The Houston Texans "Behind the Chains": Lose Yards, Kill Drive

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If you read my entries in this blog, you know there are certain things that I find intriguing -- fan fights in stadium bathrooms, crime stories from the state of Florida, crime stories involving NFL players, the occasional recreational wager. These things all intrigue me.

But if you examine closely, those things all involve some sort of debauchery and, most times, some illegality. I don't want all of you to think that I'm some meathead crime troll. I can be analytical as well!

One thing that also concerns me greatly (aside from toothless rednecks on meth and whether or not Alabama can cover a ten point spread) is the welfare of our hometown football team. I like the Houston Texans, and while they're a respectable 3-2 right now, it's a rickety 3-2, built on the duct tape of positive turnover margin and the toothpaste of a weak early season schedule.

So what's my biggest concern right now?

Well, the general answer is quarterback play (not really that fixable) and inconsistency along the offensive line (fairly fixable), but more specifically I'm concerned about this teams inability to stretch the field and convert big plays. Hell, at this point, the Texans are barely attempting to look for big plays in the passing game.

Of Ryan Fitzpatricks's 25 attempts against Dallas on Sunday, only three were longer than 15 yards in the air (an incomplete deep route to Andre Johnson, and two completions of 18 and 19 yards to DeAndre Hopkins). This is a difficult way to play winning offense, especially if you make any mistakes that put the offense "behind the chains," i.e. in a down and distance with more than ten yards to go for a first down.

Yes, this concerns me, so you know what I did? I went and looked up all of the situations in which the Texans found themselves in "behind the chains" situations this season. Here is a general summary of those situations:

(quarter, down and distance, resulting LOS, cause of negative play, 1st down Y/N, end result)

vs WASHINGTON: 1. 1st quarter, 2nd and 20, Houston 22, PENALTY (Hold 79), NO 1st -- PUNT 2. 2nd quarter, 3rd and 15, Houston 15, SACK (-5 yds), NO 1st -- PUNT 3. 4th quarter, 2nd and 13, Opposing 20, RUN (Foster -3), NO 1st -- FIELD GOAL (42)

at OAKLAND: 1. 1st quarter, 2nd and 12, Houston 35, RUN (Foster -2), YES 1st -- TOUCHDOWN 2. 1st quarter, 2nd and 11, Houston 44, RUN (Blue -1), YES 1st -- TOUCHDOWN 3. 2nd quarter, 2nd and 19, Opposing 19, PENALTY (Hold 84), NO 1st -- FIELD GOAL (32) 4. 2nd quarter, 2nd and 19, Houston 49, PENALTY (Hold 84), NO 1st -- PUNT 5. 3rd quarter, 1st and 20, Opposing 49, PENALTY (Hold 75), YES 1st -- FIELD GOAL (39) 6. 4th quarter, 1st and 25, Opposing 36, PENALTY (Chop Block 79), NO 1st -- FIELD GOAL (46)

at NEW YORK GIANTS: 1. 1st quarter, 2nd and 16, Houston 33, PENALTY (Ill Use Hnds 79), NO 1st -- INT 2. 2nd quarter, 1st and 15, Houston 13, PENALTY (Ill Form 10), NO 1st -- INT 3. 2nd quarter, 2nd and 11, Houston 35, SACK (-1 yds), NO 1st -- PUNT 4. 3rd quarter, 2nd and 12, Houston 35, RUN (Blue -2), NO 1st -- T.O. DOWNS

vs BUFFALO: 1. 1st quarter, 2nd and 16, Houston 40, RUN (Foster -6), NO 1st -- PUNT 2. 1st quarter, 2nd and 11, Houston 36, RUN (Foster -1), NO 1st -- PUNT 3. 3rd quarter, 3rd and 13, Opposing 21, PENALTY (FS 76), NO 1st -- FIELD GOAL (41) 4. 3rd quarter, 1st and 20, Houston 30, PENALTY (Off PI 76), YES 1st -- PUNT 5. 4th quarter, 2nd and 12, Houston 45, RUN (Blue -2), NO 1st -- PUNT 6. 4th quarter, 1st and 20, 50 yard line, PENALTY (Off PI 10), NO 1st -- FIELD GOAL (50) 7. 4th quarter, 2nd and 14, Houston 38, RUN (Blue -4), NO 1st -- PUNT

at DALLAS: 1. 1st quarter, 1st and 15, Houston 15, PENALTY (FS 87), NO 1st -- PUNT 2. 1st quarter, 2nd and 16, Houston 32, PENALTY (Hold 60), NO 1st -- PUNT 3. 2nd quarter, 2nd and 15, Houston 17, PENALTY (Ill DF 76), NO 1st -- PUNT 4. 3rd quarter, 2nd and 11, Houston 19, RUN (Foster -1), NO 1st -- PUNT

So here are some nuggets of nuance pulled from the above data, nuggets that should have any Texans fan reaching for serious whiskey any time this team commits an offensive penalty, has a negative run, or allows the quarterback to get sacked:

1. The Texans have found themselves falling behind the chains, by whatever method (penalty, negative run, sack), 24 times this season, 18 resulting in a line of scrimmage in their own territory, 6 resulting in a line of scrimmage at the 50 yard line or in opponents territory.

2. They've converted a first down in 4 of these 24 situations (one, it should be noted, was the result of a pass interference by the Bills) for a 16.7% conversion rate.

3. Of the 24 "behind the chains" situations, the end result of the drives are as follows:

Punt: 13 Field goal: 6 Touchdown: 2 Interception: 2 Turnover on downs: 1

Noteworthy, of the 18 situations that didn't involve the Raiders as an opponent:

Punt: 12 Field goal: 3 Interception: 2 Turnover on downs: 1

So, percentage-wise, these drives that involve at least ONE DOWN of greater than 10 yards to go for a first down, they end in touchdowns 8.3% of the time. If the Texans are playing anyone but the Raiders, they never end in touchdowns. Ever. A total Blutarski. At least, so far this season...

This also means that all six of their offensive touchdowns against teams not named the Raiders involved exactly zero plays with longer than ten yards to go for first down. That is fairly remarkable.

4. All six of the Texans' drives that got "behind the chains" with a new line of scrimmage still in opposing territory (meaning, in theory, the Texans were either driving the ball or were given great field position by their defense after a turnover) ended in a field goal, and on only one of those drives did they convert a first down after the negative play. Therefore, on five of the six drives, the negative play killed any chance at a touchdown, and the Texans scored ZERO touchdowns when a negative play occurred in opposing territory. ZERO. A bunch of threes with no chance at seven, so to speak.

5. The breakdown of negative plays that have put the Texans behind the chains is as follows:

Penalty: 13 Negative run: 9 Sack: 2

The penalty culprit breakdown is as follows:

79 BRANDON BROOKS: 3 penalties for 35 yards 76 DUANE BROWN: 3 penalties for 20 yards 10 DeANDRE HOPKINS: 2 penalties for 15 yards 84 RYAN GRIFFIN: 2 penalties for 20 yards 60 BEN JONES: 1 penalty for 10 yards 75 DEREK NEWTON: 1 penalty for 10 yards 87 C.J. FIEDOROWICZ: 1 penalty for 5 yards

The negative runs came from:

23 ARIAN FOSTER: 5 carries for -13 yards 28 ALFRED BLUE: 4 carries for -9 yards

6. Interesting, maybe coincidental, but in their two losses, the Texans had four "behind the chains" situations in each of those games and they were all in their own territory. They converted first downs on none of them.

So, the lessons in all of this?

1. The Texans are basically doomed if they go backwards on offense, especially in their own territory, and especially if they are playing anybody who is better at football than the Oakland Raiders, which is essentially the entire non-Raider NFL and most of the SEC West.

2. If the Texans go backwards in opposing territory, I hope you have Randy Bullock on your fantasy team! Six times it happened, six times it ended in field goals!

3. Probably the biggest miracle in all of this is that I did all of this pigskin dorkface research myself, and I have a girlfriend.

How fixable is all of this?

Well again, I think the offensive line is capable of playing at a high level on a frequent basis. They can get better. However, I think the quarterback is who he is. Ryan Fitzpatrick is in his early 30's, so anyone thinking he will miraculous become a smooth operating, big play machine...well, I would say this is the percentage chance that happens....

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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