Like last week in Dallas, both the Giants and their opponent, the Houston Texans, head into their matchup looking for their first win of the season. The Texans started their season with two tough road games against the Patriots and Titans, both 2017 playoff teams. After watching their two games on tape, here’s what Giants fans should expect to see from Houston on Sunday.
When the Texans Have the Ball
The Spotlight: Deshaun Watson
The Texans starting quarterback tore his ACL at practice in November of last season but was healthy enough to participate in training camp and start the first two games of the regular season. Watching him move around, you wouldn’t know he suffered such an injury.
With that said, Watson has only had one designed run, a quarterback draw in the red zone against the Patriots. He has not kept the football on a read-option play in the first two weeks. He has scrambled a lot on traditional passing plays, creating extra time for passes down the field or to run it himself. After the Giants struggled defending quarterback keepers on read options the first two weeks, it would not surprise me if we see him try a few this week.
He hasn’t (run it much). I think by the numbers he hasn’t. I think most of his rushes have actually been maybe more scrambles than actual maybe, zone-read keeps or option keeps. Maybe that’s just the way the option played out, but I don’t think you could defend that series of runs thinking and saying he’s not going to carry the ball, or not have accountability for the quarterback. That just comes with being disciplined with what our job is in regards to that. Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher
Watson is a strong-armed quarterback who will deliver the ball accurately down the field if he has a clean pocket. He’s also able to create extra time with his feet and throw on the run. He has two traits the Giants will try to take advantage of. He will force the ball deep, which has resulted in two interceptions this season. He will also hold the ball. Watson played much better against Tennessee than he did against New England, completing 22 of 34 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. It is imperative the Giants find a way to get pressure on Watson in this game, even if it means blitzing him.
Inside the Numbers: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watson has struggled mightily when under pressure. So far in 2018, Watson has completed only 35% of his passes and has no touchdowns and one interception with a 27.9 quarterback rating when pressured. Without pressure, he has completed nearly 70% of his passes with three touchdowns, one interception, and a 109.1 quarterback rating.
The Matchup: DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V vs. Giants Secondary
With Eli Apple dealing with a groin injury, the Giants will be challenged in the secondary to match up with two very talented receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Fuller missed Week One and was limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury, but his speed and its effect on the game versus the Titans last Sunday was apparent. He can stretch the field vertically, and then counter with hitches, stops, and comeback routes once defensive backs give him too much cushion.
Inside the Numbers: Watson has been significantly better in games when Fuller has played. The team averages nearly 14 more points per game, and Watson throws for an average of 100 more yards per game. His quarterback rating with Fuller is 107.6, versus 62.9 without.
He’s definitely on our radar. We got to keep him covered too. We got guys that know what they’re doing. We’ve got a coverage that knows how to keep contained and keep him in front of us, so we don’t have those big plays over the top of us. Safety Landon Collins
Hopkins is Watson’s go-to player in the passing game. He plays bigger than his 6’1, 215-pound frame and will win on contested catches. Watson likes to look for him once he escapes the pocket and routes downfield break down. Bruce Ellington is normally the Texans slot receiver, but they will sometimes move Hopkins inside to take advantage of his size. The Giants would have to watch the matchup closely if he gets lined up against the diminutive Donte Deayon often.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins: “(DeAndre Hopkins is a) nice ball reader, judgment of the ball, got great hands, he’s okay with speed, route running ability is pretty nice. Just don’t let him get his hands on the ball, basically. Don’t let him touch it.” Cornerback Janoris Jenkins
Offensive Scheme and Tendencies
You might think that with Deshaun Watson, the Texans would run a system with a lot of collegiate schemes like Watson excelled in at Clemson, but that isn’t the case. You will see some RPO’s and read-option plays but, for the most part, Watson works from the pocket in straight drop back or shotgun situations. They rarely roll him out or put him on the move as part of the play design. He operates like a pocket passer in terms of play design more times than not. He will obviously move out of the pocket on his own, post-snap.
Coach Bill O’Brien wants to get the ball downfield. The Texans offense features a lot of deep and vertical passing concepts to take advantage of Watson’s big arm. Watson had a lot of success with the deep ball last year, but some forced throws into double coverage have led to turnovers this year. It takes time for those vertical routes to develop, which often results in Watson feeling heat in the pocket. He does not want to throw the ball away and will sometimes take sacks after holding the ball too long. It will be important for Giants defensive backs to stay with Texans receivers until Watson is down or has thrown the football.
When he’s holding the ball like that, we’ve got to know that we have to match their guys. Now, it turns to man coverage in the back, and making sure everybody is in front of us and that when he does throw the ball in the air, it’s our ball. Safety Landon Collins
The Texans offensive line has struggled in pass protection, partly because of injury. They lost starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson to an ankle injury in Week One, forcing Julien Davenport to move to the right side and rookie Martinas Rankin to step in as the starting left tackle. There is often interior pressure. Watson is elusive, and he needs to be, given the frequency defenders are in the backfield.
Inside the Numbers: A few numbers summarize why the Texans have struggled to score points this year (18.5 points per game). On first down, Houston has gained four or more yards on just 30% of their snaps, the second-worst rate in the league. Houston’s average down and distance on second down is 8.92 yards, 4th worst in the NFL. They are tied for 28th in the league on third down conversions of six yards or more, with an 8.9% rate. Their struggles on third down can be directly linked to their issues on first down.
The offensive line has done a much better job in the running game than the passing game. The Texans lead the league with 157.5 rushing yards per game, but those numbers are skewed by Deshaun Watson’s 84 rushing yards on scrambles. If you take out his 42 yards per game, Houston would rank 10th.
Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue split the running back duties. Miller is the every down back with Blue taking over in short yardage situations and on the goal line. Miller is a solid all-around back, and Blue gets north and south. According to Pro Football Focus, the Texans primarily run up the middle far more than they challenge the edges, and have had the most success running over left guard, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in that direction. The Giants would likely welcome the Texans running at the inside of their defense, where Snacks Harrison awaits them. Neither back has been a game-breaker so far this season. Despite their ranking, the Texans are by and large a passing team and want to beat you through the air.
Inside the Numbers: The Texans are ranked second in the league with 11 runs of 10 yards or more.
Certainly they’re a good rushing team. Any time you have a quarterback that can attack the perimeter like they have, that puts a little bit more pressure on the rest of the run game, and they’ve got a very good runner. They actually have a couple good runners, and those guys do a good job of running it. There’s no doubt that’s going to be a challenge for us to stop their run. Head Coach Pat Shurmur:
When the Giants Have the Ball
The Spotlight: J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt might not have been officially credited with a sack by the NFL so far this season, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing extremely well. Pro Football Focus has given him credit for a sack to go along with two quarterback hits and two hurries. PFF has him rated as the sixth-best edge rusher in the league in the first two weeks of the season.
Inside the Numbers: Since Watt was drafted in 2011, he leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 138. He holds that mark despite missing 24 games the past two seasons due to injury. Watt has gone eight games without a sack, the longest drought of his career.
Watt lived in the backfield when the Titans tried to run the football, using his length, strength and elite motor to move offensive linemen against their will. He will line up as a 3-4 DE, or as an edge rusher on either side of the formation depending on the play. He can wreck the game up front and the Giants will need to make sure he doesn’t.
He is still the guy and you have to know where he is, we have to know where he is at all times. He’s productive at all the spots, too. It’s not like he’s just outstanding on our right side outside. He can play outside on our left and inside or play over the center. I mean he’s just so, not only talented and explosive, but his awareness is off the charts. Offensive Coordinator Mike Schula
Yeah obviously, you got to take care of him. You got to know where he is and it’s not just him. They got a couple of studs on that defensive line who do a good job getting to the quarterback getting sacks. You got to plan different ways to attack it whether you’re doubling or getting the ball out fast, just have a lot of different things, different looks for him, try to slow him down. Again, he’s a good player. He’s going to make some plays, but hopefully it’s not the ones that can change the game too much Quarterback Eli Manning
The Matchup: Defensive Front
Aside from Watt, the Titans have a number of other threats that play on the line of scrimmage. Former first overall pick Jadaveon Clowney had 9.5 sacks last season but missed the Texans’ Week 2 matchup with the Titans with a back injury.
Rookie outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor flashed against the Patriots, with a sack and hurry on only four pass rush attempts. Inside, 2016 fifth-round pick D.J. Reader has been an effective space eater at nose tackle, but he has also managed to help in pass rush situations by pushing the pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, he has two sacks to go along with a quarterback hit and hurry this season, grading out as the Texans second best defensive player.
Right off the bat, they have one of the most talented front sevens in the league and they rely on their pass rushers, their big guys up front to make plays and wreak havoc. That’s an issue were going to see every week. Center John Greco
Defensive Scheme and Tendencies
The Texans have not blitzed or run a lot of twists or stunts with their defensive linemen this year. They trust their dynamic pass rushers to win one on one in the passing game and slow down the run without a lot of help from the secondary players dropping into the box.
Inside the Numbers: The Texans have not allowed a rushing play of 20 yards or more this season, and only five of 10 yards or more.
You will see variable fronts from Houston. They are a 3-4 defense in base, but go to a four-man line in sub-packages. They are a disciplined group. I did not see many blown coverages or guys out of place in pass defense in the first two games.
The Texans have been strong on third down this year, holding opponents to a 31% conversion rate, 6th best in the league. Their success is due to their ability to shut teams down on third and longs. On third down plays of greater than 6 yards, opponents are only converting 10% for first downs, tied for the 4th best mark in the league.
The Texans play a lot of off-coverage and they are primarily a soft-man or zone team. They will switch up between two-deep and single-high coverages, but their goal is to not let opposing receivers get behind them. Tyrann Mathieu does a good job moving around in the secondary pre-snap trying to disguise the coverage.
Inside the Numbers: The Texans have allowed only five plays of 20 yards or more against them, all pass plays. That ties them for the sixth-fewest in the league.