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Opponent Breakdown: How Will Rams Defend Texans WRs?

Posted Nov 10, 2017

Though the Texans are without QB Deshaun Watson, they still boast one of the best WR duos in the NFL with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V.

While they’ve had some strong performances and exciting games, the Texans are a team that’s been ravaged by injuries.

Defensively, lineman J.J. Watt (broken leg) and linebacker Whitney Mercilus (torn pectoral) are on injured reserve. Both are major contributors to a unit that finished No. 1 in total defense a year ago — though Watt played in only three games in 2016, too. Plus, the unit is missing linebacker Brian Cushing, who is currently serving a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances a second time.

But as good as those players are, none of them likely have the impact on their respective unit as quarterback Deshaun Watson, who plays at the game’s most important position. After nearly pulling off an upset in Seattle, Watson tore his ACL during practice last week.

The Texans traded up to select Watson at No. 12 overall in this year’s draft. While the Clemson product didn’t start on opening day against Jacksonville, he was inserted into the game to start the third quarter and immediately showed why he was a first-round pick.

Through seven games — six starts — Watson completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, 13.5 yards per completion, and had a passer rating of 103.0.

He was also dynamic as a runner, taking 36 carries for 269 yards with two touchdowns.

“First of all, prayers up to Deshaun,” Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “He’s a helluva quarterback. You know he’s a rookie, but he’s been playing like a vet. But our mindset is the same.”

“Watson is an outstanding young talent that made plays off schedule and runs with the ball — rushing yardage and scramble yardage and all those things,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.

“Every team has their share of injuries and that’s the nature of this league — you have to deal with it, the next guy has to step up and play,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “You’ve got to do a good job of managing your roster, but you’ve got to keep plowing ahead.”

And so enter quarterback Tom Savage, who started two games in 2016 before beginning the 2017 season as the Texans’ QB1. Last week, Savage completed just 19-of-44 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown. He also fumbled twice, losing one.

After last week’s game, Savage told reporters he “played like crap” and called the loss to Indianapolis “probably one of the most frustrating games of my life,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Still, O’Brien expects improvement from the quarterback on Sunday with a full week of practice under his belt.

“Tom knows our offense well,” O’Brien said. “Tom knows that he needs to play better, we need to keep working together to get him to play better. All of us can do better — I can coach better, players can play better, and that’s what has to happen. We have to play fast and have to play with a better rhythm and we’ve got to play better on first and second down. We’ve been good on first down, until last week we had been good, but we have to get better in a hurry here because the Rams are very good.”

“Savage has been there four years with that system, so we expect him to be proficient,” Phillips said. “Especially, after he didn’t have a great game coming back — but it was his first time playing this year since the first game. So he knows what they want, he knows how to do it, and he’s got some talent.”

Phillips also noted that even though there’s only a game and a half of tape on Savage from 2017, he knows the Texans will be able to attack any way they’d like because he’s been with the club for so long.

“If he hadn’t been there for four years, you’d say, ‘Well, they’re going to simplify some things,’ and so forth,” Phillips said. “But I expect them to attack the way they would attack the next team they were playing, because he’s got experience as far as their system is concerned and he knows how to handle it.”

If there are two other reasons Savage may improve, their names are DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Both are young, dynamic wide receivers who have excelled in 2017.

“They’ve got two receivers — one of them’s got eight touchdowns, the other one has got seven,” Phillips said. “That’s pretty phenomenal, so [Savage has] got some people to throw it to.”

In his fifth year out of Clemson, Hopkins has caught 51 passes for 692 yards and a league-leading eight touchdowns. Hopkins has also been remarkably durable, starting all 72 games for which he’s been eligible since entering the league.

“DeAndre Hopkins is a tremendous athlete,” Johnson said. “He’s fast, a first-round pick. You could look at games and he’s been that dog out there really. He has that ‘it’ factor.”

“Hopkins is all-everything — he’s an elite receiver,” Phillips said. “He can run, he’s powerful, and he can catch anything. You just throw it to him and people are all over him and he still makes the play.”

Fuller is in his second year out of Notre Dame and has excellent speed, having run a 4.32 40-yard dash at the Combine. While he missed this season’s first few games with a broken collarbone, he’s come back to catch seven touchdowns on just 15 receptions. He also leads the league at 20.7 yards per reception.

“Fuller’s got great speed,” Phillips said. “He’s just so fast that he runs good routes, but part of that is he just can run by anybody, basically.”

“I played against him in college. He’s a fast guy and we just can’t let him get behind us — that’s the biggest thing,” safety John Johnson III said. “He can catch the ball but just let it be in front of us so we can tackle him and I think we should be fine.”

The Rams must continue the approach they’ve taken all year, which is to respect each opponent and not look beyond any team just because of its past performance.

“We just have to continue to be us on defense and try to limit the run game, stop them from throwing the ball deep on us, and just play our game,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said.