The Houston sports fanbase has experienced more than they bargained for after the past several days. From the Texans, Astros, and Cougars, we all have experienced a plague beset on this city unlike anything ever seen before.
Same goes for QB Deshaun Watson. The beating he took against the Buffalo Bills was probably worse than anything he experienced in college. There may have “only” been seven sacks this game, but watching the film over there were about six other plays that should have ended with a sack or ended with a one yard run. It was open season on Watson and that must end next season or we won’t have Watson for much longer.
This sack tracker is tough to watch. Not only because the hits are hard, but they seem almost inevitable. The Bills play mostly zone coverage, and with no Will Fuller V to guard, the Bills were able to stack the box and bring pressure from all sides. One main wrinkle in the Bills game plan was weak side blitz. They would stack one side of the ball, but bring the pressure from the other side as the Texans rotate their cover to match how the Bills were lined up. When an A+ defensive game plan meets a C- offensive line, you’ll get seven sacks in one game.
One major note before we continue. Thanks to the comment section, I realized that I assigned blame to Laremy Tunsil for half of a sack when it was actually Chris Clark’s fault. This has been corrected and we are back on track.
Last thing before we dive in. And please, do not take this with a grain of salt.
Fire Mike Devlin.
Sack #45: Watson Scrambles in Chaos
It’s the fourth offensive play of the game. As you watch the All-22 film of the play, watch as WR Kenny Stills runs unmarked down the middle of the field. This should have been a first down. On this play action, the Texans are hoping that DE Trent Murphy bites on the run fake and Watson has several options downfield to throw to.
The decision to block Trent Murphy is completely based upon his alignment. If he lines up inside TE Darren Fells, Fells will block Murphy then release. Since Murphy is lined outside, it is assumed he is not going to work up the field and will be in run support. Obviously that is incorrect.
Watch Laremy Tunsil on the left side of the line. There is little to no resistance provided and completely loses track of his man when he turns the corner. Rivaling on lazy, this block doesn’t even sell that they are run blocking. He knows that there is no support behind him, so allowing the edge to be given up this easy is unqualified for a Pro Bowler. Tunsil gets that half sack that was improperly assigned to him right back.
I’m truly struggling to not give Fells half credit here by virtue of proximity. It does not make sense for him to block out on a play action like this. And it’s not Watson’s fault for not having a moment to breath. He arguably does not sell the run well enough to keep Murphy on the line of scrimmage, but if the Bills think they can play this type of scheme and not be gashed in the run game they are mistaken. They just got lucky.
The other half credit? After repeatedly watching this play, I am more and more infuriated with Tunsil’s block. I can form valid points for every other person’s play here except Tunsil.
Sack #46: Duke Gets Bulldozed
An important third and three at the end of the first quarter is overrun by Bills stampeding in the Texans backfield. The Bills relied on their speed and knowledge that Watson will begin to scramble to apply most of their pressure throughout the game. They disregarded whatever the Texans were doing and stuck to their superior game plan. They’ll take each 1-on-1 matchup as their advantage and push the Texans to make plays in a consistent fight or flight response.
This is a simple technique executed well with brute force. DT Jordan Phillips, who is 6’6” 341 pounds, bull rushes from the outside shoulder of guard Zach Fulton to the shoulder of Nick Martin. This forces Fulton to drift inside and open up a hole for Matt Milano to ram through. Duke Johnson does a good job of meeting him in the hole, but has poor footwork on contact. Granted he is outmatched by about 20 pounds, but his bunny hop backwards and to the right thrusts him to the side of Milano and creates a breach in the pocket.
Though Chris Clark’s man makes the sack, his technique and amount of time blocking Murphy is more than enough to not earn credit. Duke Johnson joins the sack tracker.
Sack #47: Watson Double Clutch is Twice as Painful
Third offensive series, third sack of the game. Trent Murphy was causing complete havoc against the Texans. A guy who only had five sacks all season racks up two and is responsible for a third sack before half way through the second quarter.
Watson does, and properly so, gets knocked for holding onto the ball too long. Watson’s decision to reel the ball back in and not throw a dangerous pass is a wise decision. Matt Milano would have taken that ball to the crib. Though the decision was correct, his technique, poise, and playmaking here run him into trouble.
Baseball players are told to keep their eye on the ball. QBs are told to keep their eyes downfield. By whirling around and turning his back to the defense, he’s lost complete awareness of his receivers downfield. Being in both scramble mode and not knowing where anyone is is a poor combination for any QB.
Don’t think I am letting Chris Clark get off the hook here. This handwork is all wrong. He thrusts his arms at Murphy too early in the process. Murphy’s been over-working himself up the field all game, and Clark just has to be patient enough to run him out of the play. Clark doesn't even do a good job of blocking and Murphy still over-pursues the QB. Combine the poor hand placement with a talent-less technique after first contact and Clark is overwhelmed by the pass rush. Half to Watson and half to Clark.
Sack #48: Fells Fails
At this point the offensive line is completely breaking down. They are purely guessing what the Bills are going to bring. The offense continues to sputter. Watson is getting frustrated and antsy in the pocket. Darren Fells was brought in to be the blocking specialist for the tight ends. Turns out he’s a better pass catcher. Who knew.
This play only needs one view to understand what happened here. It’s a complete breakdown in footwork. Fells is expecting DE Jerry Hughes to shoot inside between him and Roderick Johnson based off of his alignment. Fells takes a step and a bunny hop into the hole without making any contact. Hughes with little to actually zero effort swipes little ole’ Fells away and sprints straight into the backfield. Fells, you know what you did.
Sack #49 Tremaine Edmunds is a Freak of Nature
Texans are down by 13. Another third down sack ends a drive before it starts. At this point, the Texans chances are looking bleak.
I do not blame Watson for running. He’s harassed all game and he knows there’s a player behind him with a below average guard trying to block him. I’d sprint as fast as I can out of the situation too. Then again, it’s Watson’s job to stay in the pocket. He has to rely on his blockers instead of use his feet. Especially when the Bills have possibly the most under appreciated player in the AFC at linebacker.
Bills linebacker Edmunds is over the center to occupy Nick Martin. Even though they only bring four pass rushers, this forces Martin to stay home and block him. Their defensive scheme gives each pass rusher a one-on-one to get to the QB. DT Jordan Phillips takes advantage of that opportunity and manhandles guard Zach Fulton. Side note: take a look at Martin’s absolute bone crushing block on that DE.
Fulton’s problem here is that he has lost complete access to Phillips’ body and has no way to stop him from moving into the pocket. Fulton stands completely up out in his pass block and loses all leverage over a much bigger man. He does a good job of not over compensating, which is something he used to do a ton. But for collapsing the pocket and losing his leverage he gets half credit along with Watson.
Sack #50: Communication is Key
Oh look. Another sack on third down. Another Cover Zero man look. If you’ve learned anything from reading these articles, the lineman’s first step is the most important thing.
Do not blame this on Nick Martin. Before the snap Watson identifies the MIKE linebacker, which means that Martin is responsible to work from the left side of the line to the right. You can prove this by the way that left guard Max Scharping approaches his block differently than right guard Zach Fulton. Scharping’s first step is out and back, meaning he is gaining depth and widening the pocket. Fulton takes a false step but then a step in, which shows he knows he is alone inside and has to work his way outside. Clark takes an inside first step, giving him leverage and cutting off any direct path.
Keep watching. KEEP WATCHING. Watch as Chris Clark points out who everyone has. He points that Fulton has the inside linebacker, he has the man directly lined up in front of him, and Fells has the outside linebacker. Then Fells still goes out for a route. Without looking knee deep at the communication, footwork, and assignments, this can easily be blamed on Clark. However, this view says that all signs point to Fells.
Sack #51: A Beautiful Blitz
Honestly this is a beautiful defensive scheme. Hats off to the Bills’ defensive coordinator for drawing up an excellent game plan. The Bills run a Tampa Two defense by dropping the WILL linebacker into mid-field coverage while blitzing a corner back and a linebacker from the strong side. Everyone is covered downfield and the Bills out maneuver the Texans.
It’s second and long, and the Texans do not provide Watson with any immediate routes to throw to. It’s like there is no hot routes in O’Brien’s system. I’ve refrained from insulting O’Brien for a while but you cannot run a empty package with zero hot routes over the middle. That is a flawed play. Especially with this offensive line.
There’s not much to truly break down here except that Watson has to learn that not every play can be made with his feet. Completely unblocked linebackers are going to be faster than him stationary almost every time. This is a learning lesson. Watson has to throw this ball away and live another play. Yes it is overtime in the playoffs, but this is busted and there’s no reason to try to make this play work. Especially considering that he is running with no options down the field to throw to.
Watson takes this one for O’Brien’s poor play calling.
One miserable game left to go. Welcome Duke Johnson to the Sack Tracker. Darren Fells goes from ninth to tied for third on the Sack Tracker in one game. Yikes. Here’s the updated Sack Tracker:
Deshaun Watson: 9.5
Laremy Tunsil: 7
Darren Fells: 4.5
Roderick Johnson: 4.5
Chris Clark: 4
Zach Fulton: 3.5
Greg Mancz: 3
Tytus Howard: 2.5
Max Scharping: 2.5
Seantrel Henderson: 2
Nick Martin: 2
Senio Kelemete: 1
Carlos Hyde: 1
Jordan Thomas: 1
Jordan Akins: 1
Duke Johnson: 1
Keke Coutee: 0.5
AJ McCarron: 0.5