Lance Zierlein: Texans Primer - Secondary moving up and Watson's "tight window throws"

Jonathan Joseph and newcomer Justin Reid could help the secondary. Photo by Edward Clarke

The Rockets put together their best win total in team history and had an MVP winner for the first time since 1994. They followed that up with a non-busy free agency period that saw them lose two key wing defenders, re-up with Chris Paul for a four year, max dollar deal, and pursue Carmelo Anthony - yet again.

The Astros and the entire city are still on cloud nine with the organization bringing the city its baseball title and the fellas are in the mix once again. The Rockets and the Astros are having success and occupying the attention of the the city.

But guess what, guys? The Texans are back! The Texans are back! Wait, what? You aren’t as excited as you used to be about this team after watching the team tank in games where Deshaun Watson couldn’t play? You don’t feel the same connection to the defense since J.J. Watt’s consecutive seasons on the sideline due to injury? The departure of Rick Smith has you feeling down? OK, I know that last one isn’t true. Camp is getting started so it’s time for me to serve you some football coffee and wake you up for the Texans season.

Hopkins is the real MVP?

How important is DeAndre Hopkins to the success of Deshaun Watson’s success? Maybe more important than you realize. I’m doing some consulting work with Zebra Technology, who handles player tracking on the NFL level. One of the things they can track is “Tight Window Throws” which is defined as a pass attempt with a defender within 1.5 yards of the target.

A total of 34.1% of Watson’s pass attempts were into tight windows, which was a little on the high side. For comparison’s sake, Carson Wentz was at 35.5%, Russell Wilson at 29.4%, Ben Roethlisberger at 26.8%, and Drew Brees at 22.5%. What you start to find is that younger quarterbacks tend to throw into tight windows more often so it is important that they have quality receivers who can make catches in traffic.

Watson actually completed 39.4% of his “tight window throws” which was higher than Roethlisberger 37.1% and Wilson 38.7%. This is where “D-Hop” comes in. Hopkins has good size, long arms, catches the ball away from his body and may have the strongest hands of any receiver in the league. When it comes to ball skills and winning 50/50 throws, he’s the best in the league. Period. Without Hopkins, many of those throws become incompletions.

This isn’t to say that Watson wasn’t spectacular last year, because he was, but Hopkins ability to win in the tight windows meant Watson didn’t have to go through as many of the growing pains as most young quarterbacks go through.

Optimism Bubble - The secondary will be fine

I see holes with this team and I have concerns, but we aren’t going to focus on those ugly comments since this is the beginning of camp. Right now is a time for optimism which is why I’m opening up this Optimism Bubble. You can step inside this bubble (it’s actually just a few paragraphs) and experience safe and happy Texans talk. Today’s topic is the secondary

Sure, the Texans were an atrocity on the back-end last season and many of those same player are back, but third-round safety Justin Reid is much more talented than where he was drafted and has the talent to help the defense as a rookie. Tyrann Mathieu may very well be better off as a ball-hawking safety than a slot corner and that should benefit the Texans. Free agent cornerback Aaron Colvin is an obvious upgrade into the talent pool at the cornerback spot.

I’m not going to try and over-sell you on Jonathan Joseph or Kareem Jackson because I think both vets best days are behind them, but I do believe that their jobs (Kareem’s job is still up in the air in my opinion) will get easier with a healthy pass rush intact for 2018. And Kevin Johnson? He’s not bad, he’s not good, he’s just been blah. However, it wouldn’t be out of the normal career arc for Johnson to have his best season to date.

The secondary is clearly in need of some fresh blood at cornerback, but the addition of Colvin and potential improvement from Kevin Johnson should help that. If the pass rush does their job and Mathieu does what he does best as a ballhawk, there is no reason to believe the Texans secondary won’t go from back to solid or even bad to good. Of course, we are in the Optimism Bubble.


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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