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Deep Thoughts: Texans Offense v. Jaguars Defense

Bust out the All-22. It’s time to go deeper.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

—I’m a relatively young man, but the day is drawing nearer when I can’t say, yeah, I’m like twenty-something, while I curl my hair and raise one eyebrow and take a sip of a drink. Already I’m exhausted. I can’t wait to retire, and go dry out in the desert, and scream at the sun, and shoot my gun. Just 27 more years! I have no idea what it feels like to be bed pan pooping, and beach community living. To forget what I’m saying midstream, and never have anyone visit me. Just sitting and waiting for the confusion to finally come to an end.

That’s what this game felt like. Hospice. Hoping for that sweet release. Praying for Doug Marrone to go for it on fourth down—not because it was the correct cosmic decision, which it was—so this treacherous AFC South showdown wouldn’t go on any longer. I love AFC South football, and even I don’t think I could handle ten more minutes of it. Pull my cord.

Watching it LIVE it felt like Houston should have been up by 17. Leonard Fournette had 47 yards on 15 carries. Gardner Minshew averaged 6.45 yards an attempt. Their first eight drives were composed of six punts, a lost fumble that turned into a Houston touchdown, and a field goal. Then the Jaguars finally stopped trying to run the damn ball, attacked Houston’s saggy cover 4 zone, and threw the ball down the sideline.

Their offense picked up only 263 net yards, and they were outgained by the Jaguars. Seven of their points came after a drive that started on the Jags 11 yard line. Other than that, it was two field goals from Houston.

Watching the video it still felt like Houston should have been up by 17. Offensively, this game was a string of near hits. The opportunities to have long open throws against Jacksonville are rare, and it’s difficult to continuously string together successful plays against them, well, unless you are the Kansas City Chiefs. The Texans missed multiple chances for big gains for a variety of reasons.

Jalen Ramsey out dueled DeAndre Hopkins in this one. They were sharing the same shirt like some Matt Damon conjoined twin movie. Jacksonville used Ramsey as a dog walker, taking Hopkins on a nice Sunday afternoon stroll. With A.J. Bouye out, Chris Herndon covered Will Fuller with help from a second defender. The other safety typically played deep middle. The rest played man or sat in short zone underneath.

It worked. This, combined with blitzing, held Watson to 159 yards passing. And most importantly, Watson was a failure when throwing the ball downfield. His average depth of target was 12.8 yards, but averaged only 5.48 yards an attempt. He was 4/13 on passes that traveled +10 yards for 89 yards.

On Houston’s first red zone trip, they dialed up a touchdown attempt on 3rd and 5. Ramsey presses and strangles Watson on the left sideline. Fuller runs a deep post that keeps the safety sitting deep. Duke Johnson trails him on a corner route. It’s a lovely route combination. He sneaks right behind the linebacker who jams the flat, but doesn’t turn back and trail Johnson. Johnson turns for a first down completion. Watson is thinking touchdown. He aims towards the pylon. The ball lands over Johnson’s head. Their minds just weren’t fully mended together.

Here’s the worst version of Will Fuller. The one who can’t catch that dang old football. Houston utilizes a playfake, slides the protection to the right, and pulls Darren Fells to the left to seal off the free backside rusher. Fells gets too wide and opens up an inside path for the blitzing linebacker. Zach Fulton gets beat inside. This should never happen.

Houston has two routes. A deep dig from Hopkins and an infinite vertical route where Fuller fades from the hashmark to the sideline. The read is the free safety Jarrod Wilson. He runs with Fuller, but gets turned around. He doesn’t affect many plays as a center fielder. His UZR is like -13.2. The key here is Chris Herndon. He gets impatient, runs at and bumps Fuller, allowing Fuller to drift back to the sideline with Herndon’s back to the ball, and Wilson clomping around.

Watson takes the shot instead of the deep in. He throws a perfect ball, despite the pressure in his face, that only Fuller can catch. Fighting Irish. He simply drops it.

Watson hit on two deep passes over twenty yards to the deep right section of the field. Houston took advantage of the Fuller-Herndon matchup once. The motion pulls the strong safety away from the play. Both Hopkins and Fuller are running a vertical routes with the free safety sitting in the center of the field. Watson has time to throw, holds the safety by staring down Hopkins, and then throws a deep pass that trails to the sideline. Herndon is slightly behind Fuller and is on his inside hip. He throws Fuller open. This is the only spot to throw a comfortable reception.

This near hit is all on Watson. It’s cover one. Wilson is shaded towards Hopkins, pressed up against Ramsey, and running a dig against outside placement. The left side of the formation has the receivers in a trip alignment. Fells runs a slant. Fuller runs a slant, but cuts it off and curls back to the quarterback. The architect designed this to clear space for Keke Coutee. He catches the corner sitting, torches him on the out, and loses him down the sideline. The safety can’t cover that much ground. The pocket is cozy. Watson just overthrows it.

These are throws Houston designed and specifically set up, and ones they must execute. They just missed them. These will be crushing misses, instead of annoyances, once they start playing teams that don’t wait until they fall behind 13-3 before they start attacking the sideline and Houston’s cornerbacks.

—Smash that heart button. I love this Kenny Stills route. He jams his outside foot then cuts inside and around Herndon’s face. The best part is the subtle stop. This baits Herndon into punching him within the magical five yard barrier. Stills sprints past and cuts inside for an easy completion.

One day, he’ll finally know the entire playbook, and Houston will have more than a handful of routes, and throws designed for him. This is especially important, because the team has ignored Keke Coutee as a drag route runner in the slot. Stills maybe the one who ends up filling this role since he’s a better deep route runner who can stretch the middle of the field. There really isn’t a role for Coutee in this offense until he and Watson learn how to work together to beat the blitz

—Broken thumbed, covered in blood, with his umbilical cord still intact, Tytus Howard made his first career start. There was some actual offensive line play from him in this one. Burn the red polo shirt. Get him something nicer. Good Charlotte is cancelled. Your copy of Vagrant Story is in the pawn shop. Middle school is over. Howard is a professional offensive lineman.

This is the best ‘duece’ block the Texans have made since Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton were anchoring the right side (R.I.P.). Houston looks to be running duo. This means the duece block drives the defensive end Marcell Dareus (#99) to the play side linebacker Quincy Williams (#56). The backside double team between Nick Martin and Zach Fulton isn’t supposed to go to the second level. They don’t miss it the second level here. I’m trying to be more optimistic instead of masochistic. They drive the first level.

Carlos Hyde reads Myles Jack (#44). If he sits, he cuts wide. If he flows wide, he hits it in between the tackles. Tunsil and Howard combine to put a hole in the left side, allowing Hyde to easily cutback once Jack stays inside.

I love the impact Howard is able to create with his shoulder alone. Typically, I hate this sort of double team, where the lineman doesn’t use a hand to drive, but instead just shoves the defender into his locker. Here, it actually works. At the second level his hands are inside, he gobbles the linebacker, and plops on top of him like the factory worker plummeting on the pull out sofa after a long day of work.

This is dart on the goal line. Roderick Johnson is pulling to the backside linebacker. Howard’s steps are crisp. His base is wide. He doesn’t scurry or become wild. When Jack plays the outside, Howard moves to the inside linebacker instead. He only needs a shoulder to turn him around, and create a lane for Hyde.

Any little bit of second level blocking is a burst of golden light for this offensive line. They’ve been so bad at it for so long. Even a shoulder nudge makes me weep.

In the pass game Howard didn’t have any problems with Abry Jones or Dareus. He has a great base, and the strength to deal with any bullrushes. As a former offensive tackle, he can also kick-slide in a tight environment to prevent the defensive tackle from beating him wide.

This dip to create leverage, and hand replacement, is advanced pass blocking. Also, this is a great chip from Fells, He’s Houston’s best blocking tight end since C.J. Fiedorowicz, who wasn’t even a good blocker to begin with!

This is great pass protection too. Both Howard and Tunsil make their individual blocks. The hand placement, combined with the feet to stay in front of the rusher, is exquisite. Oh, and Martin actually helps out Fulton here. Pass protection can be fun when it’s done right.

The second half was rough though. Howard doesn’t know how to block the outside zone at all. His footwork is off after his first two steps, he doesn’t understand the value of head placement, and he takes incorrect angles when blocking the second level.

The Jaguars spent the second half defending Houston’s run attack by playing Campbell against Howard. Campbell had his way with him throughout this half. Howard rarely was able to play him head up in one v. one situations. Fortunately, Campbell was rarely able to finish the job and bring down the ball carrier.

There were problems assignment problems too. Howard looks to help Martin, instead of getting hip to hip with Tunsil. He should overtake the first level, while Tunsil peels to the second to take out Quincy Williams. Instead, it’s an easy run stop.

And the trip, oh the trip, there’s no amount of Pepto or crackers that can cure my nausea. He’s a hockey goalie kicking the puck wide. He’s the stick tossed into the road to trip roller bladers in 1998. He’s Gosder Cherilus v. J.J. Watt in 2014. I hate this so much.

Campbell slants from a ‘0’ head up with the center to the ‘A’ gap matched up with Howard. He is caught off guard. He doesn’t fully slide over and cover Campbell as he tries to attack him horizontally. Instead of getting deeper to find Campbell’s chest, he blocks the outside half, and has to resort to this rat tactic.

That being said, it was a good first start from Howard. He was planet X in this past draft, residing on the fringes of the universe, unable to spot, hidden behind Jupiter or Saturn. The Auburn film was underwhelming, and most of his blocks had no semblance to the professional game. But he was wide, strong, and had an insane combine. Despite the blown blocks, there’s a lot to work with here. There’s size, athleticism, and enough technical ability. The outside zone issues, and slow pass rush pickups should improve with more reps, and coaching—you just gotta look past that whole Mike Devlin thing.

—Houston’s sole focus this summer was to make memories that last forever, find their best offensive line, and stick with it, allowing them to grow and learn together and be ready for the 2019 season. This didn’t happen. Houston traded for Laremy Tunsil. Howard was hurt last week. They’ve played two different offensive line combos to start the season. Yet, I think they finally found their best starting five.

Rarely was Houston beat by individual pass rushes this game. Calais Campbell looked hurt, didn’t have that same explosiveness, and had zero luck against Tunsil. Dareus and Jones were abysmal against the run and pass, and lacked any quickness on the slants they ran, which took them away from the point of attack. Josh Allen couldn’t get much against Tunsil or Johnson either.

Once again, the rush came from their linebackers and secondary. All three of their sacks , and four of their seven quarterback hits came from the second and third levels. Of course slot corner D.J. Hayden had two quarterback hits and a sack on his own. The Jags also blitzed Watson on 55% of his dropbacks, hurried him 9 times, and hit him on 4 of his drop backs.

These are the types of looks they are going to see in passing situations until they figure out how to protect the quarterback. Arms and legs splayed everywhere. Confusing as hell. It takes an entire offense working in unison to protect the quarterback.

The passing offense is going to suffer until they work this thing out. This is what happens when an offensive line is learning how to play together when the season starts, instead of in the preseason.

Here, they motion Coutee over. Hayden follows. Jack sits without anyone to cover after showing man coverage. Watson sees it. They call out the outside edge rush. Howard slides over to block the slant. Tunsil stays on the edge. Jack gets a free rush. I’m guessing Tunsil made the incorrect decision here. Houston saw the impending blitz, and they still weren’t able to deal with it.

It’s Kenny Moore’s famous slot corner blitz from last season. The Texans have a ‘L’ call, pick any word that starts with a ‘L’, it doesn’t matter. I like Lucy. It gives you no worries. It will put your mama in a mansion. I’m not sure why they made this call. My best guess is they slid the protection to the ‘A’ gap linebacker, but I don’t know. I’m not in their film room.

Hayden is around the line of scrimmage with no one to cover. They get three blocking two, and two blocking three. Johnson incorrectly blocks Allen, the outside rusher, instead of Hayden, the inside rusher. It doesn’t matter much. Successful blitzes that create full speed collisions are murderous.

Sometimes, when they pick it up correctly, like they do here, Watson doesn’t see it and takes sacks he shouldn’t take. At this point, Houston’s best option is to always keep a back in to help pick up these fifth and sixth rushers. There have been too many free rushes, and Watson hasn’t reacted quickly enough to take advantage of the hot throw a running back provides anyways.

The only bright spot is they should have a capable starting five worked out. They shouldn’t be playing Julien Davenport, Kendall Lamm, Seantrel Henderson, Martinas Rankin, Greg Mancz, Senio Kelemete roulette this season. This is great news. The water bed is plump for now. However, they’re going to play catch up throughout the beginning of the season because of this.

—Carlos Hyde is spry and brutal. He hasn’t been been an effective rusher since 2016 when he broke 52 tackles, had a DVOA of 15.3%, and averaged 4.6 yards a carry in San Francisco. The last two seasons he’s finished 35th in DVOA, and averaged less than 4.0 yards a carry.

Against the Jaguars he averaged 4.5 yards a carry, but didn’t have much to work with. The Texans provided him 1.0 yards before contact, which he turned into 3.6 yards after contact. His cutbacks have been crisp and correct.

The Jaguars also helped him out a lot. Their linebackers are young. Jack has struggled playing the middle linebacker role, now that he’s a primary target in the run game, instead of being able to chase and tackle. Too often he gets caught behind blocks, and he makes too many incorrect reads. Williams and and Leon Jacobs have been alright, but they too, have problems fitting in the run game correctly. Williams should be a consistent NFL starter.

Last week, and this week, Hyde has been Houston’s best back. Last week he was aided by some nice Fulton first level blocks, and this week he created on his own with instinct and perfect cutbacks. He’s filled in for Lamar Miller better than Lamar Miller even could. Now the Texans just need to work Duke Johnson into the passing game.