ReFo: Rams @ Texans, Week 6
What a difference a year makes, especially in the NFL. With this win the Rams moved to .500 and remain in contention in the NFC West, the division shaping up to be the most competitive this season. The Texans, meanwhile, lost their fourth on the bounce and sit at least two games behind the Colts in the AFC South. They have serious issues too, with an underperforming quarterback and a defense that simply isn’t playing as well as it used to under Wade Phillips. The Texans’ offensive line is now much more inconsistent and even defensive captain Brian Cushing is struggling to find form.
On the other side Jeff Fisher has the Rams playing the kind of football he loves. They go eight deep on the defensive line and now with Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson they have the corners to take advantage of quarterbacks under pressure. The early signs are also very promising for rookie RB Zac Stacy (more on him later), but as is always the case, they will go as Sam Bradford goes. Well he went well in this one showing poise under pressure and finding that elusive deep accuracy that has been absent in his short career. They also have 80% of the offensive line sorted with only left guard proving a problem area.
Here are some key performances from the contest:
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Stacy Repays the Rams’ Faith
Third-round rookie Zac Stacy (+2.3) has certainly looked the part of a starting running back in his two games with extensive action this season. One might expect the 5-foot-8 runner to be a little lacking between the tackles, but in fact that’s exactly where he’s at this most dangerous. Stacy does a good job finding small creases and has impressive power for his stature, consistently generating yards after contact — 54 of his 79 yards came after he was met by a defender, a very good total. Stacy also forced six missed tackles on just 18 carries. It was a quiet day for the Vanderbilt product in the receiving game with two catches on two targets for 11 yards, but he’ll be pleased the same was true for him in pass protection where he was perfect in seven blocks.
A Dunbar Disaster
After seemingly turning the corner in 2012, JoLonn Dunbar (-2.3) has struggled since coming back from his four game suspension. The former New Orleans Saint found things particularly difficult against the run with the Texans’ athletic offensive lineman continuously taking him out of plays. Overall he recorded just a pair of defensive stops in 28 run plays and contributed a missed tackle. Watch the way Brandon Brooks handles him at 12:11 in the first quarter. Dunbar is slow to react and Brooks gets great position and finishes him to the ground. In coverage, he allowed all four targets to be complete for 52 yards and four first downs. He shows a lack of zone awareness on the first play of the fourth quarter where Andre Johnson was able to catch and in route and cut it up field for the first down. Finally, Dunbar was shut out on his four pass rush opportunities.
Johnson Bounces Back
Last week I singled out Trumaine Johnson as a player who failed to step up, but he was back to his best this week (+2.3). It was his best game of the season and that was despite being matched up with Johnson for much of the game. It was his work in coverage that saw him do so well, as he allowed two of four targets to be complete for just 18 yards (one first down) with a pass deflection. That PD came in the third quarter where Johnson read the play well in zone coverage and drove on the receiver out of the backfield to make the play. He also made a huge, momentum-shifting play when he stripped DeAndre Hopkins on a pass over the middle resulting in a turnover. In the run game Johnson could have contributed a little more — in a rare instance of him showing up on the grade sheet, Greg Jones II was able to seal him inside on an outside run.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
The Inconsistency of Mr Brooks
Brandon Brooks (+3.7) has looked excellent at times but then really struggled at others. That’s not particularly surprising considering he has only five starts in his NFL career but, having graded above +3.0 in two of those five, he’s certainly on the right track. As previously mentioned it was his capacity to get to the second level that stood out, but Brooks was also successful with backside cut blocks. He did a good job in the third quarter (14:15) bringing down Kendall Langford on one such play.
Brian Cushing (-3.3) was able to play after suffering a concussion in Week 5, but he wasn’t able to play well. The USC product graded negatively in every facet of the game, and was especially poor in run defense. He made just a pair of defensive stops and also missed a tackle on Stacy. Although both his stops were tackles for loss, one came when he cleaned up a run after JJ Watt had destroyed the play and another came when unblocked. The missed tackle doesn’t tell the whole story either, as Cushing overpursued on a couple of other occasions leaving gaping lanes. One example was at 6:07 in the second quarter where he was beaten by Stacy’s cut allowing a first down. In coverage, Cushing also allowed all four targets to be complete for 43 yards (one first down). The former first-round pick also missed a tackle on a screen that lead to a big play. To be fair, he did well to beat the block in the first place but couldn’t bring Daryl Richardson down. Cushing also committed a foolish unnecessary roughness penalty when he hit Sam Bradford in the head after he slid on a scramble. Overall he was hurting his team more than helping against the Rams.
Whitney Mercilus (+0.4) had a mixed game against the Rams. Taking over for the departed Connor Barwin, Mercilus has had a solid start to the season, grading positively against the run in every game and that continued against the Rams (+1.7). Overall, he recorded three defensive stops, the most impressive play coming with 26 seconds to go in the first quarter when he stood up Lance Kendricks, shed him to the inside, and made the tackle within two yards of the line of scrimmage. In contrast he was shut out as a pass rusher on 16 rushes with the exception of a hit he recorded late in the play as Bradford moved in the pocket. Mercilus hasn’t been bad in that department so far this year, ranking 12th among 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rushing Productivity (11.3) but Jake Long and Joe Barksdale got the better of him Sunday.
– Quiet day for JJ Watt who had the solitary hit as a pass rusher and failed to record a tackle (with two missed).
– In fact, the Texans struggled as a team with their tackling, missing eight of 42 attempts.
– Sam Bradford stepped up under pressure, completing three of four balls for 45 yards and a 111.5 QB rating.
There are a few options here. Long was simply lethal with his down blocking, Andre Johnson was dangerous as a receiver, and Myers’ trademark reach blocks were on full display, but in the end his forced fumble swung the momentum in the Rams’ favor early in the game and they never relinquished it, so congratulations Trumaine Johnson.
Follow John on Twitter