NFL Week 8: Lions-Texans — Four Things to Watch For
This was the best day Brock Osweiler has had as quarterback of the Texans thus far.
They say that when a person buys a boat, his two happiest days as a boat owner are the day he purchases the boat and the day he sells the boat, the obvious implication being that the boat-owning experience is far from what it's cracked up to be.
I've never owned a boat, so I don't know if that assessment of the experience is accurate, but I AM a Houston Texans fan, and I know a little something about my team overextending and investing in a high-priced quarterback, and I feel like that's an experience fairly similar to buying a boat (the "franchise QB" being the "luxury yacht" of NFL free agent investments). If that is the case, I don't know how the LAST day of the Brock Osweiler Experience is going to feel, but I can tell you that the day he signed here is probably the best I've felt about Brock Osweiler.
Since then, it hasn't been a straight 45 degree angle nosedive into the ground, as there have been a few hopeful moments, but the overall trajectory so far is most assuredly downward, and Monday night in Denver was undoubtedly the low point of Osweiler's brief tenure here so far. There is still time to fish Brock out of the fire, and doing so while the team is 4-3 (as opposed to, say, 2-5) is certainly more palatable, but the clock is ticking,
So that is why I lead off this post with the picture at the top, for that is the day the Texans bought their brand-new boat, the S.S. Brock, the greatest Osweiler-related day thus far in Texans history. Now, let's pick out a few things to watch this Sunday afternoon with the 4-3 Detroit Lions coming to town.
Speaking of Osweiler...
4. Brock Osweiler, establishing a floor
We know the book on Osweiler — in his four home games (4-0) thus far, he's been anywhere from serviceable to sporadically good, and in his three road games (0-3), he's had the pocket presence of a squirrel in the middle of the street during rush hour. His home passer rating is 83.2, his road passer rating is 58.9. If you're looking for an absolutely perfect opponent on paper against whom to get right following Monday's Denver debacle, it's Detroit. The Lions are 32nd in DVOA, 28th in takeaway rate and dead last by a mile in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns to their opponents 77.1 percent of the time they get inside the 20 yard line. Put simply, if Osweiler DOESN'T have his best game of the season thus far, that may be greater cause for concern than any of his three stinkers on the road, which, while awful, have at least all come against good defensive teams and/or coaching staffs.
3. (COPY... PASTE) Jadeveon Clowney splash plays
I feel like we type this bullet point about Clowney about every other week — something to the effect of "Well, Clowney has been fairly disruptive, but he needs to actually begin to stuff the stat sheet a little bit more.... blah blee blah blah..." Well, dammit, I wouldn't be wasting my time typing it if it weren't true. Against the Broncos, Clowney was once again stout against the run (five tackles, four stops in 25 run snaps), and he was a non-factor against the pass (1 pressure in 22 pass rushes). I'm fairly certain the Texans did not use the No. 1 overall pick on a guy thinking he'd be a "lunch pail run stopper." They want sacks. They need sacks. With the Lions' passing game morphing into more of a "get it out quick" attack, it may be tough for Clowney to have that breakout game, but we can hope and pray, can't we? (Hey, Texans Fan, here's a fun fact that will make you want to light yourself on fire — in 24 games, Clowney has six and a half sacks; in three games, Joey Bosa has four.)
2. Tackle, tackle, tackle
As mentioned earlier, the identity of this Lions offense is now a) a short, up-tempo passing game in which Matt Stafford uses his playmakers, and b) a nonexistent ground game that is currently 28th in rushing DVOA. Much the same way the Lions defense should be a welcome sight for Brock Osweiler and the Texans' passing game, so, too, should the Lions rushing game be a welcome sight for a Texans run defense that's been worked over the last couple games, including Denver's nearly dropping a 200-yard burger on them on Monday. Assuming the Texans can hold the Lions to their normal, measly rushing output, then the key shifts to the secondary and linebackers to make tackles in the open field on WR Golden Tate, RB Theo Riddick and deep threat Marvin Jones. Tate and Riddick, in particular, are both former Charlie Weis recruits at Notre Dame, both of whom have skill sets and pedigrees that include RB and WR snaps as younger players, in high school and college. It shows in their ability to make yards after the catch. The Texans must limit their yards after the catch.
1. Matthew Stafford, version 3.0
I'll leave this bullet point to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com, who wrote an excellent piece on Stafford this week. Here is the money shot from that article:
The difference is staggering. And the results have been noticeable. Stafford has put together an All-Pro caliber season over his past 16 games. He has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes, while throwing for 4,310 yards, with 35 touchdowns against just eight picks. The shorter passes have crucially cut into Stafford's interception rate, which had been his biggest problem. Through the end of the 2014 season, Stafford's career interception rate was 2.7 percent. Since Cooter's promotion, Stafford's INT rate has been nearly halved, dropping to 1.4 percent.
In terms of rate statistics, Stafford's résumé is as good as anybody else's in football. Comparing him to the other qualifying passers (224 attempts or more) since Week 8 of last season, Stafford ranks near the league leaders in most categories.
Maybe even more impressive is the fact that Stafford has been put in a position where he's had to bring Detroit from behind in the final minutes in each of their four wins. If this is a close game toward the end, the Texans had better hope they have the ball last.
I'm predicting they will...
Prediction: Texans 27, Lions 24
Spread: Texans -2.5
Season record (SU, ATS): 5-2, 5-1-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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