Despite how incredible Deshaun Watson and the Texans’ passing offense has been, it was still unknown if the success was the result of obliterating bad passing defenses. They poured it on Tennessee, Cleveland, and New England, three stinky pass defenses, but had their struggles against Cincinnati and Kansas City. Then the Seattle game happened. All those doubts were quelled like a kite in a lightening storm.
Entering last weekend’s game, Seattle was fifth in passing defense DVOA. Against the Texans, their classic pass defense allowed the third most passing yards allowed by a Seattle defense since Pete Carroll took over. Per Football Outsiders, the Seahawks had a pass defense DVOA of 12.7% against the Texans, improved by the five sacks, three interceptions, and an Earl Thomas pick-six. No matter the measure, yards or DVOA, Houston’s offense exceeded all expectations in this game. It proved it’s real—really, really, real—in the process.
Catching the majority of the passes in this game was the usual killer duo, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V. They form a tag team championship team that perfectly complements the other. On one end you have Hopkins, a press coverage beating monster who can catch anything thrown up to him. On the other, you have Fuller, a speedster who’s faster than a lizard scampering in fear for his life. Together, Watson and Hopkins have accounted for 37 catches on 61 targets, 681 yards, 13 touchdowns and 34 first downs since Fuller V’s collarbone grew back together.
The biggest story has been the touchdown passes. Deshaun Watson has already thrown 19. Hopkins has caught six. Fuller V has caught seven. One out of every two of Fuller V’s receptions ends up in the end zone. Against Seattle, he caught two more, making us chew on that age old question, “Does Will Fuller V ever get tired of catching touchdown passes?”.
The first came in the first quarter with 12:47 remaining. It was second and ten at Houston’s own 41 yard line. The Texans had 1x1x3 personnel and motioned Ryan Griffin to the tight end position, matching up shotgun left, tight end left, and a slot right wide receiver formation against Seattle’s nickel defense.
Houston designed this play to force Earl Thomas to make a decision. Bill O’Brien had him choose between either chasing down field or sitting and breaking on one of the center crossing routes. DeAndre Hopkins and Bruce Ellington are running drags through the center of the field. Fuller V is running a go route on the left side of the field.
The blocking on this play is simple. The Texans pull Griffin to the tight end to help sell the run. The Texans are showing a zone right play. Each blocker is responsible for the outside gap, with Griffin pulling across the formation to help out. Watson fakes the run to Lamar Miller before dropping back to pass. Miller then looks inside-out to pick up any free rushers.
At the snap, newly signed Dwight Freeney comes flat down the line of scrimmage. This allows him to chase Miller from behind if he gets the hand-off. Linebacker K.J. Wright (#50) is sitting behind him in case Watson keeps and takes off on the ground.
The playfake does so much here. It pulls both nickel linebackers into the line of scrimmage, as well as strong safety Kam Chancellor. This pull of the rope is very important. It opens up the drag routes run by Watson and Ellington. This then puts more pressure on Thomas, who has to decide between coming down on the ball or helping deep and giving up an easy first down.
Watson drops back. Miller comes across him to block Freeney. The offensive line has created a wall and has blocked off the Seattle front.
The coverage is the usual Seattle Cover Three, but with one small wrinkle. The Seahawks have Richard Sherman use a zone coverage drop, turning his hips and running down the sideline. But this time, he breaks on Hopkins’ inside route, turning zone coverage into man coverage. To cover up this vacated space, the slot corner runs to the sideline. On the other side, rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin has a deep third part of the field, and Earl Thomas has the middle. Underneath the linebackers are dropping into soft zones.
When Watson steps back, Ellington is breaking free past the second level of the defense. Griffin is stagnant. He’s shuffling in a two-point stance and watching Fuller V. This gives him a free release. Griffin has wide outside placement and knows he has Thomas helping inside in case Fuller V breaks to the center of the field.
Fuller V takes a slight step to run at Griffin, and then hits the gas outside the hash marks. In the amount of time it takes for a filament to heat up, Fuller V is gone. He starts sprinting before Griffin and makes him look like he’s stuck in a swamp. Thomas is sitting in the center and watches Ellington break open.
Fuller V is sprinting. Griffin has only turned horizontally to the sideline. He has yet to begin to turn and chase. Thomas takes a slight step up field. Chancellor bails on the run after the playfake runs out and gets in front of Ellington’s route.
This is all Fuller V needs. He’s gone. It’s a great play design from Bill O’Brien to attack Seattle’s Cover Three in a creative fashion. Previous iterations of this offense suffered from an inability to create easy reads and throws for the quarterback. Watson’s talent has made his job easier, but designs like this were rarely run by those previous teams. If Thomas drops back deep instead of hesitating, Watson would have completed an easy first down pass to Ellington.
In the pocket, Miller comes across Watson and pushes Freeney up field. Xavier Su’a-Filo hits Michael Bennett in the side, leaving him sprawled out on the floor and questioning if playing football is actually a fun thing to do.
Watson steps up in the pocket and stares down Thomas.
His mind is made up. He’s going to throw this pass to Fuller V. He just has to decide where. Thomas is curling back to the current path Fuller V is traveling along.
Watson chunks it up.
But rather than throw the ball at Fuller V, Watson throws it to a spot. This is real quarterbacking. Watson puts the ball back to the center of the field where Thomas was. With Thomas chasing to the sideline, the center of the field is empty. This is unbelievable ball placement. This is quarterbacking at its finest. Although Thomas takes a slight step up field, he has the speed to recover, a deep understanding of angles, and can still make a play on the ball. This throw by Watson ensures that Thomas is out of it.
From there Fuller V just runs really fast and away from everyone, tracking and chasing the ball like a blonde retriever.
Fuller’s second touchdown was a different display of beauty and an example of how Houston makes do in pass protection. Since Watson has taken over under center, the Texans have done all that they can to mask their poor pass blocking. It’s still really bad, will be really bad for the rest of the season, and will be even worse without Duane Brown. The Texans like to use fakes off the jet sweep, the zone read, Ryan Griffin as a flex wing player to help chip edge rushers, and they keep eight in to block while running only two routes. In a previous deep Fuller V touchdown catch against Kansas City, Houston did exactly this, using only Fuller V and Hopkins on routes. However, this time, there isn’t any playing off one another. This touchdown is all Will Fuller V.
Before a piece of your skull is removed and Fuller’s heartwarming route is shoved deep into the folds of your brain, the play fake needs to be touched on. The Texans are at Seattle’s 20-yard line. Watson is in the shotgun and in between a strange split back formation. Lamar Miller is playing to the right and deeper than Ryan Griffin. This allows Miller and Griffin to not bump heads when they cross. Fuller V is lined up all on his own to the right, and Hopkins is lined up in left slot, inside of Ellington.
Before the snap, Ellington comes back behind the formation and fakes the jet sweep.
The Texans’ offensive line is blocking this play just like the previous one. They are each blocking the inside gap. They aren’t stuck making one-on-one blocks against great pass rushers. Griffin is helping the right edge. Miller is helping the left edge in case Frank Clark rushes care free down the line of scrimmage. Ellington comes behind and plants behind Watson.
Watson fakes the hand-off to Miller.
Clark is frozen with all the different moving parts in the backfield. Since the right side is walled off well with two double teams, Griffin comes back to the left side of the formation. A trio of Griffin, Miller, and Ellington are coming back the other direction.
Ellington’s run and Watson’s play-fake carries Clark to the right. There’s a nice, comfy, and cozy pocket. All the fake did on this play was mess with Clark and get Houston a lot of blockers on a couple of defenders. It didn’t affect the linebackers and Chancellor like it did on the previous play. They all break into Cover Three nicely.
Watson plants and then chooses between throwing the ball up to Hopkins or Fuller V.
Pre-snap, something peculiar happens. Richard Sherman is lined up directly across from Will Fuller V. He is in an alignment to play tight press coverage. But before the play, he turns sideways and takes a zone drop back. This gives Fuller V a free release. A player this fast is not one you can let run wild and free.
The linebacker playing the short hook zone, Wright (#50), doesn’t help things either. Fuller V takes a slight turn outside to get around him. Wright doesn’t make an effort to jam or punch Fuller V within the five yards he’s allotted.
Sherman runs with his back to the sideline, his head looking in the backfield, and has Fuller V in the corner of his eye.
Sherman reacts by flattening his drop when Fuller V makes his break slightly inside on his corner route.
Once Fuller V gets about even with Sherman, he cuts to make his break to the pylon. Sherman isn’t ready for the speed of his break. Fuller’s quickness leaves Sherman’s jaw on the floor.
Watson’s playfake is over at the same time as Fuller V’s cut, .
Sherman is chasing his own tail.
Fuller V is so fast out of his break, and so open, that he has to stop and run in place like he’s a jogger stuck at a red light. He waits momentarily until he locks eyes with Watson and can make his move.
Watson tosses a higher pass with a little bit of kick on it that hits Fuller V in his leaping hands.
Sherman is able to recover slightly and create a fender bender.
Sherman cuts back across and sticks his head in Fuller V’s back.
He’s able to hang on even without a helmet.
The concern regarding Fuller V was never his route-running skill or athletic ability. It was his hands. The core component of the position was his biggest flaw. Last season, Fuller dropped six passes. So far during this season he has dropped one. The types of routes and targets haven’t changed. Fuller has just caught the ball better. It also makes things a lot easier when you are this open. Catches in traffic become pop flies when you have speed like this.
Worrying about regression is for haters and losers. Will Fuller V is the best. He’s going to catch 15 touchdown passes this year. His performance against Seattle is just another typical game in an absolutely insane Texans’ season. As long as Fuller keeps holding onto passes and running past free releases, the Texans’ offense will continue to be spectacular.