Was it the right choice? Yes.
Was it the right play call? Probably.
Was there a pass interference? Possibly.
Did Houston have an entire extra quarter to score again? Definitely.
Did the game change dramatically after this play? Absolutely.
Everything seemed to be going in the right direction when the Houston Texans retook the lead at the end of the third quarter. The defense was cooking, the offense had its best drive of the game, and the Panthers hadn’t shown much on either side of the ball.
Given that the compass was aiming due north, going for two points to end a strong drive and go up by a field goal was the correct decisions for all intents and purposes.
Here’s the situation. Houston has scored its second touchdown of the game on its best drive thus far. They have a one point lead against a Carolina Panthers offense that has yet to get into the end zone. Going up by three points forces the Panthers to need to score again to tie.
Houston and its new coaching staff trot the offense back out on the field to attempt this two-point play:
This is a designed two-point conversion play. Straight out of the playbook.
The Panthers are lined up in a man front that’s clear as day. They linebacker coverage over the middle disguises which linebacker is going to blitz and which is going to drop back.
Directly after the snap, QB C.J. Stroud spins his head to the slot receiver Noah Brown who is running a slant route against a safety. Panthers S Sam Franklin Jr. has the stature of a linebacker, speed of a defensive back, and four years of veteran experience. He’s not one to test in a phone booth-esque play in the end zone.
After seeing the futility of throwing a pass to Noah Brown, Stroud swivels his head to the next best option, Dalton Schultz. The tight end has at least six inches of height against his defender Xavier Woods. Woods, who is well aware of the physical mismatch, is going to do all he can to stop Schultz. He’s aided by the spy linebacker who drops into coverage...and consequently directly into Schultz’s passing lane.
This play requires Stroud to lace a ball into a paper thin gap in the Panthers tight coverage. By going empty in the backfield, Stroud had his choice of matchups over the middle. He looked off the first option Noah Brown, but unfortunately the defense had shifted its one zone coverage player directly into the sight line of option two.
With this concoction of chess being played at arms length of each other and the pendulum of momentum on the line, Stroud zings a ball into the direction of Schultz, only to be broken up by Carolina’s defense.
Given the nature of a rookie QB beaming with confidence, it’s easy to enjoy the confidence of Stroud to ping this pass into tight coverage. At warp speed, one can image this play felt like an electrode pulsing through the QB’s conscious. To the dismay of Houston Texans, these plays are the difference between winning and losing at the NFL level.
What Stroud can do is include some motion into this play to see if it changes the coverage or responsibilities adjust from the defense. That will shed some light into who could be coming and who is staying home. Especially given there’s over 15 seconds left on the play clock, Stroud should give himself a chance to see what the opposing defense is running.
Eventually, Stroud will gain the ability to check out of plays he doesn’t feel 100% comfortable in. Given the offense’s run game difficulties and injuries to the receiving corps, threading this ball to your biggest target makes sense. However, if Stroud can stay on his current trajectory, he’ll gain the wherewithal to adjust the offense and consequently the defense to open up opportunities to turn one play to two points and one game into one win.