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Breaking Down Keke Coutee’s Route Tree

A short receiver with some high expectations

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Hailing from Lufkin, Texas, Keke Coutee is on his way to being a premier slot receiver in the league. Coutee’s rookie season began and ended with brilliant performances against the Colts that garnered attention throughout the league. Due to several lingering hamstring injuries, Coutee was sidelined or limited for most of the season. Now with a full offseason and time to heal under his belt, the expectations are high for him to immediately impact the Texans offense.

Neither Will Fuller or DeAndre Hopkins are present at OTAs currently, which means that Coutee and QB Deshaun Watson can spend this entire summer working on their chemistry. If you go back to watch the Colts playoff game (which I do not recommend for your health as a Texans fan), watch how the Texans manipulate the Colts’ defense with Coutee’s motion and speed over the middle. In that game, they both laid the groundwork for a 2019 season primed for a high-octane offensive attack.

Coutee will be playing in the role popularized by Wes Welker and Julian Edelman in the New England Patriots offense. In this slot receiver position, Coutee will become Watson’s safety valve, an elusive diversion in the backfield, and a linebacker’s worse nightmare. Here are the routes and concepts that Coutee is mastering to take the next step in his game.

Juke or Option Route

Depending on the offensive system or what you’ve heard it called in the past, this route is a staple of the slot receiver’s arsenal of plays. This route has three principles 1) timing with the quarterback 2) coverage by a linebacker 3) quick decision making by the receiver.

Similarly, there are three options available when running the Juke route. And Keke Coutee has displayed all of them.

Option 1: The Sit

When a slower defender such as a linebacker is faced with a slot receiver, they have a tendency to overplay the route and react poorly when the receiver approaches quickly. This play is a guaranteed five yards when the receiver reads the defense correctly.

In this play, Coutee watches as the linebacker indiscriminately drops back into zone coverage and does not close the space between him and Coutee. Once Coutee realizes the defender’s coverage, he quickly turns, squares up the the QB, and finds an open area to get the first down. The best part is Coutee’s ability to flip his hips and get almost 10 yards after the catch.

Option 2: The Out

When the linebacker is bracketing the slot receiver to the inside in man coverage, the best option is to dart outside into the flats for an easy five yard catch. Going where the defender is not is the name of the game.

Coutee comes back to the ball for about two yards to guarantee the catch and distance himself from the defender. He does an excellent job of not revealing where he is going until he is as close to the defender as possible. This forces the defender to either stop moving their feet or guess which direction they are going. On this play, the defender stops moving his feet which gives Coutee enough space to make the catch.

Here is another version of this route by Coutee.

Option 3: The Juke

The lesser-used of the three for Coutee, this option takes advantage of two high safeties with slow linebackers over the middle. The goal is to work up field to find an open area while remaining in the middle where he is easily found by Watson.

Since Coutee doesn't know when the ball will be thrown to him, he has been taught to run one way and face the QB. He physically contacts the linebacker because at this point Coutee will be able to outrun the linebacker in a short distance every time. It takes years to understand NFL defenses and where they empty parts of the zone are, but here he does it quite easily and moves the chains for the Texans. With this one route and three options, Coutee could make a living off of picking on slower linebackers and soft zone coverages.

The Drag Route

Finding Coutee in the middle of the field will become a norm for Texans fans for several years to come. What is great about the drag route is it’s a short yardage route that can be the check-down option for the QB in his progression reads. Aka, its an easy route that solves a lot of problems. This route is best paired with either another drag route on the opposite side or a pick route such as we have here. Griffin does a great job getting in the way of the other linebacker and the pursuing corner to give Coutee tons of space to run.

As Xfinity says; Simple. Easy. Awesome. Its not that the route takes elite skill to run, but rather it requires trust in the QB-WR relationship to know where each other are and

This play can easily get a receiver clobbered by a linebacker who can read a QB’s eyes. In the clip below, this is Coutee’s first game back. Because Coutee has barely worked with Watson and they have yet to improve their timing, Watson stares down Coutee before the throw.

Once they spend this summer ironing out their timing, plays like this will become second nature to them.

The Jet Sweep

We’ve seen several wide outs come through this offense and find marginal success running this play. What none of them do better than Coutee is go from a full sprint facing the sideline, to working up the field, to reading blocks, and making people miss.

Nothing irks defensive coordinators more than the lack of discipline in reads that are created by successful jet sweeps. Coutee is eye candy on a jet sweep and cannot be disregarded. Especially if we have quick lineman who can get out and block downfield, this play works well against all defenses. Plus, it inflates the QBs passing numbers with good YAC.

Vision is key for this play to work. Yes quality blocking can make or break this play, but if the runner cannot find a hole this play turns into a zero yard gain.

The Ghost Motion

If there is a better name for this route, I could not find it. Willingly will tip my hat to anyone who can verify if this is the correct name of the route or has the right one on hand.

This long developing route can take on several forms, but at its core is a devised to create misdirection in the backfield. When timed properly, this route looks like a potential jet sweep and forces the defense to over-pursue before the ball is snapped. Once the play begins, Coutee’s job is to disappear... and reappear in the flats with the ball in his hand.

The Texans to my knowledge first used this play with Cecil Shorts, but found better results when running Bruce Ellington as the ghost in the backfield. Now, with Coutee, they’ve made it a recognizable part of the Texans playbook.

Here is a pretty famous version of the play.

With Coutee as the third option, he seemingly can become a “ghost” with Hopkins and Fuller streaking across the field. With so much going on each play, having a designed outlet for Watson where the defense purposely takes their eyes of the receiver is a great concept for the offense.

Coutee may not run the entire route tree, and that is okay. The Texans have yet to experiment with running Coutee deep (probably due to the hamstring issues) that Texas Tech did when he was there. This offseason may be more important to Coutee’s development than that of just about everyone on the roster. Save for D’Onta Foreman, Martinas Rankin, and the Jordan twins, Coutee could have the greatest leap from 2018 to 2019.