Being on the sideline has its advantages, no doubt and I'm not looking to give that spot away any time soon. But, there's a lot I can't see during the game from until I'm able to "put the film on, bro". For many that have read or listened to me for awhile, you know that's my "catchphrase" and it comes with a long story.
The short version is that a caller to my radio show once got under my skin about something (something minute, I'm sure) and I eventually shouted at him "LET'S GO PUT THE FILM ON, BRO". Like a bad rash, it stuck and has been with me for years, so why not use it to my advantage?
So, what I'll do each week is go back to the film/tape/DVR and see what I couldn't during the game and decipher the film for you. So, let's dive in.
I'll hit some good and some bad for each week because film is always that way: if it looked good live, it won't be as good on film. If it looked awful, it won't be as bad on film. That was the story on Saturday night. There's not a lot of sugar coating to it, but the good news is that there's definite teaching that can be done from this film session.
On Saturday morning, I went to grab a bite to eat. I stopped at a bagel shop and as the manager was making my bagel, he asked me "so Clowney going to play tonight?".
I had some Texans gear on, so I guess he assumed I might know something. I said "yea, but not sure how much or how well". Well, he more than made his presence known and the tape wasn't needed to see that. He wasn't perfect, but here are the different aspects of his game that stood out on tape.
a. His stab move is NFL-ready today
b. On J.J. Watt's sack on the first drive, he nearly drove LT Jared Veldheer, Arizona's top offseason acquisition right into Palmer's lap.
c. He dropped into coverage on a first down play and when QB Carson Palmer dumped it off to a back, Clowney made a strong open field stop. That isn't easy, even though he made it look that way.
d. He did get beat on the TE wheel route for a touchdown that got called back. He was in good
initial position but when TE John Carlson turned up the sideline, he looked back for the ball and lost him.
e. He knifed into the backfield, whipping one of the Cardinal tight ends to register a tackle for loss.
f. He faced double teams at least three times on his pass rush after he nearly dumped Veldheer earlier in the game. In fact, the Cardinals chose to double Clowney and left their RG one-on-one with Watt for one play.
g. On a "smoke" draw on the first drive, Clowney beat Veldheer inside but he was too upright and the Cardinals' tackle got just enough push on him to knock him off his path. If Clowney rips through with a stronger base, Veldheer's push wouldn't have knocked him off balance.
There's so much to be excited about with No. 90, especially when he lines up on the same side as Watt. Speaking of...
The sack he had early in the game was nothing but a lesson to a former first round pick Jonathan
Cooper. Watt's strength to rip through Cooper was impressive, but his ability to close once he's clear of the blocker was outstanding.
That said, Watt lined up all over the field during his only drive of the night. He lined up next to Clowney on the sack. He was on the right then the left. He was inside and then wide. That was just one drive. If there was any inkling that DC Romeo Crennel wouldn't know what to do with him, that drive, one drive mind you, should put that to bed.
Linebacker and safety pass discipline
If something hit me immediately on tape, it was the linebackers and safeties inability to force any of the Cardinals quarterbacks into difficult throws.
Case in point...
1st Quarter, 12:40 left
1st and Five, Ball on the Cardinals 45 yard line.
QB Carson Palmer faked a run into the line to his left. S D.J. Swearinger was hovering near the line of scrimmage to Palmer's right, the opposite side. Swearinger started forward, toward the line of
View photos from the Texans vs. Cardinals preseason game 1.
scrimmage (LOS), even though he was on the backside of the play. He should've gotten a little depth first then moved toward the line of scrimmage.
Why? Because in getting up in the mix, he's too deep into the LOS just in case he has to redirect into pass coverage. Sure, play action is supposed to fool run defenders but with better discipline, safeties and linebackers can redirect back to their respective areas. Swearinger may have been in man coverage but his man blocked the edge, so he's free to help on crossers and shallow routes coming to his side.
Either way, Cardinals TE Rob Housler crossed the formation from the other side and ran into the void that was created when Swagg darted into the fray at the LOS. ILB Mike Mohamed was fooled too and all he could've done was collide with Housler anyway, but that would've helped. So Housler got a free release, ran past both inside linebackers and was seven yards deep with no one in sight. Swagg was now in no man's land but he eventually looked for the crossing route. Unfortunately, it was way too late. By the time the ball is thrown, Housler was wide open and down the sideline for a 40-yard gain. Trust me, Swearinger is being asked to do a lot in this defense, but better discipline could've potentially eliminated a wide open option.
1st Quarter, 10:42 left
1st and Goal, Ball on the Texans seven yard line
Texans have dime personnel in the game to match the three Cardinals WR in the game. WR Larry Fitzgerald and TE John Carlson aligned to the right side of the formation, John and Jaron Brown to the left. Jaron, on the inside, and Carlson run, essentially slant routes to the middle of the field. One of them messed up the route because when the ball is thrown, they're virtually in the same spot.
Regardless, when those get to the goal line, there are five Texan LB/S in the vicinity.
That swarm in the middle left CB Brandon Harris all alone, with outside leverage on Fitzgerald mind
you, with no help inside. S Chris Clemons could have "passed" the TE off to the inside linebackers but he stayed on that route too long and Palmer zipped one to Fitzgerald on the slant for the touchdown. Clemons was late to break and Swearinger started to break on the slant route but Palmer gave him a quick lookaway to the middle of the field to get him to vacate the area. Swagg did for a second and that was all Palmer needed to stick it between the ones on Fitzgerald's chest for the opening TD. During training camp, I've seen the Texans play that particular route much better than they did on that score.
The good news? That's fixable. Very much so.
Grimes and Blue
The running game had its moments and RBs Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue were positives. Grimes finished with ten carries for 39 yards and got nearly 50% of those yards after first contact. He was
impatient at times and rushed to a hole as opposed to letting the blocks truly develop in front of him. But, he ran hard and with some juice.
The one thing everyone saw from Blue was his inability to hang on to the football, which was surprising considering the way he caught the ball all training camp. His first run of the night, though, showed the whole package. Backed up late in the second quarter, the Texans ran an isolation play and the Cardinals clogged up the A and B gaps. Blue started on that path, but cut hard to the outside and turned it upfield for a 14 yard gain.
Inside linebackers v. the Run
After watching the game again, I loved how the inside linebackers, in particular, played downhill in the run game. Justin Tuggle made a solid stop after fighting through a block to keep the Cardinals from a first down. Jeff Tarpinian shot gaps throughout the night and was a menace on a number of different occasions. Mike Mohamed settled in and played well. But the guy to keep an eye on this week will be Max Bullough. He finished with six tackles in the second half and played brilliantly for his first time in an NFL game.
Inside Linebackers v. the Pass
I'll just leave this one as "quit watching the paint dry". The Texans linebackers didn't get enough depth on deeper intermediate routes and made those throws much easier than they should've been. Watching it again, though, I'm not completely dismayed with their drop depth...moving on.
Fitzpatrick's early nerves
In a quiet moment, I'd imagine Ryan Fitzpatrick would tell you that he was a bit anxious with, well, just about everything. He got decent time to throw, for the most part, but just wasn't sharp. But, he also missed some an open window on the Texans first drive that would've gotten them a much needed first down.
Case in point...
1st quarter, 9:50 left
3rd and three, Ball on the Texans 27 yard line.
The Texans are in a 3x1 set to the left side of the field (the wide side). DeAndre Hopkins was the No. 2 (second from the sideline) and ran a ten yard dig route, while Garrett Graham and Mike Thomas
essentially crossed one another to try to "rub" the defensive back out for a short, quick throw for a first down. Unfortunately, the two Cardinals DBs played it perfectly, locking both of them down. But, Hopkins ran his dig right into the middle of the field and he's open.
Fitz's throwing window opened right as Hopkins broke into the middle. It's not a huge window but for the NFL it was as big as it gets. Fitz didn't see Hop who continued to run across the formation. Now, understanding that it's man coverage, Hop knew to keep running, instead of settling up in zone. But it shouldn't have mattered because if the ball was delivered at the moment Hop made his break, he'd have snagged it, perhaps taken a big hit but picked up a first down.
Instead, Fitz threw the ball to Thomas' inside shoulder where the Cardinal defensive back was situated. Thomas did all he can to break up the pass and prevented the interception. The play was protected beautifully; Fitz had enough time in the pocket and an open throwing lane to an open receiver. But it was eschewed for a more difficult throw to a covered receiver. Fitz settled down later in the game, but I know that when the team watched film, and perhaps before, he saw how open Hop was.
Later in the game, he had a similar open window, saw TE C.J Fiedorowicz open and threw on time. Unfortunately this time, he did everything right and the ball got tipped and eventually picked off. Nothing went his way most of the night but that attempt to Fiedorowicz told me that the game finally slowed down and he was now "seeing" the game much better. With that bad night now behind him, expect Fitzpatrick to have a much better week against the Falcons. That said, the extra practices against Atlanta this week will be valuable for everyone, perhaps even more so for Fitz.
Pass protection and power run game
The pass protection in the first half actually was good.
Not just sufficient.
Fitzpatrick had a couple of well-designed windows to throw in the first half. The Texans beautifully picked up a Cardinals six man blitz as Grimes handled a blitzing safety. OLB John Abraham didn't play but the pass protection from the starters was good enough to get the job done.
Be sure to check out Texans Gameday magazine when you get to NRG Stadium on Saturday because I did a quick piece on the power run game. It's going to be an asset as the season progresses.
Although his technique needs some work, especially some understanding of the speed of NFL LB, Fiedorowicz is going to be as advertised at the point of attack in the run game. He got movement and some pop when he was covered by an OLB on the LOS. He did move early for one procedure penalty and the one pass intended for him got tipped. However, this young man is going to be the real deal.
Helping each other
Having played safety many eons ago, I always feared playing cover two because it was a ton of room to cover, especially for a slow guy like me. A deep half safety MUST have a CB that re-routes a WR at the LOS or else the safety has no chance to defend a sideline route "in the hole".
In the second quarter, CB A.J. Bouye, who played fairly well, did not contact the Cardinals No. 1
perimeter receiver, which allowed Walt Powell a free run right up the sideline. Bouye had short flat responsibility but he MUST ALWAYS collision the perimeter receiver to allow the safety time to get over the top and prevent the deep throw. But, he didn't.
Cardinals QB Drew Stanton threw a dart into the hole well before S Eddie Pleasant could arrive. Powell made the catch, avoided Pleasant in the open field and sprinted the ball on down into field goal territory. Again, Bouye was being aggressive, but the technique needed to come first.
Some quick hits at the finish.
- Marcus Williams had some moments at corner in his first game in the NFL. He wasn't perfect, picking up a questionable PI flag, but his open field tackle for a loss in the fourth quarter was textbook.
- Derek Newton missed one block on a zone play but was improved at both RT and LT
- Xavier Su'a-Filo is going to be a stud. He played both LG and LT and beat up OLB in pass protection. I like watching him. A lot.
- Open field tackling wasn't horrible but getting in position and breaking down to make the tackle still needs work.
- Ed Hochuli has guns. Those are real.
- OLB Jason Ankrah has been better than I ever imagined after a decent career at Nebraska. He's going to find his way on to this roster. I probably should've pointed out what he did in a bigger bullet point but I'll save it for next week after the Atlanta game.
- The defensive front did a really good job against the run, including rookie Jeoffrey Pagan who drove OT Max Starks back into the backfield about three yards on a third quarter run.