What do you consider a lot of points for an NFL offense? 30 points? 40? Certainly 50 points qualifies. The Texans, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, have shown on two occasions that they’re capable of ringing the bell. 57-14 over the Titans. 53-32 over the Falcons. They also have a few 40 point performances with DW4 under center. What do these games have in common? Will Fuller. While I’m sure there are many other things you can spot in each of those games, it’s been apparent over the years that when Will Fuller is healthy, Houston’s offense has no limits. It knows no bounds. It cannot be slowed down.
Fuller’s ability to take the top off a defense puts the opponent in a predicament as to what they can do to try and stop Houston. Do they sit back in Cover 2, 3, or 4 and take away the deep pass? That left DeAndre Hopkins feasting underneath. Do they play aggressive Cover 1 or Cover 0, focusing on the short/intermediate game? That leaves minimal help over top, and Fuller can simply glide past any cornerback in his way into the end zone.
This predicament becomes even tougher when you clone Will Fuller, and that is more or less what the Texans did when they traded for Brandin Cooks. Cooks is an elite deep threat, underrated route runner, and he has better hands than Fuller. He’s also a weapon with the ball in his hands, whether that’s from designed hand-offs, screens, or just getting the ball in space to roam. Cooks is a massive addition to Houston’s wide receiver corps.
The concept I’m most excited to see Cooks replace Hopkins in is Houston’s patented Yankee concept. We’ve seen it time and time again, around midfield, play action fake, max protection, Fuller and Hopkins go deep, running crossing routes that look like rounded posts. The defense has to respect Nuk as he draws three defenders. This leaves Fuller wide open. All Fuller has to do is be fast, which he’s great at.
Will Cooks demand triple teams from the jump like Hopkins did? I doubt it. But defenses still have to respect his speed. They’ll have to respect both his and Fuller’s deep threat prowess, and that will be extremely tough to do.
This play shows how Cooks is already accustomed to the Yankee concept and what will happen if defenses don’t respect him. He plays Hopkins’ role here and is the underneath deep crossing route. His speed is effortless. On these routes, he can’t be covered by one defender. The safety and corner bracketing him will have to have perfect communication to prevent him from breaking open downfield.
Since Bill O’Brien traded Hopkins, people often question who Deshaun is going to target when it’s third down and the Texans need a completion. My answer—whoever the hell is open. It doesn’t matter. Before, on crucial third downs, everyone knew where the ball was going. DeAndre Hopkins on a slant. It would work nine out of ten times, but it was predictable. Cooks can run the same concepts Houston did with Nuk and add different dimensions that Nuk simply didn’t bring.
Here’s Cooks running and winning on a slant route, much like Nuk would. Again, we aren’t losing this dependable quality, and Houston will gain even more in the yards after catch department.
In the Falcons game, Bill O’Brien did something with Nuk and Fuller that we rarely ever did the rest of the season. He stacked them on the same side of the formation and ran rub routes to death. The Falcons, in man coverage, couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Hopkins is running a dig here, but he’s not the main focus of this play; neither would Cooks be in this same role. This is all for Will Fuller, and he sells it beautifully. Fuller brings his release inside and vertical, which brings the outside cornerback (#26) inside, where he runs into the nickel cornerback (#21). This creates a “rub” that draws legal contact and leaves Fuller wide open.
Cooks can be the distraction that Nuk was. He can run this dig route and draw attention because he’s such a good intermediate threat. People often overlook that aspect of Cooks’ game, but he is such a refined route runner that he can win at all three levels.
This may seem like a pedestrian dig route at first, but trust me, it’s not. Cooks runs this beautifully. He takes a glide step release and then shoots a quick head fake outside at the 15 yard line. He continues upfield, gets his hands on the cornerback around the 25 yard line, head-fakes outside again, and even slightly turns his hips outside. Everything Cooks is showing screams out route, but its not an out. He pushes off the corner ever so slightly and breaks inside instead. The defender plays this pretty well and remains close enough to make a tackle, but unless you’re happy with giving up 21 yards, a double team is needed.
Another one of my favorite plays in the Falcons game was this sneaky motion to Hopkins for the first down. Short yardage, crucial situation, and O’Brien does well to scheme Hopkins open, something he rarely did. Putting Nuk in motion gives him a free release; he doesn’t have to do any work at the line of scrimmage, and it gets him a step on the cornerback. It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it’s something that needs to be run more.
Cooks will be even scarier when in motion with his speed. The amount of space Nuk got will double with Cooks. The Rams often used Cooks in motion; it created massive advantages and big gains. Similar to the play above, Cooks here is motioned from one side then motioned back the other way. He gets the hand-off instead of a pass, but the point is the same: Give him a free release, get the ball in his hands ,and it’s an easy first down...or a touchdown in this case.
The passing game against Atlanta just couldn’t be stopped. While it’s important to note the Falcons had one of the worst defenses in the league, they are a NFL team. The Texans max protect and send only Hopkins and Fuller out on routes. Both run corner routes. Fuller gets wide open. Deshaun has a great pocket to step up into if needed, but he lets it rip right on time to give Fuller enough space between him and the sideline.
These deep corner routes are tough to defend because defenses have to respect the potential go route. With Fuller and Cooks’ elite speed, defenses have to do everything possible to stop the bomb over the top. This results in deep cushions and makes corner routes easier to complete. Cooks has made a living off of corner routes.
This is one of the most nuanced corner routes I’ve seen. Cooks flies up field, eating the cornerback’s (#29) cushion. He really sells the go route. Then he takes a couple steps inside, selling a post route. This forces the cornerback to flip his hips inside to turn and run with Cooks’ speed. Once Cooks forces the corner inside, he sits down in his route and cuts outside on the corner route. I love how he gets low and explodes into his break, leaving the corner back grasping but ultimately in the dirt. Deshaun would put the ball right where it needs to be in space like this.
This play is all about Fuller. It’s 3rd and 5. Fuller is running an out route to the sticks. He brings his release inside, then shoots upfield and cuts out to the sideline. When he turns his head to find the ball, Fuller sees Deshaun staring him down, but he senses the cornerback is in position to jump the out route, so he plants his foot and explodes upfield, turning the out into an out and up. This leaves the cornerback scrambling and burnt like toast. Deshaun reads it and tosses a perfect ball for Fuller to catch in stride despite pressure in his face.
The connection Fuller and Deshaun showed here is great. Fuller knew the corner could jump the out, so he couldn’t just stay put; he extended the play and was rewarded. Deshaun saw the same thing; he knew he couldn’t throw the out and prayed that Fuller saw it as well. This is the magical option route that O’Brien has installed into his offense. When everyone is on the same page, it can beat defenses that are in perfect position. But when there’s a lack of cohesive understanding, you end up with Keke Coutee running the same route, in the same area as another wide receiver, as we see below.
The chemistry aspect is the one thing that worries me about the Cooks addition (other than Cooks’ history of concussions). With limited practice time likely, will Cooks and Deshaun be able to quickly form a strong on-field relationship? Who knows? Kenny Stills was thrust into the fire quickly last year and it seemed like he and Deshaun worked great together. Hopefully the same is true for Cooks.
The potential of Houston’s offense is limitless. Yes, even without DeAndre Hopkins. I’ll go as far to say the Texans’ offense in 2020 will definitely be better than last year. The biggest thing will be how O’Brien alters his scheme. When Fuller is healthy, the Texans run a much more creative deep passing scheme, leading to explosive plays and a top five offense. When Fuller was injured, Houston reverted to copying the Patriots’ quick passing/run heavy scheme.
That should change. I believe O’Brien will stick with a deep passing offense this year. Even if Fuller goes down, Cooks can play the role of the elite deep threat. Cooks fills Hopkins’ role, winning over the middle of the field and bringing down clutch receptions, but he can also do what O’Brien asks of Fuller—winning deep downfield and scaring defenses. Adding Cooks will make it even tougher for defenses to game plan for Houston. I’d put money on the fact that we’ll see another 50 burger this year. Maybe even a couple.