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2017 Opponent Scouting Report, Week 17: Texans offense is not the best unit

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Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Overview

On December 31, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Houston Texans. In this Week 17 match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.

We’ve played ‘em before and we’ll play ‘em again and this game means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. Let’s hope both teams escape injury free and that the Texans make a mistake and fire Bill O’Brien. I’d like to go ahead and give a shout out to arice1972. I’m guessing 1972 is either a year of birth or graduation, either would make sense as he/she read the last article I wrote and 1972 required a level of reading that Twitter simply doesn’t require. Further ole arice1972 graced us with their comment-presence for only the 4th time in their more than two years here and did so by commenting “thermos”, truly the greatest 4th comment in the history of Stampede Blue. Thanks for reading.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 17 with a look at the Texans scheme and what they did in Week 9.


Offensive Scheme:

Normally my Wednesday scouting report is on the opposing teams Defense and I look at what scheme they will attempt to use to move the ball on our defense. Normally it isn’t 5 am the day after Christmas when I pull film to breakdown and write the Tuesday article. So today, going into the final game of the season, I’m reversing the order and we’re talking offense (read: I Screwed Up, A Chris Shepherd Story). Tomorrow we’ll cover Special Teams just like always, but today we’re throwing it back to what I said about the Texans offensive scheme in week 9:

Here’s a PDF of the playbook, free to download.

I’m not kidding. That’s the basis of this offense. That is the 2004 New England Patriots playbook, at the time Charlie Weis had been running this scheme with Tom Brady and the Pats for four years and they had some success doing so. To make a long story somewhat short, a few years after Weis bolted for greener pastures Bill O’Brien (current Texans head coach) took the reigns in New England as the offensive coordinator.

What does an offensive coordinator do when he takes over with an established system and quarterback who has won three super bowls, you might ask? Well, he’s not going to change much.

As a result, Bill O’Brien runs the Erhardt-Perkins Offense. Grantland wrote an awesome piece on the Erhardt-Perkins and the Patriots usage of it, this is absolutely worth your time. Had Grantland continued to write pieces like this they would still be in business. Much has been written about the Erhardt-Perkins but if you’re looking to really understand it this is the article you need to read. It comes from John B over at Gang Green Nation, SB Nation’s Jets site. I’ll give you some of what it says below:

One of the great dilemmas for building an offense is how complicated a scheme should be. If you run the same thing over and over, the defense is going to have a good idea of what is coming. On the other hand, you also want your players to understand the offense. If you load them up with too much information, you are liable to confuse them just as much as the defense.

You also only have so much time to practice and prepare during the week. You can choose between learning a handful of things really well or being a jack of all trades, master of none. In many cases, it is better to do a handful of things really well than do a lot of things just ok.

Some coaches lean on the side of keeping it simple. Others like complexity like former NFL coach Al Saunders, whose 700 page playbook is the stuff of legend.

Erhardt-Perkins philosophy attempts to mend the best of both worlds. At the risk of being overly simplistic, it is a handful of plays run out of a wide variety of formations and personnel groupings. It is simple for the offensive players but it looks complex to the defense.

John B goes on to draw some parallels between the Erhardt-Perkins and insane innovative college coach Mike Leach, given the simplicity of both systems.

...You heard about the Erhardt-Perkins philosophy that the Patriots base their offense upon. Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins developed it in the 1970's working for the Patriots. Sometimes in football being revolutionary can be using something really old.

Perkins later became head coach of the Giants where he hired a young special teams coach by the name of....Bill Belichick.

Anyway, here is a three man concept the Pats run. It is from their playbook from over a decade ago, and it is still there.

On this one, you have a one back shotgun set. You have the James White going into the flat, Julian Edelman running the curl, and Rob Gronkowski running deep.

Here you have a one back set under center, but the back isn't involved. Gronkowski is going down the field. Edelman is running the curl, and Danny Amendola goes into the flat.

Finally on this one, Gronkowski is going into the flat. Aaron Dobson runs the curl, and Amendola is going down the field.

From Brady's perspective, this is the same play. He just has to identify which targets are running which routes. From the defense's perspective, these are three very different plays. These are just three plays from the first half in the first meeting between the Jets and the Pats alone.

By any definition, the Patriots run an up tempo offense. Football Outsiders keeps track of offensive pace. New England is the fifth quickest team between snaps in the NFL. They are second quickest when leading by a touchdown or more. They are second quickest down by a touchdown or more. They are fourth quickest when the game is within a touchdown.

The Texans may not play as uptempo as the Pats at this point but these next few paragraphs are important for understanding how Deshaun Watson might look to call plays using an even more simplified system.

...the Erhardt-Perkins system has a less complicated verbiage for communicating plays than other systems.

Jon Gruden, a West Coast Offense enthusiast is famous for his love of a call, "Green Right Slot Spider 2 Y Banana."

Brown makes the point that the Erhardt-Perkins system has simpler verbiage than the other two. With a less wordy call, the Patriots can communicate their play quicker and have everybody understand what they are supposed to do.

It might be even quicker than Brown suggested in his article. New England's up tempo style owes a lot to time Belichick spent with Chip Kelly, then the coach at the University of Oregon, whose offense was dazzling operating at warp speed on the college level. This article from 2011 in the Boston Globe explains.

“If you want to see what’s next on the pro level, look to the colleges. That’s what Belichick does, with his alliances with coaches such as Nick Saban (LSU and Alabama), Urban Meyer (Florida and Ohio State) and, now, Kelly.

That’s why when Kelly walked into Gillette Stadium two years ago — and he’s been there three times total — ears perked up among the Patriots’ coaches, including Belichick.”

....................

“Kelly told the Patriots he was moving to a no-huddle that only used one word to signify everything involved in a play.

Sideline calls take too long. Wristbands too.

One word is all that is needed.

The Patriots operate their no-huddle attack most often using one word as the play call.

More accurately, they use six one-word play calls a game.

That word tells all 11 players on offense everything they need to know.

Formation.

Blocking scheme.

Direction on run plays.

Routes for receiver on passing plays.

Shifts in formations.

Snap count.

Possible alerts and play alterations.

One word.”

This article goes into a ton of detail about personnel, versatility and in game strategy, really take time to go read this article and the one from Grantland, you won’t be sorry.

To piggyback on that foundation from one SB Nation site is this article from another, Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog took a look at what Bill O’Brien looks for from his quarterback. This article is yet another good read and it spends a lot of time quoting the man himself:

"These are just some things that I believe in. I think when you’re out there and you’re thinking about who the quarterback of your team is, they have to have a few things. Number one, and don’t laugh, they’ve got to be able to throw the ball accurately. If you tell them to put it somewhere, they’ve got to be able to put it there, and they’ve got to be able to work at it to improve their accuracy. In my opinion they don’t have to be the greatest athletes in the world. If they are, that’s fantastic, there’s a really great example of guys that are great athletes that are really good quarterbacks in the National Football League right now – Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, RG3. Those three guys can throw the football. Remember that first, they’re accurate passers. So they have to be able to throw.

They’ve got to be able to make good decisions. They have to be able to be good decision makers. And you can judge a lot of that off the field. You can watch how these guys do things and carry themselves off the field, and they’ll help you when you’re watching them on the field if they’re making good quick decisions or they’re making crappy decisions. Those are things you have to observe but they have to be able to make good decisions.

This next one to me is really, really important. With all the multiplicity of the defenses these days, defenses at every level you’re seeing even, odd, we call it diamond, bear defense. You’re seeing bear. You’re seeing overload blitz. You’re seeing up the middle blitz. You’re seeing man-free, blitz zero. You’re seeing blitz zone, from the field, from the boundary. With all that, in my opinion, your quarterback has to be intelligent. He has to have a great football IQ. And if he doesn’t, if he can’t learn it, then he should play another position. I’m telling you, because nowadays that guy once he’s out on the field has got to be like a coach on the field. He has to understand what you want, how you want to attack the defense, and he’s got to understand football. In order to do it, he’s got to put work in."

He goes on to talk more about making pre-snap reads and gives some basics into what he tells his QB’s to look for, Kollman notes that the QB is responsible for making these pre-snap reads, in some systems it’s on the center to call out protections, not in Houston, that’s on the QB:

"When you break the huddle at quarterback, you have to think high to low. You can’t think low to high. I don’t care if it’s a run or a pass. Train your quarterback [when he breaks the huddle] to say ‘Where are the safeties?’ Find the safeties. I always tell the kid to find the weak safety, find the strong safety. Just train the kid to find the safeties.

Corners, you guys all know the corners on your team. They’re the sneaky dudes, man. They’re the guys, they got a lot of bravado, and they’re confident, and they’re the ones that can lie to you. Them safeties, those are the guys that direct the show back there. They can lie to you too, don’t get me wrong, but you’ve got to locate them because whether it’s pre-snap or post-snap, they’re going to tell you about what the defense is doing.

So here’s what we say. I’m just talking about two high right now, but if the safeties are twelve yards deep and they’re somewhat off the hash, more than likely they’re playing cover two. If they’re eight to ten yards deep and they’re over your number two receivers, more than likely they’re playing cover four. If they’re under eight yards, those two safeties, and maybe the weak safety is cheating to number three or maybe he’s over number two weak. If they’re under eight yards or they’re hovering in that shallow area, something’s up…it’s blitz zero – especially if it’s empty."

"[If] we put the running back out there as the widest receiver and the corner just bumps out, well, you know it’s zone coverage. If you get empty and you put the back out there on one side or the other as the widest receiver and a linebacker goes out there with him, it’s some type of man coverage. If a safety goes out there with him, it’s some type of man coverage and it’s probably blitz so that they leave the linebackers in the box because they’re going to blitz him. "

Kollman goes a bit further into the offense itself:

Beyond O’Brien’s tendency to rely heavily on the cerebral capacity of his quarterbacks, he also has an affinity for personnel groupings that provide multiplicity and flexibility. The more things that the offense can do from one personnel package, the faster the pace they can run plays. If a player can do one role well, he might make the team; if he can do three roles well, he is a starter. Flexibility like that is why the Texans may take a hard look at a fullback/tight end hybrid like Gerald Christian, a big and powerful tight end who can block well like C.J. Fiedorowicz, or an open space weapon like De’Anthony Thomas who can be moved from slot receiver to running back at will, just for the sake of infuriating defensive coordinators.

Quoting O’Brien again:

"Whether it’s high school, college, or even the pros, you have to make sure that you have like five or six base concepts, and in those five or six base concepts you’ve got to be able to move people around. So you have to have different personnel groups in my opinion. So your backs, who are your best pass receiving backs? Who are your best pass receiving tight ends? Who are your quicker receivers?

But we’ve got to have about five or six concepts where the guys can move around within the concept and know what to do. Don’t worry about figuring out how we call routes, just know that we call a route at Penn State from the strength of the formation to the weak side of the formation."

"I really believe in word association. I’ve been in both systems. Charlie and I were in a system in Maryland where it was five-eight-five, six-two-eight, six-seven-eight and all that, and that was a great system. And then when I went here, it was the words, so the thing that I liked about the words is that it gave you the ability to create new routes. Your guys understood that we’re going to call this, we’re going to call this Gotti. Gotti…a ‘go’ and an ‘option’ route. And then the next one we’re going to call Hoffa. Hoffa now is a deeper option route and a stutter-go on the outside. But they would associate things by these words and I thought that was a good way and it gave you a little bit more creativity in the offense."

I know I’ve given you a lot of links and encouraged you to click them but seriously, if you do nothing else, watch these videos, they’re absolutely fascinating and give you a good look into what O’Brien wants his offense and more importantly his quarterback to do .


Now that you’ve been given a refresher on how the Texans would like to run their offense, let’s take a look back to Brett Mock’s week 9 recap against these same Texans. I’ve included a few gifs to further highlight what Brett points out:

The first half started with the defense picking up where it left off against the Bengals, stuffing any attempt to run the football and playing tight coverage in the secondary.

It wasn’t until inside linebacker Jeremiah George got caught up in traffic on a designed pass to Lamar Miller that the Texans could get anything going. A penalty for a “horse collar-type tackle” added 15 yards to the end of Miller’s big play to set up the Texans in Colts territory.

After DeAndre Hopkins was called for an offensive pass interference penalty that backed up Houston in a first and twenty situation, the officials bailed out Tom Savage with a weak roughing the passer penalty on Henry Anderson. Despite the gift of a first down and better field position, Houston had to settle for a field goal try — which they missed

Our Colts went out and put up some points, putting us in a very favorable situation. 10-0 hasn’t been common for the team this year and it’s far from a comfortable lead for Jacoby and the Boys.

After Tom Savage hit on a nice 29-yard pass to Will Fuller in the middle of the Colts zone, outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard picked up a strip sack that was recovered by the Texans offensive line.

Another hit on Savage resulted in an errant throw that fell incomplete. On third and long, the Colts allowed a short pass in front of them that had no chance to get a first down. This resulted in a punt...

At this point in the game the Colts have the ball with a 10-0 lead going into the final 2 minutes of the half. Then they went out and did dumb things and gave up 7 points on offense.

The second half gets started and a wild play by TY Hilton and a 53 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, the score was 20-7 Colts on top.

In an odd sense of déjà vu, a sense that Colts fans have been getting regularly in 2017, and just as the commentators mentioned that the Indianapolis defense had moved away from what was working, Tom Savage hit DeAndre Hopkins for a long touchdown. Pierre Desir had nice coverage but when the defense starts playing back on its heels, bad things happen.

If you are a Colts fan and the final drive for the Texans offense wasn’t the biggest Halloween scare of this holiday season, I want to go to whatever haunted house you attended. With the Indianapolis defense in full on “allow” mode, the question wasn’t whether the Texans would score but how many points they would get when they did. On cue, two big passes put the Texans inside of the Colts 25 yard line with over a minute to play.

After an oh too close near touchdown toss to DeAndre Hopkins was ruled incomplete. Another pass to Hopkins resulted in a first down at the Colts seven yard line.

Somehow, the Texans failed to get into the end zone on four straight plays. Jabaal Sheard picked up a strip sack on the final play of the game that was recovered by Barkevious Mingo to give the Colts an elusive win 20-14.


Final Thoughts

The last time we played these Texans they were extremely limited in what they could do as they built the offense around their rookie QB and his skill set. They’re still going to be very limited in what they can do, but this time they have the opportunity to plan for it.

Ultimately it may not matter as T.J. Yates looks to start for the Texans. Mr. Yates is completing 45.2% of his passes, which would lead the league in completion percentage if this were 1936. Seriously, neither of the last two numbers I listed are typos. He would beat out hall of fame QB and Packers legend Arnie Herber for tops in the league, also they’re the only two guys who would be considered “qualifiers” based on having thrown enough passes.

It’s going to be a rough game, boys and girls. Prepare accordingly.