After being dominated on both sides of the ball for most of the game, our team managed to pull themselves back into the thick of things late in the 4th, only to fall short once again. There's plenty of blame to go around this week. Coaching errors, errant throws, drops, blown coverages, big plays.....and yet we still had a glimmer of hope. One things for sure, after three games our team has an identity and it can be characterized by one word: inconsistency. We show flashes here and there but not anything that has sustained itself over the course of an entire game. Let's get into some thoughts and observations I had throughout.
The miscommunication in the secondary is an issue. On the first long TD to Andre Johnson, Mike Adams jumped the underneath route. Tracy Porter took outside leverage and directed the route to the deep middle where he thought he'd have help. Adams wasn't there, easy TD. There were enough big plays down the field today to worry about it going forward, and it is definitely a trend.
3rd down defense is an issue. The Texans were 50% from the field today converting some big plays along the way. More detail on this at the end.
Pass rush is an issue, pass protection is an issue. Again lots of double teams on Von and outside of the safety to begin the game and some pressure late, Schaub had plenty of time to throw. When Von is doubled one of the remaining rushers has to win his one on one battle. The only thing that rattled Shaub were two vicious hits by Von Miller and Joe Mays that are likely to draw some fines this week. Conversely, J.J. Watt owned the right side of our line and Manny Ramirez in particular had a very rough game. Manning was hurried and pressured often and didn't find a rhythm until the 4th Q.
Manning made some poor throws. At the end of the game with a 20 point lead, the Texans jumped some short routes and nearly had some interceptions. The most damaging misses IMO were throw aways and overthrows on our 2nd RZ opportunity inside the 10. A TD there means going into half time down 1 score instead of 2. After seeing him throw the ball again today, I'm abandoning the "his arm is weak" observations and beginning "his range is off" observations. There were plenty of throws that had plenty of juice on them, some had way too much (the overthrow of DT on the right sideline on what what have been a sure TD). His range isn't dialed in yet and we can see that in his 50% completion percentage on the game. While he stands #1 all time with 64 300 yard games, he also threw the most incompletions of his career in a game against the Texans.
Drops were supposed to be a symptom of last year because of the abrupt change from Orton (righty) to Tebow (lefty). Well they are officially a problem, and a big one at that. 6 or 7 drops in key situations throughout the game is absolutely unacceptable. Decker and DT need to step it up.
The running game without McGahee really suffered, and never got going due to our early deficit. It is going to be anemic going forward if we are without him. Anyone notice that Knowshon was inactive? Poor game last week plus a Gronkowski FB sighting this week are the reasons. Hillman was basically Knowshon this week in amount of snaps and impact though he did manage a few nice blitz pick ups.
Playcalling is still an issue. Defensively though we spiced some things up with some zone blitz concepts, we still tended to bring only 4 guys to rush. Near the goal line, one of these calls led to Big Vick on Foster in the flat---huge mismatch that cost us a TD. Offensively, and this is on Manning more so than McCoy, we wasted about a minute off the clock with failed runs inside the 5 which brings me to my next observation.
The interior of our offensive line sorely misses Chris Kuper. Beadles and Walton aren't bruisers for sure but our interior line is consistently getting pushed into the backfield on inside runs which is why we've had a hard time. Manny Ramirez played well in week 1 but has been consistently overmatched the past couple of weeks.
Slow starts are killing us!!!! In three games now, our offense has scored a total of 25 points in the first half of the game. On average that is about 8 points per first half. Overall we are actually averaging about 26ppg which is about a 6 point improvement over last year so our offense overall is doing what it's supposed to, just not early enough. Slow starts plagued us last year, we need to get this figured out. So far on 18 offensive drives in the 1st half, we have managed just 2 TD's and 2 FG's to go along with 4 three and outs and 5 turnovers. Defensively we have given up 51 of our 77 points in the first half.
Look how we were built as a team in the offseason. We were built more or less to score points offensively and play with a lead down the stretch defensively. We have yet to do that in three games. We start slow, hang around, and manage to make a game of it. No wonder we have had a tough time---we are playing to our weaknesses and not our strengths.
Eric Decker may have had a great game statistically, but he's officially made it to Bronco Mike's doghouse. For one, the drops are becomming way too common. Two, what was that slide all about? We are struggling to get points and you're afraid of a small safety in a defensive position to try and juke or run through him? Weak! Won't fault him for the runback at the end, just trying to make a play.
Prater is still money, and Colquitt is my hero! Both should be pro bowlers this year if they continue their play. I can't wait to see Matt get a shot at breaking 63, because that 50+ yarder he booted before halftime would have been good from 70. Colquitt is showing some great skills in directional punting and pinning folks inside the 10, I just wish he didn't have to punt so much! Alright my friends, now that those thoughts are out there, let's answer the questions I had coming into the game.
Can Peyton win the chess match?
For much of the first three quarters, the Texans D dictated the pace of the game. While I thought our failings had more to do with our mistakes, I can't in good conscience answer this questions with a "yes." They held us in check until the 4th quarter.
Who blocks J.J. Watt and for that matter anyone else that may be coming?
The answer is no one. Franklin couldn't handle him, Ramirez couldn't handle him. J.J. Watt is a player and he pressured and made plays all game finishing an impressive showing with 2.5 sacks. Pressure in general was an issue as Manning had to step up and move in the pocket quite a bit to buy time.
Will McCoy put his players in better situations to succeed?
I would say much improved this game. There are some questionable calls (which may be on Manning as well) but there was a better effort to use the backs in the screen game this week and a better effort to target our WR's. Also, there was a good adjustment in the gameplan to run more crossing routes over the middle to stretch the zone. I don't understand what use Gronkowski is if we barely use him.
Will Decker and DT see some targets early?
You betcha. Does anyone else think that Decker was interfered with in the first quarter near the endzone?
Will the offensive miscommunication expecially in protections begin to improve?
The sacks and hurries I saw were more indicative of the Texans beating their men, not our men being in bad positions to pick them up so yes.
Will our front 7 shut down the run game?
No. Big runs early set up the playaction passes that yielded big plays. Overall the Texans rushed 34 times for 152 yards (4.5 YPC). So much for our 71.0 yards per game average.
Will JDR spice it up more on 3rd down? Will we play more man with the talent we have?
A zone blitz on 3rd down is still only bringing 4 men to the quarterback, so no the tendency is still to drop in coverage and not blitz. There were a few called that brought an extra man for a total of 5 rushers, but outside of that nothing more extensive was called. As far as playing man? Yep and we got burned haha! Whether it was coverage breakdowns at safety or not, Porter got burned and so did our safeties. We have the talent we just lost some battles on key plays. On the other hand, kudos to Champ for breaking up the Johnson TD by sticking an arm in there even when off balance! Great play! Also note that once Champ manned up on Johnson, he only had 1 catch the rest of the game on a perfectly placed ball by Matt Schaub.
Joe Mays stuffs the run?
Nope, no one did. Thanks for roughing Schaub up though I guess. You will definitely get fined, and it cost us 15 yards, but he sure didn't play the same the rest of the game. I'm ok with a little attitude on defense and both that and the Von Miller hit definitely brought some edge back to our defense. Bad game for Joe Mays.
Will our D be able to hold onto some turnovers this week?
Thought I had forgotten about Wesley Woodyard huh? Well that was one of the great individual efforts so far this season! Heck of a play to one hand that INT and return it, and no I don't think he stepped out of bounds.
Wrapping it up
Offensively early on, I thought our approach was correct. We came out and tried to slow the game down and be more composed. What was a failure after that is that we really didn't make an effort to go no huddle and put the Texans on their heels. Whoever is responsible for that (Fox/McCoy)...it just shows me that our QB and coaches aren't entirely comfortable with each other yet.
Defensively, I think we need to abandon all talk about being a good let alone a great defense. Simply put, we have surrendered huge plays each week and struggled to get off the field on 3rd downs. Good defenses don't get shredded, great defenses don't get pushed around---they impose their will. We haven't done either yet.
There's still a ton an improvement to be made and though Manning and our team aren't playing at a high level yet, I remain encouraged. Both the game last week and this week would have turned into blowouts last year like Detroit, Green Bay, NE, even Buffalo. Losing is never a good thing but if we can all take something away it is this: the potential is there and it isn't a matter of "if" but "when." When we start to click as a group and stop making mistakes you will see magic. Think back to last year during our winning streak...things clicked and we played complimentary as a team. What we've seen so far is one unit compensating for the other, not being complimentary of each other. We aren't superbowl contenders right now, and until we get above .500 we're not even a contender. But when the light goes on and this team starts to "get it," trust me, it will be a beautiful thing to watch. So sit back, avoid the urge to proclaim impending doom and let's all remember one thing: all it takes to make a run is getting hot at the right time. I'd rather lose sloppily at the beginning of the year than at the end. On to some stats!
So far this season I've tracked and kept up with a number of different categories. What I want to focus on today are two key areas of concern: 3rd down and Redzone.
3rd Down Offense
Again, if you unfamiliar with how to read this table, left to right 3rd and short (3 yards or less), 3rd and medium (4-7 yards), and 3rd and long (8+ yards). On the season we are 15/38 (39%) overall which is an improvement on last year, but still disappointing none the less. On 3rd and short we are 7/12 (58%), on 3rd and medium we are 5/12 (42%), and on 3rd and long we are 3/14 (21%). The only thing appalling about 3rd and longs is how many we have faced. We are doing ok in the other categories we just aren't seeing enough 3rd and short/mediums. The Texans game was just atrocious as we faced a 3rd and long eight times.
3rd Down Defense
Overall we are 23/46 (50%) on 3rd down defensively which is not good. Our short yardage 3rd down production has been stellar 7/16 (44%)----a good offense will convert these 67% of the time. After that we have a big drop off on 3rd and medium 8/13 (62%), and 3rd and long 8/17 (47%) which is pathetic. To be fair, most of the damage on 3rd and long was done in the Pittsburgh game, and the past two games the Broncos D has been much better 3/10 (30%). Still we are having trouble getting off the field in situations that favor our success.
We sure needed a TD against the Texans in the 1st half. Other than that the numbers add up. Remember we want to convert almost all of our opportunities into points (90% and above)....check....and we want 2/3rds of those opportunities to be touchdowns (60% is close). Besides not coming through against the Texans our Redzone offense has done well thus far.
Here is where we see some issues. First of all, teams shouldn't be getting 3-4 Redzone opportunities per game, that means they are moving the ball exceptionally well. The consolation prize is to hold them to FG's to minimize the damage but that isn't happening either as opposing teams have converted 7/11 opportunities into TD's (64%). I don't want to be a "bend but don't break" defense in the first place, but if we are going down that route, let's not break so much.
Overall the offense may be struggling but it is much closer to reaching performance indicators than the defense. After three weeks we have scored 77 points and allowed 77 points, something has to give. Honestly, averaging about a touchdown more per game over last year is an excellent improvement. Let's just get the offense going earlier and clamp down much better on defense. That's all I have for now, will see you all in a few days to preview the Raiders.