The Dossier, Week 2:
Welcome to “The Dossier” a weekly look across the aisle at the Ravens’ opponents, and how they stack up on paper. This Week 2 edition features one of the prime contemporaries of Lamar Jackson at quarterback, and a team that got off to a bit of a rough start to 2020 in the Houston Texans.
The Setting: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
The Forecast: Some clouds. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low 77F. Winds NNE at 10 to 15 mph (via The Weather Channel). It should of course be mentioned that this is an indoor stadium with a retractable roof, so weather isn’t as much of a factor.
The Stakes: Two teams, two very different starts here. The Ravens hope to build off of a strong 1-0 start and tune up for their game against the Chiefs, while the Texans hope to get off the schneid after their loss to Kansas City in the opening game.
The Spread: Ravens enter Week 2 as a –7 road favorite.
Death, taxes, and Bill O’Brien — this is the life that Texans fans lead. The oft-maligned head coach returns for his seventh season and after taking over as de facto GM recently, may have painted his magnum opus when it comes to plummeting his Q rating this past offseason. That of course includes trading away one of the best wideouts in the league for a 2nd round pick and a running back who hasn’t been good in several years among, several other possible hazards to success.
But to me, the strange conundrum I find myself working through as I view the Texans from afar is that O’Brien actually isn’t all that bad. That is, he isn’t all that bad as a head coach, anyway. In his first three years, he went above .500 (9-7 each time) with a hodgepodge of some of the worst QB’s on offer, ranging from Brian Hoyer, to Tom Savage, to Brock Osweiler, and plenty of other jabronis in the mix as well.
Since the arrival of his franchise QB Deshaun Watson, he’s a more respectable 24-14 in games that Watson has started, and has had Houston consistently in the playoffs year over year. This also includes their first playoff win together last season, and a first half in which they were putting it to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Chiefs in Kansas City. They of course lost that game though, which sent them into the aforementioned nightmare offseason we just saw.
It’s of course headlined by the infamous trade that saw WR Deandre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick head to Arizona, in exchange for RB David Johnson, a second-round draft pick and a fourth-rounder in 2021. Hopkins promptly dismantled the 49ers in Week 1 to the tune of 14 catches (a career high) for 151 yards in a Cardinals upset win, while the Texans went to Kansas City and again suffered a defeat at the hands of the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. A big Week 1 loss to a team like that is understandable, but the problem is that they looked like a team with pretty much the exact same issues we’ve seen them struggle with at their low points over the course of Watson’s young career (struggles along the offensive line, some toothlessness on defense when things matter most, and strange team management by O’Brien).
Again, a game like that can be ruled as a bit of a wash, particularly in Week 1 against the best team in the league, but based on what we saw on the same day from the Ravens, things won’t be much easier this week.
With that, let’s dive into this week’s matchup:
No matter the supporting cast, no matter the situation, you can almost always count on some fireworks from Deshaun Watson. This was even true to an extent in the Week 1 blowout, despite a lackluster performance along their offensive line. Watson and the offense were able to move the ball with some consistency in the first half, but down 14-7 and driving into Chiefs’ territory before the half, there was some curious decision making from O’Brien that seriously cost them.
Conversely, really bad game management to end the half from O’Brien.— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) September 14, 2020
Three straight passes stalled them out, and a 51 yard FG attempt goes wide right.
KC promptly drives for a field goal of their own to take a 10 point lead into the locker room.
This was especially head-scratching considering the play-calling when they got into Kansas City territory: three straight deep pass attempts that included little protection for Watson (and Frank Clark rushing unblocked on first down) causing the drive to stall and resulting in K Kai Fairbairn ultimately missing a 51-yard field goal attempt. The Chiefs offense took the field from their own 39 with 25 seconds to go and marched down the field to put three points of their own on the board. At no point should a 17-7 football game with two quarters still to play feel like it’s over, but that was the exact sentiment I (and I’m assuming many others) felt as both teams were heading into the locker room.
So why should a team with Deshaun Watson, a healthy David Johnson, and some nice pieces in the receiving corps be in that scenario? Mainly, the offensive line doesn’t appear to be complete quite yet (if they even have a plan for it to begin with). They’re especially weak along the right side, Zach Fulton and Tytus Howard had a tough go of it against the Chiefs.
Zach Fulton against Chris Jones.— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) September 14, 2020
Not great! pic.twitter.com/BxOIh5CNFW
Fulton sports a 53.4 overall grade from PFF and was beat a few different times from the interior, while Howard (59.4 grade from PFF) had a rough game as well that included multiple penalties. Their saving grace seems to be that they hold up a bit better in pass coverage (77.0 and 70.4 grades in that area respectively) but regardless, their performance against Kansas City’s front wasn’t especially reflective of this.
Even against a strong Browns offensive line on Sunday, the Ravens began to get in Baker Mayfield’s face after Don Martindale got a feel for the game and began to really dial things up, which led to a –32.4 pass defense DVOA against the Browns (good for second in the league behind only Washington). If Wink doesn’t immediately come out of the gates firing with an extra man or two on Fulton and Howard’s side, it seems likely it’ll happen at some point throughout the game.
As far as the weapons that Houston does have on offer, there’s a decent amount of players to choose from. This includes David Johnson at running back, who had a solid debut in a Texans uniform, and a litany of receivers with similar skillsets such as Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, and Randall Cobb, who signed with Houston over the offseason after playing in Dallas last year. Duke Johnson is the change-of-pace guy in the backfield and there are also some interesting names at tight end, including red zone threat Darren Fells and Jordan Akins, a young player who had a nice catch-and-run against the Chiefs.
It seems that both for his talent, and for what Houston would like him to do this year, Fuller is the guy to watch of this group. In his four years in the league since coming out of Notre Dame as a highly promising speedster, Fuller has yet to play a full 16 games in his four years. His numbers speak to him being a guy who can be a home run hitter though – he’s averaged 14.3 yards per catch over that time period, and has hauled in 16 touchdowns as well; he also was a rare Week 1 bright spot, and Watson spoke of his confidence in the wideout prior to the season getting going:
“Will’s going to be one of the best receivers in the league,” Watson said. “He came back a lot stronger, a lot faster. Will’s really good, very confident in himself and what he did over the offseason. I’m very confident in what he can do. We all are as an organization and as a team.”
His health will always be the concern. Either Fuller or Cooks are really going to have to step up to help unlock this deep passing attack. A combo of their inability to separate deep and the poor line play made for not such a pretty passing chart from Watson last week:
Yes, he only completed four passes beyond 10 yards. Spoiler alert, Lamar Jackson’s Week 1 chart looks a little bit different than that.
All in all, he has some weapons to work with, but Watson was doing a lot of dancing around in crumbling pockets against Kansas City. The Ravens should be able to keep it that way if they know how to deploy the talent they unquestionably have on defense. Speaking of defense, lets check in on that side of the ball for the Texans.
As has always been the case since pretty much the beginning of his decade in the league, J.J. Watt is the headliner on this side of the ball for Houston. He returns from a strange 2019 season in which he was injured for half of the year and made a return for the Texans playoff run, while still managing a very strong 87.0 overall grade from PFF for 2019. He didn’t pop too much in Week 1, but to be fair, neither did the rest of Houston’s defense.
With an 11.8% DVOA on that side of the ball (good for 23rd in the league) it doesn’t take an analytical genius to figure out that the Texans didn’t appear to have it together against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. They were playing against . . . well, Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs. In that sense, it’s probably smarter to just try and take away some positives from that game, if possible.
Some unsung players stepped up, even if it was in limited action in some cases. One guy to look at is LB Jacob Martin, who beat Mitchell Schwartz one-on-one to get a sack on Mahomes when the game was actually still within reach:
Early in the game, right after the almost TD to Demarcus Robsinson, Jacob Martin with some pure bull rush on Mitchell Schwartz. Don’t see him get beat every day.— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) September 14, 2020
Martin was drafted by the Seahawks in ‘18, and traded to Houston last year in the Jadeveon Clowney deal. pic.twitter.com/FmFY7wCW54
While Martin didn’t make much noise outside of that, he graded out for a solid 57.6 overall PFF grade, and appears to be a rotational ‘backer to monitor. Another player to keep an eye on as a deep sleeper is safety/linebacker hybrid A.J. Moore. Moore is a player who’s extremely unheralded as a former undrafted free agent who made his way to Houston via New England and has slowly expanded his role year over year; he was named a team captain for 2020 and will probably look to get some more snaps behind Justin Reid and Eric Murray (and after a hit like this, he may just deserve it, garbage time or not):
The starters in this secondary aren’t the best on offer across the entire league, but they are relatively deep. Reid and Murray are a solid safety tandem, and at corner they’re led by Bradley Roby who was respectable in 2019 with a 64.0 PFF grade. Behind him, are a smattering of names you’ll know such as Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves III, and some lesser known corners like Lonnie Johnson and Phillip Gaines.
While they certainly get something of a pass for not being able to stop Mahomes and the Chiefs, it doesn’t look like things are going to get much easier for them against Lamar and the Ravens offense. It’s been waxed poetic to the max about how efficient and effective Jackson was as a passer against Cleveland last week, and his passing chart paints that picture with an exclamation point:
On 11 of his 20 completions, Lamar went for 10+ yards through the air, and three of them went for touchdowns. Funny enough, Mahomes completed only three passes beyond 10 yards versus Houston’s defense, but that can of course be attributed to the gameplan by Andy Reid that was very screen heavy, and featured a ton of chunk running by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was electric in his NFL debut. The Ravens similarly had a rookie running back explode onto the scene in J.K. Dobbins, and also sport plenty of short yardage weapons, as well as a top-tier tight end.
Edwards-Helaire and Travis Kelce both looked awesome in this one, and seemed to especially victimize linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham is a solid player in his own right, but was routinely picked on by the Chiefs offense in an effort that led to him receiving a paltry 26.9 grade from PFF. In equal run/pass coverage snaps (34 each, and one pass rush), he graded out at 27.1 in coverage and 45.4 against the run, and Greg Roman will certainly look to exploit him via Dobbins and Andrews in a similar fashion to what we saw from KC’s two dynamic weapons.
Houston may very well be a playoff team in 2020, but this is an exceptionally tough two- game stretch to begin the season. We already saw Kansas City dismantle them in Week 1 and while Baltimore was facing what figures to be something of a weaker team at home, they seemed primed to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC this season based on Sunday’s action.
In a normal season with crowd noise at play, I’d be tempted to predict a closer contest out of respect for Deshaun Watson playing in front of his home fans. However, it’s hard to see Baltimore not being able to replicate some of what the Chiefs were able to do against the Texans. In that sense, I think the Ravens will enter their highly-anticipated matchup with the Chiefs sporting a 2-0 record and a chip on their collective shoulders after taking care of business in the Lone Star State.
Jake’s official prediction: Ravens 33, Texans 23