In the words of Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, “We’re baaack” with another year of the Houston Texans Sack Tracker! As we did last year, we’ll document each and every demoralizing sack the Texans allow in the 2020 season so we can keep track of who’s at fault for each miscue.
The Texans started off the season with some juicy content for us by allowing four sacks in their opening matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. They were clean for one quarter but started to show cracks once the Chiefs began ratcheting up the blitzes as their lead began to grow.
Sack 1: Fulton Flails And Fails
It’s second-and-six with the Texans driving when Zach Fulton gets outmatched by a superior player. This was an issue all game, but in a one-on-one scenario such as this play, Fulton shined like that kid who talks back to the teacher in math class.
Kansas City could have dialed up several blitz packages with their defensive scheme, but if you can get to the quarterback with four, there’s no reason to bring additional rushers. Within two seconds, Deshaun Watson is under pressure from the interior and cannot scramble out of this one.
Pre-snap analysis illustrates Deshaun Watson identifying #53 (LB Anthony Hitchens) as the Mike. At this moment, Max Scharping and Laremy Tunsil are communicating that Tunsil will be on an island. Center Nick Martin is telling weak-link Zach Fulton that he will also be on an island.
David Johnson is in charge of linebacker Damien Wilson (#54) in case he blitzes, which he doesn't. With the one-one-one matchups identified, it’s truly a matchup-oriented battle to protect or get to the quarterback.
Chris Jones executes a flawless bull rush and then a “pull and rip” technique to blow by Fulton on the way to sacking Watson. Watch how Jones, regarded as one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the league, gets his hands inside Fulton’s shoulder pads. This, along with being lower than Fulton, gives him leverage and control over the block. What makes Jones special is the simultaneous flipping of the hips and movement of his arms. A 310-pound human should not be able to move this fluidly.
Fulton’s problem is he guesses when to shoot his hands. Watch Fulton’s pass blocking, and then watch Nick Martin’s. Martin waits to shoot his hands after his defender does too, but the difference here is that Martin hasn’t let 91 get control or knock him off balance.
Fulton earns the full blame of the first sack in the Texans’ 2020 season. But don’t worry, there’s more for everyone.
Sack 2: Tytus Gets Beaten Around The Edge
Third-and-seven is every pass rusher’s dream. It’s far enough that the wide receivers need two to three seconds to get into their routes, but short enough that offensive linemen don’t need to get into deep pocket protection techniques (for seven-step drops). In a Jacob Martin-esque play here, pass rushing specialist Frank Clark dips past second-year tackle Tytus Howard to force Watson out of the pocket.
For a lack of a better word, Howard looks stupid as he helplessly watches Watson deal with his missed assignment. His “uh-oh” demeanor while watching Clark swarm Watson is unimpressive and unfit for a first-round pick. Watch Scharping (#74) on this play. He’s doing everything in his power to at least impede SOMEONE, ANYONE. That’s how you contribute on a broken play.
Watson’s razzle-dazzle allows the Texans to avoid any serious yardage loss on the play, but the NFL still counts this as a sack. Worse, it ended a seven-play drive that started at the Texans’ 21. Sack-ending drives are serious issues, and this one was critical to the Texans’ comeback push.
On Tytus’ end, his pass set was abysmal. His base is too narrow. His hips aren’t low enough, and his kick-slide technique doesn’t allow him to gain enough depth to quell speed-based pass rusher like Clark.
This play was over once Howard crosses his feet. Clark’s hand is ready to swipe Howard’s right as Howard draws to grab Clark to swallow a consolatory holding penalty. That wasn’t even necessary. Howard was unbalanced. Clark simply needed to dip his shoulder, drive his left leg through Howard’s right, and whip around the corner using Howard’s own body as a fulcrum.
Technique. Technique. Technique. I wish Howard was able to play a full sixteen games last year and not the eight he played before being lost to injury. Maybe issues like this wouldn't still be happening. Howard is still a developing pup, so we’ll have to live with issues such as poor footwork until he mentally and physically turns the corner (instead of his defenders).
Sack 3: Watson Flushed Out and Into a Sack
Yay for sacks that don’t end drives and still end in touchdowns. This sack is certainly more difficult to diagnose than the first two, but let’s break this down step-by-step. The Texans are running a high-low concept against man defense to clear out several options underneath the safeties. With press coverage across the board, Watson has to get the ball out with some pace.
First, it’s obvious that Howard struggles with speed like I struggle with exercising on a regular basis. Howard allowed Clark to beat him around the edge, which forced Watson to step up in the pocket a tad. However, Howard did force Clark to elongate his route and overrun Watson. Staying in front of the defender is two-thirds of the battle; on this play, it isn't Howard’s fault the play breaks down.
Our eyes should turn to the left. But before we do, let’s take a look at the end zone view to get a closer look at what went wrong below the hood.
Alright, this does confirm Howard’s innocence on this play. Scanning down the line, Fulton does his job on a false blitz by the linebacker, Martin seals up Chris Jones until Watson takes off, and Scharping successfully passes off Jones to Martin before lunging at Laremy Tunsil’s man.
Tunsil does briefly block his assignment, but he’s beaten by a surprise inside move by DE Make Danna (#51). There’s not much wrong with Tunsil’s technique here. The problem is he’s guessing. He expects Danna to maintain outside leverage and not dart inside like this.
As mentioned earlier, Watson knows the ball has to get out fast. When nothing is open off the bat and knowing that he’s down by four scores, Watson cramps and squirts out of the pocket fairly quickly. If he stays in the pocket for a brief moment longer, he’d see Kenny Stills in front of his defender in the middle of the field.
There’s a lot of fingers to point. Tytus doesn’t help, but he isn’t the main culprit; he’s more of an accomplice. Tunsil fails to secure the pocket and lets the pressure get to Watson, but if Watson stood strong and took the hit, he may have gotten a successful pass off. Therefore, half the blame goes to Watson and the other half to Tunsil. If you’ve forgotten, it’s acceptable to divvy up blame between two parties for our Sack Tracker.
Sack 4: When You See It...
In every team sport, there’s bound to be miscommunication. You see outfielders in baseball blunder a pop-up while one player screams, “I’ve got it!” with the other player sitting under the ball. You’ve got soccer defenders who lose track of a player on a corner kick. The list goes on. The Texans showed another example of this type of miscue when Houston allows a free interior blitzer.
It’s first down here and the Texans are on the precipice of the Chiefs’ red zone. The game is out of hand, but the Texans are using this drive as an opportunity to gain momentum and iron out some issues before the Baltimore game. Houston’s pass protection is a simple, and so is the Cheifs’ blitz.
The delayed blitz is something the Texans struggle with. Usually it’s effective against younger linemen who are so concerned about following the steps they’ve been told that they’re susceptible to deception such as this.
But Martin isn’t a rookie center. He should have caught this. The Chiefs are only bringing three other players when they’ve brought four plus pass rushers all game. Martin is put in a lose-lose situation, and he loses big. He should stay square to the line of scrimmage while maintaining his gap. Instead he turns to Scharping to the ‘A’ gap, giving the linebacker a free path to the quarterback.
This sack is the definition of the meme:
You can physically see Martin think “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, he’s not blitzing” and progress to block the defensive lineman with Scharping. Playing devil’s advocate, if Martin doesn’t help his second-year guard, there’s a good chance his man eventually beats him.
Fulton, on the other hand, is not fully responsible for the linebacker over the center. Fulton glances over to the left just a half second too late and his peripherals don’t catch Dorien O’Daniel (#44) sprinting towards the quarterback.
Chalk this up to unfortunate timing. You never want to see this happen, but when it does, you just shake your head and blame yourself for supporting such numbing ineptitude. Overall, it’s Martin’s man who made a great play and read Martin like a good book.
Here's the sack tracker tally after Week 1:
Zack Fulton: 1
Tytus Howard: 1
Nick Martin: 1
Laremy Tunsil: 0.5
Deshaun Watson: 0.5