Welcome to the Negative Defensive Plays: Titans vs. Texans (Week 12) article, as we look at how Deshaun Watson and the Texans carved up the defense last week. The defense was atrocious in this game, a fact reflected in the final score (34-17).
Negative Defensive Plays:
The first negative defensive play here, and it’s a major run by Lamar Miller. The fault here results from late movement by the tight end, which forces the defenders to evacuate the planned path of the run. The Titans had 8 defenders in the box, and still gave up the 20 yard run for two reasons. The first issue is Wesley Woodyard, because he doesn’t defend the cut back lane, rather trying to attack the A gap, and leaving the C gap wide open. The second aspect is Brian Orakpo, because he has outside contain on the play, but also has to worry about a mobile QB, and you can see him hesitate just a little bit, which allows Miller to hit the hole and run up the field.
To be frank, I’m more impressed by the Texans here with late movement than fault with the Titans defense. I just want to highlight the issues presented by the Titans because Watson/Hopkins present such a big threat. The Texans send a receiver in motion, which is followed by Jackson in man coverage, and he’s the one that has a chance to stop this play from being a first down. However, Jackson is focused on the receiver and doesn’t notice the ball being given to Miller, thus he doesn’t take advantage of the angle he has to stop the running back. Wesley Woodyard looks like he’s out of position, but he’s got A gap control on this play, since Kenny Vaccaro is supposed to have outside contain. However, the Texans have their right guard pull block to take out Vaccaro, which means Woodyard is in no-man’s land, and Miller runs to the outside for a first down. The issue here is simple, the defense has to worry about Watson and his running ability, which gives them pause, while also knowing a dynamic receiver such as Hopkins in on the field, which causes the safety to be late. This play is set up extremely well because defenses have a hard time accounting for all the weapons on this offense.
The first touchdown of the game, and it goes to Demaryius Thomas, although this isn’t terrible coverage by Adoree’ Jackson. The main aspect of this play is Kevin Byard playing double coverage on Hopkins from the start, as they make no qualms about hiding their intentions. Hopkins is covered to the inside and out on this play taking him out. However, this leaves the other cornerbacks on an island, which is the reason the Texans traded for Thomas in the first place. The coverage by Jackson isn’t bad, but he has to defend both the inside and outside routes because there is no help in the middle for him, therefore causing him to be reactive instead of proactive. The slight hesitation allows Thomas to get the inside leverage, at which point this is a fairly easy throw for Watson. The only way for Jackson to make a real play on the ball without a penalty would have been to undercut the route and hope to get his hands on the ball, but that’s asking for too much. This is mainly a play that results from the Texans knowing Hopkins was the center of attention, and taking advantage of a one on one situation.
Deshaun Watson makes an audible before the snap, because he recognizes Tampa 2 coverage and adjusts the route of Hopkins. The essential point of the defense is the two cornerbacks gaining outside leverage and then drifting outward to take away quick out routes. The linebackers drop back into the intermediate areas to attack crossing routes, and the two safeties stay back to protect against deep passes. The weakness in this of course is the exact route ran by Hopkins, where they have a large zone beyond the cornerbacks, but before the safety’s zone. The defense just can’t cover that zone, which is what Watson realized. Once Watson correctly diagnosed the play, this is just a pitch and catch. The Titans gave away the defense too quickly, and paid for it.
Remember earlier in the game where I mentioned Orakpo hesitated, which allowed for Miller to hit the hole for a sizeable run? Well this is the counter to it. Watch Watson in this case, because all he is reading is Orakpo and his reactions. If the linebacker stays back like the earlier play, then hand off to Miller and watch him run. However, Orakpo remembers the last play and commits hard to defending Miller, losing outside contain. Once Watson realizes he can beat Orakpo to the corner, this play is over because the Texans have a blocker for the other defenders. Only Orakpo is the one that can stop this play because there isn’t an assigned blocker to him, but he can’t chase down the QB. This is why teams are moving more and more towards fast linebackers, because they want guys that can recover and chase down QBs in this situation, but Orakpo is not one of them. This play was set up by the Miller run earlier in the game, and Orakpo adjusted, but unfortunately for the Titans, so did Watson. On a side note, Wesley Woodyard gets blocked on this play, falls down, and trips another defender while he’s down.
The touchdown that really broke the game open for the Texans. The defense has eight in the box, with a 9th player still on the screen, yet they give up a 97 yard touchdown. The play is really made by the offensive line of the Texans, as they blocked extremely well in this one on one match up situation. The right guard chip blocks a defender and then moves onto a Wesley Woodyard, while the left tackle pulls around to block Rashaan Evans, allowing Miller to break through the hole. You can make an argument that the right guard is holding Woodyard on the play, as you see shoulder flaps being held when trying to disengage the block. The real culprit for the touchdown, rather than a long gain, is Kevin Byard, because he takes a horrible angle at this block. He needs to take the outside angle, because Vaccaro is attacking the inside cut back option from behind Miller. If the running back cuts back towards the inside, then Vaccaro has a shot at making the tackle. However, Byard whiffs on the tackle and outside contain, which allows Miller to run down the field for a touchdown. I left the rest of the play up just to see the speed of Jackson on the play. He has to step around Byard, which allows for a 5 yard separation between Miller and the young cornerback, with another 3 yards or so in horizontal separation, and yet he almost makes up the ground by the end, which is quite impressive.
I do not understand this defensive call, because it goes against everything they needed to do here. The Texans have 25 seconds left on the clock, without a time out, and they are at their own 46 yard line. In this instance, you need to make sure they don’t get sideline throws or deep passes. You allow for the short passes in the middle like screens because it wastes time before they can get into field goal range. It’s fairly simple prevent defense practices, especially since the Titans are only rushing three. However, what is Logan Ryan doing on this play? He is matched up against Hopkins, who isn’t even ready for the start of the play. However, Ryan lets Hopkins run right by him down the sidelines because he’s defending against a possible Watson run in zone cover? They have linebackers in the middle of the field as well, so why is Ryan allowing Hopkins to run down the field on the sideline? The deep side line throw is the exact throw to avoid in this scenario. To make matters worse, notice the slot receiver is wide open on this play as well because Jackson has to bail to defend Hopkins. If the slot receiver runs a deep post route, he’s going to be open because Byard’s hips are facing the wrong way. The Titans were vulnerable to the deep sideline route and the deep post route while rushing 3, which is the exact opposite of what you want to have in this situation.
Another example of “What Are They Defending?” plays from the Titans defense. The Texans are on 3rd and 9, but I don’t understand what Wesley Woodyard is doing on this play. He’s matched up against the tight end, but he allows for a free release to the outside, bails out on the pass rush, and then guards air in the middle. The tight end rolls to the right, gets the wide-open pass and rumbles down the field for an easy pass. The Titans have two defenders against three receivers, so Watson can just pick them apart on a critical third down. It looks like miscommunication between Woodyard and Ryan because both seem to assume the other would cover the tight end, and it leads a wide-open receiver. On the other side, notice the great route running skills from Hopkins, matched up one on one with Jackson. Notice how he manipulates the hips of the defender and becomes open for a pass. I find Hopkins’ (and Keenan Allen’s) route running to be extremely skillful and can really take advantage of one on one coverage.
This is a 4th and 1 play, and the Titans decide that defending the pass doesn’t interest them. The Texans have three easy options on this play for the first down. The easy pass to Hopkins, with Jackson playing well off the line of scrimmage makes for an easy conversion. The tight end is matched with Vaccaro, playing off the line, for another easy pass. The outside receiver also runs a simple in route, which is also wide open for the conversion. The Titans need to defend this with press coverage, because the one yard pass is too easy here to convert, with defenders playing off the line of scrimmage.
Sometimes you just have to tip your hat and move on, because the opposition just made a great individual play. The defense actually does a good job in blowing up the backfield, because the Texans have set up an out route coupled with a screen pass here. Jurrell Casey barges into the backfield and almost sacks Watson, who has to improvise at that point and run up the field. Unfortunately for the Titans, Watson happens to be one of the better rushing QBs in the league, and he runs past the defenders for a major gain. There isn’t much the Titans could do to defend this, because Watson turned a broken play into positive yards. The QB was hit, and there should have been a fumble called on the play, but the officials ruled him down on the field and they didn’t see enough evidence to overturn it. As Watson matures, he will learn to slide in this situation, because he has to avoid getting these types of hits in a game they are leading comfortably.
Remember the first touchdown to Thomas in the game? Essentially the exact same route by Thomas here, which leads to another easy TD. The problem once again is that the Titans couldn’t stop the run, and they had to double team Hopkins with Byard. Thomas is left one on one against Logan Ryan, but once again the defender doesn’t have inside help. Ryan has to react, rather than be proactive, just like Jackson on the last TD, which makes it an easy pass for Watson. Another thing to note is Wesley Woodyard on the play (who seemed to be in the middle of a lot of these bad plays) because he’s caught peeking into the backfield for too long. Woodyard sees Watson with the ball, and turns around the wrong way to defend the crossing tight end. Woodyard doesn’t cover the tight end, but he also runs into his own player trailing the tight end, allowing the Texans to have a wide-open option for the TD, if Thomas was covered. This is just a terrible set up by the defense because they are focusing too much on stopping Hopkins, while leaving others in single coverage. The Texans traded for Thomas to take advantage of this exact situation, and they did it twice in this game.
Long story short, the defense played miserably and the Texans dominated them in the passing and rushing aspects of the game.
- The defensive game plan was terrible, as they were committed to limiting Hopkins, but failed elsewhere
- The Texans took advantage of single coverage over and over again
- A mobile QB like Watson is extremely effective against this defense
- Demaryius Thomas is going to make a big difference for the Texans in the red zone
- Wesley Woodyard probably wouldn’t like this game
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