21 observations from Texans vs. Saints




Sunday can be summed up with two facts.

Since Drew Brees joined New Orleans in 2006, the Saints had scored a touchdown in every game.

Until yesterday.

Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in every game since November 29, 2012.

Until yesterday.

Boy, something about November 29th doesn't sit well with Drew Brees (in that game, he threw five INT and no TD), but that's how good the Texans defense was on Sunday. Two field goals and that was that. It feels like a broken record but for the fourth straight game, the Texans' three facets convincingly dominated the game and left NRG Stadium with their fourth straight win. The 24-6 win over the Saints was the team's fourth straight before a key road trip to take on the Buffalo Bills next Sunday. Here are a few observations from the win.

  1. The innovation continued in the run game as Cecil Shorts picked up a receiving touchdown in the first quarter. Technically, it's a reception, but it was really just a jet sweep run as Brian Hoyer took the snap in the pistol formation and flipped it about eight inches to Shorts as he went in motion across the formation. Shorts did the rest.
  1. Hoyer noted after the game in his post-game presser that it might have been the easiest touchdown he'd ever thrown. I haven't seen all of Brian's touchdowns, but I'd have to agree.
  1. What more is there to say about J.J. Watt? He was AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week and was even better on Sunday. He destroyed the right side of the Saints offensive line continuously. He tracked down runs from behind. The good news was he wasn't alone. I can't tell you how many times Jadeveon Clowney was "this close" to a sack or a bat down.
  1. Brian Cushing continued his climb back to the old Brian Cushing. He and Benardrick McKinney have been just outstanding. McKinney teamed with Johnathan Joseph to shut down a Saints slip screen on a first down in the first quarter and J-Joe shut down a smoke screen on the next play.
  1. Joseph and the secondary have been tremendous, but the communication amongst the defensive backs has been the most impressive aspect of their play lately. I noted that during one of my sideline hits during the broadcast how well the defensive backs were communicating. They're signaling each other upon motion, upon alignment, upon shifts, you name it, and they're adjusting on the fly and seem to be on the same page.
  1. Back to Watt for a second...he was mic'd up for Sunday and he gave the NFL Films guys/gals some great stuff. In the third quarter, after his second sack of the day, Saints left tackle Terron Armstead started jawing at Watt from just outside the Saints huddle. Watt, of course, didn't back down. The two were giving each other the verbal business, to a point, where the Saints had to pull Armstead back into the offensive huddle. A few plays later, I couldn't help but chuckle when Clowney whipped Armstead with an inside move on a rush to Brees. The stout Saint didn't really have a whole lot more to say to anyone the rest of the afternoon. Of course, Watt beat Armstead earlier in the drive, so I'm not really sure why he was yapping in the first place.
  1. On the first offensive drive of the game, the offensive line just destroyed the Saints defensive line, especially on the right side. On one play, the Texans ran outside zone to the left side and the play was blocked well on the left side, but the backside?? Wow. Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton completely caved in that backside and had Alfred Blue been able to see what they'd done over there, he could've walked for 20 yards.

8. Tight end Ryan Griffin's re-arrival has given the offense a boost many have sought since Bill O'Brien became the coach in 2014. In the second quarter, he was aligned as a wingback on the right side when he realized his shoe was untied and falling apart. He started to motion to the sideline for a replacement but when he noticed that Hoyer was calling out the signals, he just went with the play. It just so happened to be play action and Griffin had to run a deep sail route on the other side of the field. He made the catch for another big gain and then came out of the game to get surgery on his shoe. It was in rough shape after the game when I interviewed him as Player of the Game.

  1. The Saints defense was stubborn early in the game, playing man free and leaving Brandon Browner alone with DeAndre Hopkins on third down. Hoyer knew immediately where he wanted to go with the rock and sought Hopkins immediately. Backshoulder ball for the first down. From that play on, the Saints gave Browner safety help for much of the game.
  1. But, on the second drive, the Saints were in press with safety help and Browner was aligned over Hopkins. As Hopkins ran his route, Browner didn't even get his hands on Hopkins who completely shook him out of his shoes. You talk about route running, Hopkins gave Browner a clinic.
  1. During the week, I read a number of different articles in the New Orleans Times Picayune about the dismissal of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. One of the things head coach Sean Payton mentioned when asked about the change was the defense's inability to get aligned properly on defense on a consistent basis. Apparently, it had reached a level Payton could no longer deal with. So, it was curious to me on the Texans first drive when the Texans put a trips bunch to the left side of the formation. The Saints put just a cornerback to the outside and a safety over the top. Typically, a secondary will play that in a box scheme or play four over three in some way. The Saints played two over three. Predictably, Cecil Shorts broke to the outside wide open for a key third down catch.
  1. I've mentioned often this year that the Texans offensive line is most comfortable running outside zone but if they can run power behind Xavier Su'a-Filo, they're going to have success before too long. When Godsey called a power play later in the drive, the collision XSF had with a Saints linebacker was severe and opened a hole for Blue to pick up a solid five yards.
  1. Hoyer's first touchdown was all him. He danced in the pocket, avoided pressure then found...the guy who was supposed to be blocking on the play. Griffin stayed in to help on safety Kenny Vaccaro who rushed off the offense's right edge. Griffin caught him and stoned his rush. Vaccaro stopped rushing so Griffin turned back to see what was going on and realized that Hoyer was dancing like it was an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance?". The tight end floated out to the right flat, got Hoyer's attention, caught the rock, sprinted for the end zone and kicked the pylon for the touchdown. It was the first touchdown the Texans scored on their first drive of the game. Sign of the game it would be.
  1. Rookie back Akeem Hunt is fast. Real fast. His first run of the game late in the first quarter on third down put the Texans inside the five-yard line. Hunt is going to be a weapon going forward with his quicks. But, on that play, I've got to give props to Nate Washington. Throughout the rough spots of the first half of the season, Washington was the voice of this team. He was the one rallying the troops, maintaining a positive attitude and providing the proper veteran presence in the locker room. But, it can ring hollow if the guy doesn't step up and make a play. But, that's certainly not the case with Washington. On that Hunt run, Washington was responsible for cracking down on 290-pound defensive end Cameron Jordan. Not only did Washington not get destroyed by the hulking Saints star, he occupied him long enough to give Hunt a downhill running lane off the right side.
  1. Saints rookie offensive lineman Andrus Peat had a rough day. Whether it was one-on-one with Watt or Jared Crick or even Vince Wilfork, he struggled mightily. He held Whitney Mercilus on one play. He yielded one of Watt's sacks. It was to be expected but each of the Texans interior defenders had a turn. Saints tackle Zach Strief didn't have much better of a day, especially as he faced Watt throughout the day.
  1. I know that Hoyer would like to have that interception back, but that was a head scratcher. He hasn't thrown a worse ball this year, other than the arm punt interception versus Indianapolis at the end of the game. Head coach Bill O'Brien gave Brian an earful coming off the field. Hoyer knew he had screwed up and rebounded very well. He and the offense were able to recover from that in the second half, but that pick did jump start the Saints momentum in the second quarter.
  1. In the second quarter, the Saints ran a toss toward the Texans sideline. I stopped the film at the moment C.J. Spiller was about to be tackled for a three yard loss. FIVE Texans are within a yard of Spiller and FOUR more are on the way. THAT'S pursuit that wasn't there earlier this season.
  1. We've all called the direct snaps to J.L. Grimes the Wildcat, but the Texans finally ran the legit Wildcat in the second quarter with Duane Brown aligned next to Derek Newton in an unbalanced situation. THAT'S the true Wildcat.
  1. We've all talked about the offensive innovation the Texans have put forth lately, but Godsey won the day on the first drive of the second half. The Saints attempted to match the Texans personnel and when the Texans put both tight ends in the game, the Saints answered with their base personnel. That put Hau'oli Kikaha on the field as the third linebacker alongside Michael Mauti and Stephone Anthony. Godsey answered that by aligning his two tight ends out as receivers, forcing Anthony and Kikaha out in coverage. Nate Washington lined up inside Ryan Griffin and ran up the field to occupy his man but Washington allowed Griffin to "rub" Kikaha off in man coverage. Kikaha was predictably lost in coverage and Griffin popped wide open. The 38-yard gain was the key play on the Texans third and last TD drive of the day.
  1. Godsey then called for Hoyer to go up-tempo and why? To force the same Saints personnel to stay on the field and highlight Kikaha again. On the very next play, Hoyer eyed C.J. Fiedorowicz in Kikaha's zone for another seven yard gain.
  1. I'll end on this note...Kareem Jackson's interception was on a similar play to the one that Brees completed to Brandin Cooks in the first quarter. Kareem was playing in the slot and Cooks bent his route to the middle and got open. Brees stuck it to Cooks for a first down. The Saints went back to a similar route early in the fourth quarter, but Jackson carried Cooks up the seam and then broke in front of the pass for a massive interception. He then got up (with some help from Andre Hal) and returned it down the field until he was tackled by Clowney. I kid, I kid, but it was a great play at a key time in the game.

Well, win number six is in the books and it's on to Buffalo! We'll see you from the Empire State next week.

Check out some of the best action shots from Sunday's game against the Saints.

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