Week 3 Game Review - Houston Texans v. Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston 31 - Jacksonville 17
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Houston comes off with their first win of the 2023 season with three phase effort in their win over division favorite Jacksonville Jaguars. A huge relief, a weight lifted off the shoulders of everyone involved on Kirby Drive. The first one was always going to be the most difficult. The next step for this young new team is learning how to continue winning and closing out games.
The win in Jacksonville was step 1 of the long term plan.
With a week dampened by continued injury plague across the roster the team moved CB Derek Stingley to Injured Reserve after another hamstring injury. Laremy Tunsil and Denzel Perryman missed practice, and Jalen Pitre was still on the sidelines next to starting nickel back Tavierre Thomas. The one positive was the return of Jimmie Ward to the secondary.
Shaquill Griffin stepped in for Stingley as the boundary cornerback opposite Steven Nelson. The play calling reflected Griffin’s presence as Demeco Ryans called an almost exclusive game in a variety of zone coverage looks. Ryans will need to continue working around Griffin’s limitations. Having Pitre and Ward on the field together will help in that effort.
The first two weeks Houston was working in zone ~70% of the defensive snaps. Against Jacksonville Ryans only called two plays with man coverage the entire game.
The front seven was able to generate pressure against Trevor Lawrence on 36% of his dropbacks per PFF charting. Houston called up a blitz on 22% of Lawrence’s dropbacks. Ryans called upon the defensive line to generate this pressure bringing 4 or less rushers on 80% of defensive snaps per NGS Tracking Data.
This week was the first week Ryans pulled out some split safety looks working in some Cover 6 and Cover 4 looks as opposed to the high percentage use of Cover 3 single safety look fans witnessed the first two weeks of the season. Once Pitre returns expect Ryans to scheme up more split safety looks that will allow for coverage rotation and disguises in the secondary.
Houston came away empty handed in the sack department but still came home with 19 quarterback pressures in their pocket. Lawrence’s decline in production when pressured was heavily documented in the days leading up Sunday.
The run game defense for Houston was looking eerily similar to 2022. Wide open running lanes with linebackers mis-reading their lane assignments. Missed tackles were again an issue trying to bring down Travis Etienne. PFF charted 15 missed tackles by Houston on Sunday. Jacksonville finished the day with 118 rushing yards averaging 4.3 yards per attempt. Houston generated a disappointing 3.7% run stuff rate. I’ll save you the math…it was 1 time.
The growing pains of Henry To’oTo’o are becoming more evident each week. I’m excited for his prospects in 2024 and beyond, but this defense really needs the trio of Cashman, Perryman, and Harris on the field together with To’oTo’o working in a sub role as he continues his development.
Will Anderson continues to wreck havoc on opposing offenses. Through three weeks Anderson has a pass rush win rate of 16% which is tied for first among 2023 draft picks and top 20 across the league per PFF charting. Despite the notes above on poor run defense Anderson is doing his part. Anderson is 4th among edge defenders in Run Stop % at 14.0%.
Oh yea…he is a force in special teams as well.
There is a lot to digest during this fantastic play by Cashman. Houston shows a single high Cover 3 zone look with Murray in centerfield and Ward close to the box.
One DT (Rankins) and two DE (Anderson, Hughes) on the LOS.
DE Greenard & LB To’oTo’o as linebackers who blitz.
Cashman is a MLB/SS robber role.
Anderson crashes down to pull in the tackle and guard allowing Greenard a stunt run at the edge. This forces Lawrence to adjust his feet when attempting the pass to Agnew on an in-breaker.
Cashman sees Agnew out the corner of his eye making the break, flips his eyes around and makes the play.
The offense was able to work in a more balanced attack against Jacksonville in terms of number of pass plays against run plays. Houston did not have to lean quite as heavy on Stroud as previous weeks. Calling 30 pass plays and 26 rush plays.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. The run game struggled again finishing the day with a disappointing 86 rushing yards, at a lowly clip of 3.3 yards per carry. The offensive line allowed a run stuff rate of 26%. Worth noting Jacksonville had 8 defender box fronts on 61% of rushing attempts for Pierce and Singletary.
One play that got my attention in the run game involved forgotten man Brevin Jordan. Jordan is not known for his blocking skills especially at his size. Jordan completes an old school “wham” block on the defensive tackle as Mason works to the second level. Fant walls of the defensive end creating a slim running lane for Pierce. One of only a few times Pierce saw such a running lane.
The offensive line is not completely to blame with the running game deficiencies. Pierce missed an opportunity, when following Beck, on open running lanes on two attempts. I do wonder if that is just a relationship thing between runningback and fullback that develops over time.
C.J. Stroud is getting me excited. I am trying REALLY HARD not to get too excited. When I have my fan hat on, I’ve been beat down hard for years by this organization at the quarterback position. To see the potential outlook with Stroud…well is just simply exciting.
Stroud finished the day 20/30 for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns, finishing the day with a 118.3 quarterback rating. A day filled with splash plays, improved reads and footwork, and continued growth with confidence and patience.
Stroud’s confidence in the pocket strength improves week over week. Pockets where Stroud stood strong and delivered in Week 3 were the same type of pockets we saw him bail out of in Week 1.
It was only a matter of time with defense attempting the take away the middle of the field from Slowik and Stroud. The offense countered with more vertical routes and corner routes. Stroud targeted corner, out, and flat routes on 23% of his dropbacks.
Slowik utilized play action as a means to give rhythm to the offense despite a lacking rushing attack. Straight drop back play actions were the flavor on Sunday which kept Stroud’s eyes ahead and remaining in the pocket. Stroud was 7/10 for 116 yards on play action. Many of those play actions incorporated just two wide routes, still finding open spaces for yardage.
All the aspects of quarterback growth and development are showing up on the tape each week. Getting through reads/progressions, solid footwork, identifying blitzes and free rushers, making correct checks at the line, patience and confidence in developing routes despite a collapsing pocket. Again…I’m trying hard not to get overly excited.
Rookie wide receiver Tank Dell had himself a day. Dell had 5 receptions on 7 targets for 145 yards and 1 touchdown. The characteristic that has surprised me the most with Dell is his ability to line up on the outside. When Houston drafted Dell, I made the assumption Dell would be primarily a slot receiver, and clearly that was an incorrect assumption.
Houston - 3rd & 5 at Jax 19 yard line.
Jacksonville had their Cover 4 shell, inexplicably 3 yards past the first down markers, respecting the speed of Dell. Dell is lined up at the top of the screen off the line of scrimmage. This gives the appearance that Dell could go in motion across the formation. Houston is in 11 personnel in a 2x2 set with Boone flanking Stroud.
The defense presentation (loaded box on the line of scrimmage) coupled with Dell’s line up location and speed creates a void for Stroud and Dell to generate a quick first down.
Another trick Dell showed the fans was his ball tracking ability.
Houston - 3rd & 3 at Houston 33
Houston again in their 11 personnel package. This time Schultz is in at tight end instead of Brevin Jordan. Stroud in shotgun flanked by Boone with trips package to his right. Jacksonville shows a Man Cover 1 look with the single high safety shaded towards Nico Collins’ side of the field.
The trips package does the job in creating confusion leading two Jacksonville defenders to drop down in coverage on Woods. The aforementioned safety was already working towards Collins’ side of the field post snap.
Dell runs an out post route…but Stroud had another idea. Seeing the blown coverage Stroud throws a vertical route to Dell’s inside shoulder. Check out the adjustment by Dell with fluid hip movement and ball tracking. Easy touchdown.
CJ Stroud Advancement With Blitz
Stroud’s ability to diagnose and adjust to unblocked defensive pass rushers improves weekly. A touchdown to Brevin Jordan in the 2nd quarter is a pure example.
Houston comes out in their 11 personnel in an initial 3x1 set but then shift Dell to the left side to fold in with Jordan near the formation. Jacksonville presenting a man coverage look with a shallow safety eyeing Jordan. The safety’s responsibility of Jordan is due to the defensive back blitz who was initially manned up with Jordan. Stroud recognizes this quickly and finds Jordan on a quick out route. The pass location was not the best, Stroud had to adjust the arm angle to account for the blitzes, but Jordan makes an incredible adjustment for the touchdown.
Stroud is borderline silly here with this throw to Collins. Anticipation, throwing the receiver open, great read…whatever quarterback awesomeness trope you have available…it fits here.
Houston - 3rd & 8 at Houston 27
Few things to note here. This formation is from the McVay playbook with a pseudo 21 personnel look with 11 personnel. Woods lines up in the back field with Mike Boone in the slot. Leaving Schultz out wide to pull coverage to that side of the field. Collins is on the short side of the formation and runs his 10 yard in-breaker route that we’ve come accustomed to. Stroud has this ball on the way when Collins has two DB’s near him well before the in-break. Stroud likely saw the seam safety dropping leaving the clear void down the seam for Collins. Jacksonville brought a 4 man rush with a stunt and Houston’s offensive line help up as needed here.
Stroud continues to grow with his confidence within the pocket. The below play should have been a touchdown if Schultz had been able to pull in the catch.
Stroud keeps the ball in his trigger spot ready to throw. Eyes down field. Clean footwork. Perfect ball placement. Schultz just couldn’t bring it in.
What better way to end this game review than with a fullback kickoff return touchdown. Just in case you haven’t seen this yet, prepare yourself.
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