The Texans are about to go into the Witness Protection Program after one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history. A lot has been said and written about Houston’s poor secondary play, the lack of coaching preparedness, and the incompetence at moving the ball down the field. In today’s weekly column, we are going to shift our focus to the big uglies up front to understand what happened.
Even though we won’t cover it here, it cannot go unsaid that the pre-snap penalties caused by Houston’s offensive line devastated the offense. There’s zero excuse to make elementary mistakes as a professional. If the Texans can’t learn to walk, they’ll never learn to make a run through the NFL Playoffs.
The Broncos’ leading pass rusher, Derek Wolfe, landed on IR this past week after an elbow injury. He had a career-high seven sacks this season. Young star Bradley Chubb tore his ACL against the Jags and has been out most of the season. Von Miller missed Week 13, but was back for Sunday’s game against the Texans. The Broncos’ pass rush was handicapped, but that didn't stop them from racking up four sacks on the way to a dominant victory over the Texans.
The Texans’ offensive line was nothing more than a tumbleweed aimlessly rolling around the dessert. Multiple penalties, holding calls, and miscues set the entire franchise back.
Sack #34: Watson Scrambles Into a Sack; Still Counting It
Since the stat sheet counted this play as a sack, we’re going to ring it up here too. After the way they played on Sunday, we’re going give zero benefit of the doubt even if the Texans technically did not lose a yard.
There are only two receivers running downfield on this play as Deshaun Watson is sitting behind max protection. The problem with max protection is that if someone does get through, there aren’t many options for Watson to look to.
With all of his receivers covered and Carlos Hyde unable to get open in the flat, Watson has to scurry out of bounds to avoid taking a hit. His lack of comfort in the pocket from taking so many hits shows here as he never truly sets his feet properly.
Jordan Thomas is back from Injured Reserve and is already making a name for himself on the offense...too bad it’s via pass protection and not the passing game. He is blocking LB Justin Hollins and is utterly trounced by a meager swim move. Thomas is leaning too far forward while not moving his feet, causing him to be off balance and praying his one thrust at the linebacker is enough.
Thomas takes half the credit for causing Watson to scramble and not know what or who is behind him, but Watson inevitably also deserves credit due to poor footwork and decision making.
Sack #35: Watson Takes a Wallop
Fans definitely heard this sack in the upper levels at NRG. Deshaun Watson took probably the hardest hit of the season on this play. There’s also a lot to unpack here, so stay with me.
It’s 2nd and 5 at midfield at the end of the first quarter and the Texans are already trying to dig themselves out of a hole. The offense is trying to exploit the Broncos’ man coverage through play action, but physically cannot get out of their own way.
Take a moment to look at Keke Coutee’s wheel route at the top of the play. He absolutely smokes his defender. He make his cut the second Watson looks away. The mistake comes down to timing and trust.
Then we have the issue of both Carlos Hyde and Darren Fells running the same route. Watson’s two safety valves are clogging each other and it forces Watson to pay. Without truly knowing the coverage, the play call, and the hot route design, we can’t really pin blame on one specific guy.
Another factor to consider is Deshaun Watson holding the ball for too long. After he goes through his reads and no one is open, he should have chucked this ball away and lived to play another down. Instead, and this usually happens to him when the Texans are trailing, Watson tries to play hero-ball and instead gets demolished.
We have yet to bring up a single offensive lineman. The pass blocking is good here, and I really like how fast Chris Clark gets out of his stance to attack Jeremiah Attaochu, the Broncos’ DE. Unfortunately for Clark, Watson is scanning and scouring the field for an open receiver yet cannot find one. You can’t knock Clark or any other offensive lineman on this play; they hold up their blocks against a five-man blitz and that’s really all you can ask.
For blame? This may still be under further review, but Watson missing Coutee open down the field and holding onto the ball too long earn him full credit.
Sack #36: The Stampede
With the game in the bag and nothing to lose, the Broncos dial up a blitz package here, sending seven pass rushers with only five blockers to account for them. This is an intricate blitz which could be its own article, but just know that the Broncos brought the house.
I physically, emotionally, and spiritually face-palmed when I watched #78 Laremy Tunsil step in to help when the linebacker crossed his face to run the interior of the defensive line. Yes, by rule, all blocking should work from the inside out, but without a single human between him and the center, Tunsil has to be cognizant of the other linebacker creeping to the line of scrimmage. It’s seven on five and Tunsil decides to double team one of the pass rushers? That's just dumb.
Jordan Akins should have realized this and immediately turned around for Watson to throw him the ball. Tunsil’s mistake would have been nullified if Akins looked at the bigger picture of the play and stayed around to help. There’s a difference between running the right route and running the necessary route. Here Akins ran the route he was told to run, but his lack of awareness cost the Texans in a major point in the game.
It’s time to wash this from our memory. Rid it from our existence. Return to our happy place and pretend this game never existed.
And what do you know? The Jordan Twins (Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins) unceremoniously join the Sack Tracker together with a half-sack each.
Deshaun Watson: 7.5
Laremy Tunsil: 5
Zach Fulton: 3
Greg Mancz: 3
Roderick Johnson: 2.5
Tytus Howard: 2.5
Darren Fells: 2
Seantrel Henderson: 2
Chris Clark: 2
Max Scharping: 1.5
Nick Martin: 1.5
Senio Kelemete: 1
Carlos Hyde: 1
Keke Coutee: 0.5
Jordan Thomas: 0.5
Jordan Akins: 0.5