My favorite over/under bets this year

DISCLAIMER: I may have been a professional gambler, and I may be a non-professional football writer, but those stellar qualifications do not mean you should take my recommendations.

Either way, I’m sure you’d like to read about them. Lines are taken from Bovada. Roughly in decreasing order of confidence.

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Hindsight: AFC South Offseason Grades

Sorry for the delay between posts, my sister just graduated from college and I’ve been busy with a few other things. In an attempt to rekindle interest, I’ll move onto the AFC South which has some of the more interesting off seasons to grade; three rebuilding teams with two of the top 3 draft picks, and a team that traded away its first round pick.

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Texans Trench Warfare: CJ Fiedorowicz and Louis Nix III

It was a rough season in Houston last year, going from two consecutive playoff appearances to two wins. Long-time coach Gary Kubiak was fired, and a new regime headed by Bill O’Brien was given the reins. In the draft this year they really added some power in the trenches. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the #1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, and rightly so. I’ll discuss both of their third round picks: tight end CJ Fiedorowicz & defensive tackle Louis Nix III.

ROUND 3, PICK 65

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Fiedorowicz was one of my favorite tight ends in this class; he performed well both on the field and at the Combine. He’s 6’5″ and 265 lbs, ran a respectable 4.76 40, and benched 25 reps. He’s the same height and weight as the Jets 2nd-round pick, Jace Amaro, with similar workout numbers across the board. The biggest difference between the two is that Fiedorowicz actually plays tight end, whereas Amaro is more or less a slot receiver– a gigantic, smooth-route-running slot receiver, but a slot receiver nevertheless. I know everyone is drooling in anticipation of seeing some great in-line blocking, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Fiedorowicz isn’t going to dazzle you with his route tree, but he does show ability to get open in tight spaces and make some tough catches. His go-to move, outside of the usual seam and drag route, is this little number I’ll call his shimmy move, where he plants his left foot at the top of his stem, follows it quickly by doing the same with his right, and flashes out towards the sideline. It’s not mind blowing, as I said, but it works. He’s a tough guy, as you can see here, where he wades through some traffic (while avoiding a jam from the linebacker) and gets blown up after catching the ball. But, hey, if you’re going to get destroyed, it makes a hell of a difference if you catch the ball, and he does.

He’s a very effective red zone player in both aspects of the game. First, as a receiver: On this play you see him run a delayed corner fade where he engages the defensive end and pushes him upfield momentarily before leaking out towards the back pylon. It’s a well-orchestrated play by Iowa, and all it takes is one false step by the defense for Fiedorowicz to high-point the ball and bring it down for six points. Second, as a run blocker, he can be relied upon to seal off the defensive end and making way for the runner. Let’s watch more, as run blocking is where he really shines.

You’ll consistently see his ferocity in the running game. On this play, Fiedorowicz takes on the opposing linebacker and drives him ten yards downfield. Sure, the runner is tackled for a mere two-yard gain, but Fiedorowicz keeps pushing his man even past the sound of the whistle. No harm, no foul. Here, he takes the 15th overall pick, Ryan Shazier, and does the same thing. And, for good measure, let’s end on a passing play where he positions himself perfectly to hedge off the defensive back away from the receiver.

ROUND 3, PICK 83

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

College football fans will be well aware of the man who dubs himself “Irish Chocolate.” Louis Nix’s personality is as big as his belly; all you need to know is that he’s 6’2″, 331 pounds, and he’s not winning any 40-yard dashes. His task in Houston will be very simple: Occupy blockers, so that J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the Texans defensive front can get to the quarterback, and plug up the middle in the running game. He gritted through a torn meniscus in 2013, and his play suffered as a result, so we’ll look at a few of his 2012 plays from the Oklahoma and Stanford games instead. Your enduring memory of Notre Dame’s season may be Eddie Lacy running over Manti Te’o on his way to the end zone in the National Championship, over and over, but before that game, Notre Dame fielded an all-time great defense that season, and Nix played the biggest (literally) role.

On most of the plays in these games, Nix is double-teamed, and he consistently gets a stalemate at the line in both the running and passing game. Very rarely does a double-team run block result in Nix getting moved backwards; I only recall seeing it happen once. While Nix does not have the have the type of speed which results in sacks for himself, his burst off the line in 2012 is awe-inspiring. Watch this play, where his first several steps are faster than every single player on both teams, resulting in pressure on the quarterback. This tends to be the result when Nix is not double-teamed; on this play against Stanford, he similarly uses his burst to push the pocket, and his pressure forces an interception. You simply cannot afford not to double-team Nix. He can also clog the throwing lanes by batting down passes at the line, much like J.J. “Swatt” is famous for doing.

As you might imagine, Nix’s burst off of the snap can make running the ball a chore for opposing teams. On this play, Nix quickly swims over the center and gets in for a tackle. At first glance, this next play might look ordinary– Nix makes a run tackle. Look again, and you’ll recognize that Nix’s momentum is moving him to the right of the play, allowing the center to use his position to shield Nix from the run. But as the quarterback takes off, Nix simply tosses the center to the ground and sprints out to his left to make the hit. That smarts, doesn’t it? Last, but not least, take a look at what happens on this play where Stanford pulls a guard and attempts to run away from Nix. By the time the handoff occurs, Nix is already four yards behind the line of scrimmage, with a full head of steam, and is able to bring down the runner for no gain shortly thereafter.

So, these were, of course, his highlight-reel plays. As I said earlier, most plays end with Nix in a stalemate with a double-team. For a smaller defensive tackle, expected to penetrate upfield and sack the quarterback, this would be a problem. Nix’s role in Houston is simply to occupy blockers. They already have the best defensive lineman in the world in J.J. Watt, who occasionally commands triple-teams. With the #1 overall pick, the Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney, widely considered the best defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers. Consider the scenario where both Clowney and Nix are as good as advertised: while I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to think of a scheme to stop them, I am not sure anyone has that blueprint.

Conclusion

The Texans decided with this draft to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage. With the selections of Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su’a-Filo, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Louis Nix III all within the first three rounds, I believe this has been accomplished. Nix has health concerns, as I mentioned; he will need to return to his 2012 form in order to be a dominant force, as he just didn’t make the same impact in 2013. Fiedorowicz needs to add a few more routes to his repertoire before he can become a dangerous threat in the passing game. I believe he has the necessary tools. Now comes the work.

Not many of us at Zone Reads thought much of Tom Savage when he was rumored to be an early-round selection, but it turns out that talk was all smoke and mirrors, as the Texans picked him late in the 4th round, which is fine. I believe Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback next year, and while he’s not a player likely to win games with his arm without help, I do think he’s a player that doesn’t necessarily condemn the team to another losing season. Texans fans should be optimistic with a new regime in town and the talent acquired in this draft class. I certainly am.

Day Two’s Burning Question: What will the Texans do?

I could write a recap or grade round one, but that seems lazy to me. You can see what I thought of round one by reading the live chat we had, and you can see who I thought had a good or poor draft by comparing the picks to the Big Board.

Instead, I wanted to talk about some things we could look forward to tomorrow and what we might want to ask ourselves. However, I just have one big question rolling back and forth in my mind, one that was set off with the final move of the day.

What are the Texans going to do?

As Teddy Bridgewater continued to fall, it looked increasingly likely that the Texans would pick him up with the first pick of the seconds round, and thus, thanks to the inexplicable circumstances of Bridgewater’s slide down boards, end up with the two best players in the entire draft. That was before Minnesota slipped one spot ahead of them after a trade with Seattle and took Bridgewater. Now, I’m not sure if they got outmaneuvered by Minnesota (which, considering they could offer more, seems to be unlikely and would be doubly embarrassing if true) or if they weren’t interested in Bridgewater to begin with. Either one gives me concern about their decision-making, to be honest.

That said: The moment’s passed, and now the Texans sit at 33 without Bridgewater available. What do they do?

Well, if they like Derek Carr, this is a fine spot to take him. If they like a different quarterback, they might be inclined to as well, but I think they could wait another round for anyone they wanted, given the relative lack of need at quarterback for most teams. The Ryan Mallett rumor has been spread today, but I think that’s just a case of reporters needing a story to fill space and coming up with the old “The coach brings his old QB to his new job!” saw.

They could take a top-rated player at a different position. This would be my preference; even setting the potential for a fan riot aside if the team took Carr, I don’t think Carr shows enough to merit taking him over someone who’ll be a quality starting player. The top guys on my board for them right now would be Louis Nix or Morgan Moses. I’m optimistic about Zach Mettenberger’s pro prospects, though. I think the Texans might be able to get him in round three (or in a trade up late into round two, if they suspect a team like Arizona or Cincinnati is looking at him); I don’t think he’ll ever be one of the best QBs in the league, but I think he can be a good enough passer to win with. Bill O’Brien has certainly turned lesser talents (i.e Matt McGloin) into starting quarterbacks. That’d be my plan going forward: Nix or Moses, and then attempt to land Mettenberger. Mettenberger might be ready to play right away, but it’s no big deal if he has to sit for a year, either.

Join us tomorrow for another live chat as we watch day two.

Offseason GM: AFC South

The initial rush of free agency is always exciting. We already have some surprise moves, such as the Bucs cutting Revis who instantly signed with the Patriots. It’s essentially a 1 year deal, and he will be back on the market next year, assuming the Pats don’t want to pay him $20M in 2015. Theres been a flurry of other moves, and many low key ones made by the Jaguars. Needle is a lifelong Jags fan, and seems to follow a path of optimism until being utterly flabbergasted by the moves his team makes. As a Jets fan myself, I feel his pain, and I’ll start with the Jags to show him that it’s not so bad.

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On Gary Kubiak and the Texans’ Next Move

Last Thursday, the Texans lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars to drop to 2-11, all eleven losses coming in a row. The next day, Gary Kubiak was fired.

Houston is my adopted hometown and I’ve lived here through most of Kubiak’s tenure. Here now is a look back on the good and the bad, why he was fired, and what the Texans need to do going forward.

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