Baltimore Beatdown: Everyone in Baltimore expects Ed Reed to play this week. How does he fit in to Wade Phillips' scheme and what's the general feeling about him down in Houston right now?
Brett Kollman: We still haven't seen exactly how Ed Reed will be used, but Wade Phillips has thrown in a noticeable increase in single high safety coverages since the start of the preseason, perhaps to get the rest of the defense acclimated to that style of play on the back end.
Phillips' scheme was predominantly cover two for the last couple seasons in Houston, but Reed obviously has had more success as a center fielder than traditional "guard your half" kind of safety. I do not expect Cover 1/3 to be the "go to" shell for the Phillips defense by any means, but it certainly will be used more often than in previous years in order to take advantage of Reed's skill set.
Having a Hall of Fame ball hawk playing deep also will provide advantages for Phillips' blitz-heavy front seven, as strong safety Danieal Manning will likely work down to play short and intermediate zones to cover for Brian Cushing when he rushes the quarterback (which is far more often than the average linebacker).
As long as the stellar corner tandem of Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson keep balling out on the perimeter, Reed should be just fine to do his thing. If Joseph and Jackson can make Shiloh Keo of all people look like a competent safety, imagine what Ed freakin' Reed could do.
BB: DeAndre Hopkins had a big fourth quarter and overtime against the Titans. When he became the go-to guy late in that game due to Andre Johnson's concussion, how effective was he in man coverage? That's what he'll likely see this week against the Ravens' secondary, which had a horrid showing against Denver and a great outing against Cleveland.
BK: I have yet to publish my tape study articles on Hopkins, but the new and improved high definition All-22 angle in NFL Game Rewind showed Hopkins is an absolute stud against both man and zone coverages. I particularly like how he runs double releases from the Z position (which typically comes with two or three yards of cushion from a defensive back), where he continuously was able to jab step one direction and then cut back across the body of his defender to get to the spot he needed to be. Beyond that, Hopkins has also shown incredibly rare body control and hands to "climb the ladder" and snatch balls out of the air when he is facing virtually perfect coverage.
When I studied the Dean Pees defense over summer and throughout the preseason I noticed that Lardarius Webb was no longer taking slot duty against three wide sets, and that instead Corey Graham was shifting from his spot on the right side of the field down into the slot with Jimmy Smith replacing him outside.
Considering that Hopkins plays the Z position, which generally lines up on the offensive right (defensive left) based on the spot of the ball, that puts him firmly matched up with Webb for probably a sizable chunk of the game. If Andre Johnson returns from his concussion in time for this Sunday's came, that obviously means that he, and not DeAndre Hopkins, will get the pleasure of working against Jimmy Smith. I will of course refrain from disparaging Jimmy Smith on a Ravens blog, but he is clearly no Lardarius Webb.
If Hopkins is to see someone other than Webb throughout the game, then Owen Daniels or Garrett Graham will likely have to be motioned out past the numbers, as Pees always plays his corners on the widest receiving option. This would then put Hopkins one on one with either Matt Elam or James Ihedigbo in off man coverage, which should be a better match up than getting blanketed by Webb.
Lucky for Hopkins, tight ends are split out wide a lot in the Gary Kubiak scheme, so he should get plenty of opportunities to make something happen.
(Here's a look at Hopkins lined up as an inside receiver against San Diego, courtesy of a gif created by Kollmann. It'll be a tough matchup for Corey Graham whenever the Texans decide to move Hopkins in there.)
BB: To follow, have you noticed anything different with Matt Schaub now that he has a second weapon at receiver? Sure, the Texans will remain a run oriented team but I'd imagine having Johnson and Hopkins can allow Gary Kubiak and the coaching staff to mix their calls up some.
BK: Schaub definitely has started to get rid of his tendency to stare down Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels at every opportunity now that DeAndre Hopkins is in town. Then again, by the end of the Titans game, Schaub started to look for Hopkins first, second, and third on every passing play as well, but I suppose there are worse things to rely on as a crutch than a stud rookie receiver (cough cough Kevin Walter cough cough).
If Andre Johnson comes back in time for this weekend's game, expect the ball to get spread around a lot more evenly than in seasons past. Johnson, Hopkins, Daniels, Graham, and Foster combine to give the Texans a hell of an arsenal when faced with long yardage situations.
(NOTE: Johnson is expected to play as this Q&A took place earlier in the week.)
BB: How deceiving have the points allowed been for Houston this year, considering it would appear the defense is keeping yardage totals at a minimum?
BK: Very deceiving. It seems as though the defense is either holding the opposing offense to five straight three and outs or giving up a 99 yard touchdown drive (oh wait, they are), so the numbers are a bit skewed at the moment. Teams obviously have been able to score on Houston this year so far, even with Eddie Royal as their best passing option, but success has been spotty at best.
I will not say that Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown can't come out of nowhere to have great performances and put up a bunch of points on this defense, but I would expect their yardage to come in bunches rather than any sort of sustained success throughout the game.
BB: For Houston to walk out of M&T Bank Stadium with a win, what will be some of its keys to Sunday's game?
BK: Find a way to run the ball. The Ravens front seven is no joke, and I do not expect the ground game to finally have its break out game in Baltimore, but the offensive line, Arian Foster, and Ben Tate must be enough of a threat to Dean Pees' defense to make the play action passing game work. Without it, the Texans offense could be in trouble.
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