Notes from Game Charting: Seahawks-Texans, Week 14, Second Half
As with any total ass-kicking, charting becomes a little one-sided. Thankfully, there has only been one de-pantsing of the Texans this year, and that happened in Week 1, so it’s been awhile since I had to look at what went horrendously wrong with them. The Texans defense versus the Seahawks offense was the only side of the ball where non-clock management football was being played for most of this half, although I’ll detour from that for a second and say that Arian Foster looked excellent.
Foster got only sporadic work until the game was officially out of reach, yet like other youngsters before him, I fail to see why the Texans were holding him back for so long. It’s like once they install a guy as a starter, he gets to play unless he loses tons of fumbles, makes glaring coverage errors, or is Chris Brown. Everything about him on the field reminded me of Domanick Davis (no, I will not call him Williams): the shifty running style, the height, the hair, the jersey number, how low to the ground he stayed. I’m throwing out the last series where the Seahawks stacked 9 in the box, since obviously that was icing the clock. Other than that, Foster rushed 7 times for 28 yards. More impressively, he was making tacklers miss left and right. I charted 3 missed Seahawks tackles in a row in one sequence in the third quarter, and that’s especially important given how inept the Texans line has been this year. If he doesn’t get the plurality of the carries against the Rams I’m going to be very disappointed. The Texans might have a keeper here.
-While this was obviously a nice game to pad the Texans poor-to-mediocre (depending on which you look at) defensive stats, most of the Seahawks offensive problems were self-inflicted. John Carlson’s blocking makes Owen Daniels look like Heath Miller, yet instead of motioning him out wide he was often asked to try and help block defensive ends on the weak side of run plays. Center Chris Spencer had a broken hand and was snapping with his opposite hand, causing a lot of aborted snaps. Rookie Max Unger, already in the game as a guard, had extensive center experience at Oregon. Instead of swapping the two, they left Unger in at guard. Deion Branch looked as explosive as an ice cube, yet he stayed on the field more often than Deon Butler. It was an incomprehensible offensive plan.
-The Seahawks offensive line is one of mankind’s most awful atrocities. Unger, in particular, had a lot of problems with stunts. I’d be the first giving credit to Frank Bush’s defensive scheme if I’d thought it had any part in the three big plays (2 sacks and the intentional grounding), but these, along with most of the hurries, were just terrible offensive line play. In a nutshell:
Sack #1: Mario Williams comes untouched off a stunt, with a little help from the friendly hand of Antonio Smith holding Rob Sims by the jersey, and gets a free ride at Matt Hasselbeck.
Sack #2: Bush plots up a devious little zone blitz (I think the Texans are better at these than any other type of blitz), which sends Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, and Dominique Barber right up the middle and drops Williams and Smith into coverage. Unger double teams Okoye and leaves Barber untouched up the middle for the hurry, and Cushing finishes it.
Intentional Grounding: Unger takes on Smith one-on-one and gets beaten, Smith’s pressure forces Seneca Wallace backwards, and where Barwin would’ve been pushed wide, he was instead pushed right into the play. Wallace panicked.
Unger struggled terribly the whole half, as you can see, but the Seahawks line had problems finding blockers for some of these rushers not because they were outnumbered, but because they played poorly. So poorly that the Texans twice got hurries on three-man rushes. There are a lot of reasons that the Texans defense has seemed to pick it up the last two weeks, some of which very well may have predicative value, but until I see some of these sacks come against teams with real offensive lines, I’m skeptical of their long-term meaning.
-I didn’t specifically break down the first half, so I’m not sure if this was because he got banged up in the first series of the second half or if this is just how things are now, but Hasselbeck looked horrendous. He was overthrowing and underthrowing balls for most of the half, even dumpoff passes and screens. The Texans holding the Seahawks to 1 for 14 on third down conversions is a nice stat, but Hasselbeck completed just 5 passes out of 29 dropbacks for 10 or more yards in the second half. Two of those were slant patterns that got after the catch yards, and one of them was the Justin Forsett screen. It’s hard to keep the ball moving when you can barely get the ball to anyone more than five yards past the scrimmage.
-As great as DeMeco and Cushing were, Glover Quin had an outstanding half as well. 4 second-half targets, 0 yards after catch, one incompletion, and no passes over 6 yards. He also had a fourth down tackle one-on-one with Houshmanzadeh that saved at least fifteen yards. The only time he got burned a little was when the Texans put the zone up and Hasselbeck found a little window on the sideline between Barber and Quin for eighteen yards, a hole he could have hit again if he’d put his second consecutive pass to that zone on target. The Texans closed that zone on the next play and that was the end of any deep threat in the second half.
-I also was intrigued by Brice McCain’s play. I know that the Texans blogosphere has spent a lot of words on how we need to focus on the secondary in the offseason. I don’t even think that’s true. Between Jacques Reeves, Barber, Quin, McCain, Bernard Pollard, and possibly a healthy Eugene Wilson, I don’t think that the Texans secondary has a lot of work to do. None of these guys are franchise corners, but none of them are worse than below-average either. The keys are a) getting rid of Dunta Robinson and b) finding depth behind the players we do have so that there isn’t another situation where John Busing is forced to play again. I do think the Texans could use another cornerback, whether it’s Carlos Rogers in free agency like some have speculated, a draft pick, or a less-heralded free agent. But the secondary by-and-large looks pretty okay.
The task of further improving the pass defense is reliant on getting pressure against better teams and making sure the sub-replacement level guys don’t hit the field. It’s amazing how quickly the tipping point is reached: notice how poor the Texans were the first few games before Pollard, and then notice how poor the Texans were after Wilson’s injury before Barber took over for Busing. You can survive with a few weak spots on the field, but the poor safety play has pretty clearly been the tipping point between the Texans being a mediocre-decent defense and a bottom 5 one.
As for the pass rush, I don’t think Bush’s blitzes are effective. That and the continued zone defense are reasons 1 and 1a that I don’t think he’s a good defensive coordinator. Obviously Williams is a great pass-rush threat and Smith can create decent pressure. The development of Barwin as a pass rusher will be a big key for next year. A nice huge nose tackle *cough*Terrence Cody*cough* would be crucial for the line, and perhaps replacing Diles with another linebacker who gets better pressure would help things out. But to me it looks like the defense has the tools to create an effective pass rush, and it still doesn’t. That indicates the scheme is at fault, and I’ve seen the countless blitzes that go easily picked up on tape to sway me that way. The Texans are at their most effective blitzing when they bring more people up to the line and zone-blitz, but they seem to spend more time coming from 4 yards off the LOS. Thus, I think the Texans scheme needs to be re-molded.