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“Quick Thoughts”: Texans v. Falcons

Will Fuller’s breakout, Laremy Tunsil and Max Scharping double teams, Grady Jarrett, Atlanta’s offensive game plan, and other topics in a review of the Texans’ win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta Falcons v Houston Texans Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images
  • The Texans scored 13 points last week against a dependable Carolina Panthers’ defense missing two of its vital starters—Kawann Short and Donte Jackson. This week they scored 47 offensive points against an Atlanta Falcons’ defense missing only Keanu Neal, who snapped his Achilles against Indy, and grasped onto the curtains, the roof, and the atmosphere, on his way down.

Houston did a great job taking advantage of the Falcons turmoil. Since Neal went down the Falcons have allowed 75 offensive points in two and a half games. Their pass defense DVOA against Indianapolis and Tennessee was 43.3% and 48.4%. It will probably come out to around 65% in this one. Atlanta has struggled not only covering and playing football, but knowing who to pick up and who to defend.

The miscues are numerous. They’re everywhere. They’re as ubiquitous as mouse turds under a seventh hand, four roommate duplex couch, green and corroded, that resides in twenty something living rooms across the country.

The Falcons are in man coverage. The Texans have Jordan Akins and Carlos Hyde in the backfield in a split shotgun formation. 3rd and 1, the Falcons are in their base defense with a safety in the box. Akins runs out to the flat. No one accounts for him. Wide open.

Aliens exist. There’s something in the bathroom. Keke Coutee exists. There’s something in the middle of the field.

Watson draws the right side of the defense offsides. The slot corner is never set. He stretches his spine before the snap, and allows Coutee to run right past him. I’m not sure what coverage this is, which happens so many times when watching Atlanta. I’m not even sure Atlanta knows what coverage it’s running most of the time. It looks like some form of cover 2. Coutee runs past the slot. The hooks don’t get deep enough without anyone in front of them. The whole point of this defense is it covers the middle of the field well. Wide open.

The Texans did a nice job of manipulating the Falcons’ linebackers. Play action works. Use it. Never stop using it. Keep using it. This is cover three, or some additional dimension cover three variation. The play action pulls the linebackers down. This creates an open throwing lane to the center of the field. Hopkins is in the slot. He runs a post route. Wide open.

Even when there weren’t coverage mistakes, the Falcons didn’t have the players to run with Houston’s receivers.

On 2nd and 6 the Texans are faking the zone read left, and running a boot leg off of it. The tight end is pulling behind the line of scrimmage into the flat. Houston, and most teams, love to use this action and hit the flat to create easy yards. Things get lost during the move. Deion Jones runs with the tight end. Instead it’s DeAndre Hopkins who outruns Isiah Oliver for the first down.

Oliver just gets beat. I love how Hopkins tails this route up the field to create additional separation and yards after the catch. I wish I could hold hands and watch a scary movie with it. Keep running play action. It works. Wide open.

The best part of the passing offense wasn’t Watson going 28/33 for 426 yards and 5 touchdowns (lol), but it was Fuller catching 14 passes on 16 targets for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was an inerrant tricep hair away from five touchdowns. The best part of the best part, the dream within this dream, was how the Texans used Fuller and Hopkins together to get Fuller open.

One of the foundations of a passing offense is creating pressure in the coverage, and forcing defensive backs to make a decision. The Texans forced Atlanta to do this, stretching them at the seam. Atlanta chose Hopkins just about every time. And from there, Fuller took care of the rest.

It’s first and ten. The Texans have loaded up the line of scrimmage like a sinful potato. They have 1-2-2 personnel, and the tight ends are in a two point stance off the line of scrimmage. They run play action, and really have only two routes. Fuller runs a deeper post that runs behind Hopkins. The back seeps out to the flat. The Falcons drop back eight into cover three to cover two receivers. Hilarious. When they cross, the deep middle safety, Ricardo Allen, watches Hopkins, spins around, and then chases Fuller. Allen had allowed a completion rate of 97.9% entering this game. Somehow this figure only got worse. Fuller sits under the ball, and makes the catch before impact.

Fuller and Hopkins are stacked to the right. Desmond Trufant is pressing Hopkins at the line with slight outside leverage. Isiah Oliver is backing him up. They exchange the receivers incorrectly. Once Hopkins runs inside of Trufant’s leverage, Oliver should cover Fuller. He bites on Hopkins, or the inside fake, whatever the reason, it leaves him stuck in this goop, and Fuller cuts wide, turning a first down into 30 yards.

On LP3, which scored an 8.4 without getting best new music, Hopkins and Fuller are stacked to the left. Hopkins releases first and runs a dig. This pulls what should be the single high safety along with him. Fuller runs an out, sits, then turns up the field. Watson is bouncing and waiting for him to explode past Trufant. Watson leads him. There’s a yard and a half of separation. From there Fuller is an anchor taking the baton to score.

It was a rough game for Trufant, as its been for him since Neal went down. It’s 1st and 20. Houston runs play action. It looks like Atlanta is in cover three, but Trufant runs to the center of the field. I have no clue what’s going on. Fuller is open on a corner route to the sideline, against a coverage that’s supposed to be good at covering the sideline.

Even when the Falcons played isolated man coverage against Fuller they couldn’t stop him. Houston runs play action to pull the outside linebacker down and remove the throwing lane. Fuller runs a quick out route in the red zone against off man coverage. That’s a fear I couldn’t imagine. The only good part of this play from a Falcons’ perspective is the tackle.

Falcons were out schemed and outplayed and eventually outlasted in this one. The Texans tortured them with pick a hand decisions, and beat them after that decision was made. The Falcons’ secondary is in shambles. The Texans reaped all the benefits.

  • The pass protection was excellent against a crappy Atlanta pass rush. The Falcons were 6th in pressure rate at 32.8%, but had only five sacks this season. Most of their pass rushes are empty. It’s Vic Beasley wide and looping not affecting anything. It’s Takkarist McKinley and Adrian Clayborn pushing the pocket without much success. Their best pass rusher is Grady Jarrett, who was the only player who came close to sniffing Deshaun Watson.

The Texans have blocked well in their one v. one matchups. The issue has been the holding onto the ball, the stunts, and the blitzes. It takes more than an offensive line to protect the quarterback. Everything is connected. From the ant to the supernova. Finally unified, Watson was sacked zero times and hit once.

And even when the Falcons did blitz it didn’t work. They have to keep their linebackers in shallow zones to make up for the problems they have in the secondary. Seven have to be back there. Yet, when they do bring more than four, they don’t really know how to do it. They fell out of their rush lanes. No one spied or accounted for the quarterback. The Falcons blitzes allowed Watson to break out of the hamster cage, get off that plastic wheel, and escape into the mountains.

Nick Martin makes at least one play a game that cracks me up. I have no idea what he’s doing sometimes. Occasionally, offenses will use a ‘piggy’ to help in pass protection. This has an interior blocker scoot behind the line of scrimmage to pick up a free rusher. No one really does this in the NFL. Linebackers are too fast. It flays the skin off the torso and showcases the vital organs. Martin does it here and pulls right. Zach Fulton makes a great pickup of Vic Beasley stunting inside. Watson collects $200.

This is probably the meekest pass rush the Texans will face this season. The Raiders, and the Broncos without Bradley Chubb, Von Miller dropping into pass protection, and zero production from their defensive line could be worse. Maybe. I don’t think so. The important thing is the Texans’ were able to deal with the one on one matchups and bought another week to prepare for blitzes and schemes and stunts and those reoccurring nightmares.

  • Laremy Tunsil-Max Scharping double teams are my new favorite thing. Maxemy Tunsing. Sure. Let’s go with that. Since Scharping got the call from the sideline to the field he’s been melded hips with Tunsil, packed up the line of scrimmage up, and moved it up three flights of stairs.

This is an option play with Jordan Akins blocking the strong side linebacker. Watson should have kept it. The double team drives Grady Jarrett to Deion Jones, and takes out the only two good players on Atlanta’s defense. This is as bad of a run fit as you’ll see from De’vondre Campbell.

This is the same play with a different and correct read. Campbell follows Akins. Tunsil and Scharping conjoin until an 18 hour surgery peels Tunsil off to block the second level. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect.

  • Last week was devastating. All the same routes going into the teeth of the zone. The constricted pocket. The missed deep passes. The holding onto the ball. The inability to find the hot when the blitz comes.

It finally happened. The slot corner blitzed. Watson saw it. Coutee adjused his route, bit it into a curl, and Kemal Ishmael was too far off to play the ball. Hopefully Watson will be ready for it once he sees Kenny Moore again.

  • Jarrett was the only player who disrupted Houston’s offense. From the second play of the game he was out here. On this stop he splits the Tunsil-Scharping deuce by getting skinny and silky and slips off of Tunsil.

On the following play the Texans ran an outside zone play to the left. As an outside shade, he cut inside to Scharping’s attempt at reaching his outside shoulder. He swims over the top to sneak around the laser detection system. In the same motion he makes the tackle in the backfield and forces the fumble. Don’t give up on the play. Scharping makes the recovery.

Tytus Howard ran into the exact same problem with Jarrett as an inside shade. Tunsil can’t reach him, and he makes another tackle for a loss.

Wretched Nick Martin snaps have become one of the funniest parts of the season. Fresh off his extension, Martin has skipped the ball along the grass and and has snapped it too early. I can’t wait until he sends one over Watson’s head, and then watch Watson throw a 30 air yard pass for a gain of two. The joys of watching one team every game every time. Watson picks the miscue up. Jarrett knocks Scharping’s punch away, extends him, and rips, only to watch Watson run away from him, circle around in the pocket like a hazy bumpy red headed bird, and then casually pick up positive yards.

This is an outside-in swim. Watson stiff arms Jarrett, runs wide, throws a dropped interception, and takes an illegal hit from Allen Bailey.

Scharping takes an aggressive pass set and slides inside. Jarrett just beats him off the ball. Scharping gets away with a hold. Nothing is called. Watson backs away from the sack attempt once again. To live is to suffer. The boulder never made it to the top of the hill.

Scharping played well at left guard this game. This looks like his forever home. Predraft I was low on him from a tackle perspective. Iffy hands and turning and running will do that. On the interior he’s been strong and sturdy, and playing next to Tunsil has made things easier. Don’t be too concerned. Jarrett is one of the best interior defenders. He does this to people. Scharping still has spiky porcelain teeth.

  • Oh, wow. I didn’t know Darren Fells was Ishmael’s younger brother.
  • The Falcons lost the game in the third quarter. They hit halftime up 17-16. They left the third quarter down 33-17. In that quarter they had three possessions. One first down. Two three and outs. 12 plays, and including penalties, for 10 net yards. They faced 3rd and 20 after a clipping penalty—Alex Mack should go to jail for this, this is the same type of block that took Brian Cushing out against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football in 2012. They faced 3rd and 2. Matt Ryan was sacked. They faced 3rd and 14 after a Mohamed Sanu wildbird run for one yard, and a Kaleb McGary false start.
  • Dirk Koetter’s playcalling was especially egregious. The Falcons ran the ball 9 times on 1st and 10. They picked up 3 yards, which comes out to 0.3 yards a carry. 40% of the first down marker constitutes a successful play. Four yards in this case. The Falcons did this zero times. After running the ball they faced an average second down of eight yards. Good stuff.

The Falcons threw 16 passes on first and 10. Ryan completed 10 of these passes for 101 yards, and picked up 4 first downs. There were negative plays. A holding penalty, a sack, and a body bag pick six, but far and away, these were better playcalls than the inside runs they came up with on those other first downs. For what, balance? To not have to deal with 2nd and 10? A spectacular waste of time. You and a XBOX controller are a better playcaller than Koetter as long as you don’t run the ball on first and ten, well, as long as you aren’t Ronde Barber.

  • Here’s the Falcons’ run game by the way. Interior mash for nothing. Bland and tasteless. Hand me those nail clippers. Let me snip off your eye lids. It will only take a second.
  • Say something nice. Ugh. Let’s see. I liked this motion they ran to verify Mohamed Sanu faced man coverage against Lonnie Johnson. Pretty cool.

Hopefully one day, like two years from now, Johnson will figure out how to use his size at the line of scrimmage and maul receivers into preservatives.

  • The Texans’ run defense has missed Kareem Jackson and Jadeveon Clowney. They aren’t creating the same negative plays they created last season with them. Mercilus is a fine run defender. On the edge he can hold his own against offensive tackles. He won’t get reached. Mercilus can punch the outside half and sit. What he can’t do is go through a tackle, split the skull of a puller, then jump on the back of the ball carrier for -4 yards.

That being said, Mercilus is unstoppable against secondary blockers. Don’t block him with a running back, a fullback, a tight end or a receiver.

  • The Texans’ pass rush was underwhelming considering the matchups. Mercilus did nothing against Jake Matthews. The interior couldn’t take advantage of James Carpenter, Alex Max, and Wes Schweitzer, unless Watt was there. Watt spent most of the game against Kaleb McGary.

You can copy and paste the same things I typed about Scharping and include it about McGary. He’s a right tackle. He’s enormous and has a big old belly he didn’t have in Washington. Unlike others, Dalton Risner and Scharping, and soon Cody Ford, McGary has been able to stick at right tackle. He blocked Watt well when he pushed him past the pocket after mild shoulder rips. The problem was he didn’t punch and grasp. He let Watt bounce off of him.

Watt was rude to McGary, constantly swimming over the top of him, and bullrushing through him. I want Watt to use more of these power rushes. He doesn’t have the same quickness off the line of scrimmage to be a clean edge rusher. The closer his routes, the more head up and physical his rushes are, the better he is.

Of course, his one sack came off a rip outside where he McGary wasn’t quite able to turn him wide. Go figure.

Watt was the only one consistently winning his pass rush matchups. He had a sack and five quarterback hits and was football incredible. He even tossed an alley-oop up to D.J. Reader, who had been throwing them up to Mercilus this season. Good for Reader. Sack totals are required for end of season awards. He’s already exceeded his sack total from last season.

This isn’t a blown block by McGary. He has the inside gap. The protection is sliding over one gap to the left. Watt swims outside. McGary sticks to the B gap. A runningback is blocking Watt. This is why you don’t slide the protection in one direction. Ryan escapes right. Reader is relentless, gets out the shovel, and covers the coffin.

The Falcons scored 32 points. With the pass rush Houston had, they were lucky they didn’t score more. Against better passing offenses—Koetter is horrendous and Ryan has great counting stats but really hasn’t been great this year—the Texans will need to have a better rush, or at least make more BIG plays, to make up for the secondary. They’ll have to be better next week against Kansas City. It can’t be entirely on Watt.