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Houston Texans Offensive Line Review: GATA! Weeks 3 & 4

Matt Weston from Battle Red Blog continues to study the offensive line by delving deeper into Derek Newton's play against the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.

Oh, Derek Newton.
Oh, Derek Newton.
Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

If I ran a poll going into the season asking, "What's Houston biggest weakness?" I'm fairly confident the answers would be: 60% Joe Marciano 30% Derek Newton and the rest a combination of Wade Smith and Matt Schaub.

These last two weeks when I watched the behind view of the games I was pleasantly surprised by Derek Newton's play. He wasn't horrendously bad and he actually played fairly well. He played great at times in the run game by pancaking defenders and Brewtonizing his opponents. In the passing game, he had his fair share of problems, but he did just enough to keep pass rushers off Schaub. Then the good vibes stopped rolling, like when the parents unexpectedly come back from vacation early and everything turned for the worst.

In the Ravens game Newton played high and could only punch a score of 100 on one of those arcade punch machine games that every douche at the bar loves to pummel. His adequacy was quickly obliterated like a cinder block heaved into the Grand Canyon in week three against the Ravens.

1 Qtr 13:36 Remaining 2nd and 4 Result: 6 Yd pass to Owen Daniels


I depicted the blocking assignments as a refresher from last week's post which discussed the intricacies of Houston's pass protection scheme. Haloti Ngata is lined up as a one on the left side of the O-line so we get a "lucky" call. Myers takes the "A" gap, Smith the "B" gap, Harris the "C" gap and on the backside they line up man to man. As a result, we get to take a look and see Newton go up against Terrell Suggs early in the game. Suggs is going to give Newton a difficult time on this block because not only is he lined up as a wide "5" or "7" technique, but he's also a former All Pro who has been terrorizing quarterbacks this season.


When the ball is snapped, Newton is in good position as he kicks slides back to create an advantageous angle to block Suggs. Everything here is alright, alright.


Now Newton and Suggs are starting to engage. Each of the two are starting their punch to try and get their hands on the other player. The punch can best be described as a bench press. The offensive or defensive lineman places his arms stiff at his side at a 90 degree angle like he's reaching for a gun in his holster and explodes them forward at the opponent's numbers. After he punches, he grasps onto the opponent's numbers so he can legally hold the opponent (you can hold inside the shoulders not outside). When this occurs he uses the defensive lineman like a steering wheel and maneuvers him like a PT Cruiser cruising with the top down on a sweet spring day.

Having a great punch is one of the most important components of pass protection. It allows the lineman to grasp on and legally hold the defensive lineman and keeps him off his body. When it's executed perfectly the evil player wearing the other color is at the will of the offensive lineman. This is why draft experts ogle over offensive lineman with long, stretchy Mister Fantastic type of arms come draft time.


Here is when the problems start to occur. Newton has a great pass set in this situation. We already mentioned how well he kick slided earlier and now he's low and balanced. He has done everything right except for his punch. Suggs is too close into him and Newton was unable to keep Suggs off his body. Now Suggs can keep driving himself towards Schaub until he makes his move after the quarterback.


Since Newton was unable to keep Suggs off his chest, Suggs was able to knock him off balance and rip his hands off of him. He sheds Newton like a moulting snake and now has a straight shot on Schaub.


Despite his poor use of hands, Newton keeps working and does not give up on the play. He is still able to do just enough and gives Schaub enough time to find an open Owen Daniels in the middle of the field.

Qtr 1 8:41 Remaining 3rd and 4 Result: Incomplete Pass to Owen Daniels


Again we see the tackles going up against wide 5 techniques on a passing down. This time however, we get to see Newton take on Elvis "don't bring up fax machines around me" Dumervil.


Here we see Harris and Newton making the exact same type of block against comparable pass rushers so we can compare and contrast their technique. Already we can see Harris is much lower and balanced compared to Newton and his hands are in a better position. You can see the 90 degree angle and the holster technique I discussed earlier. His hands are right at his side ready to punch, but Newton, on the other hand, already looks a little out of control and his hands aren't up enough. It will take him a little bit longer to make his punch than Harris and in football every fraction of a second time is vital to being successful.


The above image infuriates me and it displays the problem Newton had this entire game. Look at Harris and how much lower he is than Suggs. His head is below Suggs and his arms are starting to extend in his punch. Both of them have the same form except, Harris is lower than Newton. Derek's knees are bent only an eensy teensy little bit, his arms are on Dumervil's shoulders, and he's much higher than him. Dumervil is low and driving while Newton is high and just holding on.


Newton is now starting to correct his problems he made in the last image. He begins to hunker down and play low, but now it's too late. Dumervil is already underneath his pads and driving him back.


Here Dumervil has pretty much power cleaned Derek Newton. He has completely extended Newton off of him and now Newton doesn't even have his hands on him. Harris, on the other hand, is doing a phenomenal job. Suggs was trying to take a wide approach to beat him around the edge and Harris has simply moved him outside the pocket.


Now we are left with Newton and Schaub having a naptime in the middle of the first quarter. Dumervil drove Newton all the way into Schaub and they both were knocked down like a line of dominoes. This inability to punch and play low has stemmed all of Newton's pass blocking woes.

1st Qtr 5:00 Remaining 2nd and 9 Result: -8 Yard Sack by Terrell Suggs


Here we go with another Suggs Newton match up where Newton gets taken advantage of again. On this play they make a "smoke" call (player is showing blitz outside) so the offensive line shifts the blocking scheme towards that way. This makes sure #91, Courtney Upshaw doesn't come through unblocked. So Myers has the "A", Brooks has the "B", Harris has the "C" and everyone is covered. On the back side Brooks has the defensive tackle and Newton is matched up with Suggs.


Here you can see the shift the offensive line is making and Newton going back in his pass set. The theme here is the same; the pass set isn't bad and he puts himself in a situation to succeed, but everything else is about to turn horribly wrong.


Look at everyone else playing offensive line and compare them to Newton. They are all low square and have their hands ready to punch. On this play, Suggs was going to take an outside route to try and get to Schaub, but Newton over compensates the speed rush and opens his shoulders. The cliche term to call what Newton is doing by turning his shoulders is "opening the gate". By opening up he is telling Suggs,"Please take the inside route since it's a quicker route to the quarterback." Additionally, He's only using one arm when making contact with the defender. He's not using two hands and punching at the numbers to put Suggs underneath his control.


Since Newton turned his shoulders and was unable to punch Suggs with two hands on the numbers this is what we get. Suggs punches then quickly spins towards the inside while doing his best Dwight Freeney impersonation.


Suggs has an empty freeway to get to Schaub and all Newton can do is grasp on Suggs' legs like a child who doesn't want their mommy or daddy to go to work. Newton holds Suggs and still gives up the sack. From now on this play shall be called a Newton /pounds gavel.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Derek Newton with a hold and sack, which I will now refer to as a Newton. Surely no measure named that already… <a href=";src=hash">#foaud</a></p>&mdash; Rivers McCown (@FO_RiversMcCown) <a href="">September 22, 2013</a></blockquote>
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If Newton makes a great punch in the second picture and stones Suggs, Schuab would have had all day to throw. Instead he hand checks him, which would work if he was guarding Mike Bibby, but he's not. He's trying to prevent a 6'3" 260 lb man from running through him and ripping Schaub's head off and placing it on a stake. It's maddening to watch Newton play because one play he'll have great position with no punch, and than on the next he will have a great punch but play too high to have a chance to win the battle. He has the size to be a good player in this league, but he lacks the consistency to do so.

This erratic play can be seen all game and not just the first quarter:






In all five of these images you can see Newton's problems and how high he plays. His knees are barely bent, he's straight up, he either doesn't understand how to punch or is too weak to keep players off of him. Despite his issues, Newton is the master of doing just enough to get by without being a complete train wreck in the passing game. That being said, he is still a three car pileup on a neighborhood street and is lucky his actions don't result in Schaub laying on his back like a pig rolling around in his own fecal matter.

3rd Qtr 8:35 Remaining 2nd and 4 Result: 1 Yard Ben Tate Run


Ahhhhh here's another fun play showcasing how much Newton loves to play way too high. This entire post I feel like a middle school coach talking about a giant 11th grader who can't put his game together. It's been like the entire first half of The Blind Side except I'm prettier than Sandra Bullock. However, this play is worth describing because it is one of the few run plays Houston uses other than the zone. The play I'll be focusing on is called dart and it belongs to the family of plays where an offensive lineman pulls. These plays are trap ( guard pulls), counter (guard and tackle both pull inside), and dart (tackle pulls outside the tight end). The key of the dart play involves the tight end blocking down on the defensive end and the tackle pulling around outside of him to kick out the outside linebacker. It closely resembles the horn block I've gone over in the past. Houston has even run a variation of this play where the tackle will pull, the tight end blocks down, and the center pulls and acts as a lead blocker for the running back.

This play is a different variation where the guard and tackle both pull to the outside. It differs between counter because in counter they pull to the inside of the play and here they pull to the outside. So here we have the center and left guard having an "ace" block to Josh Bynes (#56) and the left tackle takes a zone step inside and seals off the defensive end. On the playside, the tight end blocks down on the defensive end, the right tackle kicks out the outside linebacker, and the guard will act as a personal blocker for Tate.


Here we can see the play develop.


Derek Newton is kicking out the outside line backer on this play and you can already see how much higher he is when he makes contact. Again his knees are barely bent and he can't drive to create any space for Tate on this play. The backside block with Myers and Smith is also worth paying attention to. As of right now, they have no idea what they are going to do, but they do know they have to account for Ngata (#92) and the linebacker next to him. On double teams the linemen know who they have to account for, but who they block depends on how the defense reacts to the play.


The smaller outside backer (Courtney Upshaw) even drives Newton into the backfield on this play and It's inexcusable for him to be pushed around like this. Above him Brooks is squaring up on Daryl Smith and Tate is going to run right off the block he makes. On the backside, Myers blocks Ngata since the linebacker chose to go underneath his block and not over the top. You can't see it, but somewhere next to Ngata is Smith on the ground cutting the linebacker, which is the only aspect of offensive line play Smith does well at this point in his career.


Here you can still see Newton getting drove back. On the bright side, the Smith Myers took care of both Ngata and the linebacker and created a nice pile up. A play that looked like it had some promise turns into a one yard gain because of Brooks' trouble with the linebacker and Ihedigbo (#32) beating Hopkins block. If Newton had made his block lower it would not have affected the play at all since he covered up the defensive end well, but it is the key trend to his poor play in this game.

2nd Qtr 10:48 Remaining 2nd and 10 Result: 3 Yard Ben Tate Run

The problem with Derrick Newton is he plays high and undisciplined and then out of nowhere, he sometimes puts it all together and does this.


When I was coming up with ideas for this week's article, my first idea was to talk about Greg Jones and the full back lead, but I reluctantly changed my mind after watching Newton. So let's take care of the chicken and the egg (I still plan on writing one about Jones in the future) and go over the lead play and Newton's great block. The lead and all man schemes are a little more complicated than the zone run scheme. In the zone, you take your steps and block the gap next to yours. If there's a man next to you, you block him, if there isn't, you either help block the defensive lineman next to you (depending on what technique he's in) or you move up to the second level and block the line backer. It's simple in theory, but it's much more complicated to run successfully. In the lead play the offense intentionally chooses not to block someone. The center and guard will have an Ace block to the Mike (middle) line backer. Everyone else blocks the man in front of them and the full back takes care of the outside linebacker. Of all the blocks in football, the one on one man block that Newton, Harris, and Daniels are about to make is one of the most difficult in football. You have no one to help you. You are abandoned on a desert island, insane, starving, and so detached from human comfort that even a beach ball becomes great company.


What to keep your eyes on here are the steps the players are taking. Owen Daniels just needs to make sure the end can't get around him and chases down the line of scrimmage. So he takes a slide step to the right and is trying to just stay in front of the outside linebacker. The opponents Newton and Smith are blocking are lined up either right on them or just a wee shade outside of them so they take a power step (or drive step). A power step is when you take your first step directly at the defensive lineman and cover him up. Harris on the left side has to make a block similar to Daniels, but since the play is coming his way he has to actually drive the defensive end backwards. The ace between Myers and Brooks is starting to shape up as they get hip to hip and drive the defensive tackle back.


Myers and Brooks are now hip to hip and their souls have swirled and morphed them into one being. Their double team will take them to the middle linebacker just outside Myers' left shoulder. Greg Jones will run right off of Smith's hip and kick out the outside linebacker. Everything is developing nicely so far.


Oh, there are so many lovely things to talk about on this play. Let's go left to right. Harris' knees are bent like a deranged little girl from an exorcist movie that crawls backwards and has its head turned around the wrong way. Despite his contorted body, he is in good driving position because he's lower than the defensive ends, he's underneath his pads, and exploding his hips up into him. Smith is squared with the defensive end, but his block isn't going well. Look at where the line of scrimmage now is with Myers, Brooks, Newton and Daniels compared to where he is. Smith has been driven back a yard or so into the backfield and is throwing off Tate's vision. A little farther to the right, Myers and Brooks are working a double team to perfection. They're still hip to hip, they've driven the tackle back and Myers is in perfect position to peel off the block and take the middle linebacker. Pan the camera to the right a little further and you can see Derek Newton's hands are actual placed in the right spot. He has the defensive end by the numbers, has him off balance and is driving him off the football. On top of that, he's executing one of the toughest blocks in the game. Daniels has his hands right on the defensive ends numbers and, even though he's not driving him backwards, he has the end covered up completely so there is no chance he can make a play.


Everyone has done their job except for Wade Smith on this play. If he was able to keep the tackle a yard further up the field, Tate would have been a hurdle and a juke away from being off to the races. Let's compare Smith to Newton since both made the same block. Newton is telling Courtney Upshaw,"Happy Birthday to the ground" and has drove him three yards or so up the field. While Smith is struggling to not be pushed into Ben Tate. The problem with Smith here isn't technique, the opponent is simply better than him. It's heart wrenching to see such a gorgeous play end up with a one yard gain because of one guy failing to do his job, but that's part of the beauty of football.


This play is exactly what makes Newton so aggravating. He can make one of the toughest blocks in the league that a "Pro Bowl" player has trouble with and on the next play he will be abused in pass protection. Newton is an enigma right now as he has gone from pretty good to putrid to start the season. He has the physical ability to play in this league, but he lacks the technique. He plays too high, can't punch, and his footwork can be iffy at times in pass protection. Yet he can still eat guys up in the run game and he does just enough in pass protection. I believe Newton has two key flaws in his game, one is fixable this season and the other isn't. The fixable one is that he bends his back and not his hips. On most of these plays he tries to create leverage by bending his back and leaning forward. If he starts bending at the hips and knees and plays lower he won't be bull rushed anymore, he will have better balance, and he'd get underneath the defenders pads more often. The unfixable one is that he probably lacks the upper body strength to deliver a strong enough punch. This can be made up for in the run game by hitting defenders in the chest with his face mask and getting close into them, but in pass protection this doesn't work. It's impossible for him to deliver a strong enough blow to stifle opponents in the passing game. This leads to defenders getting close into his chest and driving him backwards. In the off season he needs to work his upper body with Cushing and Watt, instead of watching anime with Brennan Williams. The other thing I would like to see his him cutting off his dreads. Finding a great offensive lineman with dreadlocks is rarer than coming across a Pikachu in the Viridian Forest. If he gets a hair cut, boom magic, he will become a better player.

Is he as bad as the "hologram" nickname given to him? At times you can say he warrants it, but he still has the potential to be good enough for the team this season.

Because of time constraints, we had to combine the GATA from weeks three and four into one post.

In the first half against Seattle, Newton improved on most of the problems he had against Baltimore. His pass set was just as good as it was against The Ravens and he actually played lower. When I saw it I rubbed my eyes like it was a mirage I was seeing and I felt like a homeless man imagining an elephant sized cake in an alley way. The main problem he had in the first half was his hands because he was still having trouble keeping defenders off his chest. Consequently, I think the problem is that he doesn't have the upper body strength to consistently when one on one match ups in pass protection.

Then everything started to change after a play on 3rd and 4 with 4:01 remaining. He had a terrible punch, was unable to get his hands on the defensive lineman who ripped right off his block and Schaub was destroyed. He barely got away with a Newton, the lineman just missed the sack and a holding call he deserved wasn't called as well. After that play it seemed like Newton was afraid of getting beat so he went back to his comfort zone of bad habits.

In the first half Schaub had a clean pocket and was sacked zero times, but the pressure changed in the second and he was sacked four times. It was the result of Newton's play going from commendable to atrocious and Harris on the other side not playing well either. He still did an adequate job in the run game, but all good will he earned in the passing game was quickly demolished in the second half.