Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images
A deeper look at the Texans’ win in London over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- The Texans have settled into an offensive sweet spot the last few weeks. Since their spread passing attack filled with short breaking passes failed against the Carolina Panthers, the Texans have gone to an offensive attack that utilizes more zone reads, zone reads that turn into fast break dumpoffs, and quick short field attacking passes. This has worked really well against teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and now the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I wrote a preview for Saturday as I do every week my dearest loyal reader. And in it, I didn’t talk much about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ linebackers. Myles Jack has been a sore on cracked lips in pass coverage, has struggled making reads in the run game, and is better as a backside linebacker (think Zach Cunningham) then as the center of the second level. They really miss Telvin Smith. Quincy Williams and Leon Jacobs are hurt. Replacing them are Austin Calitro, who can’t cover Ryan Griffin, and Najee Goode, why is that every player who’s named Goode isn’t very good?
Now I didn’t mention the Jaguars’ declawed linebacker group because I didn’t think it would play much of a factor in this game. I was as wrong as you can possibly be. I thought the Jaguars would have success throwing the ball downfield, they didn’t really even try to, and the Texans would be forced to throw more vertically, they didn’t. Instead, Houston was able to do what has worked the previous weeks.
Love this play. Hang it up in my locker. I’ll think of it before I sleep. I rewinded the game and kissed my television after it happened. Houston is in 2-2-1 personnel (2 tight ends, 2 wide receivers, 1 running back). The Jags are in a 4-3 with a safety as the third linebacker across from Jordan Akins (#88). The ball is snapped. Deshaun Watson reads the playside defensive end Dawuane Smoot (#94). He crashes down. Watson keeps. He really elongates this hand off before ripping it away.
Fells is picked up by Goode as he pops out from behind the line of scrimmage. This is the pass option. He’s on his own since Jack is caught up in the run action. Everyone else is running in man coverage. Watson has a trench to crawl through. This is an easy five.
The hand off Watson makes isn’t appreciated enough. He’s so good at holding it then ripping it away. This is especially important on this 4th and 2 conversion after a failed Carlos Hyde run on 3rd and 2. Smoot has been a fine player. He’s provided more interior pass rush than anyone would ever imagine, but he isn’t the same caliber of athlete as Yannick Ngakoue.
Houston blocks down and leaves Ngakoue (#91) free while Max Scharping (#74) pulls to sell power right. Ngakoue bites on the fake giving Watson the ability to seep outside. The fake also pulls the safety Breon Borders (#31) along the line of scrimmage too. When Akins gets outside the tackle box he can’t get flat in front of the pass. Jack (#44) is now stuck making a long run to him, but even then, his eyes are on Watson. Easy completion. Easy conversion.
Bill O’Brien has been aggressive on fourth down decisions in previous seasons. The difference this season are the playcalls. He’s done a much better job putting the ball in Watson’s hands and giving him easy reads to make in these situations. There were way too many inside runs on 4th and 2 when we were all at different places along this arrow of time.
This is the same play again. Smoot crashes down. Jack gets caught up in the run action. Goode runs with Akins, who turns a route into a run block, and then, Watson cuts it upfield from there. Ahhh, yes, that’s it, that’s how you attack first down.
Two plays later Houston scores off the same action. This time the read changes this close to the goal line. They don’t leave the defensive end unblocked. Watson is either reading Goode or Borders. Goode gets caught up in the run, leaving an easy dumpoff to Darren Fells (#87).
The Texans have been playing with opposing linebackers. It’s like watching a mouse on a string get yanked away from the common house cat, gray with black stripes and gelded. Against Reggie Ragland, Nicholas Morrow, and Goode, these plays work so well.
Jacksonville eventually caught on. They saw this same backfield formation and were prepared for it. Calais Campbell (#93) is the playside defensive end. He quickly goes from crashing to strafing to scampering back to the ball. Jack doesn’t get caught up in the run action and sprints to the ball. Rather than turn and run, Goode stays square to the line of scrimmage. Watson pump fakes to try and create something, but he can’t evaporate out of this one.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Houston deals with teams with better linebacker play. There are plenty of teams from here on out with the intelligence and athleticism to deal with it. Bill O’Brien can create the same advantages, he’ll just have to dress it up some more, throw downfield off of it, and utilize different backfield formations.
This is a great example of this. Steven Mitchell (#11), not Keke Coutee, comes from behind the formation on a jet sweep motion. Campbell flies low and flat and hits Duke Johnson (#25). Ronnie Harrison (#36) and Jack both run with Akins. Mitchell blows this play. He stops and turns to stare at Watson instead of running this route up the sideline. He’s so perfect. I’d probably do the same. Watson tries to lead him for a score. ‘Overthrown’. Incomplete.
- These plays all count as play action. Houston did run plenty of other play action attempts that didn’t include all this run option zaniness, and most of them went towards Kenny Stills.
Their first play of the game was a bootleg left. Fells accidentally murders Borders. Campbell plants and gets outside of Chris Clark (#77). Watson can roll in either direction, and he’s great at turning a scamper into set feet. Here he fires a laser to Kenny Stills (#12) running a dig from the backside of the formation.
It’s always a good time watching the behind view and staring through the same windows Watson throws through. Like a voyeur spending his evening playing The Sims this will have to do. Stills runs another dig. Tre Herndon (#37) isn’t sharp enough to crash down on the throw. Watson puts it over Harrison who climbs down a rung because of the play action.
The Texans ran play action 24% of the time last season, which is the same percentage they were at entering this game. The difference is Houston ran a lot of jet sweep fakes to throw deeper downfield off the play action in 2018. The Texans averaged 8.5 yards per play on play action last season, and are averaging 7.8 yards per play this season. The majority of them are read pass options that create fast breaks in the alley. These are short ball controlling throws, not explosive heaves.
Deep downfield passes were the only thing missing from Houston’s offense this game. Watson attempted only 2 passes that traveled further than 20 yards through the air. One of which came off play action. A.J. Bouye (#21) rode shotgun next to DeAndre Hopkins (#10) with occasional safety help over the top for most of this game. Bouye does a nice job stabbing Hopkins at the line and getting something out of his press coverage. From there he squeezes Hopkins along the sideline and then turns for the ball.
The Texans have been averse to throwing the ball downfield lately. They’ve stuck to the shorter parts of the field. It’s worked, and again, it’s worked against teams with lousy linebacker play. Will Fuller’s injury shouldn’t remove a part of the passing offense that is one of Watson’s greatest skills. We’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with against Baltimore.
- A.J. Bouye v. DeAndre Hopkins isn’t Jalen Ramsey v. Hopkins, but it’s still a FUN time. Bouye did a nice job pressing Hopkins, and the Jaguars didn’t do all that zone turning and off man sideline running they typically do when Bouye was matched up against Hopkins this time.
I enjoyed how Bouye changed from flat to sharp once the ball was in the air to limit what Hopkins did after the catch. Bouye is an underrated tackler.
Hopkins had 8 catches on his 11 targets for 48 yards and 1 touchdown. The Texans have turned him into Michael Thomas, or, in this game, like Jamison Crowder, putting up a box score only Adam Gase could come up with. Hopkins has been used in the slot more often running inside breaking routes to the center of the field.
This is one of the rare attempts that had Hopkins out wide. The Jaguars didn’t blitz often, but here they finally brought a safety. On the run, Watson throws one up to Hopkins in coverage v. Bouye.
Of course Bouye didn’t deflect every pass. If you throw it to Hopkins enough he’ll score. He caught a slant route touchdown with Bouye wrapped around him like that rediscovered coat you’re wearing. Check the pocket. I bet there’s $20 in it. This touchdown officially ended this one.
- If you only looked at the box score you’d be amazed the Jaguars sacked Watson once. Wow, the Texans’ pass protection really held up. You’d whistle then carry on your merry ways. This isn’t true. The Texans’ pass protection was better than expected without Laremy Tunsil, but this has everything to say about Watson, and the pick and pop passing attack, then the pure pass blocking.
Clark does an alright job against my second favorite Josh Allen (#41) here. The extension is nice. He just doesn’t mirror well enough. This allows Allen to spin back around and pursue Watson. Allen has to visit a dentist after this stiff arm. I already hit my deductible this year if he needs any help.
This was the best throw Watson made. Campbell bullrushes through Max Scharping (#74) and quickly ejects. At the top of his dropback he shoots a high pass to Stills. Wild completion. Great third down conversion.
Tytus Howard is back. Yes, more youthful on the job training. To help ease him back into it they chipped a lot on the edge for him. The pressure comes from his side, but from Zach Fulton (#71). Smoot gets to and attacks his outside shoulder. Watson sees it. He floats away easily. Harrison comes over the top to deflect the pass attempt.
Roderick Johnson (#63) is a better left tackle than Chris Clark. There isn’t a good reason for the back and fourth Bill O’Brien played between Clark and him. This time it’s Johnson against Ngakoue. Johnson does a great job punching Ngakoue’s rip and stays in front of him. It’s a deep rush though. Ngakoue is a web slinger. He’s able to back come around to Watson, but whiffs on the tackle. Absurd.
This time Ngakoue gets past Howard. This quick rip is something Ngakoue had success with last week against the New York Jets, and is the same rush Cameron Jordan has terrorized offensive tackles with. Howard trips Ngakoue up, and plops on him, while he scrambles along the ground to tackle Watson. You gotta be quicker than that.
Watson’s most magical moment wasn’t his offensive line’s fault. They ran play action on 2nd & 6 and pulled Scharping to sell power. Two tight ends are pass protecting against defensive linemen. Each one misses their block. There’s almost nothing I hate more than watching a tight end block an edge rusher on a pass play. ProFartball Focus should track these sacks specifically. What else can you say at this point? Watson routinely does what no one has ever done before.
- Carlos Hyde had two monstrous runs this game. One for 48 and another for 58. No insane burst of speed. No broken tackles. Hyde stampeded free through the line of scrimmage on each.
On the shorter one take a look at the safeties. Once bounces wide. The other is wrapped up behind the line of scrimmage. None of the blocks are great here. These are egregious run fits.
Now for the really big one. There isn’t a pass option here. The Texans use the same backfield formation, and jet sweep motion, to confuse Jacksonville’s linebackers. Johnson and Scharping make a great ‘duece’ block to drive down the defensive end and smash the linebacker. Ngakoue sits and is cut down by Fells pulling from the strong side. Goode overreacts to the motion and gets caught behind this same block. That seals it. The jetsweep motion pulls the Harrison wide. Hyde runs forever before lusting after his neighbor at the gates of heaven.
- It’s a big old gosh darn yin-yang. The path to individuation. The masculine and the feminine. Love and hate. There was one play that killed me in this game, and one play I loved. The Texans are out here, in 2019, at midfield, facing 1st and 25, with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, and running the ball. The Jaguars were spectacular at running past tackle attempts. This play turns into 1st and 35 after an illegal block.
Once again Watson makes the hand off a skill. Here he fakes the sweep to Kenny Stills, then fakes the pitch to Carlos Hyde, before sticking it into Hopkins’ belly on a redzone jetsweep. This is a fine second level block by Scharping. Hopkins does a great job cutting and getting vertical and absolutely runs through Jack.
- J.J. Watt has his arm in a sling and is watching tv. This season he had 4 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and 37 pressures before succumbing to his now routine midseason sabbatical. Since D.J. Reader stopped collapsing the interior to toss up alley oops to Whitney Mercilus, Watt has been the entirety of the Texans’ pass rush.
To make up for the white whale gutted and dripping onto the deck, Romeo Crennel needed to get funky. He tried a lot of different things. Most of them didn’t work. Gardner Minshew had 3.14 seconds to throw and slightly uncomfortable was a win for this pass rush.
This is the Texans’ typical base defense now. We’re going to have to start calling D.J. Reader an edge. He moved from nose tackle to defensive end all game, but primarily played defensive end. Reader—Brandon Dunn—Angelo Blackson composed the defensive line. Brennan Scarlett—Benardrick McKinney—Zach Cunningham—Whitney Mercilus composed the linebacker group. Zero pass rush. D.J. Chark (#17) is able to comeback against Johnathan Joseph (#24) to snag a high pass.
Even kind of getting a pass rush is valuable for this defense. The Texans’ are in their base defense with their linebackers deep and dropping in coverage. Minshew fakes the hand off. There’s no pass rush until Reader wiggles free. And when Reader does, Minshew over reacts and runs up the pocket, instead of calmly stepping up. He doesn’t keep his eyes up either. He runs towards a dump off that’s easily tackled.
Minshew went berserk in the pocket throughout this game. It’s 3rd and 15. The Texans pair Jacob Martin (#54) with Carlos Watkins (#91), and Omenihu (#94) with Mercilus (#59). Once again, there’s no pass rush. Minshew doesn’t wade up the pocket. He runs up it and throws it to no one.
Look at the Jags’ route combinations here. Slant-flat on the outside. The tight end runs a comeback. Everything is short. Nothing is open. There’s not even a sniffle of a pass rush until Minshew escapes the pocket towards his throwing arm. This pulls Mercilus into the play. He throws it out of bounds.
It’s 19-3. 1st & 10. Trips right. Two out routes that go nowhere. One fade down the sideline. The other side is a flat and a comeback. Great stuff. Minshew doesn’t go anywhere with the ball. He tries to run up the pocket. The lane closes. Minshew tries to outrun Watkins, but is unable to. This sack takes four plus seconds.
This isn’t even a play. It’s a bag of marbles dropped across a wooden floor. Watch Brennan Scarlett (#51) pick up the quarterback hit here. This isn’t a pass rush.
1st & 10. It’s 19-3. So now, the Jaguars want to run a double move and go deep. The corner is playing off man and has no desire or reason to react to the pump fake. Nothing has been done to set this throw up. Minshew is a bumper car in the pocket. Scarlett has been watching a lot of Mercilus game film.
The best thing Crennel did was show ‘A’ gap pressure to confuse Minshew. 3rd and 5. McKinney and Cunningham both show and drop back. The Texans only bring three. Minshew over reacts to the scent of an edge rusher, then dumps off when he should keep.
3rd and 5 in the redzone. Houston shows ‘A’ gap pressure. Both McKinney and Cunningham drop into short hook zones. Dylan Cole (#51) spies until he follows Fournette into the flat. Minshew isn’t decisive like you have to be in the redzone. He holds onto the ball and fails to step up from Martin’s edge rush.
Houston rarely brought pressure with these looks. On 3rd & 8 they finally brought six. Jacksonville picked it up well here. Minshew has a dump off to Fournette, and could have hit the dig if he stayed strong and made a better throw. Crennel creates another punt.
- The Jaguars’ passing attack made me thankful for Bill O’Brien. Take a look at Minshew’s passing chart in the first half. Too much of it was short and to the flat. Get out of here with this trash.
Here’s how it changed after they went down big and fell into desperation mode.
The Jaguars were quick passing and getting the ball out wide. This sucks. With the wide receiver talent they have going up against Jahleel Addae and Mike Adams as the deep safeties is insane. The Jaguars would have been better off throwing the ball 15 yards down the field every time than throwing a single pass like this.
When they did throw along the sideline, it was mostly against newcomer Gareon Conley (#22). Off man v. Chris Conley (#18). He’s open when he breaks outside. The pass is a little high. Should still be caught. Right through his hands.
Off man. The receiver runs a comeback and converts on 2nd & 10.
Press man. Fade down the left sideline to Chark. One of the rare times they got this look and attacked it. The Jags have been great at making this throw all season. Chark uses his hands to let Conley flow past him. He gets hit with an offensive pass interference call. Remember, the refs hate the Houston Texans.
It’s 19-3 and the Jags are trying to throw to comeback. Chark is in press man v. Conley. He outruns him once he breaks wide. He’s open. He has Conley beat. Minshew takes a bite off the throw with Jahleel Addae as the deep safety; Justin Reid pretty much played slot corner this game. Everyone is going to get beat sometimes. Great coverage teams like New England do a fantastic job playing the ball at the catch point. Conley does it here, like he did it to Tyrell Williams last week, and is able to make this one incomplete.
I have no idea what this is, but it counts.
4th and 10. Off man. Conley on Conley action. The Texans’ Conley doesn’t react to the dig quick enough. The other Conley is open, but the ball is out in front of him. The Texans’ Conley comes down at a nice angle and is able to knock this one out of his extended hands.
This is legitimately great coverage playing press man against the comeback.
My thought on this trade hasn’t changed. Bill O’Brien is the head coach and general manager. The future doesn’t matter. He’s trying to win games right here and right now. The Texans are desperate for cornerback help with the medicine cabinet empty and in use. Brian Gaine’s NFL scouting database has been picked through. So they traded a third round pick for a player they’ll have for the next year and a half. Conley has been better than he was in Oakland, where he was one of the worst corners in the league.
That being said, he’s been beat often this year. His one saving grace has been his ability to play the ball. This isn’t a viable strategy for success. There’s only so many safety vests in the life boat. Just ask Shareece Wright last season. It will be interesting to see if he can get better at playing pure man coverage, instead of losing footraces, and getting left behind when receivers make their breaks inside.
- Leonard Fournette had 11 carries for 40 yards. Great stuff. Really great stuff. As said before, the Texans’ run defense is going to be fine without J.J. Watt. He wasn’t really playing it. Saving himself for marriage and passing attempts. Reader, McKinney, and Cunningham are all A+ run stoppers. Scarlett and Mercilus are great when matched up against secondary blockers, which is often the case. Blackson is fine against the run.
These guys can’t play every base defense down though. They’re going to play Carlos Watkins and Charles Omenihu as base defensive ends sometime. Omenihu was primarily used as a crisp interior pass rusher. There’s no lactic acid ruining his bullrushes. He’ll take some lumps as a base defensive end on other downs. Fournette had a long carry of 11 yards. Remove this and he had 10 carries for 29 yards.
Check out Omenihu (#94) here. The Jaguars are running counter towards him. He doesn’t play the block, or try and split through it. He goes inside of it and is easily turned away from the play. Fournette gets wide and takes care of the rest.
- Jacob Martin was the only one who won with some real pass rushing moves. This is a great chop rip v. Jawaan Taylor (#75). The bend is lovely too. He’s just a little late.
He showed some real juice this game. I’m excited to see what he can do in an expanded role in this defense, Hopefully he can take snaps away from Brennan Scarlett on third downs.