Week 2 Game Review - Indianapolis Colts v. Houston Texans
Indianapolis 30 - Houston 21
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Houston is now officially off to a rough start of the 2023 season after their second loss. Demeco Ryans homecoming and first appearance in NRG as head coach resulted in another disappointing loss. The defense was quickly beat down by Indianapolis’ offense led by the rushing efforts of Anthony Richardson only to have back-up quarterback Gardner Minshew dice up Houston zone coverage efforts. This was not the defense fans witnessed in Week 1 against Baltimore. Houston’s offense on the other hand, specifically the passing game, showed strong signs of life and what may be ahead for Houston fans.
The front 7 had difficulty all game. The defensive line was unsuccessful in applying pressure to Indianapolis’ passing game. The linebacker core suffered from misreads on run defense and missed tackles. This all on top of linebackers and defensive backs running into each other trying to cover Indianapolis’ mesh/crossing routes exposing the middle of the field.
Houston’s defense came away with zero sacks with a 42% pressure rate, a decrease from Week 1. The blitz rate remained near the same at 31% as Week 1. Ryans kept the defense in a zone coverage look on 75% of Indianapolis’ drop backs. Sticking with their Cover 3 single high safety look. I do wonder how this may change once Pitre and Ward are on the field together.
This was borderline a vanilla defense compared to Week 1. No overloads on the defensive line, very few end around stunts, and certainly no Cover 0 all out blitz packages.
Circling back to the linebacker core the group accounted for 6 missed tackles of the team 11 missed tackles. That simply cannot happen with the linebacker group especially in this Wide 9 scheme meant to draw plays to the middle of the field for linebackers to manage.
The rotation between Perryman, Harris, and To’oTo’o was different than what we’ve seen in camp and preseason. In the past Perryman and Harris would remain on the field in sub-packages such as Nickel with five defensive backs. This week there were times where Perryman and To’oTo’o were on the field in sub packages.
I am excited about the prospected of To’oTo’o but he still has a ways to go. There was one play where Minshew made To’oTo’o break outside on a pump fake leaving his primary responsibility wide open for an easy first down. To’oTo’o’s decision making on running lanes is still a work in progress.
The lone bright spot on the defense was Steven Nelson and Derek Stingley. The target count for Stingley varies depending on which data source you reference. SIS has Stingley at zero, PFF with one, and NGS with three targets. SIS and PFF are manually charted, and NGS is based on player tracking (whomever is closest). Despite the discrepancy both cornerbacks continued their stellar coverage work. This defense really needs Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward back quickly. The honeymoon with Stewart and Murray and Arnold has run its course.
Offensive Arrow Pointing Up
Over to the offensive side of the ball it was a game of hit or miss with some “oh so close” plays that could have ended in a variety of ways. Houston trotted out an offensive line minus 4 starters, and once again CJ Stroud was under pressure on 47% of his drop backs. Despite Stroud finding ways to make plays this pressure rate is near unsustainable.
There is too much inconsistency with the offense. Long, time consuming, drives followed by quick 3 and outs is making life difficult for the defense.
Stroud finished the day 30/47 for 384 yards and 2 touchdowns. Two weeks in a row with zero interceptions is a fantastic start for Stroud. Despite a few close calls, Stroud has made prudent decisions protecting when throwing the football.
Stroud had a 133 QB Rating when working within a clean pocket (i.e. not under pressure). When Houston’s offensive line starters return in the coming weeks, I become excited about what Stroud could be capable of. If the pressure rate on Stroud can be lowered to 30%, the passing game has serious potential.
I am starting to question Dameon Pierce’s decision making. Pierce had -17 rushing yards over expected according to NGS (NextGen Stats). This shows up in Pierce’s film, one example here:
I am not sure what Pierce saw here to make the decision to cut back to the middle instead of following Beck. There was an opportunity for a clear field had he continued behind Beck to the flat. Maybe the collapsing defensive end cause Pierce to make the cut back.
Don’t get me wrong here on the totality of the running game. The offensive line did zero favors for Houston’s runningback group. Indianapolis has one of the best defensive tackle duo’s in the game with Buckner and Stewart. Patterson and Green had difficulty (to put it lightly) containing Indy’s interior defensive line in the run game.
Multiple times Pierce was met by a defender at or behind the line of scrimmage 40% of his attempts!!
Wide Receiver Strength?
What was once thought to be a weakness of Houston’s roster, the wide receiver group has stepped up and become their strength. The trio of Woods, Collins, and Dell had displayed continued success now through two weeks. The trio has accounted for 28 targets and 292 receiving yards.
The Nico Collins coming out party is in full effect and I am here for it! Finishing the game with 7 receptions for 146 yards and 1 touchdown is the kind of day Houston has envisioned for Collins for two years. Collins will also be the subject of this weeks film review.
I realize it is early, but if I can put my fan hat on…it is exciting thinking what Stroud & Collins can do this season.
Indianapolis running zone on 95% of Houston’s drop backs allowed Stroud and Collins to eat up on the middle of the field. The timing of the 5 step drop paired with Collins on an 8 yard breaking in route is fun to watch.
Game Summary Data
As always before we get to the film review, I like to share the game summary data from RBSDM.com
In an effort to stay on the positive side of things, this week’s theme for film review will be the aforementioned Nico Collins. Collins is off to a fast start for the 2023 season ranking 10th in yards per route run, totaling 226 receiving yards on 20 targets including 1 touchdown.
1st Quarter - 7:58 - 3rd & 4 at Houston 38
Houston working out of their 11 personnel with Stroud flanked by Singletary and Woods in the backfield. Schultz and Dell duo’d up on the left side and Collins on an island at the bottom of your screen. Indy showing a single high Cover 3 zone. CB Baker looks to press Collins at the line. The safety is also shaded to Collins’ side of the field. Fant is bull rushed by DE Paye directly into Stroud’s lap. Collins on the “bang 8” route, breaks his route toward the open space 8 yards from the line of scrimmage. If Stroud had more time and needed to make a second read, Dell was coming open on a 10 yard in dig towards the hash markers. Stroud’s accuracy with the throw allows Collins to catch in stride and tack on 16 yards after the catch.
1st Quarter - 3:19 - 3rd & 6 at Indianapolis 8
Houston again working in 11 personnel with Schultz motioning across the formation to help identify Indy’s defensive coverage. Dell and Woods flanked to the right leaving Collins once again alone. Stroud sees Indy’s single high safety shaded to Woods/Dell side of the field. Indy drops into a zone shell look. Indy brings 4 rushers, and Houston’s offensive line has one of their rare successful blocking efforts leaving Stroud plenty of time to read the field. Collins floats into the open area of the coverage, early throwing his hand up for Stroud. Indy blows the coverage with Blackmon (Safety) dropping down to cover the flat instead of sticking with Collins. Indy’s corner was handing Collins off to the safety. Stroud layers the pass where only Collins can get it. Easy touchdown.
2nd Quarter - 9:43 - 1st & 10 at Houston 25
Down 14 points Houston comes out on the first play of this drive with another Stroud to Collins connection. Houston brings in the 12 personnel with Quitoriano and Beck. Dell lines up in the slot with Collins on the boundary. Indy brings in their base personnel leaving a favorable matchup for Collins with SCB Kenny Moore in coverage. Indy moves to a quarters/cover 4 zone look with split high safeties. Houston goes with play action leaving 7 blockers to stiffen Indy’s pass rush. Dell and Collins run a backwards pseudo Yankee concept with Dell running a vertical to pull the safety deep (actually both safeties!?!), with Collins running a 12 yard break post/in route. Indy’s linebackers drop deep in coverage, but again Stroud layers the pass perfectly in the window. Moore makes a touchdown saving tackle. Collins saw nothing but clear open field for what would have been a BIG play. Great play design by Slowik.
3rd Quarter - 2:33 - 2nd & 10 at Houston 49
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Collins on an in-breaking route. Indy’s cornerback sticks with the outside leverage but the safety never steps up into the passing window. Only a matter of time before defenses take this window away, but until then…don’t stop.
Houston returns to their trusty 11 personnel with a 2x2 receiver package. Pierce lines up as a WR off the LOS behind Collins. Houston, finally, has Schultz chip the defensive end before executing his underneath route. Woods is on a deep post route with Collins showing vertical as well. This causes Indy’s deep safety to sit on his heels waiting for Stroud to declare his intentions. By then he is too deep and Stroud rifles to Collins on the 12 yard in-route. Indy continued with their Cover 3 single high safety zone look. The timing here on Stroud’s 5-step drop with Collins breaking route creates a perfect throwing line.
4th Quarter - 4:12 - 3rd & 10 at Houston 29
What we’ve all been waiting for…Stroud & his WR’s working together! I started the recording early so you can see Stroud motion to Collins calling for the hot route based on Indy presenting a loading box with a blitz. Indy drops 4 in coverage. Collins identifies the zone drop with his defender and takes quick step towards the WIDE OPEN area for an easy pitch and gain. Props to Ogunbowale picking up the zero gap linebacker blitzing. This play alone gets me excited. In Week 1 Baltimore brought multiple heavy blitz packages where Stroud was not ready for a hot read to get out of it.
I have a feeling this Houston team will exhibit some hit and miss efforts this season. By that I mean one phase of the game is working while another is faltering. This week it was the passing game with the running game and defense lacking. Getting all phases working together will take time. Getting back 6 starters will also help. I think we can all agree there is something with Stroud, especially with his clean pocket work. And this is coming from someone who was not on the Stroud train in the least bit.
Until Houston can create clean pockets for Stroud consistently…the new offensive motto needs to be “Pass to setup the run game”.
Fun stat: Robert Woods and Tank Dell ran/walked/jogged/sprinted a total of 2,597 yards on Sunday!
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