By taking on this sack tracker, I've invested a significant amount of time learning offensive line techniques, schemes, and responsibilities. One thing I have not focused on is the blitz packages that defenses can dial up. Throughout the game at NRG Stadium last Sunday, Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale put together a diverse set up blitz packages that froze the Texans’ offense. Baltimore brought more heat than an episode of Hot Ones. If anyone has resources to learn more about blitz techniques, combinations, and situational strategies, I’d certainly be appreciative of that (as would the community who follows this weekly article, I assume).
One item to notice in Week Two was that Senio Kelemete and Max Scharping rotated left guard duties. I never saw anything initially to dismiss Scharping from holding onto his starting role, but it is something to note moving forward. That said, you will see Scharping’s name pop up often in this article.
Against the Ravens, the Texans allowed four sacks, primarily in the second half, and generally on on one v. one battles. This is different compared to last week’s Week One Sack Tracker. Back then, the offensive line struggled intensely to pick up the Chiefs’ blitzes and was unable to manage holding off pressure when faced with overwhelming numbers.
The half-full analysis is that we get to skip to the second half of the game to capture and discuss our first sack of Week Two.
Sack 1 (5): A Hole in the Pocket
What appeared to be a high quality pocket was quickly dissolved by interior pressure that thwarted the Texans’ efforts to get back into the game. Tytus Howard jogged back onto the field after getting rolled up on several plays before.
Here the Texans are running their iconic play action pass with deep crossing routes. On this particular play, the Texans dedicate two tight ends to block and lock down the left side, shifting the offensive line to block the right. This allows for the guise of a zone blocking scheme for a run play, while also creating leverage across the line with angled pass blocking.
By design, the zone blocking should force the defensive linemen to work horizontally to maintain their gap integrity. The flaw in this system is when a defensive lineman cuts against the zone, which is exactly what #98 Brandon Williams does to left guard Max Scharping (#74).
Scharping loses focus by staring at the linebacker and slows the pace of his feet down. This puts him in an unbalanced position against a defensive lineman with more leverage and longer arms. Technique wise, Scharping’s hips are too high, hindering him from redirecting the pass rush away from Watson.
The sack is technically attributed to Laremy Tunsil’s man, but Tunsil has a death grip (a/k/a holding); his rusher would not have been an issue if Watson wasn't forced into Tyus Bowser’s lap. First sack of the day goes solely to Max Scharping.
Sack 2 (6): Hero Ball Sinks Watson
It’s 1st and 10 after a great pitch and catch from Watson to Randall Cobb. The Texans are in a must-score scenario, down by 17 with nine minutes left. 0-2 is staring this team square in the eyes, and unfortunately, Houston’s quarterback blinks. Sometimes even Houston’s Michael Jordan gets overwhelmed by the pressure (literally).
Before jumping to conclusions as to why Watson is scrambling so early in this play, let’s review the All-22 film to understand what Watson was working with.
The Texans are running a West Coast offensive scheme here with multiple progressions down the field. Watson sees the two safeties staying deep, so he knows his deep routes are shot. He begins to feel the pressure from behind him. Even so, it’s obvious that Watson scrambles too early. Cooks is open over the middle for a nice gain if DW4 steps up and scans the field. It’s concerning that this occurred in such an important situation.
I’m going to get funky on this one. in the end zone view above, keep an eye on Brandin Cooks (#18). Cooks is actively running away from Watson as he scrambles instead of working back towards Watson as an outlet. We’ve seen Watson make miraculous throws under similar pressure, but Cooks has never had a quarterback who can be this effective out of the pocket. If Cooks simply stops instead of trailing away from Watson, this sack doesn’t happen. There isn’t a person within ten yards of Cooks, and the Texans would be right on the doorstep of the end zone.
I’m going to stick to my rule of giving a minimum half sack and not split it into quarters or thirds, but realistically 75% of this should go to Watson. Instead, half of this is Watson’s and half is Cooks.
Sack 3 (7): Second Sack in Three Plays
With the game well in hand, the Ravens unleashed the dawgs and secured the W in a demoralizing swarm of purple pass rushers. The strategy here is simple: We’re going to bring more pass rushers than you can handle. Schematically, the Texans are simply outmatched, as they are smothered by pressure from the edge by DeShon Elliott (#32). Watson was smart to not dump this ball off too fast. The Ravens dropped an interior lineman into coverage right in front of the crossing routes.
This is a top tier complex play to analyze. Before we can even dole out blame to the Texans, we have to give kudos to an excellent pass rush scheme. The Ravens brought six when the Texans only had five to block. They know it’s third and long. They are taking away the time the receivers need to get to get in range of a first down. They swarm the short routes and diagnose the play swiftly.
As a rule, offensive linemen are to block inside-out. Take care of the man with the shortest path to the quarterback, and then let the quarterback make the decision to throw the ball, step into the pocket, escape the pocket, or throw the ball away.
Watson knows he can’t throw the ball away down by 17 on third down, and there’s a mosh pit of bodies in front of him. It can be argued that Watson must get this ball out faster and allow someone to make a play, but errant throws under duress are an excellent way to throw interceptions. Even so, all of the crossing routes, which I [KITTEN]ING HATE, was the play call on third and long and would be nowhere near close to a first down. Baltimore’s coverage is good too, a theme usually lost or that goes unmentioned in the sack tracker.
At the end of the day, I cannot overlook Howard’s poor footwork. It collapses the pocket. Let’s zoom in solely on Howard. In a third and long, Howard should know he needs to get deep to form a reliable pocket for Watson. Instead, please incessantly watch his first and second step off the line of scrimmage.
Howard’s first step is wide, which creates a window for Pernell McPhee (#90) to shoot inside. However, the critical issue is his slide step, or his second step. He creates too narrow of a base for him to properly react. It’s due to him noticing the trajectory of McPhee and knowing that he’s too wide. Howard is now compromised. His feet are in an unathletic position, he’s lost leverage, and he’s on an island. Worse, and probably more unforgivable, Howard does not finish the play and tries to take on the looping lineman. Not only does Howard absorb all of Watson’s ability to step into the pocket, but he still doesn’t take care of his man in the process.
Part of me wants to blame Watson again, but Howard’s miscues are too excessive to not receive full blame.
Sack 4 (8): A Wish and A Whiff
David Johnson did his damndest to try and stop Chuck Clark from sprinting in the backfield. For those that think he should have done more, realize that Johnson is supposed to chip on the defensive end and then go out for a route on this play before realizing Clark has a free path to Watson.
It also frustrates me as much as it frustrates you that Nick Martin gets his hands on next to no one. Just like me at a bar, everyone runs away from him. His responsibilities are for the A gaps to his left and right, and there’s no one directly charging those gaps.
Let’s keep adding on the problems here. Laremy Tunsil gets his hands swiped like a mom slapping a kid reaching for a cookie. He gets left in the dust, though he does a good job of recovering.
On top of that, Howard gets obliterated back into Watson in what would probably be an eventual sack otherwise. There’s about an hour of technique that we need to discuss at the point of attack that we don’t have time for.
Even with Johnson’s failed attempt at a block, Martin’s lack of blocking, Howard getting pummeled, and Tunsil getting beaten around the edge, none of these were the fatal mistake.
One of Scharping’s best attributes is his ability to work with Martin and Tunsil in passing opposingrushers back and forth. If you recall, this was Jeff Allen’s worst trait. Unfortunately, Scharping was so worried about helping Martin that he left himself vulnerable. You see him keep his arm extended to maintain distance and pocket integrity, but as Martin drifts, so does Scharping. A 10-foot wide gap appears, and it’s simply too much for Scharping and Johnson to correct.
Scharping gets not one, but two sacks this game. He only was credited for 2.5 sacks all of last year and is already 80% there two weeks in. Keep an eye out if he’ll be the starter in Week Four.
Our current “Sackrificial Lamms” of the 2020 season:
Tytus Howard: 2
Max Scharping: 2
Zack Fulton: 1
Nick Martin: 1
Deshaun Watson: 1
Laremy Tunsil: 0.5
Brandin Cooks: 0.5