I know it's only been two weeks, but there seems to be a set style of football the Houston Texans are trying to play. Their basic run scheme is the same outside zone that Houston ran during the Kubiak era. The difference here are the tweaks they make to it and the variety of leads, traps, and draws they run from various formations to keep the defense off guard. Mr. Fitzpatrick's game is based on short passes to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, who contort their bodies in various angles to make up for his inaccuracy. Once the men in the box creep from six to seven, they take a shot deep in an ode to Gary Kubiak. The defense tackles soundly, puts their best players in positions to succeed, gives outside receivers ample space so the corners don't get beat deep, and uses exotic blitz packages and formations to drive the opposing quarterback wild. All of these factors combine to accomplish one goal, get the Texans a lead so Ryan Fitzpatrick can manage the game, Arian Foster can gnaw on the clock while running rampantly, and the defense can rush the passer.
Against Oakland, we saw all of these components come to life when the Texans ripped the eye patch off the Oakland Raiders in a rage inducing, comment board typing, "WE NEED TO FIRE EVERYBODY" dismantling. But most of all, Houston chewed up the Raiders 'old man, dust farting defense by running the ball after taking a 14-0 lead.
|Tackles by LBs||18|
|Tackles by Safeties||20|
Last week I wrote about the staple of Houston's run game, the zone stretch, its iterations and the issues that plagued Houston against the team who must not be named. The Bill O'Brien version of the Texans doesn't run one play over and over again. Instead, they have a base set and then vary from there as the game progresses. Against Washington and Oakland, the Texans ran a batch of other runs that differed from the zone scheme including trap, power, and dart.
Week 1, Quarter 4 ,15:00 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster for 7 Yards.
I've spent a World of Warcraft-esque amount of time watching and playing the game of football. If you could tell me how much time I've spent writing, watching, or playing the game, I wouldn't even want to know the answer. Yet in all of my twenty-three years on this Earth, I've never seen a play like this. Houston is running trap, but instead of just letting a defensive tackle run up the field unblocked, they are trapping the entire defense. It's like going from catching fish with a Mickey Mouse pole from Wal-Mart to destroying the environment by trawling.
Duane Brown (Left Tackle #76), and Chris Myers (Center #55) are taking slide steps up to the linebackers. Behind the space they leave, Ben Jones (Left Guard #60) and Brandon Brooks (Right Guard #79) pull to kick out the "5" and the "2i". On the right end of the line, Derek Newton (Right Tackle #75) is blocking the linebacker by himself and C.J. Fiedorowicz (Tight End #87) is pulling behind his block. The play is just a series of fold blocks. This play is also a giant mesh of spaghetti. I love it.
Fitzpatrick takes the snap and the entire defense has no idea what to make of this play. The offensive line is about to make contact, and the defense is sitting stagnant on their heels. The best part of this image is how tight they pull off each other's blocks. Jones is coming off of Brown's hip, Brooks is coming off of Myers' hip, and C.J. is coming off of Newton's hip. There is no wasted space for the defense to slip through. There aren't any extra steps. This play is run tightly.
The linebackers still haven't budged by the time the pullers make contact. They are glued in their seat like a rat in a trap. Brown and Myers are taking the inside route to the linebacker. What they are trying to do is attack the outside shoulder and turn them back inside so they can't shed and escape to the play-side.
When Foster gets the ball, he attacks right off C.J.'s back. Everyone is blocked adequately, and then there's Brooks, who demolishes the defensive tackle. Foster has yet to pass through the line of scrimmage, and his future is already filled with green grass. If everyone holds onto their block and Foster makes the safety miss, he's in store for a minimum gain of thirty yards.
The slot receiver is late. He doesn't crack down on the safety, so Foster is forced to shimmy past him. Yet everything is alright because this is 2011 Arian Foster, not Arian Foster circa 2013, who was ruined thanks to the bitter grapes that grew out of a harsh summer.
Myers is the one who ruins the play. He overextends himself when he blocks the inside linebacker. The defender sheds the block by using his hands to carry Myers' momentum forward.
I harped on it last week, but it's worth bringing up again. The key to Houston's run game this season will be their ability to block on the second level. Every member of the offensive line is strong and skilled enough to move the line of scrimmage. The Texans can pull four yards out of the pocket whenever they need it. The line must stay on their blocks to turn these seven yard gains into twenty yard gains where Foster can get into the open field and do what he does best.
Despite the brief spat of negativity, this play is drawn up and blocked to near perfection. I have no idea what the professional term is for it, but I'm looking forward to seeing Houston run this play to mix things up as the season progresses.
Week 2, Quarter 1 14:32 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster Left Guard for 3 Yards.
One of the many things Houston has been doing that was rarely seen during the Kubiak era is using the tight end in the flex wing position. The flex wing is whenever a skill player lines up right behind a down lineman. Whenever you see Houston utilize a flex wing backfield expect something funky like a lead, weak-side zone, or trap play. Here Garrett Graham (Tight End #88) is lined up right behind Duane Brown. Offenses use this backfield formation so a tight end or fullback can get to linebackers quicker on lead plays, cut down edge rushers easier, and pull like what we see on this play.
This play is a variation of the trap. A guard isn't pulling and there isn't a play-side double team going on. Instead, we see lots of one on one blocks and Graham pulling from the flex wing position to block the "1," who will blaze down the field once the ball is snapped.
The '1" on this play is everyone's favorite samurai, Antonio Smith. He feels Myers and lets him get to the second level. He's looking to the left because 90% of the time when a defensive lineman is trapped, it comes from the opposite side of the line of scrimmage rather than the same side. This is a veteran player who knows how to read an offensive lineman, and even he isn't expecting a player to pull from the strong-side of the formation.
Before Foster gets the snap, Smith realizes everything is too good to be true and looks into the soul of Graham. Garrett has some steam now, so he will actually be able to have a chance to make a block on a defensive lineman--a part of his game he's always struggled with.
The rest of the line has squared up nicely with their one on one blocks. Additionally, Myers and Jones look lovely. They are low, squatting, and waddling like ducks to the second level. Linemen get in trouble by speeding up their movements to rush up to the second level; it narrows their base and gets them out of control. When this happens, linebackers can easily knock them away and dodge their blocks. There's a fine line between speed and balance that needs to be met when moving to the second level, and these two are displaying it on this play.
Jones has swallowed up the linebacker and Myers has nice positioning on the other. The problem is that putting Graham in the flexwing brought the safety down into the box. If the Texans were passing, the safety would have covered Graham; now he is able to come into the second level unblocked to make a play on Foster.
There are reams in the heart of Oakland's defense. Yet Foster only gains a couple because he can't escape the grasp of the unblocked safety.
These first two plays are variations of the traditional trap play. One was something I've never seen before and the other was fairly different from what most teams in the league run. Additionally, each play was just a small step away from being a large dump of yards.
Week 1, Quarter 2, 10:31 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster Right Guard for 6 Yards.
The next two plays are great to run against nickel formations because you get one strong play-side double team and a lead blocker galloping to the linebacker. This is a lead play run from the shotgun. Houston is using a flex wing formation in the backfield so they can utilize Fiedorowicz as a lead blocker. The keys to this play are that the play-side double team needs to create movement, the lead blocker needs to kick the defender out of the hole, and the players making one on one blocks need to maintain them.
Here Brooks and Myers have an "Ace" block to Perry Riley (#56), Fiedorowicz is leading the way for Foster to Keenan Robinson (#52), and everyone else is blocking the man in front of them.
Brooks has done a great job of taking on the outside shoulder of the defensive tackle, Jarvis Jenkins (#99), and gives Myers enough room to take on the other half. Brown and Newton look like mirror opposites in how they line up their blocks. CJF has a nice crease to lead through to open the way for Foster.
The "Ace" block is perfect. They get movement, play hip to hip, and Myers comes off the block at the perfect time. Right when Riley (#56) is even with the down lineman's feet, he peels off. Fiedorowicz is perfectly placed to drive the linebacker out of the hole because the linebacker is only showing off half of himself. This way, CJF can attack his shoulder and take on half of him rather than all of him.
There's no guard in the league that holds as well as Brooks does. On every play, he seems to bear hug the defensive lineman, but rarely does he get called for it. Foster is behind the "Ace" block and can see how Robinson (#56) was able to flow over the top away from Myers. CJF has turned the linebacker inside, which opens up the crease for Foster to cut back through.
Foster is just an arm tackle away from breaking another run deep.
Week 2, Quarter 1, 0:09 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster for 5 Yards Touchdown.
Here is another run from the shotgun, except this time Jones is pulling to kick out the play-side linebacker rather than using a a tight end to lead the way. This play is called "power." The play-side doubles the fist down lineman so Newton and Brooks will have a "Deuce" block on the "3". Instead of the double team going to the play-side linebacker, they are going to the back-side. Jones will then come around their block to take on the play-side linebacker. Everyone else blocks man on man.
Last year and already this year, Newton and Brooks have been stellar when blocking together. As BFD pointed out on Battle Red Radio (Which you should listen to every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CDT) Houston prefers to pull from the left side because this capitalizes on Brooks and Newton becoming the almighty Brewton. On Sunday, I saw Jones pull a handful of times, while Newton, Brooks, and Brown pullled only once (more on this next play). Both Newton and Brooks maul defenders together because of their brute force and how well they get hip to hip. In this still, you can already see the makings of a great double team. Brooks has his head outside and Newton is taking a slide step to take on the other half.
Jones has taken a nice pull step. He's low and has taken proper depth so he won't run into Myers's block. Despite the nice things I've said, Ryan Griffin's block is the one that makes this play. He takes a slide step left as the defensive end slants inside. Once this happens, he's just going to shove him down the line of scrimmage to open the hole.
Newton and Brooks' soul have converged into one being. They are each low and glued at the hip. I also love how Brooks has his eyes on the back-side backer. He's working with Newton while preparing himself for his next block.
One of the hardest parts of pulling is making sure you get to your man. When you get in your stance, you know where your assignment is at that moment, but he's not going to stay in one place. Along the way, there are plenty of obstacles: feet, bodies, linemen, broken down cars, cannibals, and other vile monstrosities. For example, Jones assumes he's going to pull around the "Deuce" block, but because of the slant Griffin has to drive the end inside. So rather than trying to wedge himself where the play is drawn up to go, Jones needs to change his route and come around the outside of the block.
Jones does the right thing and ends up coming around Griffin's block. The key is that he kept his eyes on the defender the entire time. He never loses sight of his man. Most young linemen lose track of the defender and vote against straying off the path. This is a lovely display on how to pull.
Griffin has beautiful hand placement, especially since the end was stunting inside. He did an excellent job reacting and grasping the numbers of a rapid moving target. After the punch, he drives his feet to take the defender back inside. The "Deuce" block split the line in half. Newton has gobbled up the tackle and Brooks is about to make contact with the back-side linebacker.
You know when you watch football and there is always someone who says, "Trent Richardson sucks. I could have scored there"? Well, this is one of those beautiful holes that even your Bud Light guzzling friend could have stumbled his way through. Unlike the previous plays where one thing kept it from being perfect, this play is flawless.
Each of these plays are runs you'll see Houston use out of the shotgun formation this season. They work great because they are run against dime and nickel formations where Houston will get 5 vs. 5 and 6 vs. 6 match-ups. Additionally, it plays to its strengths on the offensive line. The line has two guards who can pull, everyone can maintain their blocks well, and their double teams move the line of scrimmage every time.
Week 2, Quarter 4, 13:26 Remaining. Result: Arian Foster Left Guard for 12 Yards.
The last play we are looking at is called "dart," and it is rarely used in the NFL. Dart is a power play like the one depicted previously, except this time the tackle pulls to the play-side linebacker rather than the guard. It's hardly used at this level of competition because of the speed of NFL defenses. Linebackers can read the play, react and blow the play up before a lineman can get to the hole from the tackle position.
The play design is fairly simple. Brooks blocks down on the "3" to open the hole for Newton. The back-side tight end and DeAndre Hopkins protect the edge by blocking the man in front of them. On the play-side, Myers is going to take a zone step over and head to the back-side linebacker. If the back-side "3" was a "2i" or a "1," they would "Ace" block, but the distance is too great for Myers to help out and still get to the linebacker. Jones is going to wash the "2i" down the line of scrimmage to open the hole. Brown blocks the outside linebacker by himself and Newton pulls to the play-side inside linebacker by bursting through the space between Brown and Jones.
One of the biggest stories of the newborn Texans' season has been the play of Derek Newton. His Achilles' heel was never his size, strength, or a lack of talent. The problem was that he played too high and moved like he was running across the floor of a movie theater--his feet were slow and stuck to the ground. This year, both of these issues have been fixed either because he's a.) healthy; b.) worked his butt off this summer; or c.) sold his first born to Satan.
In this play, we can see Newton not only pulling quickly, but he's low too.
Jones and Brown make great blocks to open up the crease. Newton has his eyes on the linebacker and is squaring him up.
Newton makes contact. This is not what you want to see, despite the praise I gave him earlier. He doesn't bend his hips; he's just leaning over and is using the crown of this head to make contact. The first thing you learn when playing football is to not hit with the crown of your head so you don't get paralyzed. This is a textbook "NEVER DO THIS, EVER" picture.
Regardless of the potential of a career-ending injury, Newton is able to use his hips to lift the defender up. His hands are on his chest and he can drive him backwards once he hunkers down again.
Foster is a damn ninja and quickly cuts through the hole. The only other back in the game with vision akin to his is LeSean McCoy.
By the time contact is made, Foster has gotten into the third level of the defense. When defensive backs tackle him, he has the strength to carry them forward for extra yards.
Because of the difficulty of running this play in the NFL, I expect this one to only be run on rare occasions, even if they ran this same play on the very next step.
Over the first two weeks of the season, I've gone over every play Houston has run on the ground except for the lead play with the fullback. I chose not to look at those because Jay Prosch has had a rough start to this season. Against Oakland, Houston stopped running out of the I-formation in the second half because Prosch couldn't stay on his blocks. He'd reach a defender, plow his head into the sternum, and then just fall down. Until Prosch steps his game up or Houston finds a fullback elsewhere, lead plays with the fullback and the I-formation are going to go extinct.
I assume Bill O'Brien is going to change things up based on the opponent. There will be other tweaks and turns made based on the defensive fronts and weaknesses O'Brien picks up from watching Houston's newest opponent. I'm sure what we have seen so far is only a Costco sampler of the buffet of tricks he has up his sleeve.
As far as the big picture goes, compared to the Washington game, Houston did a much better job communicating at the line of scrimmage and blocking linebackers, which were their two biggest issues in Week One. Houston's yards per carry jumped by a full yard, and Oakland's safeties made more tackles than their linebackers because the offensive line consistently put a hat on a man in the second level. It helped playing against Oakland, and it helped even more that they were able to run against Miles Burris (replacement to the injured Nick Roach), who played the worst game I've ever seen a professional linebacker play. By blocking linebackers, the line was able to open the way for Arian to get to the second level and turn four yard gains from last week into twelve yard gains this week.
When it comes to communication, the Texans did a great job keeping their head up before the snap. In the second half, Oakland crept up linebackers before the snap, and the line would disregard their double teams to block big on big. This unit has been a surprise so far with the improved play of Ben Jones and Derek Newton. This unit and the run game will continue to improve as the season progresses.
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