ReFo: Texans @ Titans, Week 17
The nightmare is finally over for the Houston Texans, but there was no light at the end of the tunnel as they failed to repeat their early season victory over the Titans capping off a 14 game losing streak with a direct reversal of their six point Week 2 victory in Houston. After consecutive division titles the Texans tied an unwanted franchise record with 14 defeats which saw them select Mario Williams with the first-overall pick in the 2006 Draft.
The game culminated in a seemingly apt fashion with the Texans’ defense, led by J.J. Watt doing enough to get the ball back for the offense to lead a game winning drive only for the, likely, outgoing starting quarterback Matt Schaub to send a wild overthrow to Michael Griffin at the first opportunity to see the game, the season and likely his Texans’ career end in a damp squib.
For the Titans this close win caps off a second place finish in the AFC South, but were still two games out of the last AFC wildcard. The Titans showed early season promise but struggled to build the sort of momentum at any point in the season that might have put them into the playoff hunt. A strong defensive display to finish will give heart heading into the post-season, however the over-riding question mark on this season and moving forwards is how different might it have been had Jake Locker not got injured? Would the progress he showed early in the season have been sustained throughout the season? Can he re-discover that positive momentum and carry it into 2014 to take the Titans forward to a post-season return for the first time since 2008.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Watt caps off another great season
It says something of the standard he has set himself that games earning him a +1.7 and a +2.6 in the last two weeks have constituted a quiet end to the season for J.J. Watt. Rebounding from that slight lull to his season Watt completed the season with a destructive display against the Titans notching five pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu), in the process registering his first sack since Week 12 while also weighing in with some strong run defense (+5.5) to play his part in slowing and disrupting the Tennessee ground game. Watt notched seven stops, falling just shy of his season high (nine against the Jags in Week 12) and with a +9.6 overall grade yesterday will see his seventh performance of this season feature on our Page of Fame for the best 3-4 defensive single game grades we have ever graded. There is an idea that some people hold that a player on two win team can’t possibly win Defensive Player of the Year. Personally I think that removing someone from an individual award for team success is ridiculous and though his sack stats and batted passes numbers might be down this year to say that Watt has somehow performed worse this season than last is wide of the mark. In 18 games last season Watt notched 83 total pressures, he notched 84 in 16 games this season including 35 hits meaning that his total of hits and sacks dropped only three from last year (49 to 46) in two fewer games. Judging a player’s season by a few small, select numbers is a dangerous approach and loses the context of their entire season performance which for Watt hasn’t slipped one iota from last season.
Contrast at the tackles
When the Texans’ offensive line was at the height of its powers in 2011 they had arguably the best tackle pairing in the league with Duane Brown (+22.4) and Eric Winston (+21.3) among the best in the league on their respective side of the line of scrimmage. This final week of the season only served to emphasize how far the Texans have fallen and how their plan to replace Winston has not fallen into place. Brown and Derek Newton capped off contrasting seasons with Brown earning a +4.1 grade to finish of the season surrendering no pressure and earning one of his best run blocking grades of the season (+1.1). On the opposite side of the line of scrimmage Newton (still rotating with Ryan Harris) capped off a difficult second season as a starter, one which didn’t feature the high watermarks that 2012 did, with his lowest grade (-5.9) of the season. Newton surrendered five pressures (all hurries) and tied his lowest run block grade of the season. Rotating with Newton, Harris fared little better struggling similarly as a run blocker and letting up three pressures (1 Sk, 2 Hu) on his 16 snaps in pass protection.
Schaub goes out with a whimper
This performance almost perfectly encapsulated Matt Schaub’s career with the Houston Texans in a single game. There was solid accuracy and pass placement on short and intermediate throws to get the Texans’ passing game going early, but when the time came to push the button to kick it up a gear and grab the big plays, he was found wanting. Pushing the ball down the field Schaub should have come up with one big play, but was robbed by a pass interference penalty by Alterraun Verner and a drop from DeAndre Hopkins on the same play. However deep down the middle yielded just two targets which resulted in two interceptions. The first had an air of misfortune that seemed to fit a theme for Schaub, poor execution but also unfortunate and the catastrophic end result not entirely his fault. That commentary wasn’t apt for final game and season ending interception which was just a dreadful overthrow.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Morgan caps off a strong finish
If 2012 was a breakout season for Derrick Morgan then 2013 was the difficult second season trying to maintain that level and he didn’t always accomplish it. A strong start to the season as a pass rusher eroded with some so-so displays through the middle of the season, but he finished strong in that regard and some early season struggles in run defense (-3.6 at Houston for example) were forgotten when he returned to the field in Week 9. After a season high +4.4 overall grade yesterday Morgan closed out the season with a +9.8 grade in the final three weeks of the season. His 10 stops in this stretch account for nearly half of his 24 for the season while his 16 total pressures (2 Sk, 5 Ht, 9 Hu) accounts for more than a quarter of his output and features two of his highest pass rush grades of the season. Though his displays this season weren’t as consistent as last year this season can be seen as a solid stabilization for a player who took his time to find his feet after an ACL injury so early in his career. He’ll be looking to carry this momentum through the off-season to be a defensive leader for Tennessee next season.
Johnson tops a ton to finish
For the first time since Week 9 in St Louis, Chris Johnson broke through the 100 yard barrier to help power a winning display from the Tennessee offense. His fumble (which he recovered and netted an extra ten yards from as a result) took a little shine off of the display, but he picked up consistent gains throughout and put in one of his tougher displays of the season with a solid 2.6 yards per carry after first contact and tied a season high with four missed tackles forced on the ground. His touchdown run midway through the third quarter put the Titans ahead for good as he patiently waited for a gap as he drifted towards the edge before cutting upfield showing off his lightning quick burst of speed to beat a line of Houston defenders drifting into his alley to get across the endzone in spite of Shiloh Keo’s best efforts. Topping 1,000 yards for the sixth time in his career Johnson finished with less than four yards per carry and less than two yards after contact per carry for the first time.
Final interception caps off improved 2013 for Griffin
The end of the regular season starts the post mortem process for those who aren’t continuing into January. Part of that is assessing which veterans aren’t making the cut, are there any veterans on a downward slide that could be sent packing? One defender coming into 2013 under pressure was Michael Griffin whose shoddy 2012 season which featured 22 missed tackles and some shocking play in pass coverage (-10.1) surely had him under pressure especially with two veteran safeties added to the mix in the off-season. Aside from a slight lull at the start of the second half of the season 2013 was a solid step forwards for Griffin who cut his missed tackles from 22 to 9 (five in five games from Week 10) and saw his overall grade swing from -17.7 last season to +6.0 this season. Not nearly as often this season was Griffin miles out of position either misreading a play or biting up on a play action fake to let plays in behind him. With only three coverage games “in the red” this season this is far more the sort of performance that the Titans will expect from the veteran presence in their secondary.
– Rookie corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson notched the first pass defense of his career breaking up a deep pass intended for Andre Johnson. Wreh-Wilson allowed only one completion for 9 yards on his three targets yesterday.
– Rounding out a disappointing first season as a starter Whitney Mercilus notched just one hit against the Titans. After what looked like a breakout performance (+3.5 pass rush) against Seattle in Week 4, Mercilus has only graded positively as a pass rusher twice since.
– With Jurrell Casey absent from the season finale Zach Brown’s four defensive stops saw him tie Casey for the team lead with 39 stops on the season, eight clear of Bernard Pollard in third.
PFF Game Ball
After notching a +105.6 last season we were in slight disbelief when J.J. Watt said as he cleared out his locker last season that he still had room to improve. After closing out this season with another stellar display Watt earned a +112.6 grade in two fewer games this year. I don’t think there’s much reason to doubt that Watt is the best defensive player in the game right now.
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