQuistan. Percy Harvin will be sorely missed in this one, especially considering Houston nickel corner Brice McCain gets eaten for breakfast on a virtual weekly basis.
5. How do you think the offense will game plan to beat Seattle's defense?
I do not expect a lot of successful runs from Arian Foster or Ben Tate as long as Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane are on the field, but that does not mean that Houston can't do a lot of damage through the air. The Texans offense has a ton of route concepts built in to defeat man coverage because our receivers face it so often with eight men in the box, so I expect an endless barrage of pick plays and screens to force Seattle to retreat from Man Cover 1 to Zone Cover 3. From there it is all on Matt Schaub to direct the offense efficiently with enough smashes and seam routes to move the ball. Seattle's pass defense is excellent, but just as the Chargers proved in week one, even the most talented defenses can get taken advantage of by terrible receiving corps if the game plan is good enough.
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