The Texans have run millions of screen passes since Bill O'Brien became the head coach. None of them have been very good, and most have been give-up plays on third and long where Houston opted to punt a drive away or kick a field goal instead of actually going for the conversion. These have been terrible plays. They've been so atrocious that they have stolen the crown from Gary Kubiak's third and long draw as the worst play of all time.
Unlike a draw, which is a safe, miserable play in its own right, the screen is a scary, miserable play. Bad things can happen on a screen. The ball can be thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The ball can be intercepted. The quarterback can be sacked. Lots of players running really fast all over the field can lead to injuries and colossal collisions (see Arian Foster's last play as a Texan versus Miami). And it's even worse when you consider the fact that the Texans were expecting players like Cecil Shorts III to convert third downs like this. The third and long screen play is a very stupid play for so many reasons.
So when the Texans, down 14-13, threw a fourth quarter screen pass to Will Fuller in the red zone on third and seven against the Bears, I died. My heart stopped working. It tightened, wheezed, squeezed, and fainted. For the Texans to spend millions of dollars and all their draft capital to still be the team that runs screens on third downs was a crisis. Why do I spend my very small, very short, very meaningless life watching a team this stupid that will continue to be this stupid?
Then something funny happened. It worked.
Houston is in 0x0x5 personnel. Zero running backs, zero tight ends and five wide receivers. They are in trips left with Will "I 3" Fuller furthest out (Z), Stephen Anderson in the center (Y), and Braxton Miller (F) closest to the line of scrimmage. On the other side, Tyler Ervin (X) is farthest out wide and DeAndre Hopkins (H) is playing in the slot.
On third and seven, Chicago is in their nickel defense against a five wide receiver set for whatever reason. Both linebackers, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, are showing A-gap pressure. Like Carolina, the Bears use pre-snap A-gap pressure and a combination of blitzing and dropping into coverage to confuse offenses. Chicago's other five defensive backs are lined up in man coverage. Everyone except for Adrian Amos (#38), who is playing three yards off Hopkins, is somewhere between five and seven yards off the ball.
Already, there are multiple advantages for Houston. First, the trips formation is close to the Texans' front five. The offensive line is a short distance to the defenders, so they can have an impact on the play. Second, the Bears are playing off the receivers to protect the first down marker. This gives the blockers more time and gives Will Fuller more space to accelerate, set up his blocks, and maneuver around. Third, the safeties are playing man coverage. There is no one around to help. If Fuller can get five yards, he's going to score.
For blocking assignments, Stephen Anderson is the support man and is blocking Deiondre' Hall (#32), who is covering Will Fuller. Miller is blocking the alley, Bryce Callahan (#37). Chris Clark is scurrying to seal the last defensive back, Harold Jones-Quartey (#29). The left side of the line of scrimmage releases immediately once the ball is snapped to lead the way. On the other side, Jeff Allen (right guard) and Derek Newton (right tackle) are blocking the inside gap to the left of them. DeAndre Hopkins and Tyler Ervin are meandering inside and turning back to block off their defenders from getting in on the play.
The Bears are sending everyone. The A-gap pressure is heading after Brock Osweiler. They aren't dropping into a zone. All six are coming after that clopping giraffe. It doesn't matter. There is no way the Bears could get to him in time unless Willie Young (#97) gets in the throwing lane and knocks down the pass. Once the ball is snapped, Osweiler doesn't hesitate. He takes it and zips it to Fuller. This isn't the type of screen where the quarterback invites the pressure up the field, looks one way, and throws the other to mislead the defense. This screen is all about instantly getting the ball to Fuller in space and giving him an army that can block out the sun to run behind.
At the snap, left tackle Clark doesn't bother with the end. He goes to seal the furthest inside defender. Xavier Su'a-Filo (left guard) swims over the defensive tackle. Center Greg Mancz puts a hand on Freeman before running out wide. Freeman recognizes the screen and cancels his blitz to pursue the play.
The timing is perfect. The ball is out and they have ejected.
Fuller gets wide and low. He catches Osweiler's skipping rock. Who says he can't catch?
Anderson is making a great support block against a defensive back he towers over. Miller is centering his block. Clark and XSF are in space. Fuller has the pass and is getting ready to do what he was born to do--run. In the postmodern times in which we live, most offensive plays and innovations in football have been based on a simple idea--stack things so you have more blockers than they have defenders. Here the Texans have five blockers. The Bears have four defenders.
The three blocks create a tunnel for Fuller to run through. Without a safety playing safety, the entire center of the field is open.
For the offensive linemen the key is to take perfect angles. As bigger, slower mastodons, they can't waste steps if they are going to run across the field, beat the defenders to the spot, and get their hands on players that are a second faster than they are. Clark shouldn't be squaring the defender up. He should come flat instead of round and take an angle that blocks the defender from the middle of field. But with XSF acting as a mercenary to help whoever, it isn't a big deal. Su'a-Filo knows Mancz is behind him, so he helps set up Mancz's block on Freeman by getting in the way and stymieing Freeman's movement to the ball.
Mancz gets away with a nice little push in the back. Miller whiffs on his block, but he gets in the way of a wary defender. This is part of the issue of playing so far off the line of scrimmage. The defender isn't aggressive and doesn't have the luxury to get downhill quickly to the ball. Clark and XSF are doubling Jones-Quartey (#29).
The only threat of Chicago sniffing out the play is the two rushers who are turning around and coming back to chase the ball. The idea is that if the ball gets out quickly, and these five beat the Bears' four, then Fuller has the speed to outrun the unblocked box defenders.
When Fuller cuts inside and gets going through the tunnel, he has some space. The problem is the backside end (Acho) has an angle and a short path to Fuller. Remember at the beginning when Newton was blocking the inside gap? Well, he did that. And now that the ball is out, he is autonomous. He is free to do whatever he wants. So he comes back across the field and looks to devour any sentient life.
I guarantee you Derek Newton spent all Monday morning giddy about seeing this block on film. I'm sure he was a good student and listened to the corrections that need to be made and how he and Jeff Allen meshed in their first start together. All of that was secondary to pointing this block out to everyone.
Newton checks Sam Acho (#49) like Scott Stevens. The defender goes flying into the glass. Except it isn't glass. It's the play-side defensive end, Willie Young.
Newton is the three-holed ball. The Bears are the pins. Fuller doesn't have to worry about anyone coming up from behind him.
Now Hopkins comes into play. His lazy route brings the defensive back to the center of the field. Nuk gets his hands on Amos and acts as a minor obstacle between him and the ball carrier. Fuller sets up Hopkins' block like a running back. Once he sees the defender come inside, Fuller cuts right and slaloms around the block. This is the point where he really spews speed. The vision and athleticism here are remarkable.
Ervin seals the play by getting his hands into the chest of Tracy Porter, who lazily obliges.
Sometimes things work out perfectly. The creosote was carried on the back of some ancient Pleistocene animal 10,000 years ago and suffocated the American desert. Tim Duncan was drafted by the Spurs. The Texans ran this play. It was the perfect play for this situation. With it came Fuller's first professional touchdown in his first professional game. A feeling that hasn't been felt in so long arises when a screen pass actually works.
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