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20 Oct 2005

Every Play Counts: Houston’s Offensive Line

by Michael David Smith

Before the 2003 NFL draft, ESPN ran a funny commercial that showed David Carr lining up without an offensive line in front of him. We all got the message: Teams use the draft to address their needs, and no team had more glaring needs than the Houston Texans along the offensive line.

Surprisingly, Houston drafted only two offensive linemen that year, third-round tackle Seth Wand of Northwest Missouri State and seventh-round center Chance Pearce of Texas A&M. In 2004 Houston didn't draft any offensive linemen, and this year it drafted just one, fifth-round center Drew Hodgdon of Arizona State.

Every NFL fan knows what has happened: Houston's line still stinks.

But what I don't like about the football media is the way they analyze offensive lines as single entities, rather than examining offensive linemen as individuals. We hear that Houston's line is bad and Kansas City's line is good, but we rarely hear specifics about the individual players on the line. So on Sunday I watched the Houston offensive line on every play of their horrible 42-10 loss to Seattle to try to figure out who was the weak link, and whether anyone pulled his weight.

Quality control coaches use various systems to grade film, but to keep things simple I just watched each offensive lineman and marked when he made a good play and when he made a bad play. Good plays were blocks where the lineman clearly performed his assignment, either opening a hole on a running play or keeping a pass rusher at bay on a passing play. I had a fairly high standard. I didn't award a good play to a lineman just because the player he blocked didn't sack Carr. A lineman had to completely shut down the man he was blocking to earn a positive mark.

Bad plays consist mostly of missed blocks and penalties. Houston's linemen had a lot more bad plays than good plays, so I'll get into specific examples in a bit, but first, here are the results:

Player Position Good Plays Bad Plays
Chester Pitts LT 1 9
Milford Brown G 2 7
Drew Hodgdon C 0 6
Steve McKinney C/RG 1 5
Todd Wade RT 5 4
Victor Riley RT 1 5

Note: The starting lineup, from left to right, was Pitts, Brown, McKinney, Zach Wiegert, and Wade. Wiegert went down with an injury during the first series and hadn't done anything I marked as a good play or a bad play. Todd Washington filled in for him on the next two plays, and he also didn't do anything worth noting. Beginning with the second series, McKinney moved from center to guard and Hodgdon came in at center for the first NFL game of his career. Later in the first quarter, Riley came in for Wade at tackle. Riley and Wade alternated for much of the rest of the game.

Now, for some impressions of each player:

Chester Pitts became the Texans' starting left tackle as a rookie in 2002. In 2004 Houston moved him to guard, and, in my opinion, he's a fairly good guard. Sunday night was the first time he played tackle since 2003. I guess the Texans' brain trust figured, "If he's playing well at guard, we ought to move him back to left tackle, since that's the most important position on the line." Big mistake. Pitts was terrible Sunday.

When Seattle's Grant Wistrom was called for roughing the passer, Wistrom was furious that he was penalized, and with good reason: Pitts shoved him into Carr. If there's anything an offensive lineman can do that's worse than shoving a defensive end into his quarterback, I can't think of it right now. It was the kind of play you see from a guy who hasn't played tackle in a while and doesn't know what to do when someone is rushing to his outside.

Well, maybe there is one thing worse than shoving someone into your quarterback: Tackling your own running back. On a Domanick Davis run up the middle, Pitts just kind of lunged to his right and didn't block anyone. Davis tripped over him.

Want another example? Seattle tackle Craig Terrill isn't exactly known as the most overpowering player in the league, but on one play he bull-rushed Pitts with ease. Late in the first half on a handoff to Davis, Pitts got into position to block linebacker Kevin Bentley, made contact with him, and then just … stopped. Bentley made the tackle. Why Pitts didn't keep blocking, I can't imagine.

The final problem I had with Pitts, and something he demonstrated several times against Wistrom, is that he just isn't quick enough out of his stance when pass blocking. Again, that's something a guard can get away with because there's not a speed rusher barreling down outside him. But a tackle needs to be ready to engage a defensive end the instant the ball is snapped, and Pitts simply can't do it.

Pitts was flagged once for holding and once for lining up off the line of scrimmage, which is the type of penalty a player gets when he's playing out of position.

Milford Brown repeatedly struggled against the pass rush. On Houston's final drive Seattle's Rocky Bernard ran right past him to sack Carr. That was pretty much par for the course. Seattle's defensive tackles are all fairly quick on inside pass rushes, and Brown just wasn't ready for them. On several occasions Brown allowed rushers to get into Carr's face.

Offensive coordinator Joe Pendry, who became Houston's offensive line coach last year and took over as coordinator when Dom Capers fired Chris Palmer this season, believes in a zone-blocking scheme in which linemen block a specific area rather than a specific player. The problem, as I see it, is that too often Houston linemen just stood around doing nothing on plays when no Seattle players went into their zone. On one play, when no one came into Brown's zone, he just stood there instead of looking to help one of his teammates.

Brown is a big guy who made a couple of nice plays when run blocking, but he really shouldn't be anything more than a backup.

Brown was flagged once for holding.

Todd Wade is, on the evidence of Sunday night, the best player on the Texans' line.

In the third quarter Wade pancaked Bryce Fisher on a six-yard Davis run, then on the next play he made a nice block to seal the inside as Houston ran a good-looking play action pass, selling Seattle on a run to the left and allowing Carr to roll out and hit tight end Marcellus Rivers to the right. Later, Wade drove Bernard onto his back on consecutive plays. I love stuff like that.

Wade is definitely a better run-blocker than pass-blocker, though. He's listed at 6-foot-8 and I don't think he gets low enough when taking on inside rushers. Wade looks a little jittery when he's expecting a speed rush, and he was twice flagged for false starts.

Victor Riley struggled against Fisher much more than Wade did. On a few plays Fisher didn't bother going around Riley because he had no trouble at all simply shoving him to the Qwest Field turf.

Riley didn't seem to understand his role on certain plays. He lined up at right tackle on a pass where Carr rolled to the right, which means he can't let anyone outside him. So what does he do? Lackadaisically steps to the inside as Seattle's D.D. Lewis pressures Carr to the outside.

This is Riley's first season in Houston after four in Kansas City and three in New Orleans. Like Wade, he is much better as a run-blocker than as a pass-blocker, which is why the Texans' attempt to turn him into a left tackle just didn't work.

Riley was flagged once for illegally running downfield on a pass.

Drew Hodgdon did literally nothing well. I don't want to be too hard on a player stepping into his first game, but Hodgdon looks like the kind of guy who was drafted for his work ethic and attitude and is now finding that those attributes can get a player only so far. On first-and-10 from the Seattle 25-yard line, Hodgdon and Carr didn't connect on the snap, and as Carr bent down to grab the loose ball, Seattle's Chuck Darby shoved Hodgdon into Carr.

On running plays Hodgdon didn't get any drive. On passing plays he struggled to deliver the snap and get his hands up in time to block. This guy isn't ready for the NFL yet.

Hodgdon was flagged once for holding.

Steve McKinney has started every game in Texans team history and he's supposed to be the trusty veteran. But having to switch from center to guard on the first series had McKinney looking confused all night. On his second play at guard Davis ran up the middle and McKinney stood there and watched as his man, Wistrom, stopped Davis for a one-yard gain. Maybe he was trying to remember his assignment. I don't know. But it was ugly.

On passing downs, Seattle sometimes overloaded Houston's right side to get more rushers than Houston had blockers. McKinney, lined up at left guard, was almost always slow to recognize what Seattle was doing and didn't get over to the right in time to block anyone.

I marked one run-block as a positive, and I was probably being a little generous. McKinney was flagged once for a false start.

Having said all that, let me make clear that not all the problems Houston has are the offensive line's fault. Domanick Davis got truly horrible blocking from his receivers. On one first-quarter run, Jabar Gaffney completely whiffed on a block and Davis got stuffed. Later in the first quarter running back Vernand Morency lined up as a receiver and didn't come close to blocking Kelly Herndon, who crashed in and hit Davis for no gain.

On Grant Wistrom's sack of Carr, Wistrom ran right around Rivers, the tight end. It's one thing for a tight end to lose a one-on-one battle against a defensive end because he gets overpowered. It's something else entirely when a defensive end just out-hustles him to the outside.

And Carr is far from blameless in all this. I don't think I've ever seen a team that took an early lead use as many eight-man fronts as Seattle did. The Seahawks clearly didn't think Houston's passing game could beat them, and Carr proved them right, even though there were quite a few plays when Seattle rushed only three linemen and Carr had plenty of time to pass.

You don't need me to tell you the Texans are bad. The only question is: what can they do to improve? I think with Pitts at guard and Wade at tackle, they could have a competent pair of linemen on the right side. McKinney struggled at guard, but I think he is decent at center. That leaves the left side of the line, and there's just nothing they can do until the off-season. Left tackle looks like Houston's highest 2006 priority, but by the time the calendar changes, a new coach and a new quarterback might be even higher priorities.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing mike-at-footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 20 Oct 2005

49 comments, Last at 04 Aug 2006, 9:18pm by jaime fangio

Comments

1
by Vic (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:12pm

I wish this could be done with Cincy's defensive line...

2
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:15pm

What about Davis's pass-blocking? I've heard he's bad, but one of the announcers actually pointed out something useful in this game. All a defensive lineman has to do after waltzing past the o-line is bowl over Davis, and if he doesn't have the ball, keep going and hit Carr. It's a little unfair to expect a running back to take on a defensive lineman 1 on 1, and since the o-line isn't contributing, Davis is stuck in an impossible situation.

3
by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:20pm

Nice article, I always enjoy these because I rarely focus on any one player while watching a game.

I was wondering if you could give us some "average" stats for comparison. If an OL has a supposedly average day, how many good plays and bad plays will they end up with? Is having a decent offensive line more about getting a lot of good plays or limiting the bad plays? My initial reading of the situation would make it seem like you need to limit bad plays in pass protection, but need good plays in order to run the ball effectively.

4
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:22pm

If Wade is in fact their best lineman, it makes you wonder why they were alternating him?

5
by MDS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:35pm

jim’s apple pie, I tried to do this so that it would work out that an average day for an offensive lineman would come out about even on the good/bad scale. So Todd Wade would be considered slightly above average, and the others would all be well below average. I try to hone my skills at this stuff by focusing on one aspect of a team when I'm looking at the DirecTV Short Cuts. Those don't give you multiple camera angles or much time to stop and think between plays, but they do allow you to see a lot of plays in a short period of time.

B, I did think Davis's pass blocking left something to be desired, but I also agree with you that a running back against a defensive lineman isn't really the matchup you want. Generally, I don't think there are too many backs who are both the primary ballcarrier on their team and really good at picking up the blitz. Eddie George and Walter Payton are some exceptions, but for the most part I think teams are better off having their running back either run a route or come out on obvious passing downs.

6
by Theo (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 1:37pm

That's penalties for ALL the linemen?!
That's just horrible at itself.

7
by Astro Boy (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 2:12pm

Wow. This team is still suffering from the ripple effects of the Tony Boselli debacle. With no bona fide left tackle and other guys playing out of position, the best this line can hope to achieve is mediocrity. I can’t imagine that Jonas Jennings, Alex Barron, or Jammal Brown could have given this team the quick fix they needed, but Orlando Pace could have made a difference. How close did they come to signing him?

The last sentence of the piece is spot on, and meanwhile, the defense isn’t getting any better. Pity the Houston fan looking for this team to mimic the expansion paths of the Jags or Carolina. Derek Smalls could tell you whose example they’re following: “Hello, Cleveland!!!�

8
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 2:25pm

Re: 7

The Browns made the playoffs in their fourth year. I think the Texans are setting a new standard.

9
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 2:42pm

My standard for a back's pass-blocking is they should be able to handle an average blitzing linebacker. Obviously not all linebackers are created equal.

10
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 2:56pm

B, the question is "for how long?" I would never expect an RB to be able to level a linebacker, for instance.

11
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 3:02pm

I'd say around 2-3 seconds, cause it'll take the linebacker a little more time to get there and a quarterback should recognize the blitz and get rid of the ball/scramble away before then.

12
by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 3:06pm

My friends and I were in Seattle for this one and noticed a few things.

1. Houston has absolutely zero chemistry! We were seated behind their bench and honestly once Seattle took the lead nobody talked to each other or were trying to find ways to fix things. They looked like they were waiting to get the game over with.

2. Play Calling- The Houston offence was soooo predictable it hurt. I was calling the plays that Houston would run and (with a witness I might add) called the exact play when they scored their one TD. This is a problem, if I can predict their offense imagine what a defensive coordinator can do.

3. Carr is scared- I dont think this is his fault cause lord knows most of us would have given up by know. Scared is the wrong word, Carr knows from experience that if he doesnt throw the ball hes going to get hit, so even when the line does a good job he is really antsy to throw the ball.

4. Recievers Stink- Twice Carr threw perfect throws to his recievers on obvious option routes that they missed. Say a DB is lining up way inside on a WR, a QB will spot this and the WR is supposed to know to turn outside at about 8-10 yards. Twice Carr threw absolute rockets while the reciever (Gaffney) was just aimlessly running down the field.

Personally I dont think this can be fixed, Carr would be incredible somewhere else, the fact that he has gone this long without trying to force a trade or anything is INCREDIBLE!! They really should trade Carr to a team for a good lineman, draft another one and pick up a veteran QB and move on.

13
by Damien Bishop (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 3:36pm

Man this is a decent start. Chester Pitts did not do a great job, but he did do better. He did look confused, but he picked up two pancakes which would give him at least 3 good plays. I am a Houston fanatic and I am in total agreement that our line and playcalling is terrible. Plus the Zone Blocking scheme is predominately applied to running plays on passing plays they block like most any other team unless it is a playfake or draw option.

14
by Nate (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 4:39pm

Interesting article. I was interested to hear about Wade, as they gave him a ridiculous contract (not an over-market, contract but still ridiculous) and he was, I felt, an average to marginally above average RT.

15
by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 4:54pm

B,

Davis will draw the blocking assignment during a safety blitz. I have argued elsewhere that he, alone, is responsible for failing to block at least seven sacks because he didn't hit the oncoming safety.

He didn't even miss, because he didn't even try.

As for Brown, I'm a little biased here, but he's a genuinely nice guy (one of the nicest in the NFL) who, whenever I've seen him, has been an adequate pass blocker and a very good rush blocker.

16
by Tony D (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 5:03pm

I wish this could be done with Cincy’s defensive line…

So do I, hint hint. Let's start an internet petition, they always work!

Ok, fine, how about us Bengals fans just continue to ask nicely -- Can you do their defensive line next, pretty please?

17
by ChicagoScott (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 5:04pm

Mr. Freeney & Mr. Mathis-- Your table is ready. How many sacks would you gentlemen like this Sunday?

We've just received an updated injury report out of Houston-- Although the game is still 3 days from today, David Carr has already been listed as Doubtful for the 2nd Half.

18
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 5:15pm

Carl,
I'm sure you're right, I just wonder why a defense would bother blitzing a safety when the O-line has this much trouble blocking justg four rushers.

19
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 5:54pm

"Domanick Davis got truly horrible blocking from his receivers."

It's hard enough to get receivers to block as it is. Imagine trying to get them to do it on a team where even the offensive linemen don't!

This article reminds me of something I've been questioning recently. When is it better to play linemen out of position (to cover for injuries), and when is it better to use the backups? For example, if the RT gets hurt, and the backup RG is better/more experienced than the backup RT (though not necessarily at tackle). Your choices are to 1) just use the backup RT, 2) put in the backup RG at tackle, or 3) move the starting RG to RT, and use the backup RG. Which is the best option?

I would think it's better to keep people at their 'natural' positions as much as possible, because continuity is so important, and if you chose option 3 you'd weaken yourself at 2 positions instead of 1 (which can be more easily compensated for, with TE/RB help or whatnot). Unless of course, the backup is just that bad, which is quite possible. Yet I see teams move linemen around fairly often (sometimes out of necessity), so either they think the backup is that bad, or they don't see it the way I do.

So I was wondering if anyone had opinions on this, or better yet, if there's been actual analysis done. Carl, I know you've done a lot of injury analysis, did you happen to look at the difference between using the backup vs shifting around starters? If it's even possible to have a true backup at every position, of course (it certainly is in college, not sure how many NFL teams do it though). OK, I'm done rambling.

20
by Criminal (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 7:00pm

How can you write an entire article about hte Texans and not even mention the defense? It's not the o-line's fault that they gave up 42 points! 2 RBs got more than a HUNDRED yards!! Did you even watch the game??

21
by Capt. Obvious (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 7:23pm

Hey Criminal, the title of the article is "Every Play Counts: Houston’s Offensive Line", not "Every Play Counts: All The Reasons Why Houston Sucks".

22
by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 7:25pm

I couldn't agree more with post #12, especially the parts about the receivers and Carr. Carr gets a bum rap, but his entire team (except for Davis) has regressed around him this year. With Andre Johnson out, and the coaching staff incomprehensibly opposed to playing Derick Armstrong, there are no serviceable receivers on this team. I genuinely don't know what happened to the line, because this is the same group they used last year, except with Victor Riley.

This was an unfortunate week to look at the Texans' O-line. Every previous week the line, from left to right, was Riley, Pitts, McKinney, Wiegert, Wade. This week not only did they switch it up and put in Brown, who barely even saw the field last week if I recall correctly, because Riley was so ineffective, but Wiegert got hurt and they had to move McKinney and put in Hodgdon. I don't know why I'm so quick to apologize for the Texans line, but I'm doing it again: they don't usually play this badly, although the results are usually worse because they play defenses with better pass rushes than Seattle's.

I'm not sure how this team is going to win a game. Nobody except Dunta Robinson (who deserves a Pro Bowl bid, by the way, but won't get it because he's the only good player on a horrific, lazy defense), possibly Robaire Smith, and to a lesser extent Carr is playing with any real desire to win. Philip Buchanon is the sad poster child for the new-look Texans: lazy, and not as talented as anyone thought.

23
by MDS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 8:11pm

"Did you even watch the game??"

Nope, didn't watch it. I wrote this on Saturday after getting some tips from Mitch Albom on how to write about a game that hasn't happened yet.

In all seriousness, I welcome comments, even if they're critical, but I really don't have any use for comments along the lines of, "Why didn't you mention [fill in the blank]?" Sure, I could have mentioned the Texans' defense, I could have mentioned that Tommy Maddox sucked against Jacksonville, I could have mentioned that Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone, and I could have mentioned that I recently read a really good book called "Arc of Justice." I didn't mention those things because that's not what I was writing about.

24
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 9:14pm

How many years does Carr have left on his contract? His best career move may be to suffer some sort of injury that gets him off the field, but doesn't seriously impair his future capabilities. Perhaps his agent should "accidentally" slam a car door on his non-throwing hand.

25
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 9:50pm

“Every Play Counts: All The Reasons Why Houston Sucks".
Hmmm, I don't think MDS has enough time to write that article. It could fill up the internet!

26
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 10:06pm

MDS, you need to somehow automate the first portion of your post for every EPC.

Tim, I kinda think the same thing you do. I have no idea how Houston is going to win a game.

27
by snik75 (not verified) :: Thu, 10/20/2005 - 10:54pm

Wait, we already know what Carr should do... get in a car accident on his way to the stadium, and then be too shaken up to play. Then the next week have a bad flu, or migraine... as soon as the off season comes, he's traded to the patriots! or maybe the lions... he's no corey dillon. :-)

28
by John (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 1:22am

Carr is a good enough QB and if the Texans choose to pursue any position other than offensive line in the early rounds of the draft in 2006 they deserve to be this bad forever. Especially considering elite OT prospect D'Brickashaw Ferguson will be there's for the taking. I honestly believe with Ferguson and a strong FA pickup at guard you have the makings of a very strong offense.

29
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 3:53am

I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texans grab Matt Leinart. Not because it would be a good move, but because they're the Texans.

If they do, I only have one response. Either Leinart or Carr better get converted to LT.

Also, if MDS is going to do a piece on another unit, I think it should be the Denver Broncos D-line. With all the jokes and snide remarks and armchair GMing going on over the summer with this unit, I think it'd be nice to see an objective take on how it really turned out.

Of course, that's the problem with EPC. It's very detailed, but it's only one week, so you don't know if it's really an accurate depiction of the player or unit in question, or whether that player/unit was having an exceptionally good/bad week.

30
by Wally Biever (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 8:16am

I wish Seth Wand woud've been at LT when you graded. I'm confident that he would accomplish more than 1 positive play. The Oilers started over, rebuilding the team with the likes of 1st round picks like Munchak, Mathews, and Steinkuhler. Without an offensive line, no one on offensive can achieve their potential. It takes intelligence and knowlege and foresight to build a team. Where is a Mike Holivac when you need one ?

31
by Mark (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 12:04pm

Question: doesn't the major responsibility for the Texan's terrible O-line fall upon the GM, Charlie Casserly? I live in DC, and I always thought he was mediocre-to-average as a GM. Seeing what he's done at Houston, SPECIFICALLY not drafting to fill out the O-line, I now think that HE must be the first to be fired, rather than Capers or anyone else. Comments?

32
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 12:25pm

I think some of the problems of the Texans' o-line discussed above are highly symptomatic of the problems of the team as a whole. Tim's point about desire is certainly valid, but it's not just the o-line players who don't understand what they're supposed to be doing on half the plays. The defense is ranked no 32 overall by DVOA (to the offense's, and I think the passivity of Fangio's system has a lot to do with it. The linebacking unit is young and fast, but they never look it because they're too busy trying to work out which way they're supposed to be going this time. Peek and Babin (when he's on the field) especially would benefit from a more aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme where they could know they should be coming forwards more often than not. I honestly believe that if Casserly is fired and the team dismantled this off-season, as many Houston fans hope, a good number of players will follow in the footsteps of Steve Foley and go on to have terrific careers elsewhere after being labelled busts at the team that drafted them. My view is that Houston has the talent at present to be a winning team, but that bad coaching in every area - teaching, play design, play-calling and above all motivation has utterly hamstrung it. If Casserly deserves blame, I think it is primarily for his part in the appointment of the coaching staff, not for his personnel moves. A better coach than Pendry could have built a serviceable o-line out of the players he's been given.

As for how the Texans win a game: simple - play the '9ers.

33
by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 12:45pm

"As for how the Texans win a game: simple - play the ‘9ers."

The problem with that is that it doesn't happen til Week 17. If the Texans are 0-15 by then, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a win over San Francisco will help that not a whit.

#30: "I wish Seth Wand woud’ve been at LT when you graded. I’m confident that he would accomplish more than 1 positive play."

I'm not. Wand was the Texans' pet project for two years, and they gave him every chance in the world to keep his starting job in the offseason, but as much as they wanted to, they couldn't in good conscience put him on the field. Even when Riley was bad, the decided that Pitts was a better LT than Wand. He was a Wade Smith-caliber turnstile.

34
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 12:56pm

The Texans also get to play Cleveland at home next week and Arizona at home on Dec 18th. I'm sure they can win one of those games. By the way, who's Carr's backup? There's a pretty good chance he's not going to survive Indy.

35
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 1:14pm

MDS, good stuff again.

One question: How much help did the O line get?

It would seem obvious that if your line is bad (and even the Texans staff must see this), you design your game to minimise the problem.

I would have thought that there would have been a lot of 3-5 step drops, max-protect schemes, and 2TE sets. Did that happen?

36
by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 1:25pm

Yep, lots of quick passes and max-protection. I'm not entirely sure that those things really help, though. If a fullback and a tight end stay in to block, so the quarterback has seven guys blocking for him, that would seem to make him less susceptible to the rush. But it also means he has two fewer targets, which means the defensive backs have fewer receivers to cover, which means it's going to take longer for a receiver to get open, which means the quarterback has to stay back there longer, etc. I hope through the game charting project that FO is doing we can learn some things like how effective maximum protection schemes are.

37
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 1:55pm

MDS,

Thanks for the quick reply. While less receivers = easier coverage, if your key problem is that your line can't protect your QB, then at least max protect (in theory) should at least give him time to throw it away and avoid repeated hits.

I know it's not the most aspirational philosophy for a team, but "Lets keep David Carr out of a wheelchair" might be the best the Texans can hope for this year.

38
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 3:59pm

I think with max protect, it's the same as sending five guys out as receivers - it works great as a changeup, or as an occasional part of an overall scheme, but if you do it too often the defense will catch on and kill you.

If you normally send four receivers out, the defense will have their zones appropriately spread out. If you then send only two out, the defense will still at the snap play the normal looser zone. Your QB gets extra time, and by the time the defense figures out what's happening and adjusts (some tightening their coverage, others realizing they're useless in coverage and blitzing) your receivers should have either found a soft spot or gone deep. That's the theory anyway. Similarly, if you normally send four, then on plays where you send five, the extra receiver should be open at first, as the defense isn't expecting him to go out.

Max protect also works best off of good playaction, I believe. Think Nebraska circa 1995 - play fake that everyone must respect, leave 8 blockers in, and you have 2 wideouts going one on one with no pressure on the QB. This could work for teams like Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, really anyone who has a good enough ground game. Even Indy could do this, although they'd probably leave 7 to block instead of 8.

39
by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 4:31pm

Yes, I think you're right, Trogdor. It's not that there's anything inherently better about max-protect or five-wide or any other formation, it's just that they need to be used correctly, based on the defensive alignment and the offense's personnel. I think Martz is one of the best coaches at mixing in a max-protect deep pass when the defense is expecting to have five players running routes. I don't know much about game theory, but one thing I'd like to study some day is the way competitors in games of strategy try to keep their opponents from figuring out what they're doing. I think when Bill Walsh used to script the first 15 plays he tried to do it in a way that didn't give much of an indication of what the rest of the game plan entailed. Another thing I'd like to do more research on is play-calling on third-and-1. Aaron has shown that teams are much more successful when they run than when they pass, but I'd like to look at it more closely and see which formations teams use on third-and-short and how the defense lines up against them. When I was a kid playing youth football we had a trips formation, but we never used it to pass. We just used the three receivers to one side of the field to draw the defense that way and allow us to run the other. In youth football it's a lot easier to trick your opponent with stuff like that, but I think the same idea on a much more complex level works in the pros too.

40
by TMK (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 5:46pm

B, the Texans' backup is still Tony Banks, I believe, which means that they need Carr to stay upright at all costs. It might be Dave Ragone, who should have learned about the real blitz this spring in Europe.

Either way, Carr vs. Teerlinck's line is gonna be ugly.

41
by thad (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 10:14pm

mark,
I live in DC too. Totally agree about Casserly

42
by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/21/2005 - 10:23pm

The odd thing about Casserly is that from everything I've heard, Bob McNair is totally in his corner. It sounds like Capers is going to be gone at the end of the season, but Casserley will be the one naming his replacement.

43
by dan (not verified) :: Sat, 10/22/2005 - 12:36pm

Am I the only one that notices a fair bit of discrepency between the accepted/discussed play of Houston's line and their Adjusted Line Yards?

Obviously in pass play, they've been terrible, but ALY has them 12th overall. And while their success around the left side seems susceptible to sample size (yay alliteration) problems, they've gone up the middle 64% of the time and come out with the 4th best ALY.

Is it simply that their pass protection is so outrageously bad that they're the focus of so much disdain, as opposed to the line of, say, the Vikings or Jets, who rank in the bottom five of both ALY and ASR?

44
by Kaveman (not verified) :: Sat, 10/22/2005 - 3:02pm

#36, #38, #39:

You have to consider the quality of your receivers and that of the secondary. Its been said over and over: even the best CB cannot cover a good receiver indefinitely -- the rules are slanted against him. An average CB can do so for even less time. Given enough time and good coaching on this aspect of the game, a good receiver will inevitably get open and be found by his QB. A max-protect scheme delivers that time.

The counter, of course, is to back off on the pass rush; instead add DBs and double cover the receivers. Which will gash you in the running game.

I think this is why Washington's offense is working well (warning! Amateur armchair analyst at work!). Brunell, Moss and Patten are on the same page in making plays work... given time. They get that time, with the max-protect that the Redskins run so much. Put in a nickel to help the CBs and Portis will hurt you on the ground or Betts will go out on a route and find a mismatch. On top of this, Moss has been outstanding at getting open, even escaping double coverage.

Against Denver, the Redskins frequently had two tight ends and an RB in to block. The Broncos had two rookies at CB. Result: 322 pasing yards for Brunell, 103 on the ground for Portis. No sacks for Denver, and Denver's D-line has given opposing QBs quite a hard time so far.

I think it is worth a closer look, maybe? :-)

45
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 10/22/2005 - 4:20pm

I think it's probably fair to say that Casserly is both less good than a glance at his record in Washington might suggest and better than a similar look at his record in Houston would. The '99 NO trade was such a staggering robbery that it inevitably distorts perceptions of his career as a whole, but equally I think it's fair to say that he is a very good judge of talent - one assumes that the players he is most directly involved in assessing are those likely to be taken in the first round of the draft, and his record with first round picks is fairly immaculate. It is also worth noting that he has twice tried to address the LT position in Houston by offering huge contracts to elite veterans. Unfortunately, Pace preferred to stay in St. Louis and Boselli . . . Then again, his confidence (perhaps overconfidence) in his talent identification skills frequently leads him to pay over the odds for a player he has targeted (the Babin trade was a classic case in point) and this has certainly been a contributory factor to the Texans' lack of depth at many positions (principally the offensive line and defensive front seven). In all, I think that while there are certainly better GMs in the league, there are also many worse, and while it may make sense to fire a coach who, though in general competent, has lost his rapport with the players, the equivalent does not hold true for a GM. Replacing Capers with a man of roughly equal ability but a fresh approach should yield an improvement, and in any case it is likely that coaches who the evidence suggests are more gifted than he will be available (my vote is for Jim Bates). There is no obviously available and interested personnel man who McNair would have any reason to think would represent an upgrade over Casserly, so I believe retaining him is the right decision.

When I have more time (after the show I'm working on now is over), I plan to do a crude move-by-move analysis of every cut, trade, signing and draft choice Casserly has made as a GM, with both the Texans and the Redskins. I'll be interested to see how it comes out.

46
by Jason O (not verified) :: Sun, 10/23/2005 - 1:03am

To those of you (albeit few) who thought that Vic Fangio would do anything other than run a defense into the ground, here is exhibit B. That's right, Exhibit A was the travesty his defense became in Indy before he was shown the door. Took us 4 years to retool from his pathetic schemes.

47
by Drew (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 4:30pm

Re: #46

I'm not sure how this says anything about Fangio. But for what it's worth, I agree 100% that Vic Fangio sucks. When I found out that the Houston expansion team would be hiring him, and that they'd be in the Colts' division, I giggled like a school girl.

48
by Dave (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 8:30pm

Any updates here since they are playing better? Pitts at LT, Wade injured I believe....

49
by jaime fangio (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 9:18pm

don't you think the players have a role in how well they play their defense? it's not entirely vic fangio's fault.

and yes my last name is fangio and yes he's my uncle and yes i'm proud of him.