I’m a bit of a masochist. That’s the conclusion I come to after spending the amount of time I have over the past few weeks watching this Texans’ offense. Spending time to deliberately watch the All-22 of the Texans offense almost feels like I’m wasting it. There are so many other cool things I could be watching (Atlanta’s usage of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, or the weird nature of a Philadephia Eagles defense that leads the league in the amount of 20+ yard pass plays it gives up yet ranks second in DVOA), but in the time I have every week to watch tape, I choose the Texans’ offense. It’s pretty neat whenever Brock Osweiler sticks a nice throw, or Nuk breaks some corners poor ankles, or Will Fuller scares the crap out of a corner because of his speed, but the real treat is when I get to watch some of the really good defenders that go up against Houston’s offense. It is one such defender who we’re going to talk about today.
Joey Bosa’s career began with the unfortunate occurrance of being drafted by the Chargers who, as it turned out, didn’t like the idea of giving Bosa his money now instead of later. The horrible charade concluded with Bosa missing all of the preseason. Due to that was, he held out for the first four weeks of the season before making his debut against the Raiders in Week 5. He had two sacks and a tackle for a loss in that game. He’s continued this tear over the last eight games, amassing 5.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss. He’s so good Ohio State is already working on the sequel.
Today we’re going to focus on Bosa’s game versus the Texans. In particular, we’re going to look at Bosa’s ability to convert speed to power and his hand usage, which he uses to stun his opponents and gain control.
This first example is going to focus on the combination of both:
Here Bosa is lined up as what’s called a 9 technique or a wide 9 (he’s playing outside of the TE). Wide 9 is typically used for speed rushers who can beat the offensive tackle to the mark before flattening towards the QB. More specifically, wide 9 is primarily used as a pass rushing alignment. Bosa isn’t going to try to beat Chris Clark to the corner here as much as he’s going to try and run through him.
At this point, I’m going to mention that Bosa is going to get called for offsides here. That being said, it’s too good an example of Bosa combining a first punch with a nasty bull rush. The power comes from Bosa’s rather incendiary first step. The issue is that Bosa mistimes the snap and jumps clean out of his stance before attempting to reset quickly. The ball gets snapped just as he tries to reset, and he’s got to start from a complete standstill. This doesn’t concern Bosa, as he shoots out from his stance, takes two steps and shoots his hands straight into Chris Clark’s chest.
Bosa just gets his hands and body lower than Clark and just drives straight into his chest. Clark hasn’t got a hope here. Bosa’s got leverage, and his punch has jarred Clark out of a stable stance, meaning all Bosa’s got to do is keep driving. There’s no limit to how far he could drive Clark.
Again, Bosa is called offsides, but all of the things you want in a good pass rusher are here. Quick first step, speed to power, and excellent hand usage to further gain leverage. Full credit to Osweiler here also for actually sticking in the pocket and stepping into the throw despite the fact he’s got 320 lbs. of human about to come barreling into him.
That’s the whole package in action, but let’s work backwards and take a look at each element of Bosa’s game. First and foremost, Bosa’s hands are what are going to win him most battles. His ability to shoot his hands into the chest of the lineman at a moment’s notice is really crazy to watch. It’s not just the fact that he’s got quick hands; he’s also got this terrific sense of when to attack and use them.
Here we have a stretch run to the outside with the Texans using a zone blocking scheme to give Lamar Miller what will hopefully be a nice big cutback lane. Highlighted in red is Bosa, who’s lined up in the 5 tech outside of Duane Brown. In yellow is Xavier Su’a-Filo, who when the ball is snapped is going to take a step laterally towards Bosa to cut him off. Due to the fact that Brown is not going to be directly responsible for Bosa, XSF is going to come out of his stance with his arms wide open, hoping to at least get a hand on Bosa if all goes down the karzi and Bosa just plows straight through the line.
As you can see, XSF has his arms out and his head towards Bosa ready to engage him. XSF is also one strong punch away from being off balance, and Bosa knows this. Note that XSF’s feet are still moving. He’s still moving towards Bosa, and Bosa’s going to use that to attack XSF’s outside shoulder. Bosa will not allow XSF to gain leverage on him.
XSF is practically turned sideways here and Bosa’s punch tries to further knock XSF off balance. XSF loses a fair bit of control to Bosa. He manages to stabilize his stance and anchor himself long enough for the play to have gotten past Bosa.
What Bosa is missing here is the shed to that stack. He stacks XSF perfectly by attacking that outside shoulder. While XSF is off balance, Bosa gains leverage. All he needs to do now is use those freakishly strong hands to throw XSF aside and make that tackle. Still there’s the punch, the timing, and the ability to generate leverage. Elsewhere on this play:
- Lamar Miller decides to give up his career as a running back to become a world class escape artist.
- Chris Clark tackles Corey Liuget.
- Duane Brown whiffs on his block of Denzel Perryman.
- C.J, Fiedorwicz clobbers some poor safety.
Bosa can move people with his hands. What he also can bring is a lightning fast integration of these hands along with some excellent footwork. It’s uncanny how quickly Bosa can move at times. He made both sides of the offensive line look inept on two separate occasions:
On this passing play, Bosa’s lined up outside Brown in the 5 tech. Bosa’s not going to get to the quarterback, but he is going to make the Texans’ best offensive lineman look like he’s stuck in mud.
Bosa first step is in towards Brown’s inside shoulder. Brown sets to engage him. Bosa feigns to the outside quickly before Brown goes for a punch. Bosa counters by swatting down Brown’s oustretched right arm with his left. All the while, Bosa pivots and drives off of his right foot while bringing his right arm over Brown, swimming through Brown’s inside shoulder. Within the blink of an eye, Bosa has negated Brown’s attempt to punch and countered into a beautiful swim move with lightning fast feet. The only thing that ruins this is the fact that Bosa loses his balance and stumbles.
If you squint. that’s J.J. Watt giving fresh nightmare fuel to some poor left tackle. Bosa was doing this all game, too. Here he is casually blowing by Jeff Allen like Allen is a pedestrian on a busy footpath:
Here he is destroying what’s left of Chris Clark’s confidence (Clark gets called for offensive holding):
I also want to show this next play for a few reasons. One because I think it shows good play recognition on Bosa’s part, alongside all of the physical and technical aspects we’ve talked about before. If there’s any play which encapsulates Bosa’s fully formed skill set, it would be this one.
The Texans are going to try and run a power behind Duane Brown. C.J. Fiedorwicz is going to shift forward and engage the linebacker behind Bosa. Duane Brown is going to take his step laterally into Bosa and hopefully have a hole big enough for Lamar Miller to work through. What I want to highlight is what Bosa does next:
Brock makes his pre-snap read and calls out the middle linebacker along with another call. Bosa hears it and adjusts his stance, moving from his position at the 5 tech to directly over the TE at the 6 technique. This small adjustment does a few different things. First, it puts Bosa further out of Brown’s reach. Brown will now have to move further in order to get his hands on Bosa, leaving Bosa more room to operate and set up his moves.
The ball gets snapped and all hell breaks loose. Bosa explodes off his outside foot to Brown’s inside shoulder, where there’s a whole chunk of real estate due to Xavier Su’a-Filo stepping inside to help Greg Mancz with Damion Square, who’s had a great game himself at DT for the Chargers. That little bit of space that Bosa put between him and Brown before the snap becomes even more important now. Brown has to move quickly in one direction to quell Bosa, and Bosa has seen that Brown will need to do this; Bosa has exploded in the opposite direction towards the wide open running lane. C.J. Fiedorwicz just saw Bosa vanish in front of him. He puts out a hand to pass him off to Brown, but Brown’s closer to CJF than Bosa at this point. Brown is caught in no man’s land. His lower half is moving towards the outside while his upper half is quickly re-adjusting to Bosa attacking his inside shoulder. He reaches out in an attempt to try and impede Bosa but much like before, Bosa swats Brown’s arm away with his left before bringing his right arm over and swimming through. Unlike last time, Bosa doesn’t stumble and he now has a clean line straight to Lamar Miller.
Bosa is the next great NFL defensive lineman. He’s physically impressive and combines that physicality with a growing arsenal of moves and counter moves. He’s still a rookie, so it’s not all sunshine and puppies. He’s still got a ways to go in the conditioning department (the Chargers began subbing him out more and more as the game went on), and he’ll often try to run around offensive linemen only to get pushed two or three yards past the pocket. Regardless of that, as a rookie, Bosa beat Chris Clark like a drum for the majority of the day. When a rookie does that to a veteran with the experience of Clark (no matter the skill level), it’s something to take notice of.
Bosa’s drubbing of the Texans’ offensive line also got me thinking about the moves this franchise could possibly do going forward. As much as I would like to say that I’ve come up with this fantastic scenario in which the Texans are blessed with a competent QB and a coach who understands that Lamar Miller works best when he’s running the ball outside tackles, I have not. Instead I, much like all the other coaches and GMs, looked at Dallas and their running game centered around a stellar offensive line and went, ‘‘OF COURSE, WHY DIDN’T WE THINK OF THAT?!?’’. The more and more you think about the offensive line, the more you realise that regardless of all the other factors, a good offensive line is a bedrock upon which you build an offense. You want to shelter a young rookie QB? Give him a good offensive line. You want to create an offense that leans heavily on the run to generate play action passes? Give it a good offensive line.
The point here is that no matter who deserves the blame for the offense’s struggles, whether it be Brock or BOB, the construction of a good offensive line could provide a steady base upon which whomever will helm it going forward can work on. This year’s iteration of Houston’s offensive line hasn’t been bad by any means. It’s 14th in Adjusted Line Yards and 9th in Adjusted Sack Rate, which means it’s well above average. The problem here being those numbers can be manipulated.
The Texans’ passing offense is heavily reliant on quick throws, which means the ball isn’t often lingering in the QB’s hands long enough for any defender to get to him. The Adjusted Line Yardage is also kind of faulty, considering everything to the right of Greg Mancz has been pretty bad this year. Runs over the right tackle rank 21th in Adjusted Line Yardage; runs against the rest of the league and runs over the guard and center rank 22th against the rest of the league. This offensive line’s right side has been pretty terribl,e and so has the coaches’ love for interior runs; those account for 62% of all of the Texans’ runs. That 62% is in the direction of an area where the Texans rank 28th in Adjusted Line Yardage. That’s KITTENING infuriating. Especially considering we rank 2nd in ALY when we run the ball over the left tackle spot, which as it turns out we only do on 12% of our rushing attempts. This is not to say that we should run everything behind Duane Brown (although if we did, I would be perfectly fine with it), but the disparity between what has worked this season is clear and the fact that seemingly nothing has been done to adjust the offense to this is really frustrating.
The question of the future of the Texans’ offensive line also bears scrutiny. Derek Newton’s tearing of his patellar tendons is a huge blow to the security of that future. Considering the fact that the only other three players to suffer this extremely rare injury retired roughly one year after sustaining said injury, it does not bode well to consider what might happen going forward. With Newton’s injury and the poor play of both Allen and Clark, the right side of the of the Texans’ offensive line has gone very quickly from being a strength to a big hole. Allen has his moments, but Clark is nothing short of a liability to the point where putting in Kendall Lamm in at RT might not be the worst thing in the world. That’s a painful sentence to type, but it shows just how bad things have gotten since a year ago, when the right side of the Texans’ line was being anchored by Brandon Brooks and Newton and was thriving (a;beit as much as one can when Alfred Blue is your running back).
The problems in the head coaches and quarterbacks’ offices are going to be the big questions going forward, but while those decisions will require a lot of self-reflection and debate about just whose fault it is, the offensive line will still be an issue. It’s a problem that could be solved in the most practical way—by addressing the offense’s woes in a way that doesn’t result in a firing or a benching. It’s not the most innovative or exciting solution, but sometimes that’s what needed.