Last year, we all had so much fun during those first four weeks of Will Fuller V. He was a scratch-off ticket tied to a rocket ship at the start of his rookie season. He caught 19 of his 36 targets for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He returned a punt for a touchdown that beat the Titans and kind of ended up winning the AFC South. He had two games where he averaged more than 20 yards a reception.
But the good times just don’t last; they never last. After those first four games, Fuller became an afterthought. Teams played two safeties deep. [Name Redacted] didn’t have the accuracy or gumption to throw the ball downfield anymore. The Texans’ passing offense went from Fuller V deep to four yard uninspired passes in the flat to Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz. The extravagant became banal.
After returning from a broken collarbone suffered in training camp, Fuller is extraordinary again, thanks to the power of milk and work ethic. All he’s done since returning is catch touchdown passes. Fuller has caught 7 of 11 targets for 154 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s absurd. He averaged 28.5 yards per reception against Kansas City and 31 yards a reception against Tennessee. Fuller V is back playing as he should be—a blonde streak blurring past trailing defensive backs.
Fuller’s first touchdown this season came against the Tennessee Titans at the start of the second quarter. The Texans are doing what they have done since Deshaun Watson became their quarterback—use max protection and run two or three routes downfield. This makes the play action game even more devastating and makes the illusion of running even grander. Here Will Fuller V is lined up outside to the left and DeAndre Hopkins is lined up outside to the right. Both are closer to the line of scrimmage than usual. Each run post routes. I’ve seen this play in Madden before.
The play action draws eight defenders to the line of scrimmage. The safety is forced to scurry back into coverage when Stephen Anderson stays in to block. The three deep defensive backs drop back into Cover Three. When DeAndre Hopkins makes his break, Adoree Jackson (#25) turns his shoulders and runs inside to shadow Hopkins. Will Fuller V breaks right over the second level linebacker; when he crosses Hopkins, Jackson’s back is to the sideline.
When Fuller V accelerates, he evaporates through the middle of the field, and poof, like Nightcrawler, he reappears in the end zone. To run this fast is what astronauts must feel like when they get out of the atmosphere.
Fuller’s second touchdown also came in the red zone against Tennessee. Did you know that you can run other routes than fades in the red zone? Fuller V was lined up in the slot. Lamar Miller lined up wide to the left of him. He’s matched up one on one against Leshaun Sims (#36).
The Titans are blitzing six and playing man-to-man coverage.
Despite playing tight on the line of scrimmage, Sims gives Fuller V a free release. The receiver takes takes three steps and giddyups. The defensive back doesn’t move. When Fuller V releases outside, the back is frozen.
Once Watson sees Sims turn to chase, he plops a perfect pass on Fuller V’s outside shoulder.
Fuller V is so open. How he open is he? So open that he has enough to time to 180 around and get a 1.5x multiplier without the defensive back sniffing the pass. The blitz can’t get to you when receivers are open this quickly and the quarterback anticipates the open route this fast.
This next play is the result of a quick firing of brain cells. Houston is in the red zone on 4th and 1 against Kansas City, who’s playing man coverage. Watson wants the post to DeAndre Hopkins, but he’s forced to look elsewhere. On the other side of the field, Fuller V is running a drag inside. He then plants back outside at the eight yard line. Behind him is Bruce Ellington acting as floatsam Marcus Peters has to swim around.
When Watson wants to make this throw to Hopkins, he’s covered and still isn’t out of his break. It’s a great route and matchup against a cornerback who isn’t Marcus Peters. Watson pump fakes and rolls right rather than stick around and wait .
Peters is forced around the corner route, which creates an obscene cushion for Fuller V.
Watson rolls right and leaves the pocket. At the exact same intersection of time, Fuller V plants on his inside foot and cuts to the sideline.
Fuller V catches the pass with Peters coming downhill to stop the first down. It’s futile. He’s fast, but not that fast. Fuller V has too much space. For Peters to prevent this touchdown, he has to run to the sideline.
And of course, when Fuller catches the pass, he’s a micro-machine hitting the rollers.
Fuller’s second touchdown catch against Kansas City was his first deep touchdown catch of the year. It took great play design and an OMG throw from Deshaun Watson to make it happen. The Chiefs are in Cover One. Both Watson and Fuller V are covered by a single man. At the snap, both converge to a single point around the 35 yard line.
Like the previous touchdown where Ellington created separation for Fuller V and the first touchdown where Hopkins’s presence pulls the opposite corner over, the play design here creates separation. This time it’s even better. This time, each receiver creates separation for the other. They both cross and put their opponents in impossible situations.
Safety Ron Parker bites down on DeAndre Hopkins. Pro Football Focus won’t like this. It leaves Fuller V racing with a two yard head start after already pushing down on the turbo.
At the same time, Watson is being magical. He fakes the play action pass and dodges Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who loops around free in the interior of the offensive line. His eyes stay down the field the entire way. The defensive lineman is just an obstacle to his goals. He’s a hashtag to match an Apple watch, standing proud in front of a luxury vehicle chevron. Watson then unleashes something unbelievable.
The ball is right over the defensive back’s inside shoulder. Fuller V traces this ball all the way and taps the breaks just enough. It keeps the defensive back running at full speed which takes him pass the ball. This is what speed does. It creates larger margins. There’s time to adjust. It’s time traveling.
Fuller’s latest touchdown was another long distance voyage. The Browns are in Tampa Two. The cornerback doesn’t jam Fuller V at all. He allows him to run free past him. The play action pass pulls the outside linebacker into the line of scrimmage, which leaves him unable to affect Fuller V’s route. Pre-snap, Jabrill Peppers rolls from the right numbers to the right hash. From there he just sits in the center of the field while Fuller V has a neighborhood jog.
Behind the play is an interesting blocking scheme. The Texans are running a play action pass off the zone read. Myles Garrett is left unblocked. D’Onta Foreman and Ryan Griffin run towards his direction. This keeps him frozen at first and then pits two blockers against him once he melts.
Peppers can’t and shouldn’t play this far downfield. He reacts poorly and his straight line speed doesn’t match Fuller V’s, or most outside receivers. With his feet stuck, he’s done.
Watson ignores the semi-free rusher and shoots a perfect pass that pulls Fuller V away from Peppers and towards the sideline.
Oh, and of course Deshaun Watson’s pick-six targeted Fuller V. Even interceptions thrown his way become touchdowns.
The ‘smart’ football fan in me, the one that is worn down and covered in calluses, takes the form of turnover luck, point differential, DVOA, offensive line calls, the importance of down and distance, is screeching inside to say that 7-11 and 5 touchdowns is unsustainable.
He’s no fun. He can have a warm glass of shut the hell up. Because Fuller V is fun as hell. The Texans’ offense is fun as hell. That’s all the hell that matters.