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2019 Opponent Scouting Report: Texans Offense; Guys I think they found an offensive line.

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NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 20, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Houston Texans. In this Week 7 match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

These two teams have faced off a total of 35 times since the Texans came into the league in 2002. In that time our Colts have compiled a 27-8 record over the Texans and if you do better with percentages; the Colts have won more than 77% of all games played against Houston. The last time these two teams faced the Colts turned in a dominate playoff performance on the ground finishing with a final score of 21 to 7, though the game never felt like it was that close. Hopefully the Colts still have it in them to bully this Texans team like they did earlier this year.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week 7.


Offensive Scheme

In case you forgot where Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien cut his teeth in the NFL, it was with the 2007 New England Patriots as an offensive assistant. O’Brien came to the Pats by way of a nearly 15 year run coaching at various college football programs along the east coast. If you trace back his schematic influences far enough you’ll start to see names like Carl Franks and Marty Galbraith. Then if you dig just a little deeper you’ll find that all roads lead to a lot of guys riding Steve Spurrier’s coattails and even though we won’t debate the effectiveness of trickle-down football-knowledge-economics O’Brien took an odd path to land himself on a staff with a pre-Broncos Josh McDaniels calling the plays for a team that went 19-1 and broke countless offensive records along the way. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons Bill O’Brien uses the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system but it doesn’t hurt that his first season in the NFL also happened to be a historic one using an efficient, highly malleable system.

The Erhardt-Perkins isn’t a system in the same way that the West Coast or Air Coryell offenses are, as those systems imply a style of passing the ball. Short throws stressing a defense horizontally or more vertical passing concepts stressing a defense vertically, are the aim of the West Coast offense and Air Coryell, respectively. Instead the Erhardt-Perkins can be used to accomplish either of those goals and is instead a highly efficient method for communicating passing concepts out of various formations. The article I liked above is a great dive into this topic but just to give you a quick understanding the Erhardt-Perkins exists to streamline ideas. In theory, your offensive coordinator could call the same passing concept out of an infinite number of formations and because the concept was the same, you don’t have to process any additional information, it’s technically the same play to an offensive player but is unpredictable to a defense.

So how does Bill O’Brien choose to use this system?

O’Brien does a good job of mixing up his concepts. He doesn’t seem to favor deep or short concepts over the other, though he does dial up a lot of deep, slow developing plays, more so than you would expect out of a team running a West Coast offense, though not as often as say the Kansas City Chiefs when they’re healthy and playing at a high level. All in all the Texans offense does appear to be balanced if nothing else.

Play Action

We can expect to see a lot of play action, though less of it will likely come from looks under center, such as this one, but the Texans like to use play action as well as RPO’s and read-option run concepts. On this play the Texans rolled Deshaun Watson out on a bootleg, allowing him to set up without a defender near him and he took a deep shot to DeAndre Hopkins who was one on one with Kenny Moore.

If the Colts pass rush can continue to play near the level we saw them play at against the Chiefs, I expect that the Texans are going to have to be creative in finding ways to give Watson time to allow these deep routes to develop.

Read-Option

The read-option isn’t a play that NFL teams rely on heavily. It’s not that it isn’t effective, it’s just that you usually don’t want your quarterback taking unnecessary hits. With that said Deshaun Watson is a good athlete for the quarterback position. I noticed a few of these looks this season as well as this look from the last time these two teams went head to head, in January of this year.

One thing to note about the read-option is that the quarterback has the freedom to hand this ball off or keep it himself. His read is made based on what the backside defensive end does on the play. Had Al-Quadin Muhammad not attacked the ball carrier, Watson would have handed the ball off up the middle. Instead he saw his opportunity around the edge and he took it.

3rd and Long

The more Texans film I watched, the more I saw this kind of play. O’Brien is absolutely dialing up plays deep enough to convert when the Texans find themselves in a hole on third down. With that said more often than not Watson has to take a check down option that will pick up most of the yards they needed.

Last year the Colts proved to be pretty good at making these kinds of tackles short of the sticks but the Texans seem to convert a lot of plays like this and it has to drive opposing fans, coaches, players, scouts, even the concession stand workers, nuts. It’s incredibly frustrating to force a third and long only to give up a first down due to a check-down and bad tackling.

Traditional Offense

As much as things change, they stay the same. When you look at the Texans offense it looks really modern; they’re in shotgun a lot, they use RPO’s, they like to spread the field with three receiver sets. It’s all so exotic... except it’s really not. This play above is a play you’ll find in all 32 NFL playbooks. It’s just an outside concept designed to test all three levels of a defense. It can be used to flood a zone and it can be effective against man coverage as well.

On the play above the Colts’ zone coverage wasn’t flooded as much as Watson found his receiver who had sat down in a hole in that zone. It wasn’t blown coverage and it’s tough as fans to be upset with any single defender on this play, ultimately it was a play that Watson and his receiver read well, a hard pass was thrown into a closing window and the Texans made a nice play.

But that’s not really why I included this play here. This play is a classic concept. It puts the quarterbacks first three options on one side of the field and it creates an easy high-low progression for the signal-caller to make. The reason I included it is because this offensive system it becomes very easy for Bill O’Brien to call this same play from hundreds of formations. And yes, it’s true other systems allow that to be true as well but the Erhardt-Perkins system simplifies the thought process for everyone on offense meaning that if the Texans find a concept that’s working, they might dress it up a little different but they’re going to keep running the play until the Colts stop it.

When watching the Texans offense I don’t see a lot of innovation. There’s not a ton of creativity. I also don’t see a boatload of well timed play calls nor do I find a ton of examples of the Texans slowly and methodically setting up plays for later in the game. It’s entirely possible I missed some of these things as my time spent watching the Texans still dwarfs that of Texans fans, but usually while watching the Colts opponents I pick up on something of the sort if it exists, and I didn’t notice anything.

Had the Texans not taken Deshaun Watson in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, it is my belief he would be back in New England working under Josh McDaniels again. In short he isn’t a great play-caller or head coach but the talent he has to work with is good, even if it is a bit spotty in some areas.


Quarterback:

Deshaun Watson is as promising a young quarterback as you will find in the NFL. He can make every throw, he progresses through reads, something he has improved, as most young quarterbacks don’t process the field the way 22 year old Andrew Luck did and he has the athleticism to extend plays and improvise when the need arises. Watson is a very good young quaterback and it would be foolish to dismiss that because he plays for a division “rival”.

With all of that said he isn’t perfect and I have the video evidence to prove it.

Playoffs

So I did a really bad job cutting this video and that’s on me. The reason I say that is because right before I clicked “record” on this video a Colts cornerback (I believe Pierre Desir) followed a Texans receiver that went in motion. This is a classic pre-snap read for a quarterback that usually tells the signal-caller that the defense is in man coverage. There are a few reasons why it’s usually man, but just know that it’s usually pretty difficult to move a defensive back from one side of the field to the other and have all of the DB’s adjust while still understanding their role.

So naturally Watson knows his slot receiver is going deep and Kenny Moore will be going with him, you know because it’s man coverage. Instead Moore bumps his man in the slot before dropping off into his zone. From Watson’s perspective his tight end had a step on the linebacker and was open for the first down. Luckily that didn’t happen, the Colts confused Watson with an interesting pre-snap trick.

Kenny Moore had himself a day

Moore played great last January for sure but this is something I noticed a lot from these Texans; they struggle with blitzes coming from the right. It’s hard for me to say, definitively that this is on Watson but there are rarely adjustments made to blitzes off of his right side, especially if the blitzer declares late like in the clip above. The Colts sent several extra rushers off of Watson’s right side and I expect to see it more this week.

The ultra-rare backward pass throwaway

This was a fumble and it was stupid.

Fine, here’s a good play

I know I said a lot of good things about Watson and then showed a bunch of bad plays. Just know that there are far more highlight plays I could have thrown in. On the play above Watson has a lot of time to throw. The Chargers only sent three rushers, so he should have time, but with it he works to what I believe is his fourth option on the play, delivering a dart to an open receiver before defenders could close on the ball and while you would like to see him do that a little faster, I would probably stare down DeAndre Hopkins a little too long too. I’m not saying Hopkins has hurt Watson’s development at all, what I am saying is that you won’t need to work past your second option too many times as long as Hopkins is always your first or second choice.

The part of Watson’s game that worries me the most isn’t necessarily what he can do between the 20’s. Watson is fully capable of throwing for 400 yards and three touchdowns every time he walks on the field but the part that is most concerning to me is how effective he is as a runner inside his opponents 20 yards line. He currently leads the Texans with five rushing touchdowns on the season and it isn’t a stretch to believe that number could grow this Sunday.


Running Back:

The Texans ran the ball down the throats of the Kansas City Chiefs, just like the Colts did the week before. Both teams were able to do so with north/south running plays, traditional gap schemes instead of trying to beat the Chiefs to the edge on outside zone runs. The Texans found success doing so and it was their biggest day on the ground so far this season, racking up 192 yards in a 31 to 24 victory.

Prior to last week the Texans used a lot of outside zone concepts and runs from the pistol and gun. Earlier in the season the Colts struggled in defending similar plays so it will be interesting to see how Bill O’Brien and his staff see this Colts front seven. If he takes the same approach that every team should now take against the Chiefs, or if he will try to go back to running outside with his still new to the team stable of running backs.

Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson have run the ball a total of 136 times this season for 665 yards and three touchdowns. Neither Hyde nor Johnson were members of the Texans roster before August of this year, with Hyde coming to the team on August 31st in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Together they’re averaging nearly 4.9 yards per carry and have become a major factor in the Texans early season success.

Goal line shotgun run

I imagine someone like Lorenzo Neal watching this play, losing his mind at the lack of fullbacks on the field. Either way Carlos Hyde found a crease, went straight ahead and finished the run into the end zone. Even if this play had taken place anywhere else on the field this ends up being a nice pickup on the ground. With the push the line got, his forward lean and leg drive I believe Hyde picks up a minimum of 5 yards on this play.

Duke Johnson

Duke Johnson is the clear RB2 for the 2019 Texans. He has rushed 37 times this season for 239 yards and compared to Hyde’s 99 attempts for 426, it’s apparent that the team likes to use Hyde in a more traditional role. With that said Johnson also has 11 catches for 105 yards so far this season. Johnson is averaging 7.2 yards per touch. The only players on the team with 40 or more touches on the season are Johnson, Hyde and DeAndre Hopkins who is averaging 10.1 yards per.

Johnson could play a big part in any game this season. Due to the nature of his role he won’t see the field as much as Hyde. However given Carlos Hyde’s vast injury history it seems irresponsible not to mention it. At some point Johnson will likely be counted on to carry the load. Hopefully that’s not the case this weekend but it is worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Hyde keeps getting traded

Watching him on the field I understand why Hyde has been traded twice in two years. There were times he would miss an obvious hole on an outside zone. There are three options, it’s easy to pick them out without having to guess what the play call is. Saying someone should cut a run back is tricky if you aren’t sure you know where the play was supposed to go. Cutting back on a gap run like power almost always ends poorly even if it looks like there’s a hole on the other side. Outside zones on the other hand are easy to identify on tape and Hyde has missed some obvious plays.

With that said, as a whole his vision has been better than average, he’s doing a good job finding space and running through arm tackles. To win football games in 2019 you don’t really need to have a good running back, Texans fans know this, they won the division last year with Lamar Miller. With that said the Texans found a way to upgrade their running back room in a big way in August, no less, and now have even more NFL caliber weapons to surround Deshaun Watson with.


Pass Catchers:

Earlier this season I claimed that the Atlanta Falcons would have the best receiving corps that our Colts would face this season and despite their struggles as a team, I stand behind that. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, for my money, are at the top of the mountain. Though these Texans receivers aren’t far behind.

Everyone knows about DeAndre Hopkins (and before you say it, yes Random Stampede Blue User, we know you wanted the Colts to draft Hopkins in 2013 rather than Bjoern Werner. You should probably quit your job and pursue a full time role as a talent scout. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes!). Hopkins was the only player drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft to be named an All-Pro multiple times for his play on offense or defense (sorry Cordarrelle Patterson I know you’re a great kick returner but your All-Pro designations just don’t mean much to me). Outside of Hopkins the Texans have plenty of good options for Deshaun Watson to throw to as well.

Will Fuller is second on the team with 48 targets and leads the team with 444 yards receiving and seems to have a 40+ yard pass sail just over his fingertips at least once per game, eventually he and Watson are going to connect on a few of those plays, I just really hope it’s not this week. Tight end Darren Fells decided to become a real receiving threat at 33 years old. Prior to this season Fells’ most productive season came in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals catching 21 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Using dumb-guy methods Fells is currently on pace to catch 40 passes for 424 yards and eight touchdowns. Fells also took a highly interesting path to become a starting tight end in the NFL, he played basketball professionally in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before signing a contract with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. In a way I’m glad he didn’t have a huge impact from day one or all the announcers would talk about is Darren Fells’ basketball career with every single target.

Jordan Akins is a second year tight end out of Central Florida. He’s currently fourth on the team with 18 targets. Receiver Keke Coutee missed week one after suffering a scary looking lower body injury in the preseason. Luckily for Coutee it wasn’t as serious as it looked and the young pass catcher is playing close to 50% of the Texans offensive snaps. Finally you should be aware of Kenny Stills, who despite me having never spoken directly to him, must be the happiest man in the NFL to not have to continue playing for the dumpster fire that is the Miami Dolphins. The ‘Phins shipped Stills along with left tackle Laremy Tunsil to Houston for the Texans future. Stills has sat out the last two games with a hamstring injury and at the time of this writing, it’s unknown if he will be able to suit up on Sunday. Before going down with injury Stills was on pace for 44 catches, 750 yards and four touchdowns and while that stat line may not jump out at you he was joining a team with an elite WR 1 and 2 tandem. Kenny Stills has been very productive all things considered.

DeAndre Hopkins needs to stay in his lane

He’s way better catching the ball than he is at throwing it.

The Good Guys won this game

Keke Coutee torched the Colts to the tune of 10 catches for 110 yards and this touchdown. Coutee will be used in a lot of pre-snap motion, a lot of jet-sweep fakes and if the defense is willing to give it up, Coutee is capable of having a big day.

Something to watch for

Against the Falcons the Texans adjusted their formations to account for the physical bump and run style coverage the Falcons like to use. I noticed several plays like the one above where Texans receivers would line up stacked or bunched so that the Falcons couldn’t get a hand on them at the line. This is interesting because our Colts have had success being physical at the snap with these Texans receivers in the past. It will be interesting to see if the Texans respect the physical nature of the DB’s Chris Ballard has brought in during his tenure.

Will Fuller

This is another example of why you can’t rush Watson with three guys. Here Fuller goes across the formation to pick up the long touchdown reception.

None of these receivers or running backs ultimately matter if Deshaun Watson is laying on his back and that’s good news for the Colts... right? Eh...


Offensive Line:

The only thing more American than a glass of milk and a slice of warm apple pie is the idea that the Houston Texans will always have a terrible offensive line.

Colts fans, I have some bad news; this might be the end of our idea of Americana. Now, I’m not ready to say that the Texans have fixed their offensive line, but I will say it is vastly improved over years passed.

“But what about all of the sacks?”

Yeah, Deshaun Watson has given up a lot of sacks, but based on the four games I watched, a lot of those sacks can be blamed almost exclusively on Deshaun Watson. I’ve mentioned it before but Watson likes to hold on to the ball, O’Brien likes to dial up deep passing concepts and there are talented pass rushers in the NFL. Those three things combined mean that unless the quarterback makes a commitment to getting rid of the ball and avoiding lost yards, the sacks are going to keep coming and it’s tough to seriously place the blame on the offensive line.

Getting to that line, as I mentioned the Texans traded multiple first round picks to the Dolphins for Laremy Tunsil who is one of, if not the best young left tackle in football. In the 2019 draft the Texans took Tackle Tytus Howard with the 23rd overall pick out of Alabama State. They, now famously, were jumped by the Philadelphia Eagles so they could select Andre Dillard and in what seemed like a panicked move the Texans seemed to reach on Howard. In the second round they selected T/G Max Scharping out of Northern Illinois.

I felt that both were terrible selections at the time. Both of them seemed to come far too early for either player and as a Colts fan I was pretty happy with both players being in Houston. Now after saying that, so far through six games, I appear to have been wrong about both players.

Howard has played his fair share at right tackle and before leaving last week against the Chiefs with a partially torn MCL, he looked as good as you can expect any rookie tackle to look in his sixth professional game. Given what I believed about him before the draft, I was blown away with what I was seeing. When I turned my attention to Scharping, I was shocked to see his lack of anything resembling flexibility didn’t seem to hinder his ability to pass protect at the left guard position.

Notre Dame alum and Indianapolis native Nick Martin will start for the Texans at center while Zach Fulton looks to return from a turf toe injury. With Tytus Howard out of the lineup for at least a couple weeks it looks as though Seantrel Henderson or Roderick Johnson will be the next man up at right tackle.

I could show you a ton of clips of Deshaun Watson taking sacks, but I don’t feel they’re representative of the job this offensive line had done thus far. The Texans have committed to improving their line and while I have questioned and doubted each and every move they’ve made, they have in fact, improved their offensive line to that of being no worse than average and that, folks, is something I never wanted to have to type.


Final Thoughts:

The Texans have a talented offense. Deshaun Watson is a very good young quarterback but he can be forced into making mistakes. Unfortunately this Texans offense is more talented than it was in January, with that said I believe that if the Colts can limit the run, continue to not commit penalties and force multiple turnovers, it should be a good day for our Colts. The Texans always play the Colts tough, but aside from anything that could be confused with homerism or living with the influence of past success, looking at the Texans offense as it matches up to the Indy defense and I really don’t mind this match-up, it won’t be easy but it is certainly winnable.

In the past Matt Eberflus has battered the right side of the Texans line with blitz after blitz and with Seantrel Henderson/ Roderick Johnson at tackle and Watson seemingly completely unaware of his peripheral vision, this could end up being what causes the big plays our Colts defense needs to have to get this win at home.