HOUSTON – Texans quarterback Davis Mills already knows what’s coming Sunday, and he’s bracing for an onslaught of blitzes from every conceivable angle, variety and direction.
New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s aggressive, blitz-happy reputation precedes him.
When the Texans square off against Martindale on Sunday at Met Life Stadium, they’ll face an unpredictable defensive boss who led the NFL in blitz percentage for three years when he was running the Baltimore Ravens defense and finished sixth last year before being hired by the Giants coach Brian Daboll during the offseason.
While the Giants have just 16 sacks, led by massive defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence’s four sacks, they also have 40 quarterback hits and 29 tackles for losses. The Giants use constant movement to try to create confusion and disrupt blocking schemes and have a blitz rate of 42.9% on passing downs to lead the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats.
“I’ve already seen a ton of it on film,” Mills said. “They like to bring a lot of pressure. We’ll be ready for it. It kind of comes in any scenario.”
Should the Texans be able to beat the Blitz the way Mills did against the Las Vegas Raiders with a season-high 302 passing yards, there could be increased opportunities for him to fire the football downfield with quick-hitting plays. The Texans can also take the pressure off Mills by simply handing the football off to rookie running back Dameon Pierce, a top NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Expecting the unexpected against Martindale is a good start, and staying out of third-and-long situations to have a higher percentage chance of converting and moving the chains.
Mills was sacked three times apiece against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tennessee Titans.
“First, we’ve got to be able to run the ball. If we catch them on pressure and gash them on a run, that could be a big play,” Mills said. “We’ve already been on top of it starting off this week with the protection plan in passing scenarios, how we’re going to treat their different looks. Make sure we’re on the same page. We know there are going to be some new things we haven’t seen.
“A lot of the stuff they bring is game-plan related. We’ve just got to be ready for it and be ready to adjust in that way. Another big thing we have been talking about is just staying out of third-and-long, which are situations where every team in the league picks up their pressure percentage. Stay out of those situations so we can be clean out there on Sunday.”
The 1-6-1 Texans rank 28th in scoring offense and 29th in total offense. Mills has completed 62.8% of his throws for 1,656 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s had time to throw generally. He’s been sacked 19 times and hit 37 times overall.
And Mills has demonstrated an ability to adeptly get the football out of his hand when he’s facing blitz pressure. His passer rating against five or more rushers: 100.1 overall for a 63.5 completion percentage for five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Blitz Mills, and a defensive coordinator might not get the desired result.
The Texans know what’s coming. Now, it’s a matter of stopping the charge of the Giants’ defense.
“They’re going to blitz more than any team we’re going to play all year, but we realize that, too,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “Of course, Wink has been a great defensive coordinator in the league for a long period of time, and you’ve got to look forward to that challenge.
“You kind of know what the coverage will be most of the time, you know what’s coming at you. It’s not going to be a whole lot of surprise. There are different blitzes you can get. Then when you have that type of personnel they have, especially up front, it’s a tough duty.”
Left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, a former Pro Bowl selection, is having an outstanding season. He has allowed just six pressures this season, tying for third least in the league. Tunsil has a 90.9 pass-blocking grade, ranking second overall in the NFL. He’s arguably having an All-Pro-caliber season. He has allowed one sack, two hits and three hurries.
“He’s not a real outspoken guy, but the longer I’ve been here, the closer I’ve gotten to him,” Mills said. “Just know that he is coming in every day, being a professional, putting his best foot forward. We know what we’re going to get from him because he’s, if not the best, one of the best-left tackles in the league right now.
“The biggest thing you feel from him is his confidence. He’s just going to go out there and lock down whoever is facing him on defense every play. I think that kind of echoes around the offensive line, knowing that, ‘Hey, it’s on us. We’ve got to win our one-on-ones so we can get some time and make a play downfield.’ They know a lot of that’s on them to really get the play started. They’ve done that at a high level.”
Right offensive tackle Tytus Howard, a former first-round draft pick from Alabama State, has given up just 19 pressures to rank 15th in the NFL now that he’s back at his natural position. He has allowed one sack, four hits and 14 hurries.
Together, Tunsil and Howard have allowed just two sacks this year.
The majority of the pressure has come up the middle, as it did against Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons.
“I think in general having two first-round offensive tackles that play well, that’s big, for of course on the perimeter,” Smith said. “As we start going back inside, some of things we’ve talked about. That’s good, that’s a security blanket knowing that. It’s just five linemen inside, there’s an awful lot. To me, it’s more about that push inside that gives you more trouble than guys off the edge.”
The Giants try to get quarterbacks off their mark with overload blitz situations. They are having five defenders attack the pocket on 28.6 percent of their rush situations.
While the Raiders’ game is applicable in terms of the need to protect the pocket, they were a different defense than the Giants built around edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones getting up the field.
“The Raiders, when you compare them to the Giants, I don’t think their blitzes were as exotic,” Mills said. “I don’t think they were bringing a ton of guys up and walking around the line, switching up the fronts. They were kind of just letting their guys, Crosby especially, kind of win his one-on-one. This week, the Giants are going to show us a lot of looks to try and confuse us.
“We’ve got to make sure we are on the same page with the protection, make sure everyone, the whole line, running backs and tight ends, if we need to get to some kind of zero pressure check, make sure everyone is on the same page. From what we’ve seen on film, we have a really good plan for how we’re going to pick everything up. We’ve just got to make sure we’re executing out there.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com