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Texans-Colts Review: “Quick Thoughts”

A deeper look at the Texans’ BIG WIN over the Indianapolis Colts.

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

—Each team established the run all the way to a 10-10 tie at halftime. Houston ran the ball 14 times on first down for 57 yards and 2 times on 2nd and 10+ for 2 yards. There’s one caveat. One of those carries went for 33 yards. If you scrub the outlier we’re left with 13 carries for 24 yards, or 1.84 yards a carry. Six of these runs went for zero yards or less. Great stuff.

The Texans did it all on first down. They established the run on the first play of the game, inside zone, Tytus Howard tackles Denico Autry fighting inside and trying to make a tackle.

2nd and 10 the Texans try and run outside zone left to establish the run. Nick Martin can’t reach Margus Hunt. Max Scharping rushes to the second level. This is some speed from Anthony Walker here (#50) to make this tackle from the inside linebacker position.

Same play. Same problem. Just the opposite direction. Autry has Martin in a cardboard box strapped shut with masking tape and DISHES CLEANER painted on the side. The line of scrimmage is longtoothed and has recessed two yards backwards as Houston tries to establish the run.

Jabaal Sheard jumps the snap. Zach Fulton tackles him. 1st and 10 becomes 1st and 20. The run is established.

Repeatedly you’ll see the same problems. Heavy formation. Eight defenders in the box. Despite the resources invested, Houston doesn’t have the offensive line, or the desire to consistently use Deshaun Watson as a number skewing runner, to run the ball well in these situations. This is how 13 carries becomes 24 yards.

That being said, there is value for establishing the run in Houston’s offense. It forces the playcallers, whoever they maybe, to actually allow Deshaun Watson to throw the ball downfield. Deshaun Watson was 5/8 for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns on throws 20+ yards through the air. He had completions of 30, 35, 51, and 44 yards. These throws came on 2nd and 13, 2nd and 10, 1st and 20, and 1st and 10. See, wasting a first down with a run play that loses yards, or turns into a holding penalty pays off.

The Texans’ offense was more vertical this game. This was an incredible moment. On 1st and 10 Watson threw a sideline ball to Hopkins. Back shoulder fade. The timing is off. Hopkins doesn’t turn back for the ball, or Watson misses. Depends on how you see the world.

Indianapolis did what they usually do, play man coverage with Malik Hooker as the single high safety. They’d pull another safety into the box to cover the tight end, or run a 4-3 early in the downs on obvious run situations. On the edges it was mainly a combination of Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore, and Marvell Tell III on the outside. Desir and Moore are good players, but they have been shoddy in man coverage this season. Neither has the ability to play true man against DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller.

Both Hopkins and Fuller had 2 catches over 30 yards, and both of Hopkins’s catches turned into touchdowns. Hopkins’s first touchdown came from busted coverage. 2nd and 12. The Colts have four down linemen. They drop Grover Stewart into coverage to spy Watson. This makes it three. Watson rolls right after Sheard beats Howard with a nice rip. Stewart can’t close the gap. The cornerback jams Hopkins then sits. The safety never comes over to pick up the rest.

This is part of the argument for pushing the ball downfield. When the defense makes a mistake deep it leads to enormous gains and deep touchdowns. When a run fit is missed on first and ten it becomes eight yards instead of four.

On Hopkins’s other touchdown he’s up against Desir in pure man coverage. Watson is in an empty backfield with four receivers and one tight end. The defense is as spread out as it can be. The safety rolls down to play the short part of the field. There’s zero help over the top. Watson throws the rainbow into the pot. Love when the coaches of my favorite team schemes for its players to do the things they’re best at.

For the last month DeAndre Hopkins has been relegated to a slant and post route runner. Picking up six yards on third and four. First downs are cool and all, but Hopkins is at his best when he’s beating cornerbacks with isolation routes down the sideline.

1st and 20 becomes a 44 yard gain. Fuller devours up cushions in a flash. Once he’s even with Desir he takes off past him. This is another beautiful throw from Watson.

Fuller’s other catch was the typical Texans’ deep shot. You know it now. Heavy formation. Play action. Max protection. Two deep routes that cross down the deep middle and a dump off option that’s never utilized. Hooker chooses to run with Hopkins. This leaves Fuller against Moore. The leaves change color. Spectacular.

The combination of Fuller’s return, and the Colts typical coverage schemes, played right into Houston having a successful deep passing game. These throws should be the driver of the offense though. It shouldn’t be because of a matchup advantage, or cease to exist when Fuller is hurt. Watson is amazing at putting the ball in the perfect spot downfield. Houston won this game because of these throws, and hopefully, these aren’t psychotic melatonin induced dreams, but a realization Houston should have already realized, and they are now ready to push the ball downfield as November becomes December.

—The Colts’ offensive game plan was more absurd than Houston’s. Unlike the Texans, who made some deep throws, the Colts never figured it out. They ran the ball 19 times for 59 yards on first down, which is 3.11 yards an attempt. Their longest run was for 12 yards. Jacoby Brissett was 0/2 on +20 yard attempts and 1/5 for 14 yards on 10-20 yard throws. Great stuff.

Sure Indy has a great offensive line, and they’re bare at the receiving position, but their passing offense was inexcusable. Houston is great at one thing on defense—stopping a typical run scheme. Indy was relentless in their pursuit to establish the run. For the entirety of the game they threw their demonically possessed head into the desk over and over and over again.

As long as Houston has D.J. Reader, Benardrick McKinney, and Zach Cunningham around, they’ll stop typical run plays well, no matter who the opponent is. Reader was particular great taking on Quenton Nelson. He had a ProFartballFocus grade of like 93.7 in this game.

Love this Reader bullrush against Nelson to force Brissett to run and reset. He just misses Eric Ebron. I like to think this is because of Reader.

McKinney was back to splattering running backs after getting dragged into Patrick Ricard’s mountain den. Here he gets inside of Nelson’s block and then piledrives the back. Typical. Things are back to normal.

Cunningham has been particularly great at recognizing run plays and breaking past second level blocking attempts from the backside.

Houston’s edge players limited the Colts’ power toss plays they love to run. Whenever Mercilus is blocked by a secondary blocker he’s a negative play creator. Eric Ebron doesn’t even want to block him. He rushes up to the defensive back instead. Brennan Scarlett cleans up the rest.

And here he sword fights Jack Doyle and wrangles Jonathan Williams in the backfield.

When the Colts did have success in the run game it was usually because they ran the ball away from D.J. Reader. Brandon Dunn and Angelo Blackson had rough games. Away from Reader, they were able to drive the first level and get helmets on the second level to establish the run.

Romeo Crennel took the Colts by surprise by playing more zone coverage than they expected. This allowed them to play the run better as well. Here Vernon Hargreaves III goes from the slot to the box. This is a duo run play. The back is reading the playside linebacker. Typically he would cut to the other hole since Cunningham crashes down, but the sight of Hargreaves III forces him in this direction instead.

Not enough can be said of the job Crennel did this week. He flipped things around. The Colts weren’t ready for Houston filling the short parts of the field. They ran a lot of isolation routes, and weren’t prepared to bunch receivers together and flood the Texans’ zone coverage.

We don’t have the REAL FILM yet, but watch how Houston shows man and scrambles into zone coverage. Brisett takes the dump off and they come down to quickly tackle.

Crennel did mix things up and run man coverage sometimes. He used it as a change up to screw up the Colts. This is what they did on their last defensive play of the game. Indy went bunch right. Brissett can’t find anyone open. He overreacts at a whiff of pressure. Scarlett tackles him from behind it to force the turnover on downs.

This doesn’t excuse the Colts from the offensive game plan they used. The Texans don’t have a real pass rush, and even if they did, they shouldn’t worry too much about any pass rush with the offensive line they have. Houston’s best cornerback is 34 years old. They were missing Justin Reid. Hargreaves III had made his first start. They were 29th in short pass defensive DVOA entering this game.

They only had one legitimate deep shot. Hilton beat Johnathan Joseph in man coverage. The ball was placed well. Hilton just lost the ball turning upfield.

Hilton dropped another third down throw after beating Hargreaves III on a deep out to the sideline.

You know what would have made more sense? Making more of these pass attempts and throwing them on earlier downs. Zach Pascal didn’t have a catch. Nyheim Hines wasn’t used as receiver often enough. Chester Rogers rarely crossed through the middle of the field. Eric Ebron never really stretched the seam. You know what they did do? Establish the run. The Colts’ game plan was nonsensical. They played right into the Texans’ defensive strength.

Frank Reich is too often talked about as a great coach because he goes for it on fourth down. The Colts love to lose games they shouldn’t. Their offense can be too conservative. He loves to kill the clock. The Colts went run-run-pass-pass on their final sequence, and wasted a timeout after third down, leaving them naked and cold once the ball was flipped back to Houston. It was lovely to see the coach on the opposite sideline make a Bill O’Brien type of decision. Houston won this game because they didn’t establish the run as well as Indy did and threw the ball downfield, unlike the Colts, and they’re now the leaders in the AFC South because of it.

—Indy’s third down defense was strange too. They tried rushing three and dropping their fourth defensive lineman to spy Watson. They didn’t blitz Darius Leonard all that often and instead had him spy behind three man rushes. It didn’t really work. Watson was prepared. He wasn’t looking to take off, and the fat man couldn’t close the gap and put pressure on him. This gave Watson plenty of time to scour the field and find open receivers.

The Texans block individual pass rushers well. Justin Houston had 8 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 21 pressures entering this game. Laremy Tunsil goosed him on passing downs. The only defensive lineman who provided any consistent pressure was Sheard, who was football good against Howard, and close to making a few big sacks on Watson, but he just quite couldn’t get there.

It’s the blitzes Houston struggles with. When Indy did bring it things went well. This time they actually bring Leonard. He’s unhinged and slobbering through the center of the line of scrimmage. All Watson can do is sling hopes and prayers into the corner of the endzone. Glory to the all field goal offense.

This is the fifth Matt Eberflus v. Houston Texans matchup. The Texans still aren’t ready for Kenny Moore slot corner blitzes. Like death, Kenny Moore comes for us all.

The Colt’s biggest problem was they didn’t do this enough. Three man rushes are a waste of a down. It gave Watson too much time, and it didn’t go after the struggles Houston has when it comes to pass protection. They did the exact opposite of what Baltimore did the week before.

—The Colts did take away the middle of the field Houston’s offense had been based around the previous month. Watson was 0/3 and threw 1 interception between 10-20 yards to this section, and was 1/6 for 11 yards on these throws overall.

Indy was prepared for the slants and posts. All the things Houston has run for a month. Moore’s 1st and 10 interception came on a play action pass that tried to hit Fuller on a slant. Moore has been underrated for two seasons now. He can do it a little bit of it all.

The Colts repeatedly had three defenders dropped into short hook zones located in the center of the field. Watson was fortunate he threw a singular interception.

This shouldn’t be a long term trend, and even if it is, the Texans should welcome it. The sideline passing should open up the seams, throws Watson is great at making, and open the door for Kenny Stills, Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, and whoever. The Colts had a bizarre gameplan. They did at least one thing well. Congratulations.

—The Ravens were all over Houston’s zone read option offense. Flex wing tight end. The unblocked defender ran past the tight end and at Watson, then the other defender would flow over the formation and pick up the tight end seeping into the flat. The Texans tried to run it once against Indy. Same result.

It looks like this play is dead and buried. The rest of their opponents have great linebacker play. New England, Denver, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and, you guessed it, Tennessee, all shouldn’t have a problem defending this little play. It was cute while it lasted. Maybe it will be taken out of the drawer if Houston plays Kansas City or Oakland in the postseason.

—Love this play design. This is a great way to create confusion and force the defenders to make a decision. Hopkins sits on the comeback and gets in the way of the safety Clayton Geathers (#26) trying to run wide and cover Duke Johnson. Desir passes Hopkins over by running with Johnson. Geathers chases too. Once they leave Hopkins breaks into the center of the field. Johnson accentuates the play by raising his hand up for the pass. Beautiful.

—Jacob Martin has been a juice box all season. He had a cute inside move against Terron Armstead on the Saints’ game winning drive. He ran all the way around the line of scrimmage on loops to pressure the quarterback. Last week he was the only Texan to provide any successful one v. one pass rushes.

Mercilus was locked down by Anthony Castonzo once again. They didn’t get much going on the interior, even against Mark Glowinski. Charles Omenihu has cooled off now that he’s having to play the run game more. Braden Smith has had a down season. He isn’t timing his punches and meeting the pass rushers square like he did last season. Martin got him once with his one real pass rush move—a vicious chop rip. The speed is a spotted feline. The bend is real.

In order to rush the passer consistently you have to be more than one move. You have to have an inside move. Martin has shown this by planting and quickly jumping inside. He also blew past Smith, turning him into a red farmhouse spewed out by funneled wind.

These pass rushes are legitimate. There’s something here. Down the stretch Houston is going to rely on Martin to provide meaningful rushes and be something more than the speed of light.