TEXANS // EAGLES OVERVIEW
Texans at Eagles is not quite living up to the early-season billing, but this game is still clinging to relevance with the 7-7 Eagles keeping their season alive last weekend in their upset of the Rams. If the season ended today, the Eagles would not make the playoffs, but with two weekends remaining in the year, Philly needs a couple wins and a bit of help. The Texans, meanwhile, currently control their own destiny for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, and they will be looking to grab a win in this spot before returning home to close out the season against the Jags. This game opened as a pick ’em, with an Over/Under of 45.0. Bettors have since backed the home team, with the game total climbing to 46.0, and with the Eagles rising to -1.5.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
In spite of the Eagles ranking 29th in yards allowed per carry, teams continue to attack this defense through the air, with no team in football facing a higher opponent pass play rate than Philadelphia, and with no team facing fewer rush attempts. On average, the Eagles face only 21.5 rush attempts per game, compared to 39.9 pass attempts.
This creates opportunity for Deshaun Watson and the typically low-volume Texans passing attack (only one game in their last nine above 31 pass attempts) to pile up more attempts than normal. With Watson notching an awesome 8.4 yards per pass attempt on the year, “a few more attempts” is often enough for him to become an upside option. Watson is boosting his floor with 31.1 rushing yards per game.
Independent of volume for this Houston passing attack as a whole, DeAndre Hopkins continues to operate as the clear alpha in this offense, ranking second in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards and piling up recent target counts of 12 // 6 // 6 // 12 // 10 // 11. With only two games of 100+ yards in his last nine contests, he typically needs to float his value with red zone opportunities. Working in his favor, of course, is the fifth most red zone targets in the NFL and a tight-spaces skill set that is second to none in the league, allowing Hopkins to dominate in the end zone. Expect the Eagles to go out of their way to isolate Hopkins and force the Texans to win in other ways — though Watson is one of the few quarterbacks who can typically be counted on to lean on his top target regardless, which should still create plenty of opportunities for Hopkins to hit.
Behind Hopkins, we are (once again) expecting the return of Keke Coutee, where he will join Demaryius Thomas in three-wide sets and (if in fact healthy) occupy an underneath role in this offense. Coutee’s speed will obviously give him opportunity to break off a big play, though his uncertain health and the uncertain passing volume on this team will make him a risky piece.
This attack rounds out with Thomas, who has recent target counts of 5 // 5 // 6 // 8, but who has not topped 61 yards since Week 5 when he was still with the Broncos. Quite simply, Demaryius no longer has the burst or separation ability to pop for big games outside of busted plays, but he is providing floor in this offense at the moment, with touchdown or outlier yardage opportunities giving him some path to ceiling.
The rest of this attack is a collection of iffy volume and typically thin production, with targets concentrated heavily on Hopkins and the remaining wide receivers behind him.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
This is a potentially solid spot on the ground for a Houston offense that ranks fifth in rush play rate on the year, as the Eagles continue to give up solid production to running backs when teams attack in this manner. Working in favor of Lamar Miller is a role that has led to recent touch counts 23 // 13 // 20 // 19. Working against Miller is the way in which the Eagles filter opponents to the air and an ankle injury for Miller that kept him on the sidelines for most of the Texans’ Week 15 game and may have him at less than 100% in Week 16. While Miller is not heavily involved in the pass game, he did see five targets against a Colts team that has faced the second most running back targets in the league. The Eagles rank third in running back targets faced, with only one fewer target on the year than Indy.
If Miller misses, the Texans may finally activate D’Onta Foreman to compliment Alfred Blue. If this ends up being the case, Foreman would carry more upside, while Blue would almost certainly handle the larger share of the work. Blue has still not topped 54 rushing yards in a game this season.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
Houston has been perfectly average against the pass this year, ranking middle of the pack in catch rate, aDOT, and YAC/R rate allowed, adding up to a number 20 ranking in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Texans rank 17th in passing touchdowns allowed — with the sixth fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers, but with the eighth most touchdowns allowed to tight ends and the fourth most receiving touchdowns allowed to running backs.
Last week in their stunning upset of the Rams, Nick Foles and the Eagles focused on a short-area, ball-out-quick attack, with 19 of Foles’ 31 attempts coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and with only seven of Foles’ passes traveling more than 12 yards downfield. Boosting Foles’ line in Week 15 was an almost perfect completion rate on these short-area throws and four completions to Alshon Jeffery of 15+ yards (with these two connecting on all four of their downfield looks). This type of efficiency is difficult to bet on, but Foles proved last week that he does at least carry some upside in this offense once again. Against a stout Houston run defense, Foles’ arm will likely be the Eagles’ best means of moving the ball.
Alshon topped 50 receiving yards last week for the first time in almost two months — doing so with a perfect eight-for-eight connection with an inconsistent backup. Alshon remains capable of another big game in this spot, but his production is by no means guaranteed. Consider him a boom/bust option, with his locked-in volume making it difficult for him to completely miss, but with his offensive situation also making last week’s blowup the “hope,” rather than the “expectation.”
The Eagles continued to run a strange wide receiver rotation behind Alshon in Week 15, with Nelson Agholor playing 63 of a possible 64 snaps and running 32 of a possible 32 pass routes, but seeing only two targets, while Golden Tate (22 snaps // 19 pass routes) was targeted five times. This has been a consistent pattern across the last few weeks, with Agholor hogging all the snaps, but with Tate seeing the larger share of the targets. Agholor carries some broken-play upside with all the snaps he is playing, but his volume cannot be considered assured. Tate, meanwhile, is seeing his ceiling capped by this limited deployment, but he should continue to see some schemed, underneath looks when he is on the field.
The best matchup goes to Zach Ertz, against a Houston defense that has allowed the eighth most receptions and the seventh most yards to the tight end position. With Foles in place to limit the downfield looks Ertz is likely to see, he will need a heavy volume game or extreme efficiency in order to stand out on this slate, making him more “risky with upside” than “high-floor, high-ceiling.” Last week, the Eagles also played Dallas Goedert on 39 of a possible 64 snaps, though he ran only eight pass routes and was on hand primarily to block. As with the Eagles’ backfield situation, Goedert’s deployment changes from week to week depending on this team’s game plan, so there is a chance he sees a spike in work against this tight-end-attackable defense, though this is merely a guess-and-hope scenario.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
The Texans’ run defense continues to dominate this year, now ranking first in the NFL in yards allowed per carry while holding running backs to the second fewest rushing yards in the league. This is a better spot for pass-catching backs, as the Texans rank middle of the pack in catches and yards allowed to the position — creating an interesting setup for this multi-headed backfield that can choose to attack in various ways. Last week, Josh Adams played 24 snaps while Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood each played 20 snaps. With zero catches in his last four games, Adams has the toughest road to upside; Sproles will continue to see a few manufactured touches every week, and the Eagles like his ability close to the goal line, which gives him an outside shot at a score each week; Smallwood took a turn impressing with his performance last week, though such upside game are hardly predictable with his uncertain role and his up-and-down play this year.
I don’t dislike the Eagles’ offense this week, but it’s tough to get too excited about them, either. I’ll likely view Alshon, Ertz, and this backfield as tourney-only options — and I likely won’t have strong interest in going there in tourneys over the other options available on this slate. Foles is not incapable of moving this offense, but there are certainly higher-floor ways to hunt for upside this week.
On the Texans’ side, Watson and Hopkins are both very much in play, with the Texans carrying more potential than normal to lean pass-heavy, and with Hopkins certain to be an integral part of the game plan regardless. I can also see a case in tourneys for Miller, Demaryius, or even Coutee, though all three of these guys are obviously low-floor plays with only slim paths to ceiling.