Buccaneers vs. Texans: Full Houston Week 3 Preview

Brian McDonald@@sackedbybmacContributor ISeptember 24, 2015

Buccaneers vs. Texans: Full Houston Week 3 Preview

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    If you want to look at where the Houston Texans stand from a "glass half-full" mentality, consider this: If every game in the AFC South plays out the way Vegas predicts, then the Texans will enter Week 4 in a four-way tie for first place.

    According to Odds Shark, the Texans are seven-point favorites, while the New England Patriots are two-touchdown favorites to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts are five-point favorites to win at the Tennessee Titans.

    All of the favorites seem pretty likely to win, and if that happens, every team in the AFC South will have a 1-2 record.

    Parity is fun!

    However, if the Texans lose this game to Tampa Bay, historically speaking, their odds will take a nose dive. 

    Three teams have made playoffs in NFL since 1990 following an 0-3 start: the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills

    — Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 23, 2015

    Going off the idea that the Texans would need to win at least nine games to make the playoffs, that would obviously mean that they would need to finish 9-4 over their remaining 13 games to have a chance.

    It's not impossible, but with games against the Patriots, at the Bengals, at the Bills, at the Falcons and two against the Colts remaining on the schedule, going 9-4 would be very unlikely.

    The Texans need to win this week to save any chance they have left at making the playoffs.

Week 2 Results and Recap

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    What went right for the Houston Texans against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2?

    That's an easy answer: not much.

    The Panthers gained more total yards, won time of possession, averaged 2.5 yards per carry more in the running game and started with better average field position. The Texans won't win many games when the opponent wins each of those stat categories.

    On offense, the Texans had no balance, with 58 pass attempts to just 23 rush attempts.

    If your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, your team might get away with that kind of imbalance, but not when you're playing Ryan Mallett in just his third career NFL start.

    The entire team had issues, so it'd be unfair to focus on just Mallett, who did make a few excellent throws. 

    Mallett fits that in a tight window. Right over Klien and Graham makes a great catch. #Texans https://t.co/TwlE3JGnDg

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015 

    Mallett made many poor decisions and bad throws as well, but the blame shouldn't land only on his shoulders. Unfortunately, his offensive lineman got pushed back into his face too often and frequently messed up his rhythm and ability to step into his throws: 

    Chris Clark has to be better than this. Can't anchor and gets dumped into Mallett. #Texans https://t.co/zpXwGUi0dV

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    Alfred Blue also continued to struggle with his reads and picked up small gains when bigger runs were available:

    If Blue stays off of Jones here. He has more. Goes the other way for minimal gain. #Texans https://t.co/NweQ3SjbVh

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015 

    Blue look left and goes back right for some reason. Looks like it is blocked well to the left. #Texans https://t.co/QeiZi3e0g1

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    In addition to five drops from the receivers, Nate Washington also inexplicably fell down with no contact on what likely would have been a touchdown play: 

    All he has to do is keep his feet. Washington was beating DBs all day deep. They finally hit him. #Texans https://t.co/1CPFlnibha

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    On defense J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney looked as good as you would expect but didn't get much help from their teammates:

    Clonwey just moving Tolbert like nothing in mid pass rush. #Texans https://t.co/6agDjnJ0lO

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015 

    This was loud on the broadcast. Watt keeping his eyes up and finds his way to Cam. #Texans https://t.co/VAMOl9ongj

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015 

    Clowney paying violent here. Gets into the guard and deflects the pass. #Texans https://t.co/O9Cz7111v1

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015 

    Vince still getting it done late in the game. Has the center three yards deep. #Texans https://t.co/ylrHNkVPKt

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    Meanwhile, Johnathan Joseph has to make this play: 

    Johnson has this INT if he doesn't hesitate. He knew what was coming but didn't trust himself. Gets the PBU... https://t.co/kZCDo1q35Q

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    And he needs to avoid this play: 

    Not even going to guess who but someone is wrong here. JJo needs to do a better job but Demps is in no man... https://t.co/B6UK5rIPpb

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    The bad penalty from Demps canceled out what should have been an interception for the defense:

    This was rough. The get Demps with the hold and negate a big interception by Moore. #Texans https://t.co/JyhIaLJakA

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    There's plenty of film to study and learn from going into Week 3 against Tampa Bay. 

News and Notes

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    George Bridges/Associated Press

    Artificial Playing Surface Installed at NRG Stadium

    Sunday will be the first time in franchise history that a Texans game is played on something other than natural grass.

    The condition of the grass-tray system has been a big problem for NRG Stadium—formerly Reliant Stadium—for many years, so this change was long overdue.

    Of course, playing on a natural grass surface is always the preferred choice, but the injury risk to their own superstar athletes and the embarrassment of frequent complaints from the visiting teams and media seemed to finally become too much for the Texans front office.

    Patrick Starr of State of the Texans posted an article with all the need-to-know details on the new playing surface:

    In 2012, the Texans switched to a convertible AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D60 field. By making this change it allowed the Texans to be able to switch from grass to a synthetic surface within 7 hours.

    The AstroTurf is laid down my a machine called the AstroHopper that lays (59) 15 feet wide panels on the ground.

    The Texans will use the same surface that the high school and college team use for games at NRG Stadium. Modifications will be made to ensure it meets top-notch standards.

    Conversion started Monday morning on September 21st.

    Testing by NFL officials test the field on Thursday September 24th to make sure it complies with NFL standards. 

    O'Brien Doesn't Think Arian Foster Will Play This Week

    File this under News You Hoped Not to Hear: 

    Bill O'Brien: 'I don't think [Arian] Foster will play this week'

    — Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 23, 2015

    There were plenty of question marks surrounding the Texans offense before the season started, even when people assumed Foster would play, but the drop-off without him has been significant. 

    Foster is their best runner, arguably their second-best receiver and their best pass protector in the backfield; he's the glue that holds the Texans' offense together.

    DeAndre Hopkins Misses Practice With A Concussion

    File this under Reasons to Reach for the Panic Button:

    #Texans injury report says DeAndre Hopkins missed today's practice with a concussion. That is a big thing to watch.

    — Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) September 23, 2015

    If the Texans are without the services of Hopkins, Foster and Duane Brown, who are all questionable at best to play this week, their offense could be a train wreck.

    "Could be" is said with the full realization that it arguably already is a train wreck, but for those who thought it couldn't get much worse, losing Hopkins might prove you wrong.

    Nate Washington, Keith Mumphery, Garrett Graham and Chris Polk combined for six receptions and five drops against Carolina, according to Pro Football Focus. A drop-to-catch rate barely over 1-1 is pretty awful.

    They need the sure-handed Hopkins on the field.

    Texans Add Running Back Daryl Richardson

    With multiple injuries at the running back position, the Texans signed veteran back Daryl Richardson to the practice squad. 

    OB says he does not think Richardson will be on the 53 or 46 this Sunday. Adds “but you never know.” #Texans

    — PDS (@PatDStat) September 23, 2015

    Richardson is a young back at only 25 years old and has just 167 career rushing attempts.

    The former member of the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams hasn't carried the ball since 2013 but is averaging over four yards per carry for his career.

Latest Injury News

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press
    Jeff AdamsKneeInjured Reserve
    Ryan GriffinKneeInjured Reserve/DFR
    Tom SavageShoulderInjured Reserve
    Reshard CliettKneeInjured Reserve
    David QuessenberryIllnessInjured Reserve
    Lonnie BallentineKneeOut
    Mike MohamedFootOut 
    Arian FosterGroinOut 
    Xavier Su'a-FiloCalfQuestionable
    Duane BrownThumbQuestionable 
    DeAndre HopkinsConcussionQuestionable
    C.J. FiedorowiczKneeQuestionable

    Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 

    .@HoustonTexans Wednesday Practice Report: pic.twitter.com/45aZQLW4e2

    — Texans PR (@TexansPR) September 23, 2015

    Getting All-Pro players Duane Brown and Arian Foster back would sure help make this roster look better and should help the production of the Texans' quarterback. The status of both players was up in the air at the time this article was posted, so keep checking Bleacher Report and Twitter for the latest updates.

    As if possibly not having Brown and Foster weren't enough, No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins could also miss the game after suffering a concussion.

    You don't need to be told, but without their three best players on offense available to play, the Texans will struggle to even score double digits some weeks.

    That's not a unique problem to this team, because if you took the best three players from any offense it would struggle, but the Texans in particular don't have the depth on offense to overcome many injuries.

    The other injuries of concern will cause some big problems with depth at other spots on the offense.

    Reserve offensive lineman Jeff Adams is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Carolina, so the Texans could be starting a third different right tackle in just their third game of the season.

    With two starting offensive lineman potentially out again, the deck chairs of the Titanic might have to be shuffled around some more this week.

    If both Brown and Xavier Su'a-Filo miss this week, the team should move regular right tackle Derek Newton to left tackle—instead of left guard like last week—with undrafted rookie Kendall Lamm at right tackle and the recently acquired Oday Aboushi at left guard.

    Newton is the more experienced of the two tackles, so he should play as Mallett's blindside protector. Lamm actually held his own at right tackle last week once he replaced Adams, so it would be nice to see what he can do with a full game at the position.

    Plus, you'd hate to move tackles to guard or the opposite when it's not necessary.

    Newton is a tackle and should always play as one, except when absolutely necessary. His minus-5.0 rating from Pro Football Focus last week while playing left guard was the lowest grade of any Texans lineman.

    The other position on offense that could have some issues with depth this week and over the next month or so is tight end.

    Ryan Griffin—who got the most snaps in Week 1—is on IR designated for return, so he's out until November, while second-year player C.J. Fiedorowicz was limited in practice on Wednesday with a knee issue.

    That possibly leaves Garrett Graham as the only healthy Texans tight end.

    Yikes.

    The Texans training staff needs to find some of the green and red herbs from Resident Evil to mix together and get everyone back on the field soon.

Key Matchups

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Vince Wilfork, J.J. Watt and Jared Crick vs. the Buccaneers Offensive Line

    There's no better way to disrupt an offense starting a rookie quarterback—or any offense for that matter—than to stop the run and make it one-dimensional.

    2015 first-overall pick Jameis Winston only had to attempt 21 passes for the Buccaneers during their Week 2 win over New Orleans, while he attempted 33 passes during their blowout loss to the Titans in Week 1.

    Just for comparison, Ryan Mallett attempted 58 passes against Carolina last week in a loss; Mallett attempted only 30 passes during his good game against Cleveland last year in a Texans win.

    More is not better in terms of pass attempts for an inexperienced quarterback.

    The Texans run defense hasn't been exceptional so far but faces a Buccaneers team that ranks dead last by a considerable margin in the team's run blocking rating from Pro Football Focus.

    Even in the Buccaneers won last week against New Orleans, every one of their offensive lineman finished with a negative run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, so stopping their run game shouldn't be as difficult as it was against the Chiefs and Panthers.

    If Watt, Wilfork, Crick and Company can stop the run early to put the Buccaneers in obvious passing situations on third down and in the second half of the game, that should help out the Texans pass rush by eliminating the worry of playing the run on the way to the quarterback and thus lead to a victory.

    Hand the Football to Jonathan Grimes

    The Buccaneers rank dead last in run defense rating from Pro Football Focus, so this should be a good opportunity for the Texans run game to break out of its slump.

    We may have been high on Alfred Blue around the 2014 draft, but it's become painfully obvious that he just doesn't have what it takes. His vision for running lanes, awareness in protection, burst through the hole and hands as a receiver have all been terrible.

    After averaging 3.1 yards per carry last season, Blue has improved that number all the way up to 3.4 yards per carry this year. It's time to move on.

    There's no denying that the offensive line hasn't held up their end of the bargain, but Blue makes the same mistakes even when the blocking is there for him.

    The running game really won't start to turn around until Arian Foster returns, but if Grimes is healthy enough to be their lead back, the team should leave him on the field until he proves incapable of getting the job done. 

    He should also be Foster's main backup once the Pro Bowl back returns. Of the three backs on the active roster, he's clearly proved to have the best vision, best hands and best awareness as a pass protector in the backfield.

    The Texans can't let Mallett throw the ball over 50 times again, so hopefully they'll be able to lean on Grimes, assuming he's healthy.

Matchup X-Factors

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Texans X-Factor of the Week: The Entire Offensive Line

    Every offensive lineman who has played for the Houston Texans this year has struggled, so there's not much point in singling out one player in particular.

    Chemistry and good communication are key at every position in a team game like football, but nowhere is it more important than the offensive line.

    The schedule didn't do the Texans' injured offensive line any favors early on, with tough matchups against two great pass-rushing teams.

    Even though the sack stat line might suggest otherwise, the Texans didn't protect their quarterback any better in Week 2 with Mallett than they did in Week 1 with Brian Hoyer under center.

    The Texans only allowed one official sack against Carolina after giving up five to Kansas City the week before, but in addition, the Panthers also got 15 hurries and four hits on the quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Mallett attempted 58 passes against Carolina and was sacked, hit or hurried on 20 of those dropbacks; that's not a recipe for a successful passing game.

    Protecting their quarterback won't get any easier this week, as they'll face the NFL's current sack leader Jacquies Smith and a great pass-rushing defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy, who has had one sack in each of the Buccaneers' first two games.

    Here's a scary stat for you to chew on: Ryan Mallett ranks dead last in completion percentage under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.

    And waitthat's not even the scariest part.

    The quarterback who ranks second-to-last—Matthew Stafford—has completed 32.3 percent of his passes this season when facing pressure, while Mallett, in five quarters of play, has only completed 5.6 percent of his passes facing pressure.

    That's a Grand Canyon-size drop-off.

    Before you dismiss that stat as a matter of a young or inexperienced quarterback, take a look at the top of those rankings; Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins all rank inside the top five.

    That stat isn't a perfect indicator of success, but with Mallett only completing 5 percent of his passes while under pressure, blocking Smith and McCoy to give him time will be a huge key to the game.

Prediction: Texans 23, Buccaneers 17

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    It's safe to say that this prediction is being made with less than 100 percent certainty or confidence.

    Really, how could one be either confident or certain about what to expect from the Houston Texans after their inconsistent play in the first two weeks?

    So call it more a gut feeling than something based on solid stats and analysis, but just don't think the Texans will lose at home to a young team like the Buccaneers.

    Sure, the Buccaneers embarrassed New Orleans last week, but maybe the Saints just aren't that good. The Saints were one of the top "Survivor League" picks going into last week, but it seems that was based more on reputation than something earned this year.

    Credit to the Buccaneers for taking care of business, but if the Saints end up with a top-10 pick in the draft, would we really still consider it an impressive win?

    The Texans played awful against Kansas City and Carolina for most of both games and still only lost each by just seven points.

    Almost doesn't count, but again, they only lost each game by one possession.

    This team could certainly use an upgrade of talent at several spots on the offense, but if they just eliminated the mistakes, both of their losses could have been wins.

    The Buccaneers aren't as talented as the Chiefs or Panthers, and as a young team on the road, they're likely to make mistakes of their own. Let's take the Texans to win.

    Prediction: Texans 23, Buccaneers 17

    Follow me on Twitter for Texans news and opinion: @sackedbybmac

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