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Film Room: DeAndre Hopkins is still a Force

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NFL: Houston Texans at Los Angeles Chargers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are coming off a bye week and should be well rested and ready to go. At least, I hope that statement holds true — because they have a formidable division foe rumbling in to their arena this Sunday, in the form of the Houston Texans.

We all know how well Deshaun Watson has been playing, but people have been wondering – what’s going on with DeAndre Hopkins?

Sure – those are mostly his fantasy owners that expected him to be the best receiver in the game yet again, but still, there are those that detract — and let me assure you (or warn you) that Hopkins is still a beast to be reckoned with.

I went through every target that Hopkins saw against the Chiefs, Panthers and Saints and the results are as follows:


Slant Routes

The slant has been Bill O’Brien’s flavor of choice for DeAndre Hopkins and I don’t blame him. Hopkins can be a run after catch fiend with his size and relentlessness, to go along with his strong hands and aptitude in 50-50 balls.

Let’s start in Kansas City where Hopkins shows one of his favorite post-catch moves. Hopkins starts stacked with Will Fuller (the Texans have done this a lot – especially against the Chiefs) with Fuller on the line of scrimmage. Hopkins attacks the press aggressively, allowing him space to make a quick cut inside for the slant route.

Once he catches the ball, he sticks his foot in the ground and changes direction right as he catches it – this is one of his favorite moves after he hauls in the ball.

This next design came on a 4th down to seal the game for the Texans with 2 minutes left on the clock. Again, Hopkins lines up in a stack formation with Fuller, but gets to be the receiver on the line of scrimmage this go-around. Hopkins gives the corner a great jab step to the right and swim moves back inside for a slant route to get open in the middle of the field.

Also, Deshaun Watson is really good (watch the 2nd clip).

Hopkins doesn’t deal with press coverage here, which allows him to focus on finding the soft spot in the zone (a skill Hopkins is great at). Well, he would have been successful in his endeavor if not for a blatant grab by Shaq Thompson.

I guess that’s one way to stop Hopkins – grab him and attract a 5 yard penalty, rather than let him loose for more yardage.

Here’s another stack formation, but this time with Duke Johnson. Hopkins fakes a block and delays his release from the line of scrimmage, which gives him space to operate. He gets open on the slant and does the catch and reverse move he is so fond of, which fools the defender initially, but he is still able to bring down Hopkins with a shoe string tackle.

This isn’t the best route by Hopkins, and it’s a great read by James Bradberry. Despite that, Hopkins still comes up with the grab — an important play to remember lest we forget that he’s a big receiver with a strong build that can make impressive plays

Here’s a clip of Hopkins catching a touchdown on his favorite route. He takes a few steps forward to feel out his defender, gives a jab to the outside and pushes his defender in the chest to help create separation. He also does a great job of making sure he creates space between himself and the underneath defender, which gives Watson a pocket to throw in to and that’s six points for Houston.


Finding Open Space

Hopkins particularly has a knack for finding open spaces in zone coverage and is also apt at fooling defenders who are helping on him over the top, both of which could turn in to real problems for the Indianapolis Colts defense.

This first clip is a simple play – Hopkins runs a quick hitch and gets tackled for a short gain.

However, a few things stand out – Hopkins makes sure to stop his route just in front of the underneath defender and drifts towards the open area of the field as well, away from the linebacker that is in his vicinity. This allows Hopkins to catch the ball and potentially make up some yards on the ground. Now, he doesn’t get much here – but this is still a beneficial demonstration of how hard he is to bring down, even for a linebacker — so the smaller Colts unit is really going to need to be on their tackling game, as they were against the Chiefs.

On this play, it looks like Bradberry is covering on Hopkins’ side of the field with another deep safety assisting over the top. Hopkins runs straight for the safety and pivots slightly towards the inside to give the impression of a post or deep in route – the safety bites. This allows Hopkins to get free over the top, even with a sprinting Bradberry closing in on him, he has plenty of space for the ball to get to him. However, Watson throws the ball just a little off target – and if he had set his feet, he may have connected with Hopkins for 6.

This is another example of Hopkins uncanny sense of where the zone is weakest. Hopkins is running a drag here but stops his route short, right in between the 2 underneath defenders. As the ball gets to him, he slowly backs up while securing the catch — a pretty savvy play to create extra yards while maintaining possession.

The play action provided a noticeable boost on this play and Hopkins finds himself wide open deep down the field once again. This one results in an incomplete pass (again), because of a short throw, but it is a good reminder of how stats don’t always tell the full tale.

Hopkins begins by running a crossing route, which the safety seems to be accounting for but once Watson escapes the pocket, Hopkins, whether by design or improvisation, turns up field and gets behind the safety. Hopkins is wide open but, again, Watson throws him too short.

Here, Hopkins is a little bit delayed by the strong press, which may have ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Though he is thrown off his route a bit, he recovers quickly due to his strength, and slants his route towards the middle of the field in between the safety, the corner and the linebacker. This gives Watson plenty of space to complete a pass to Hopkins for a big gain and a nice diving reception.

This one is against man coverage and on a game winning drive — where we get to watch Hopkins give yet another deadly double move.

This time the safety seems to be lost, staring at Watson in the backfield, which gives Hopkins the space he needs to operate.

The faux deep out route catches Lattimore off guard, as he is certainly expecting them to attempt to stop the clock with a throw to the boundary. However, Hopkins makes a pivot upfield and hauls in a nice grab over his shoulder for a huge gain in a ginormous moment.

Also check out this pinpoint accuracy from Watson under pressure – this kid is special.


Hopkins is Human

With all that said, Hopkins has shown more human moments this year than we saw from the 2018 version.

Let’s run through a few plays where he didn’t exactly earn his money (by standards that go beyond mere mortals).

This first one is a fly route with the cornerback pressing up at the line of scrimmage. The corner gets his hands engaged on Hopkins and Hopkins is unable to put a move on him. This also allows the corner to shade him towards the safety. This results in over the top help and a lack of separation, which essentially results in a throw away.

Here, Hopkins gets a nice cushion and runs a slant route right towards pay-dirt. He would have easily scored a touchdown here but he loses focus on the ball while bringing it in and drops it. This moment made my jaw drop, as dropping the ball wasn’t in Hopkins’ vocabulary in 2018.

In this screen grab, Hopkins gets pressed inside his shoulders by the defensive back and is unable to recover from it. The press also opens up a window of opportunity for the safety to come over and help over the top of Hopkins. Watson forces it to Hopkins and it results in an interception.

There are catches that are hard to make and dropping them shouldn’t land you on a blooper reel. However, that threshold exists for people that aren’t at the stratosphere of a DeAndre Hopkins.

Admittedly, this is a tough pass to bring down but it is one we’ve seen Hopkins make time and time again. Hopkins runs a nice post route, where he cuts the defenders face and is open near the middle of the field. Watson throws it and it’s a little high but Hopkins has the radius to complete this. He gets his hands on the ball, away from his body but ultimately drops the throw.


Conclusion

Hopkins is still a scary specimen to deal with and, despite his numbers not being as high as some expected, he has still been getting open and making plays.

He has had some unfortunate circumstances to deal with in terms of inaccurate throws as well as errors of his own in the shape of uncharacteristic drops, combined with the receivers around him becoming more productive players (i.e. Will Fuller if he didn’t drop the ball so damn much). Still, Watson is a exquisite quarterback and Hopkins is still playing like an elite receiver.

The Colts need to continue their newfound ability to make tackles, as Hopkins is a big man to bring down. They will also need to make sure they are aggressive at the release with Hopkins and are able to win that battle more often than not – which should, in turn, allow the corner to guide Hopkins towards their safety help.

Finally – who knows? – maybe Hopkins continues his erroneous 2019 ways, and helps the Colts out with a drop or two. Don’t hold your breath on that one, though.