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The Film Room: Houston Texans Sack Tracker (Week Five)

One sack. One win. One happy fan base.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A win AND a short Sack Tracker? Well, let me loose and call me a bull on parade, because that’s a combination I can get rowdy about. Finally, the Texans get in the win column and limit a defense’s pressure in the backfield. Though the Jaguars were able to make Deshaun Watson scramble and move within the pocket, they only brought him down once.

After last week’s Tracker, which featured the very first coverage sack, we are rewarded with a single sack that occurred early in the game. This was the one of three blemishes in an otherwise well-rounded offensive attack that finally saw the running game gain productive yards.

Senio Kelemete took over at left guard for the entire afternoon against Jacksonville. This switch to him from Max Scharping has received minimal publicity, yet it was completely unexpected after the promising rookie year Scharping had. Last week, against the Vikings, the two guards rotated series by series, but Sunday only featured Kelemete. He did a good job combo blocking with Nick Martin and absorbing the mediocre pass rush the Jags were able to assemble.

This week’s sack occurred at the end of the first quarter in Houston’s first trip to the red zone. I guarantee you there’s a direct correlation between a team getting sacked in the red zone and only scoring a field goal. When the yards count the most, going backwards is detrimental to the entire process.

Sack #1 (17): Zone Read Like A Book

On first and 10, after Watson scrambled for 11 yards, the Texans run a zone read play with the option for Watson to throw the ball. The main thing to focus on is Watson’s eyes. Every zone read, from Pop Warner to this play right here, is predicated on the quarterback reading and reacting to one player or the defense’s own reaction to the running back.

On this play, Watson is keying (a/k/a who he’s making the decision off of) Jags defensive end Dawuane Smoot. Smoot’s goal is to maintain the edge of the defensive line (ergo, the defensive end) while also shrinking the gaps in the defensive line. This conundrum is the entire premise of the zone read scheme. If Smoot follows running back David Johnson inside, Watson keeps the ball. If Smoot stays put and distances himself from the line, Watson lets Johnson have it. Ask yourself this: Does Smoot flash inside with the run, or does he try to stay further to the outside?

Another thing to consider—safety Jarrod Wilson has walked down into the box and is acting as a third linebacker. This leaves the defense in a Cover Three look, which entails a single high safety over the middle of the field and a corner on either side in charge of any deep/vertical threats. The linebackers are covering anyone out of the backfield running into the flats or center of the field. A Cover 3 defense in the red zone is saying to the offense, “You won’t be able to dink and dunk your way into the end zone, and you won’t be able to run the ball well, so you are going to have to take a shot down the sideline.”

It’s not a bad strategy, considering the Texans’ offense has yet to effectively move the ball down the field and is overly dedicated to the run. Plus, putting another man in the box helps against—you guessed it—zone reads.

On the snap, Watson squares his hips to Smoot and watches where he moves but also notices that Wilson has fallen inside by the bait of the run. The Jaguars’ defense does an excellent job of playing assignment-based football. Smoot reacts like a goalie trying to stop a penalty kick—move your feet and shorten the distance between you and the ball.

The Jaguars’ linebackers are in a 4-3 alignment, which means they are in charge of two gaps. One is the primary gap, and one is the gap to the other side of the field in case the running back cuts back. Wilson over-adjusts to the left when he sees the mesh point between Johnson and Watson. He does this to help cover the secondary gap that is forming from the Texans’ zone run scheme.

However, Wilson has obviously studied Houston’s film. He never breaks eye contact with Johnson while he begins to sprint back towards the right side to cover tight end Darren Fells from the opposite side. He knows that if Fells does block down, he has the C-gap—his primary gap.

The blue-dotted line indicates where Watson is looking. Like a pool player staring down a billiard, he’s locked in on every detail. To answer our question above, Smoot has stayed outside and in this instance, Watson should hand the ball off. His decision to keep the ball does give him the opportunity to throw the ball, but based on his read alone, it doesn’t appear to be the right decision.

Watson is making a bet here that he can either beat #94 around the edge or that Fells will have separation on Wilson in the flat since Wilson has jumped inside. Based on the end zone view, I think Watson wants to throw this ball first and foremost. At the mesh point, Wilson looks to be out of position and isn't even looking for Fells. If Wilson isn’t able to recover, this is an easy pitch and catch for four yards. The Texans ran this play multiple times against the Jags last year and saw success each time.

The breakdown here isn’t on the offensive line; they do a good job of working downfield as a unit to sell the run. I’m not going to blame the coverage or defense as they simply do their job at the very minimum.

What I do dislike here is the hesitancy by Watson. He has to commit to the play once he’s pulled the ball back towards himself. Yes, there isn’t anyone open downfield. Smoot is working towards him and has the angle on him to the outside. Fells is not open in the flat. Watson simply did not create enough momentum after keeping the ball to properly win this play. Additionally, based on Smoot’s positioning, Watson needs to hand this ball off. I agree that this play would probably have been stuffed at the line of scrimmage (like all Texans run plays), but at least that is a net-zero play instead of a loss.

Those two issues are enough for me to award the full sack to Watson. He is now far ahead of the team in ownership of his sacks. Almost every one of those has to do with how he responded to pressure and trusting his eyes. There’s so much potential here. The Texans must instill better habits from start to finish.

The updated Sack Tracker list:

Deshaun Watson: 5.5

Tytus Howard: 2.5

Max Scharping: 2

Zack Fulton: 2

Nick Martin: 1.5

Darren Fells: 1

COVERAGE SACK: 1

Laremy Tunsil: 0.5.

Brandin Cooks: 0.5.

David Johnson: 0.5.