ReFo: HOU @ SD, Week 1
There was a time when Philip Rivers was a top quarterback in the NFL. We got to see that guy for a stretch in this game before he remembered the player he has been for the past couple of seasons and proceeded to play his part in throwing away a three-score lead.
Houston ended up coming back from 28-7 down to win the game with a walk-off field-goal in the dying seconds. For the Texans, this is a game they will have fancied themselves to win, but the difficulty they found in doing so will be concerning. For the Chargers, they got a glimpse of the team they could be if they got consistent quarterback play, but then saw more of the same in terms of misery and defeat. The good news is that for a while in this game Rivers looked like the player they remember as one of the league’s best, they just need to rediscover that guy consistently.
Let’s take a look at some of the more notable performances.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Duane Brown Got Owned
I usually like to think of a clever title or pun for these headings, but sometimes you just have to go with the line that sums it up. Duane Brown (-6.6) couldn’t handle Dwight Freeney. At all. He only coughed up a single sack, but he was beaten for two more knockdowns and five additional hurries as well as being flagged for a false start early in the game. To make matters worse, his run blocking – usually excellent – was sub-standard in the game. At one point he positioned himself as if to wall off Larry English only to just be shoved over a pile to the floor as English made the play.
Brown has improved year on year for the Texans since coming out as a relatively raw prospect, and last year was one of the league’s best tackles, but this was the poorest performance we have seen from him in some time and it will take a hell of a run for the remaining season for him to be back at the sharp end of the rankings.
Somehow the Man Is Still Underrated
No matter how regularly he does it, I feel Andre Johnson somehow doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He is the all-time leader both in receptions per game and yards per game in NFL history (minimum of 100 games), and seems to rack up big plays for fun. In this game he was targeted 15 times and caught 12 passes for 146 yards. As if that wasn’t big enough, look at the play Schaub passes up when hitting Owen Daniels on a crossing route off a rollout early in the game.
Johnson could have passed two-bills comfortably in the game. The good news for Houston was that in addition to the regular sidekick of Owen Daniels (+1.1 receiving), Houston also got good production from DeAndre Hopkins (+1.2 receiving), including a great sliding catch to pick a Schaub pass off the turf.
Watt A Quiet Day?
Stats can often prove things. The absence of stats regularly proves nothing. In this game J.J. Watt didn’t leave with a brace of sacks, and only notched a single batted pass, so some people would like you to think that he had a quiet, non-impactful day at the office, but that is far from the truth. He only had a single tackle for loss, but the other two tackles he had were for no gain, and his swim move beat San Diego linemen with such speed that he blew up five other run plays for other Houston defenders to make the play. DJ Fluker in particular will be having nightmares about Watt’s swim move for weeks to come. Maybe he didn’t get the stats everybody wants to see, but this was Watt at his very best, and his +7.3 grade attests to that.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
The Real Freeney?
I was always really interested in the Dwight Freeney signing because his last season in Indianapolis was such a relative letdown. People claimed that it was down to a poor fit within the scheme, but the Colts had him rushing with his hand in the ground in his regular position most of the time anyway, so that theory never held water. The question was with a nagging ankle injury that some speculated was holding him back all year. If that was the case, a healthy Freeney might still bring the heat for a new team. If it wasn’t, maybe we had just seen the decline of one of this generation’s finest pass rushers. On this evidence, he is definitely back to his best. Freeney earned his +6.1 grade by notching a sack, two knockdowns and six further pressures, largely against Duane Brown, one of the league’s best left tackles, and looking every inch the Pro-Bowl player. His inside move remained his strength, only this time it was without his trademark spin for the most part. Dwight Freeney is back, and he can still kill your left tackle.
The Impact of Watt
If you didn’t know from watching the tape you could tell from the grading where Watt lined up most of the time. D.J. Fluker’s -3.7 grade came largely from being abused by Watt on several occasions. Each time Watt hit him with a swim move he seemed to careen forward while barely getting a touch on the Texan, and it led to him being beaten for a knockdown of Philip Rivers, as well as all three of Watt’s stops in the run game. To his inside, Jeromey Clary fared even worse (-4.3). He was beaten by Watt for a knockdown, a hurry, as well as in the run game as well as jumping early for a false start flag. Fluker, overall, didn’t hold up too badly given the 55 snaps he played, but on the times when he did come off on the wrong end of a Watt encounter it was ugly.
Dr Jeckyl and Mr Rivers
For most of this game we got to see the Philip Rivers that once sat atop the PFF rankings. It started with a beautiful touch pass to running back Ryan Mathews for a touchdown on a wheel route that gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead after Matt Schaub had thrown an interception on the first play, and it featured three more scores as Rivers began to mount the score and look like he was setting about putting the game away. As the Texans clawed back, however, Rivers was to blame for the tying score, staring down his receiver in the shadow of his own goal line and throwing an inexcusable pick-six to Brian Cushing that brought the Texans back. He was then unable to lead any kind of game-winning drive himself, even if he did get unlucky with a drop from Eddie Royal that would have moved the chains.
– Under pressure Rivers’ QB rating dropped 35 points from 101.9 to 66.4
– Under pressure Matt Schaub’s rating actually went up 30 points from 99.4 to 129.4
– Despite half the carries (or maybe because of) Ben Tate almost doubled Arian Foster’s per-carry average, 6.1 to 3.2
PFF Game Ball
This game had a few standouts and J.J. Watt certainly played well enough to get the nod, but Dwight Freeney terrorized the Texans around the edge, and gets the game ball on his first regular-season outing for his new team.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam