Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Houston's Problems

Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

After an abysmal offensive start, the Houston Texans rallied to beat the Buffalo Bills and advance to the divisional round of the playoffs. They were shut out in the first half but sent it to overtime with 19 points in the third and fourth quarters. It wasn't a pretty performance for the offense or the offensive line in particular. There were three false starts and they allowed seven sacks, but the nice thing is that when you win, those things aren't dissected endlessly.

Before we get into the passing game, though, I wanted to highlight a couple of things in the run game. Houston did a decent job of gaining some nice chunk plays on the ground but lacked some consistency in that department. In particular, they struggled to block Buffalo's linebackers.

Left guard Max Scharping (74) makes either a great block or a good block depending on what Buffalo is supposed to be doing on defense. I'm not sure if the Bills are running a stunt here and the defensive tackle is getting hooked in a spot where he absolutely cannot get hooked or if Jerry Hughes (55) is freelancing and blowing his gap, but the Bills are screwed up here and the Texans are running the perfect play to take advantage of it. If it's a stunt and Scharping is hooking a guy that's supposed to be slanting outside, it's a great block. If Hughes is freelancing, it's still a good block by Scharping to hook a 3-technique on weak-side outside zone. This looks like it could be a huge play.

Unfortunately, center Nick Martin (66) takes a bad angle to the linebacker at the second level and never gets there. I don't think he hangs too long on the down guy -- he can't know that Carlos Hyde (23) is getting such an extreme bounce read -- but if his aiming point is closer to the linebacker's play-side number I think he at least gets a piece of him and slows him down. And that's all he would have needed to do is just slow him down. If he does that, Hyde probably goes for a big gain instead of a 4-yard gain.

This is the big run from the first drive of the game, and it's a nice run by Duke Johnson, but it's never ideal to leave the play-side linebacker (Tremaine Edmunds, 49) completely unblocked on inside zone. I like Martin feeling the defensive tackle (Jordan Phillips, 97) slanting to him and slowing up to help the guard, but this is probably too much help. He buries his face right down the middle of the defensive tackle and has no chance of coming off on the linebacker. If he stays square and just uses a shoulder or a flipper, I think he could knock the defensive tackle back on the guard and still be able to climb himself. Johnson makes a great move to make it a moot point, but the Texans just didn't do a good enough job at the second level all game.

The big story coming out of the game, though, probably wasn't the running game. It was the seven sacks that Houston gave up. Obviously seven is a big number, but I didn't think the Texans offensive line pass-blocked that poorly. A few of the sacks were on tight ends and running backs, and Deshaun Watson really held the ball this weekend. He made some plays by holding it, but he took a few sacks that were entirely on him.

Most of Houston's offensive line issues in pass protection, I thought, came from blitzes. I feel like Houston handled the Bills' primary rushers well with the exception of right guard Zach Fulton, who did struggle at times blocking defensive tackles.

via Gfycat

For all I know this could be Duke Johnson's guy that goes unblocked here. It looks like he's looking that way before the snap, but that could just be misdirection from Johnson. Fulton (73) certainly seems to act like he has the dropper at the snap, and then tries and fails to find something to do when his man drops. Ultimately I think this is on Johnson, but this was too common for Houston: off-ball players coming free on blitzes at Watson.

via Gfycat

This was the play that won the game, and it's an unbelievable play by Watson. But man, is this bad football from a pass protection standpoint. The Texans are in literally the most basic pass-blocking scheme, full slide protection. Everyone slides to their right, and you have anyone that comes into your gap. It doesn't get any simpler.

The nickelback (Siran Neal, 33) is coming free here and it's Watson's job to beat him with the throw. The Bills are running a zero blitz, and if they do that, they can always bring one more than you can block. But you can't turn guys off both edges loose. I have no idea what right tackle Roderick Johnson (63, who came in for Chris Clark in the second half) is doing here. Full slide protection, you have to kick to the widest rusher, you got the whole squad coming behind you to worry about the other guys. Your job is to take the widest rusher. It's truly unbelievable that Deshaun Watson made two unblocked rushers miss and made a play.

Before we go I did want to go back to what could've been the biggest play of the game if the outcome had been different. The Texans were up 19-16 and needed a first down to end the game. I think most people remember the failed fourth-down sneak which was just them getting their butts kicked up front and doesn't need a second look, but the third-and-2 the play before was just as bad.

via Gfycat

It's third-and-2 and everyone in the stadium knows you have to run it and you go shotgun in 11 personnel with a former basketball player at tight end (Darren Fells, 87). Man do I hate this. I get that you might want to go from the gun because you want Watson to be a threat, but you have to get some more big bodies in there. The Texans do not have enough guys in the box to block the defenders the Bills have in the box. It's math. If you tighten everyone in, at least the guys you aren't blocking are on the edge. Here Houston winds up with Nick Martin blocking both the play-side nose and middle linebacker. In an upset, that's impossible.

The crazy thing is that Hyde makes the first guy miss and still can't pick up the first down. That's how overmatched this play was as soon as they left the huddle. Your back makes a guy miss behind the line of scrimmage and the Bills can still stop him after just a yard. You cannot run 11 personnel in this situation unless you give your quarterback the option to check to a pass if this is how the defense lines up. Otherwise you're spitting into the wind.


4 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2020, 11:00am

4 Well you can see him come…

Well you can see him come back and wall his man off, which would have been great if the play had cut up in behind him. Which I'm pretty sure is where this play will end up going most of the time if this was a stunt (which is what it looks like, especially to him). I think he actually made the right decision even though it looks useless in this specific play.