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The Film Room: Houston Texans Sack Tracker (Week 4)

Reviewing every sack from the Texans’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the offensive line looked better against the Vikings last Sunday, the Houston Texans didn’t. The 0-4 record envelops the team in a cloak of misery. Here at the Sack Tracker, we soak in that misery. We get our luffas out and scrub our bodies in the suds of misery. Get your rubber duckies out, boys and girls, because we have three more sacks to review.

That was how the article was supposed to start before Bill O’Brien was kicked to the curb. Now in the post-O’Brien era, we may see strategies, formations, and blocking techniques unfamiliar to the team and our readers.

Before we get too deep, I’d like to ask my readers if you’d rather continue watching the offensive line or would rather watch our Texans sacking other teams. I don’t think I have the capacity to do both, so I would love your opinion on what you’d rather see.

Sack 1: (14): The First of Its Kind

Really nothing worse than a drive-ending sack. The Vikings bring more pressure than the Texans can handle. The Vikings show blitz at the line of scrimmage and completely confuse the Texans’ offensive line. The Texans leave a player completely unblocked off the edge.

Deshaun Watson calls David Johnson back into the formation to provide extra pass protection. Once the ball is snapped, the Texans rotate their offensive line blocking to the right with the goal of matching the protection to the blitz. What’s confusing is that the Texans rotate the line to the same side Johnson is on. This over-blocks one side while leaving a edge rusher open.

Let’s take a second and assign a man for each person on the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it’s better to simply use a screenshot than film. Blue circles represent each player, and the lines represent who they are in charge of. Based on this formation, there is someone who will eventually be unblocked.

As to why Watson doesn’t call Johnson over to the left side of the line to block D.J. Wonnum (#98) so the rest of the offensive line can block down, I do not know. Off the snap, the Texans properly match the coverage assignments as drawn up. However, linebacker Eric Wilson drops back into his zone as a “robber”. The goal of this is to fool Watson into throwing a pass in an area where there once were no players and/or to spy Watson in case he takes off running. Additionally, it immediately makes Nick Martin have to take a false step away from who he’ll end up blocking.

Outside of Wilson, the Vikings are playing man defense across the board.

On the right side, three pass blockers protect against two defenders. Never a good sign when you know the defense is blitzing.

What’s unfortunate is the play calls for crossing routes, which usually work well against man coverage in 5-7 yard situations. However, as you’ll see in the end zone view, there’s a lot of traffic over the middle, and Wilson properly disrupts Cooks’ route. By the time Watson is able to scan the field, he’s engulfed by pressure.

Running back David Johnson doesn’t do a spectacular job of blocking safety Harrison Smith, but it isn’t worth any considerable blame; Watson should be able to work out of that with minimal effort.

This is technically a coverage sack. The Vikings outschemed the Texans. Watson does recognize the blitz by bringing in Johnson. When the pressure gets to him, none of the receivers are looking or far enough into their routes for Watson to reasonably throw the ball.

Wow. For the first time ever, I’ll designate a sack as a true “coverage sack”. This is sickening. I’m upset. Did I just break my own rules and go against my word? I guess so; it’s a new era for the Houston Texans, so I suppose a new era in the Sack Tracker is permitted. Trust me, I won’t make this a habit, as I fully believe accepting blame is the best way to improve. But if I cannot even allocate half a sack to a player, not even Watson on this play, we’ll have to make the call to a coverage sack.

Sack 2 (15): Red Zone Woes and Scrambling Joes

Now that the door for coverage sacks has been cracked open, we’re about to kick the door down with this one. On second and 10, Watson has a beautiful pocket and still decides to roll out as everything is covered down the field, initially.

Watson has to know where his outlet is. He also needs to stay in the pocket longer. I know he can make things happen with his feet, but there’s no purpose in doing so here. If the house isn’t on fire, there’s no reason to run out of it.

Senio Kelemete (#64) is in the game at left guard for Max Scharping. This has become something of a rotation between the two. There’s probably a future article to document when and why Kelemete and Scharping are rotating, but for now see it as a situational rotation of two evenly talented players.

Kelemete does a great job of anchoring and keeping his pad level low. Compare him to right guard Zach Fulton, who always has his rump up in the air.

The Texans are trying to flood the center of the field with three players converging over the middle. The end zone is stuffed with players and it’s a generally tough throw to make.

Now on to Watson. You see the mental clock in his head go, “One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, RUN”. This is acceptable for a running QB with a bad offensive line. He knows that both tackles are behind him and their men are bearing down. The only problem is that there’s minimal risk involved with waiting, as they’re guaranteed points in this situation. Taking a sack is the only way to lose points (outside of turning the ball over).

As this offensive line improves, Watson has to begin to trust himself and the men around him. His feet are made for running, but in this instance, that’s what they shouldn’t do. Watson takes on the sack in this red zone takedown.

Sack 3 (16): Scoop & Sack

It’s not until midway through the fourth when we get our third and final sack of the afternoon. These sacks were not as easy to allocate as past ones. Facing a first and 20 after a holding call, the Texans are in need of a big play to get back into the game and the drive.

Interestingly enough, we rarely, if ever, have talked about QB technique in keeping the ball protected. Keeping the ball high and tight with a strong grip is vital to not having it knocked out. It’s annoying, but like any ball carrier, a QB protecting the ball has to be first and foremost. When the ball gets knocked out, the play is basically soiled. It’s magic time for Watson. This season, I don’t think the magic is in the air.

Tytus Howard (#71) is struggling against intense pass rushers, that is for sure. The end zone view shows an inability for Howard to regain his footing, lower his hips, and draw a line in the sand. His knee buckles awkwardly.

Half the sack goes to Watson, and half to Howard. Howard does in fact stay in front of his man, but you can't deny his technique and footwork force this play to break down. Additionally, and especially in late-game scenarios, Watson needs to have a better grip on the ball and be more protective over it.

The “Sack-rificial Lamm” is quickly turning into a Watson blowout. Not that that is exciting, but it shows that the young QB still has a lot to learn.

Deshaun Watson: 4.5

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.