Texans will get another bad taste of life without J.J. Watt's Hall of Fame presence

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer

The Houston Texans continued their march to the playoffs on Sunday, defeating the Oakland Raiders 27-24 despite the loss of star defensive end J.J. Watt to a season-ending pec injury.

It’s safe to say the Texans should be used to playing without the increasingly injury-prone, 30-year-old Watt. From 2016-2017, Watt played in only eight of 32 possible regular-season games. During that span, the Texans went 9-15.

Last year, Watt rebounded to start in all 16 games as the Texans went 11-5. And he was off to another solid start this year, as his 20 quarterback hurries ranked first in the NFL among defensive linemen despite missing the entire second half of Sunday’s contest for the Texans (5-3).

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Watt’s absence in three of the past four seasons won’t be a detriment to his legacy. Across his nine seasons in the league, he passes the Hall of Fame eye test because of his pure dominance in his prime.

That missing dominance is the first thing that stuck out for the Week 8 edition of “Things I Noticed” as the Raiders attacked the Watt-less Texans in the second half of that game. It didn’t show up in the stats, necessarily. But it was clear that the Raiders were very comfortable running to the side Watt, a fantastic run defender, vacated and there’s reason to worry about where the pressure will come from for the Texans’ 28th-ranked pass defense.

I detailed it all in the fantastically produced video by my main man Ron Schiltz above. I hope you check it out.

Why the Bills’ pain is Philly’s gain

One other thing that was stunning on Sunday was the way the Philadelphia Eagles ran the ball down the Buffalo Bills’ throat on Sunday. The Bills, who have one of the most physical, well-coached defenses in football, repeatedly were gashed right up the gut by the Eagles, who rushed for a ridiculous 218 yards in a 31-13 victory:

Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier noted that his team’s gap discipline was off. And after watching the tape, I agree that it’s largely as simple as that; the Eagles kept running zone concepts and cutting back against the Bills’ over-pursuit.

But some of it was also the Eagles just taking it to the Bills’ stout front seven, which should give Philly fans hope that their team has (finally!) found an identity after struggling for several weeks without receiver DeSean Jackson, their only viable deep threat.

Green Bay’s use of RBs in the passing game

The Patrick Mahomes-less Kansas City Chiefs stuck close to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and they likely would have won if it were not for Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur’s excellent offensive game plan, which exploited the Chiefs’ inability to cover running backs out of the backfield:

In all, the Packers’ running backs combined for 10 catches and 173 yards, with Aaron Jones — an underrated player with excellent make-you-miss ability — doing most of the heavy lifting, catching seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Few teams scheme up passes to the running back better than LaFleur, and unfortunately for the Chiefs — a team that has allowed an average of 177 yards from scrimmage per game this season, the highest total in the league — they’ll be facing another team this week that is quite good at that in the Minnesota Vikings, specifically as it relates to ...

Minnesota’s terrifying screen passes to Dalvin Cook

Seriously Chiefs fans, you’ve probably heard how good Cook is. But one of the ways Minnesota likes to get him the ball is by unleashing well-schemed screens to the 24-year-old, who has caught 29 of 34 targets this year for 293 yards:

So for the Chiefs, the objective should be simple defensively: devote resources to the run game, keep eyes open for screens and make Kirk Cousins win downfield, especially if receiver Adam Thielen, who is questionable for the contest, ends up sitting.

Why Devin Bush is a DROY candidate

San Francisco’s Nick Bosa is everyone’s favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and it makes sense. He has been a primary catalyst for the thriving and undefeated 49ers.

One player I fear will be looked in the midst of Bosa’s monster season — and probably shouldn’t — is Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr.

Bush had another strong effort in the Steelers’ win over the Dolphins on Monday night, recording seven tackles and looking like he belongs. Bush has been a transformative figure for the Steelers (3-4), as he’s on pace to finish with 135 tackles, five interceptions and nine fumble recoveries, with some crazy highlights along the way. Seriously, check this reel out:

He is loved by the coaching staff, and his athleticism allows ground-bound inside linebacker Vince Williams to do what he does best and snuff out the run.

Bright side to Broncos’ poor offense: Courtland Sutton

Listen, the Denver Broncos’ passing offense has been a wasteland this season, and based on Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.’s tepid evaluation of new starter Brandon Allen — Harris said he wouldn’t evaluate him based on his practice performance, which doesn’t sound like a QB who has impressed his teammates — it doesn’t promise to improve, especially after Denver shipped off Emmanuel Sanders for draft capital.

One player who has impressed me this season — and should get more opportunities — is second-year receiver Courtland Sutton. He has a nice combination of size (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) and strong ability to get 50/50 balls, which he showed off in the Broncos’ 15-13 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. He caught only three passes but posted a gaudy average of 24 yards per catch:

Things are going to be ugly in Denver for a while. But Sutton can play, and I expect him to thrive going forward and be a sneaky fantasy play … as long as the Denver quarterbacks can get him the football.

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