Houston Texans v. New England Patriots Game Review
Preseason Game 1 in the books!
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The first preseason game is complete with Houston winning 20-9 against the New England Patriots in the rain at Gillette Stadium. This was the first, real game, view of the newly revamped Houston Texans for the reinvigorated fan base.
Houston’s offense spent 91% of the night in 11 or 12 personnel, with a small 8% in 13 personnel. Appears Andrew Beck is being counted as a tight end in these numbers (you’ll get the joke if you read my training camp observations). Facing a New England defense showing a single high safety look on 62% of their plays.
Houston incorporated motion on 43% of their plays, which is a big increase from 2022, but lower than I anticipated. Can’t show your full hand in preseason. Houston’s yards per play was 3.3 yards without motion and 6.4 yards with motion.
Houston’s defense ran a night of single high safety cover 3 with some mixed disguises that morphed into cover 4/shell post snap. Running a heavy dose of zone coverage. 79% of the defensive plays were in zone coverage, with the majority of plays coming in nickel (5 defensive backs).
The defensive front seven was successful in generated pressure on the quarterback, especially with stunts. The Texans brought a blitz only 16% of the time, yet the defense generated pressure on the quarterback staggering 38% of dropbacks. Finishing the night with a very strong 70% success rate. 83% of the defensive pass rush was completed with 4 rushers.
If tonight was a preview of what’s to come, Houston fans should be very excited about this defense.
Let’s be honest, Stroud’s first NFL game was a bit shaky. But I am certainly not taking this performance towards thinking that Stroud is anything but the starter come week 1. Stroud needs reps in the correct setting, rather than sitting on the side watching Davis Mills or Case Keenum play.
Unfortunately for Stroud the offensive line performance was poor. Stroud’s time in the pocket was limited with constant pressure in his face. It is fair to assume the team limited his playtime simply based on the offensive line play. There was no need to keep Stroud in the game in that type of situation.
Stroud finished the night 2/4 for 13 yards and 1 interception. Stroud had 6 dropbacks with 3 of those listed as under pressure, including a sack for big loss. Stroud did show a willingness to use his legs on a nice 4 yard scramble out of bounds after yet another defensive pressure.
Let’s talk about the interception.
This was the only clean pocket Stroud saw during the game. Slowik opted to keep 7 blockers back with Schultz lining up in the back field to chip a pass rusher before drifting out into the flat.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the double clutch. There was a small window to make the throw to Tank Dell, but Stroud’s confidence wasn’t there. Hence the double clutch. New England was displaying a shell look but it turned into a Cover 3 with Jalen Mills playing a robber look once his responsibility did not go vertical.
Appeared Dell was on a deep dig route to the boundary. I honestly think the interception by Jalen Mills was both good and a bit of luck. I think Jalen Mills was driving down hill towards Schultz in the flat and his timing was perfect for the interception.
The Monday morning quarterback read was to forgo the Dell route and take the easy yards with tight end Dalton Schultz. Not sure either player would have made it to the first down marker.
Stroud has a big week ahead of him with two joint practices against a new Miami defense led by Vic Fangio. Between the two joint practices and Saturday’s game, Stroud should see plenty of new looks to learn from.
Tank Dell was hair on fire during the New England game. Dell finished the night with 6 receptions on 8 targets for 65 yards and 1 touchdown. There are two plays to review from Dell’s night.
Back shoulder touchdown from Davis Mills:
Dell is getting rave reviews on this touchdown, and I agree on the great adjustment to pull in the low back shoulder catch. I do have a mild concern with the six step release. Given that Dell was on an island, as the X in this play, the extra steps were not much of a concern. Just something to keep an eye on. I noticed the extra steps on few other releases by Dell during the game.
Mills’ read was clearly at Dell the whole way. One thing I want to point out was the solid pick play by WR John Metchie. Metchie, at the top of your screen, was able to bring his defensive back and “run into” the defensive back with responsibility of Steven Sims.
I am not saying this was the read, but there was another option here for Mills with an easy touchdown to Sims.
Mills to Dell for 24 yards
Note to self…do not leave the middle of the field wide open when Tank Dell is in the slot with a massive defensive back cushion. I suspect Mills and Dell couldn’t wait to get the ball snapped for what would become a nice 24 yard gain.
New England showed a bear front loading up against the left side of Houston’s offensive line. Houston sent 5 receivers out causing the New England’s split safeties to move to a dime cover 1 man look. With New England’s two linebackers at the line of scrimmage, and the defensive backs in man coverage this was an easy read for Mills.
If you have been reading my work I’ve noted multiple times that Houston would need to find match-ups and create space for Dell. While the defense gave the space to Houston instead of the offense generating it, this was a nice example of the yards after catch (YAC) potential with Tank Dell.
Mike Boone…your RB3? Boone is certainly making a case for it. The team had been comfortable with Dare Ogunbowale as the RB3 with his exceptional special teams work.
Boone has quietly had a very good training camp, picking and choosing his spots to make big plays. Boone had a solid outing against New England with 25 yards on 4 carries (6.3 YPC), and one reception for 7 yards. On those 4 carries Boone finished the night with 7 yards rushing over expected (RYOE). Boone faced a 7 defender box on all 4 carries.
There was one play in particular with Boone gaining yards with what appeared to be a closed box, seemingly sneaking through the line for a big gain.
New England again in the 5 man front with 7 defenders in the box. Houston is in the split I-formation with Andrew Beck (tight end!) lined up as the blocking fullback. Mike Dieter (C) and Jimmy Morrissey (RG) quick duo the nose tackle pushing the nose tackle into the weak side linebacker taking him out of the play, and Andrew Beck clears out the space with a clean bock on the remaining downhill linebacker.
Boone’s patience pays off with a late developing lane. With an expected rushing yardage of just 4 yards, Boone turns the play into a 12 yard gain.
Side note, I am excited that All-22 now includes both endzone views.
In training camp, Demeco Ryans has continually thrown disguised defensive line stunts at his quarterbacks. Tonight was no exception. (Not against his own quarterback, that would be weird.)
Denzel Perryman sack
Houston was in a clear Cover 1 look with Jalen Pitre in deep center field, and with MJ Stewart down in the box. Houston goes with man coverage on this set. Christian Harris will follow the runningback to the flat, and Stewart covering the seam tight end.
Denzel Perryman (LB) lining up, standing, over the center attempting to show blitz. Perryman does a fake two step drop only to turn back into a blitz run at the quarterback. What makes this play happen is the defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Hassan Ridgeway crashing down on the line to the strong side.
Will Anderson is getting flat around the tackle causing Bailey Zappe to step up into a collapsing pocket. Right into the Perryman’s lap. This was a well executed delayed linebacker stunt.
To’oTo’o was flying all over the field. A welcome surprise from the 5th round draft selection out of Alabama. His ability to diagnose the play is showing up on tape. For reference, we have seen this type of effort from To’oTo’o multiple times in training camp.
Houston once again showing the single high safety look in press man coverage. Henry To’oTo’o’s responsibility is the runningback here, his eyes are set on him at snap. New England has trips left and it’s a mess on their release. Additionally, edge rusher Jacob Martin creates potential pressure from the weak side forcing a quick decision from Zappe.
To’oTo’o quickly diagnoses the play, and takes an excellent angle of attack towards the runningback in the flat. Reaching 16.79 mph on a b-line towards the back, To’oTo’o is able to make the stop.
Denzel Perryman will likely be the starting mike linebacker. The team could easily facilitate some rotation with To’oTo’o on the field to give Perryman a few breaks.
Offensive line depth is clearly an issue. George Fant will likely be the week 1 starter at right tackle while Tytus Howard continues his return from a broken hand. Still no word on Charlie Heck’s status, he might start the season on PUP/Reserve. Killian Zierer had his moments at left and right tackle as the potential OT4. The fanbase was displeased with second year player Austin Deculus.
This defense could be really good. During the offseason my thinking was hoping for a middle of the pack performance from the defense. I have since upgraded that expectation to a Top 10 defense. The depth in the secondary is solid. The interior defensive line is showing strength. The four man edge rotation is deep with Anderson, Greenard (if he can stay healthy), Hughes, and Jacob Martin. And with Blake Cashman and To’oTo’o playing well, the linebacker core is promising.
C.J. Stroud will be fine. There will be bumps in the road, there will be some ugly games. Patience is needed here.
Xavier Hutchinson and Tank Dell are rookies who both could make a strong impact on the offense this year. Steven Sims may be locking in his roster spot with his work as the returner on both kick offs and punts.
The biggest area of concern is tight end. Who will step up behind Dalton Schultz?
8 Coverage Snaps with 0 targets. That was the stat line for Derek Stingley and Steven Nelson. I like it…I like it a lot.gif
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