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Breaking Down the Opponent: How the Raiders can beat the Texans

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Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans

On the fifth leg of the Raiders road trip away from Oakland, Jon Gruden’s squad is set to face off against the Houston Texans. The Texans are looking to redeem themselves coming off of a disappointing loss to division rival Indianapolis Colts. Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense has been dangerous and capable of keeping their team in every game.

The Raiders defense is coming off a drubbing at the hands of another talented quarterback, and they will have their hands full corralling Watson. The Raiders offense, however, should be able to move the ball against a Texans defense that has been average in most areas at the end of 7 weeks of football. Here’s a look at what the Raiders are up against.

Containing Deshaun Watson

Look closely at how Watson wags his finger in the linebacker’s face before crossing the goal-line. The Texans signal-caller is an extraordinarily confident and talented football player who is a threat throwing and running the football. The Texans have hit quite a few explosive plays due to Watson scrambling, waiting for the coverage to break down, and heaving a pass downfield to speedy wide-receivers like Will Fuller, Kenny Stills or Keke Coutee.

Watson is also qualified to handle the situation himself in short-yardage situations. He has proven over and over again this season he can run the ball for first downs or even touchdowns when the ball is in the red-zone. The Raiders have done a good job bottling up most running backs this season, but a running threat the caliber of Watson puts extreme stress on a defense to play assignment sound football.

What makes the Texans so tough to defend is the presence of DeAndre Hopkins at wide-receiver. Hopkins is Watson’s security blanket and chain mover. He is currently 3rd in the NFL for first downs gained by a wide-receiver with 32. The passing offense is built around Hopkins, who is a physical player capable of making tough catches in tight windows.

The clip above shows Kansas City doubling the former Clemson WR, with the safety responsible for vertical and outside breaking routes, while the slot corner will take inside breaking routes. Hopkins runs an option route where he reads the leverage of the defender and breaks in the opposite direction at the first down marker. Even when two defenders are on him, the Texans receiver can move the chains. The Raiders haven’t played much bracket coverage this season. If they don’t do it in Houston—put Hopkins on your fantasy team.

Houston’s greatest gift can also be their greatest curse—Watson’s mobility. Many other scrambling quarterbacks are prone to holding the ball too long, opening up themselves to take sacks. The Raiders pass rush isn’t great, but they will have much longer to get home due to how long Watson will wait to throw in 3rd and long situations.

Watson takes, on average, three sacks a game. With sacks come the potential for turnover worthy plays. If the Raiders can force Hopkins to play hero ball, they will have a chance to capitalize on mistakes.

Distributing the football through the air

After giving up a decent chunk of rushing yards in the first two weeks, the Texans defense has clamped down in the run game. Through the last three weeks, the Texans haven’t allowed more than 62 yards in a game. The Texans front 7 is a formidable group, but their secondary isn’t quite as scary.

One way offenses have been able to hurt the Texans’ defense is by throwing to backs out of the backfield. Taking advantage of an aggressive defense and calling screens should be in the game-plan.

The Texans have given up big passing yard totals every game because of breakdowns in their coverage. Take this play, for example, where three defenders cover one receiver while no one is even close to Eric Ebron streaking across the field.

Jon Gruden’s gameplan will put stress on these defenders and see if they can be put in conflict. Big plays should come for this Raiders offense.

Like mentioned before the Houston Front 7 is a talented group. Led by JJ Watt, they have sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times this season. The Raiders offensive line should be up for the challenge, but a heavy dose of play-action passes like the one above will slow down the Texans pass rush while picking on their lesser players in the secondary.