The Rams were again given a gift by the scheduling gods with this week 10 matchup. A week after drawing a Giants team in free-fall, the Rams return home to Los Angeles to play another team in disarray, the Houston Texans. While the Texans are reeling and seem deflated after a string of key injuries, including to rookie sensation Deshaun Watson, they still have a lot of talent and can’t be taken lightly. Here’s what the Rams can expect on both sides of the ball:
The story of the Texans offense right now is obviously the loss of Watson. Watson provided the team with a spark of energy as soon as he replaced an ineffective Tom Savage at halftime of the season opener. He was on pace to set all sorts of rookie records before suffering a torn ACL shortly before last week’s game.
Savage was thrust back into the starting role last week at home against the Colts and face-planted. Even against an Indianapolis defense that was already porous and missing several starters Savage couldn’t take advantage. The Texans lost, and Savage couldn’t complete anything until the fourth quarter when they were down multiple scores.
Savage moves at an incredibly slow pace so the key to stopping him is to generate pressure and force him to try to process the field quickly, which he cannot do. Texans coach Bill O’brien runs a very complex offense, a version of the Erhardt-Perkins system that he used to run as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
Like in New England, the offense makes heavy use of option routes where the receiver and quarterback are required to change things extensively at the line of scrimmage, based on their reads of how the defense lines up. As such, it requires a quarterback with a very high IQ who can process things on the fly, which Savage isn’t.
Savage was so bad against the Colts that new backup T.J. Yates has reportedly been getting some first team reps at practice this week. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Yates replace Savage at some point.
Despite the ineptitude at quarterback, the Texans offense still has a ton of talented skill position players. Will Fuller is lightning quick and can get behind any secondary in the league, as evidenced by his torching of the Seahawks just two weeks ago when Watson was still under center. Deandre Hopkins is still one of the league’s best receivers with inexplicable ball skills and body control. Wade Phillips and the Rams should expect Hopkins to see very heavy volume. Last week Savage targeted him a ridiculous 18 times, and he’s likely to lock onto him again this week.
Lamar Miller and the Texans running game is not quite as threatening without the presence of Watson, so the Rams won’t have to deal with a dynamic rushing attack. They should focus all their defensive attention on not getting beat over the top by Hopkins and Fuller, thus forcing Savage to stand in the pocket and make accurate intermediate throws.
The Texans are also now without their best offensive lineman, left tackle Duane Brown, who they traded away to the Seahawks. Houston made the trade because they thought the extra protection wasn’t as necessary with a mobile quarterback like Watson. They could certainly use Brown now, as Savage folds under any sort of pressure.
If Phillips can scheme up enough pressure with Aaron Donald and co. and the defensive backs can avoid getting beat vertically, the Rams defense could be in for a huge day.
The Texans defense last year was possibly the best in the league. Like their offense, the defense has been decimated by injuries. The loss of J.J. Watt with a season ending knee injury is the one that’s garnered most of the attention, but the losses of Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, and Christian Covington have proved to be just as important.
Covington tore his biceps in week eight and is out for the season. Mercilus tore his pec in the same game Watt went down and Cushing was suspended for 10 games starting in week three and isn’t eligible to return until week 13. Mercilus was dominant last season, and his absence has contributed to the Texans’ lack of a pass rush these past few weeks.
Last year, the Texans were the number one defense in terms of overall yardage, this year they’re 17th. They allowed just 20.5 points per game last year, 26 points per game this year. Another reason for the decline other than all the injuries is the loss of cornerback A.J. Bouye, who departed Houston for the league’s new best defense in Jacksonville.
Bouye was their best cornerback and his decision to leave is a major part of the decline of their passing defense. He was a shutdown corner and their secondary has become surprisingly exploitable without him. They particularly struggle to cover slot receivers, so Cooper Kupp could be in for a big day.
The Texans defense is still pretty good against the run, so the bulk of the load may fall on Jared Goff’s shoulders. Houston allows just 3.7 yards per carry on the ground, so Todd Gurley may struggle. If he does, coach Sean McVay will need to make sure to not get too committed to the run and let Goff open things up.
Simply put, the way to attack this Texans defense is through the air. They already struggle to generate much pressure and with the Rams new and improved offensive line, Goff should have all day to throw. The Texans secondary is highly burnable and with the weapons the Rams have they should be able to easily exploit it.
Overall, it’s another good spot for the Rams. The Texans appear to be in the process of giving up on the season, just like the Giants last week. It’ll be Tom Savage’s first road start of the year and he’s very easily rattled. All that being said, the Rams can’t be taking anyone lightly. This is still the NFL in which any team can beat any other team on any given day. The Texans still have playmakers like Hopkins and Fuller on offense, and Jadeveon Clowney on defense. If the Rams can get pressure on Savage, and let Goff rip it, they could be in for another big win.