TEXANS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW
The first place, 6-3 Texans will travel to Washington, D.C. this week to take on the “find a way to win” Redskins, who sit at 6-3 as well — in first place in the NFC East — in spite of ranking 26th in the NFL in yards per game and 27th in points per game. Washington does not even have that great of a defense (17th in DVOA against the pass, 28th in DVOA against the run; 17th in yards allowed per game), but they have been solid in the red zone (seventh in lowest opponent red zone touchdown rate), they have controlled the clock (third in time of possession), and they have allowed the fourth fewest points per game by ranking fourth in the NFL in takeaways and first in fewest giveaways.
Standing in the way of Washington’s standard game plan is a Houston defense that ranks second in yards allowed per carry, and a Houston offense that is scoring a respectable 24.0 points per game. There is a chance that Washington will be forced to the air more than normal in this spot. Of course, it seems that every time we say this, this team finds a way to take (and hold) a lead all game, and to keep the clock running with a non-aggressive offensive game plan.
Vegas has low expectations in this spot, with an early-week Over/Under of 42.5. Four of the Redskins’ last five games have finished below this mark, and four of the Texans’ last five games have finished below this mark as well.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
As noted throughout the season: Washington forces one of the lower aDOTs in the league — currently shaving 7.2% off the league-average rate — but they are otherwise unimposing against the pass, allowing a slightly above-average catch rate and an above-average YAC/R rate. They rank middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt and middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. They are decent at generating pressure, and they have picked off a respectable nine passes on the year (11th most in the NFL), but they are ultimately nothing more than a league-average matchup — with the matchup boosted a bit by the fact that Washington faces the third highest opponent pass play rate on the season, as teams tend to avoid Washington’s front on the ground.
This final element could be a nice boost for Deshaun Watson and company this week, as Houston enters this game ranked 29th in pass play rate — with Watson incredibly held to 25 or fewer pass attempts (not a typo) in four consecutive games. There were extenuating circumstances in all four of those wins that contributed to the low passing volume — but realize that pass-heavy teams like the Vikings, Packers, Falcons, and Bucs do not find themselves with four random games below 26 pass attempts. It takes a team that is willing to lean on the run for this to happen. With Washington unlikely to push Houston on the scoreboard, something like 32 pass attempts may be a safe “80th percentile” ceiling projection for Watson. Watson has also added five or more carries of his own in all but two games this year, adding some floor to his line.
The low passing volume has had an adverse effect on volume for DeAndre Hopkins, as he has seen recent target counts of 6 // 8 // 7 // 12, after seeing double-digit looks in each of the Texans’ first five games. With that said: those three ultra-low volume games came against Tre’Davious White, Jacksonville, and Xavien Howard — and against a Washington team that pushes opponents toward the air, Hopkins should be able to clear a path to at least eight or nine targets, with plenty of upside for more. While Nuk’s targets are less locked-in than Julio’s at the high end of the price range, his 12 targets inside the 10-yard-line rank first in the NFL, allowing him to keep pace in the box score. If his targets jump back up to double-digits, he has potential to land a true difference-making score on the slate.
Behind Hopkins, it will be Demaryius Thomas and Keke Coutee — creating some question marks on workload distribution, as we have yet to see these two on the field together. Something like four to seven targets apiece is a fair projection, as the Texans focus their targets heavily on the wide receiver position (Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue have combined to average only 3.25 targets per game across the last four Texans games, while the tight end trio of Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas has combined to average 4.25 targets per game in this stretch). Demaryius should be primarily used downfield, giving him a lower floor but a higher ceiling, while Coutee should soak up some solid floor underneath, while needing a broken play or a short touchdown in order to post ceiling.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
Washington has not been terrifying against the run — ranking 14th in yards allowed per carry, while ranking 28th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and 29th in DVOA — but teams continue to avoid this front on the ground. When it has mattered, this team has been able to clamp down — as exemplified by the 15-33-0 line they held Ezekiel Elliott to in Week 7. Only Philadelphia has faced fewer rush attempts than Washington, and only four teams have allowed fewer rushing yards.
Lamar Miller will continue to operate as the head of the committee here, with recent carry counts of 15 // 22 // 18 // 12 (compared to 7 // 8 // 15 // 15 for Alfred Blue). Miller has five games already this year under 50 rushing yards, while adding totals of 68 // 98 // 100 // 133 in his other contests (the 133 came against the pathetic Dolphins run D). Blue has yet to top 46 rushing yards in a game this year, and he has zero targets across his last three games. Either guy will likely need one or two touchdowns or a couple broken plays to become relevant.
Houston’s pass defense has continued to improve throughout the season, and they are now shaving 6% off the league-average aDOT while allowing a below-average catch rate and below-average YAC/R marks — leading to the sixth lowest yards allowed per pass attempt in the league. Only four teams are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to the quarterback position.
Alex Smith has topped 200 passing yards in only one of his last five games — with that one game coming against an Atlanta team that smashed Washington 38-14, forcing them to the air an uncharacteristic 46 times. For as long as this game remains close, Washington will stick to their run-leaning ways, even in a tough spot for Adrian Peterson.
Chicago is the only team allowing fewer yards per carry than the Texans — and while Houston has allowed eight total touchdowns to running backs, a massive five of these have come through the air (the second most in the league), while only three have come on the ground (third fewest in the league). With this game likely to stay fairly close, Peterson should see his 18 to 22 touches, but in a tough matchup with a limited role in the pass game (8.0 receiving yards per game across his last four contests), he’ll need some broken-play luck or a multi-touchdown game to matter.
Through the air:
We have yet to see Josh Doctson top 50 yards; Maurice Harris has topped 52 yards once; Michael Floyd went 2-15-0 on three targets last week; Vernon Davis continues to play around half of Washington’s snaps and see the only real “Upside Looks” on this team, but his targets are unpredictable; and Jordan Reed has continued to see steady targets, but Washington is flattening out his routes and giving him little room for upside, which has him at 65 or fewer yards in every game this year (and at 51 or fewer in six straight games), with only one touchdown all season. If forced to go here, Reed is the safest, highest-upside play vs a Texans team that has allowed only six touchdowns all year to wide receivers (the second lowest mark in the league), but that has given up four touchdowns to tight ends (the 10th most in the league).
If Chris Thompson returns this week, he’ll be more appealing than the pieces above, but he’ll still take a backseat to Peterson unless this game turns pass-heavy. If Jamison Crowder returns, he’ll kick Maurice Harris to the outside, and will set up for something like four to seven underneath targets.
There is nothing on the Washington side of the ball that catches my eye, and the Houston backfield is easy to stay away from as well. For that matter: the low scoring environment in this game as a whole even takes down the Houston passing attack a few pegs — making them “viable and in play,” but certainly not a unit to lock-and-load. With that said: I do like the matchup for Hopkins quite a bit — with a safe floor even if the Texans limit passing volume, and with a ceiling as high as any receiver on the slate if he can climb back up to 12 to 14 looks once again in this spot. I like Watson as a tourney play for his upside (both with and without Hopkins), and I see Demaryius and Coutee as “guys to consider,” but not guys to prioritize. There are better overall offensive environments on the slate, but this is still a matchup that Watson and Hopkins can win — and there may be enough momentum for them to carry one of Demaryius or Coutee with them.