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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James Harden returned to Houston Monday night and lost to the Rockets in double overtime. After the game, Harden complimented the maturation of the Rockets young players, and had some nice things to say about Houston.

Harden has a player option and can opt out after the season, which has some Rockets fans wondering if he would consider returning to Houston and taking over as the team's primary ball handler.

Plus, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has said he wouldn't rule out Harden returning at some point.

Be sure to watch the video above as we break down all the angles involving a potential fit for James Harden with Houston's young core of players, and much more.

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Catch The Bench with John and Lance weekdays from 7-10 AM on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

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